Monday, December 22, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust: Helping Local Businesses Help Themselves...

This morning I got another email from another of my favorite local businesses telling me that it is closing its doors. That brings the tally to five local businesses—two restaurants, two furniture stores and a baby store— that have closed their doors suddenly since I moved to the Raleigh-Durham area just one short year ago. After talking with most of them (as I had become regulars at most) they all had the same reaction: the community didn’t get behind us and support us. This got me thinking—what more can I do to help these local businesses stay afloat? Was it really the community’s fault?

The truth is it takes more than just financial support to keep local businesses thriving in today’s down economy. For the most part, I found my favorite local stores by chance—driving by, a random Internet listing, or a phone call. Local businesses have to look for ways to make the most of local newspapers, TV stations and word of mouth PR and marketing to be successful and, most of the time, there are free opportunities to be had!

If you run a local business, here are just a few tips that you can easily implement to get that free publicity you’re looking for:

  • Know how you’re different than the big chains. Maybe you’ll price match big chain prices, maybe you only employ experts in your field, maybe you only use locally-grown produce. Whatever the case, you have to know your competitive advantage and be able to clearly articulate it.
  • Get to know the local reporters in your area. Do you read the local newspapers? Watch the local TV station? Always pick up that local free newspaper? Give your favorite reporters a call or send them an email suggesting a story idea based on what makes your business different from the rest. This might take a few tries, but having a local reporter up to speed on your business (and the possibility of stories about you!) can only help further down the road.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Building relationships with reporters takes a long time. Be consistent, but not annoying. Make sure you are going to them with relevant materials. i.e.: If you own a sports store, you’re not going to want to approach the local food critic.
  • Support your local high school/middle school sports teams. If you own a restaurant, offer up your place for after-game meals at a slight discount. If you own a store, offer members of those teams a coupon for buy-one, get-one-free. Getting parents on your side will only help to increase business and promote extra word of mouth in and around your community.
  • Find other local businesses to partner with. If you offer each other’s patrons deals to get them to come in, you’re growing your potential customer base exponentially.
  • Make sure you appear in Internet searches. Registering on City Search or other local-based Websites is a cheap way to ensure potential customers can find you easily.
  • And finally, partner with a local PR firm. Often times, local PR firms will barter for free services. Investigate your local PR firms and see what kinds of deals you can make.

Starting with these simple tools will help you attract more potential customers and keep you thriving even in these tough economic times.

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