By Eric Groves

Small Business Week is a great time to be reflective about your marketing strategy for the year.   With tax time behind us and a few months of lead-time prior to the insanity of the fall, here’s are your top 5 marketing tips for 2014.

#1: Connect with others nearby. Your best next customer is frequenting another local business nearby, so the best path to that customer is getting to know other local business owners. When you connect and collaborate with others, you both unlock access to your collective local knowledge and customers while get stronger together.

Some conversations that benefit from collective local knowledge include: “How did you get your sign approved?”  “Do you have any part-time employees looking for more hours over the summer?” “Be on the lookout for this scam, it’s going around town” and “Do you have a great local accountant?”

#2:  Create unique customer experiences. Compete on price can be the start of a death spiral and it often attracts customers that are unlikely to sustain your business.  Instead, shift your attention to creating engaging customer experiences that are fun and educational — and attract customers that will keep coming back.  Also, leverage other local business owners to enhance your events.  Get a local music school to showcase its talents by having students play at your event; ask a local accountant to hang out in your bookstore on Friday mornings to answer questions; or hold a wine tasting at the yarn store’s moms night out.  You’re not limited to your own creativity when working with others nearby to develop ideas.  And by working together, you can also reach more local customers by co-marketing the event.

#3: Align resources to maximize your impact. Make sure you have a way to distribute your promotions and events through all of your marketing resources at once.  These typically include your website, email list, Facebook and Twitter followers, and storefront.  Each resource should include a place where you post events and promotions so that they are all working together to get the word out.

#4: Plan ahead to get the word out.  Advance planning can greatly improve customer traffic around events and promotions.  As a general rule, develop a 45-day plan to help get you in the right frame of mind.  For example, 45 days in advance, post your event to your website, storefront calendar of events, via your email newsletter and on social media with a “save the date” message.  Seven days prior to your event, re-post using a “coming next week” post to social media and to your email list (and ask that they share it with others).  One day prior to your event, re-post a “reminder tomorrow” via social media. 

#5: Share to be shared, because it will be paid back. Many business owners struggle with what to post on social media.  Sharing what others are doing is a great way to create a more engaging social media content.  When you see another local business doing something that might appeal to your followers, share it.  It makes your social media more interesting, turns you into a valued resource for followers and encourages other local businesses to share your activities.

Spending 10 minutes per week getting to know other business owners nearby while sharing ideas, insights, and how you are promoting your business will significantly increase awareness for your business.  Its old school social media, fun to do, free, and likely will have the greatest return on your investment.

Eric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable (, the free social network for local businesses and organizations to connect and collaborate with others nearby.  Eric has been a local marketing expert and enthusiast since 2001, authored The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing, and believes that local businesses are always stronger together