small businesses

By Bill Brunelle

Back in 1776, our Founding Fathers sent a bold message to the colonies, the British and the world. In declaring their independence, these new Americans boldly distanced themselves from a system that wasn’t working for their communities. Better than anyone else, small business owners know — the big box business model doesn’t work for their local communities. Much like the colonists did, more than two centuries ago, it’s time for small business owners to declare their independence from the superstore model.

Small and locally owned businesses continue to compete with national chains and online retailers, but consumers show an increasing desire to shop small. American Express found a staggering 93 percent of Americans believe it’s important to support local small businesses, while 73 percent consciously shop at small businesses in their community because they do not want them to go away. Another survey found, similarly, that 57 percent of consumers would go out of their way to support a small business instead of a national chain.

Americans’ desire to shop small is just half of the equation. The other half is up to small business owners. Declaring your independence in the following ways can help enthusiastic consumers know your business and recognize its independent roots.

Tell Your Main Street Story

Your Main Street Story is your business’s unique biography. It tells customers who you are and why you do the business you do. Perhaps you run a local hardware store that has been in your family for three generations, or maybe you started a local sporting goods store because you’re passionate about a particular sport. Whatever the story, it’s important to share yours with the public whenever possible — through social media, at local events, even in your store. Give customers a reason to remember your business and a story they can tell their friends.

Leverage Local Search

As consumers turn increasingly to apps like Google Maps, Waze and Yelp for information about what’s around them, it becomes increasingly important for small businesses to leverage local searches. Fortunately, you can list your business for free in a wide array of local, app-based directories. That way, when consumers want to find dinner, coffee or a good book nearby, your business will appear as a convenient option.

Work Together

Rather than the endless real estate of superstores, small businesses tend to occupy small spaces. As a result, small businesses often locate around walkable town centers and downtown Main Streets. Consider partnering with the local businesses around you to develop a plan for cross-promotion. Word-of-mouth marketing can be vitally effective for small businesses, so make sure the businesses in your vicinity are spreading the word. Together, you can also organize mutually beneficial events and rewarding loyalty programs that keep customers interested in frequenting your neighborhood.

Use Visual Cues

Perhaps the most obvious way to declare your independence is to hang a “We are local” sign on the front door. Using buy-local promotional materials — like those provided by Independent We Stand and other buy-local organizations — shows passersby you’re proud to be part of the community. Download social media graphics, point-of-sale materials and other visuals to outfit your business with a local flair.

Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, 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.

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