How do local businesses stay connected with their customers online? Some have their own websites, but how functional are they? How are they able to drive traffic? How do they compete with larger stores with greater capacities?
There really is no substitute for my local corner store, sandwich place, pizza shop, or nail salon! They know me by name, ask me how my day is (they know what I actually do!), and genuinely seem to care.
It's a great first step to have a website, but how do local businesses optimize the Internet's potential to reach out to the community, expand their clientele and stay competitive against giants such as Wal-Mart? Now, I'm not opposed to big business (I like a bargain as much as the next person), but I also LOVE my local spots and want them to be up-to-date with technology so I can get the convenience as well.
One company that is assisting our locals is MerchantCircle. They are the fastest growing and largest online network of local business owners in the country. Founded less than 3 years ago, MerchantCircle is also in the top 10 out of the 150 fastest growing US websites.
MerchantCircle's goal is to help local businesses get more customers quickly, easily, and cost-effectively. They currently have more than 900,000 businesses using their services. MerchantCircle has "developed local business social network where business owners can promote their business by uploading pictures, writing blogs, publicizing events, creating coupons and newsletters, and connecting with other merchants, all for free."
Other online companies serving small businesses include:
Redbeacon - this top winner at this year's TechCrunch50 is a service that allows your local customers to "Compare prices and book an appointment" at their local establishments.
Workstir - This service will help your customers find you based on the services you provide and the reviews you receive.
Geolocal - Helps your local business to generate local leads.
So with all that in mind, here are my 5 Tips for small local businesses to gain an online presence:
- When setting up a website, try to utilize search engine tools - nothing is worse than wanting to find basic info (hours of operation, phone number, etc) and not being able to find the information on Google!! Some great tips can be found at these blogs: Small Business SEO: How To Launch That Web site By Lisa Barone and Before You Launch that Local Small Business Website, by Rae Hoffman.
- Depending on the service - allow people to buy products/set up appointments online for those of us who don't always have time to make calls or stop buy during the work day.
- Try to build a community - add a fan page on Facebook, get people to review you on Yelp, write a blog about your services/products.
- Increase your revenue potential by selling ad space on your web site - to keep you rolling in dough to stay competitive against bigger chains.
- Use sites such as MerchantCircle to enhance and supplement your services. This will keep you up-to-date and stay in the online spotlight for your local customers.
If you're interested in being a part of these companies making an impact in local communities, check out our current opportunities.