Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26, 2016) is an American shopping holiday that aims to promote shopping at local businesses. Last year, it generated $16.2 billion in spending for small businesses which was a 14 percent increase from 2014. While it’s great to use Small Business Saturday as a way to increase sales, most small businesses need more consistency throughout the year to survive in the increasingly competitive marketplace. Fortunately, there are several ways small businesses can better position themselves to compete in the local market.
1. Small business tips online.
According to a study from Bazaarvoice, roughly 39 percent of in-store shoppers research a product online before buying at a physical location. This means that your small business must have an online presence in order to compete locally. How can your small business improve its online presence?
2. Improve your local SEO.
Focusing on improving your small business’ local SEO will help generate more traffic to your website and ultimately, more leads and sales for your business. With roughly 97 percent of consumers going online to search for local businesses, why wouldn’t you make SEO a priority? Additionally, Google is placing more emphasis on local search with prominent local results floating at the top of targeted search queries. With that said, Google has altered their local results to focus on the top three businesses for a specific search. This means, while difficult, getting your small business inside the top three results can result in tremendous return on investment. To get started, make sure you register your business with Google and Bing Places. Other considerations to improve local SEO include, hyper-local content creation onsite and offsite, outreach and publisher partnerships with local websites, optimizing your website (NAP, keywords, etc.) and strategic social media management among others.
3. Increase online reviews.
Online reviews are a critical part of your local search rankings, not just on Google and Bing, but also sites like Yelp and Facebook. Additionally, online reviews are the modern version of word-of-mouth advertising and can persuade new customers to use your small business, or to not use your small business. In fact, roughly 67 percent of consumers reported that their purchasing decisions were influenced by online reviews. Thus, it’s important to perpetuate reviews from your customers, especially if you know they had a positive experience. Consider adding calls-to-action on your receipts or training your employees to ask for reviews on your Google+, Facebook and Yelp page.
4. Use email marketing.
Email marketing is an undervalued resource for small businesses. It gives you a scalable tool to communicate with current, previous and potential clients. In fact, it seems like most small businesses put more energy into social media than email, even though email marketing is estimated to yield three times higher results and a 17 percent higher value in conversion. Consider using a free email marketing resource like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.
5. Target paid local results.
With local search getting increasingly difficult, it might make sense for your small business to consider pay-per-click (PPC) options like AdWords. PPC is when you pay for each individual customer that visits your website after clicking a specific advertisement. The best part is, you can optimize PPC campaigns to target affordable, yet actionable keywords in specific geographical areas. PPC lets you get your advertisement in front of highly targeted keywords in your local market, which will increase your conversions.
6. Small business tips offline.
Brick-and-mortar locations are the staple of small businesses. Even in the increasingly digital world, there are several offline tactics that can help small businesses excel.
7. Become active in the community.
Small businesses are often considered to be “backbones” of their respective communities. As a result, local companies can differentiate themselves by staying active in local affairs. In fact, 82 percent of consumers consider corporate social responsibility as an important factor when making purchasing decisions. As a start, you can join your local Chamber of Commerce to find relevant events in your target market. If you really want to make a splash, consider sponsoring a local event or charity. Social activism in your local community is an excellent marketing tool and a great way to gain positive PR.
8. Target local government contracts.
The government sets aside specific contracts for companies that are designated as small businesses. If your business qualifies, you should consider going after local opportunities. Winning a government contract can provide a stable and consistent revenue stream to supplement other clients. The SBA states that the law requires the government to award 23 percent of their contracts to local businesses, which amounts to roughly $115 billion annually. Winning these contracts are not a given, and you’ll need to devote time and energy into understanding and finding opportunities, as well as creating compelling proposals. However, the risk vs. reward is substantial if you’re able to win a government contract.
9. Focus on the customer experience.
If small businesses are the backbone of a community, then customers are the heart of small businesses. As such, it is vital that your small business focus its efforts on providing the best customer experience possible. Cox reports that 90 percent of U.S. consumers frequent small businesses at least once a week. Furthermore, 63 percent of the respondents said that they feel a strong need to support local entrepreneurs. This is mostly in part to the convenience, customer service and social equity of local businesses compared to corporations. As a result, small businesses can dominate their local market by providing incredible customer service, convenient operating hours, a friendly atmosphere and the inclusion of customer opinions and feedback into strategic decisions.
10. Don’t be afraid of change.
Change is one of the hardest things for small business owners to accept. However, an inability to adapt to changing trends can kill your small business quicker than any competition can. In fact, autonomy and flexibility are two benefits that small business have over corporate competitors. The bureaucracy of larger companies can make it difficult for pivots or strategic changes, but as a small business with a typically flat management style, you are able to adapt on the fly. CRM and other integrated data systems can provide small businesses the insight needed to see trends in their operations. This will help you capitalize on opportunities and prepare for imminent threats.
Life as a small business owner can be difficult. With the saturation of local markets and the increasingly globalized economy, the external pressures forced down on small businesses can seem insurmountable. However, there are several strategies that small businesses can focus on to improve their competitive position. Remember to market yourself online, continue to improve your relationship with customers and never be afraid to change.