How have you promoted your business lately? It is understandable if you haven’t. From following state guidelines to worrying about the people you employ, coping with the COVID-19 crisis is a full-time job. But despite the year that small businesses have faced so far, now is the time to declare your “independence.”
Declaring your independence involves promoting your small business as independently and locally owned. When you promote your business in this way, you differentiate it from competitors that are national chains or big boxes. You also tie it to the community. By highlighting its local roots, your business can better connect with local customers.
Particularly during a crisis, communities come together. Even if they cannot come to your store in person, members of the community are eager to support their local institutions from afar. And while they can’t come to the store, it’s doubly important for your business to stay top-of-mind in other ways.
1. Make Use of Social Media
When your customers are away, you must reach them where they are. No matter where they are, you can reach them on social media. For small businesses, social media creates the opportunity to tell a story. Your business can share updates about the status of operations, photos of employees who are practicing social distancing and inspiration from around downtown.
As a local business owner, you have your boots on the ground in the local community and can convey that perspective on social media in a way that national chains and big boxes cannot. While these competitors use stock images or impersonal slogans, you can share content that reflects the local community. Document what you are doing in the community on a daily basis to remind customers that you’re still there.
2. Support Local Journalism
Like small businesses, many local newspapers have been badly beaten by the coronavirus outbreak, as advertising revenue has dwindled. This presents an opportunity for your local business to support another local institution. Consider submitting an op-ed or letter to the editor to your local newspaper to share your business’ story. If you can spare the expense, invest in advertisements as well. You will reach a local readership and support an independent institution.
3. Join Your Local Main Street Group
Main Street organizations represent groups of independently owned businesses on Main Street and in downtown districts. They allow business owners to share best practices and resources, and they give customers a local, recognizable brand to identify small businesses throughout the community. Joining your local Main Street group is perhaps the best way to tell the community, “I’m an independent.”
Right now, Main Street groups are on the front lines of economic relief. They administer grant and loan programs, and they give local businesses strategies for navigating the coronavirus crisis. Join your local Main Street group to be a part of local efforts to reopen and rebuild the economy safely and responsibly.
4. Optimize Your Google Listing
As customers stay closer to home, online searches for businesses “near me” — so-called local searches — have spiked. That means local businesses, now more than ever, should identify themselves as local and independent on search engines like Google. Google My Business allows businesses to set up a profile that appears when a user searches for their company on Google. Businesses can list their address, contact information, hours of operation, images and a description about their business.
Create or update your Google My Business profile to make sure it includes a description that identifies your business as independent. That way, when customers enter a relevant search online, they’ll see that your business is “a family-owned restaurant serving American comfort food” or an “independent bookstore specializing in rare books.” Best of all, this tool is completely free.
5. Prepare Your Storefront
This summer, many communities are in the process or on the verge of reopening. When customers can hit the streets again, make sure they can identify your business as a local one. Use window clings, displays and other promotional materials that identify your business as an independent. That way, customers know they are supporting the local economy when they return to your store.
Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, Do it Best Corp., PPG Paints and Nationwide Marketing Group, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them. For more information, visit www.independentwestand.org.