Local Marketing For Small Businesses: Free And Inexpensive Ways To Capitalize On Your Geography

Local Marketing For Small Businesses: Free And Inexpensive Ways To Capitalize On Your Geography
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Whether you run a neighborhood car wash or deli, dentist’s office or photography studio, you have a bit of an advantage in the marketing game: geography is on your side.

So while it can feel overwhelming to think about competing with so many big, powerful brands that have money and marketing departments at their disposal, you as small, local businesses have an arsenal of options that you may not even be considering.

Here are a few ways that you can take advantage of your geography to get in front of more people, more of the time, with relatively low effort and minimal investment.

Claim Your Google Local Listing

With a Google Local listing you not only get the benefit of adding your business information but you get a place on Google Maps that also contains information that people may be looking for, including your hours, address and website.

It’s also a great place to add photos and videos and even to ask your best customers to provide reviews, which can further boost your local presence online.

Remember, you don’t just want to add your info – you want to claim your listing, too, which involves a quick text message with a pin that you must enter online, or a slower snail mail version of the same thing.

Effort: minimal

Cost: free

Claim Your Listing On Bing Places

The red-headed stepchild of search engines, Bing should not be overlooked. Its Places listing is similar to that of Google and the claim process is also the same.

The benefit is that now you’ve got your business listed in the two top search engines and maps for just about the same amount of effort.

Effort: minimal

Cost: free

Test Out Some Foursquare Deals

Foursquare is one of the most frequently overlooked marketing allies in the local marketing sphere.

It’s entirely uncomplicated to get started and gives you a great opportunity to try out different incentives and offers.

Set your business up and follow Foursquare’s simple suggestions and instructions for testing incentives. Start small, with a small free item or special discount for first time check-ins. Graduate to group discounts and other fun offers.

You can schedule your promotions, limit them to specific dates and have them expire when you’re done. Unlike Groupon, which can get you in pretty big trouble if you underestimate the amount of business you’ll generate from an offer, Foursquare lets to put the lid on your promotions at any time. So don’t be afraid to try it out and see what happens.

It’s also a good idea to advertise that you’re on Foursquare – whether that’s announcing it on your website, posting one of Foursquare’s pre-designed flyers in your store window or letting your email subscribers know about it. People may not realize you’re there and never take advantage of your offers unless you prompt them a bit first.

Effort: moderate (to set up, monitor and redeem offers – should include employee education)

Cost: free to place offers with the cost to you coming in the form of whatever you give away or sell at a discount. There is also an option for paid advertising if you so choose.

Make Sure Your Contact Info Is Prominent On Your Website

Don’t hit me with the obvious stick – you’d be surprised how many websites obscure this very crucial information. Plenty of local businesses generate foot traffic on the fly – think about the last time you were driving through an unfamiliar area and looking for a place to have lunch.

If someone can’t find your phone number, address and store hours in an obvious place on your website, they’re just as likely to skip to a competitor as search your site.

It also pays not to assume that people will enter your site through the home page. Easily accessible contact information is a special consideration for local businesses so make sure yours all but shouts at potential customers.

Effort: minimal

Cost: free

Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile Friendly

And while we’re on the subject of searching on-the-go, if your site doesn’t load fast, display well and provide people with what they need when they need it, you could be sacrificing business.

Here’s how likely I am to search for a restaurant on my iPhone while I’m driving: very.

Here’s how likely I am to spend more than two seconds figuring a site out if it’s in Flash (fail), has a PDF menu (fail) or doesn’t give me hours at a glance: not.

Local businesses need to think hard about how and when customers might be accessing their site. Your site needs to load quickly even on those ancient G3 connections and give customers what they need almost immediately. That may mean relegating all those graphics and long paragraphs of brilliant text to just about non-existent.

It’s no longer a matter of “improving customer experience” by paying attention to your mobile site. It may very well mean the difference between business life and death.

Effort: moderate to high, depending on how unfriendly your site is on mobile

Cost: Moderate to high, again depending on your site – it could be a quick fix with a bit of rethinking content, or it could require an entire responsive overhaul

Add Geo Targeted Keywords To Your Site

No brainer! You are no longer a photographer. You are a Miami photographer. You are no longer a hair salon. You are an Austin, Texas hair salon.

Appealing to the masses doesn’t help you when you’re a local business. Thinking small does.

Qualify your business with a specific location because when people are looking for your product or service, they’re much more likely to add the qualifier to their searches. Remember, finding an Austin hair salon is no more useful to them if they’re in San Francisco than it is to you!

Effort: minimal

Cost: free

Write For A Local Publication

In my town there are a couple of local publications that get distributed to households for free. There are even websites dedicated to the goings-on in town and some of them have business sections.

Take a look at the publications your town provides, whether online or in print and contact the publishers to find out how you can contribute your expertise.

Many of them are glad to get free content and you’ll get some free advertising.

But remember, this is more about generating awareness and demonstrating your value than doing any actual advertising. Writing a piece about your latest award or excellent service isn’t the point. Share something helpful to your potential customers the same way you would in a good blog post.

Effort: moderate

Cost: free

Cross Promote With Other Local Businesses

A local car wash friend of mine promotes his business by offering nearby diner customers a discount if they show their receipt. Likewise, the diner offers a discount if people show their car wash receipt.

Someone else I know includes ads for a neighboring business in his email promotions, and the other business does the same for him.

You don’t need to be in a related industry to capitalize on other local businesses in your area. You don’t even need to be on the same block. You just need to be smart about targeting a similar demographic and then coming to an agreement with another business about how you’ll share each other’s customer base.

It’s a win for everyone.

Effort: moderate

Cost: free plus whatever discount or offer you’re making

Target Local Ads On Facebook

Facebook makes it very easy to test ads with highly targeted audiences for very little money.

It’s a common mistake when buying ads to try to reach as many people as you can for the least amount of budget when what you really want to be doing is reaching only the most relevant people.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ads that only target 100 people. Imagine if you could win 100 extra customers!

Start small, say with a $25 budget for a week’s worth of ads. Pick an audience in you geographic region. Add other qualifiers as you may need, such as age and education. See what happens.

Ads may not work immediately so you’ll probably want to consider running them periodically, but if you have a special deal or offer that’s time-sensitive, this can be a great way to generate new interest quickly.

Effort: minimal

Cost: minimal

Get Your Business On Local Review Sites

Review sites have taken a lot of flak for being biased, filtering reviews and even allowing businesses to pay for good reviews. Whether that’s the case or not, it does tarnish their reputation.

Still, many consumers rely on online reviews for their first impressions of a business and you can’t avoid review sites by burying your head in the sand.

Yelp is one example of a review site, which is free for people to post reviews. Angie’s List is another and unlike Yelp it requires a paid membership from its users.

Merchant Circle is yet another review site and directory that lets you interact with potential customers by answering questions and responding to reviews.

The most important thing you can do is to keep your reputation solid and be sure to respond to criticism productively.

Effort: minimal to get started, moderate to keep up with and/or request reviews

Cost: free

Do Pro Bono Work

Pick another local business, school, organization or cause and offer to donate your services. That could be photographing their next event. Catering their next meeting. In my case, that means building their websites.

We’ve built websites for schools and charities and even for short-term fundraisers to show our support.

While I don’t advocate running around giving away your services to anyone and everyone in the hopes of garnering some attention, supporting your community is a great way to be involved in something bigger than yourself. The added benefit is the exposure and recognition you can get.

Just be sure that it’s a project you can give the same time and attention that you would to a paid project.

Effort: moderate

Cost: your time and expenses

What do you think of these local marketing ideas? Have you tried any or do you plan to? Do you have any other interesting ideas for getting your business out there in a local market? Let me know in the comments!

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera