The founder of My Virtual Neighbourhood website, Basil Fansa, shares his top tips on promoting your business locally.
Getting noticed can be one of the most challenging things for small businesses. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach customers organically (i.e for free) via social media and search engines, but there are some free and simple things you can and need to do that will have a big impact. Making sure your business is visible and stands out will help it survive these challenging times.
The absolute essentials…
- Make sure your business appears on search engines– primarily Google Search and Maps. You need to create a Google My Business Profile and fill in all the fields. Verify ownership of your listing!
- Create a website if you don’t already have one and make sure it’s up to date. It’s surprising how many businesses still don’t have websites and, of those that do, how many haven’t updated their opening hours. Include customer testimonials, details of any awards and high quality photos. It’s easy and cheap to build a website, particularly if all you need is a few simple pages. You don’t always need to shell out big bucks for someone else to do it. There are many build-it-yourself sites such as Wix and Squarespace and you can build something simple in less than a day. For those businesses focussed on e-commerce check out Shopify. It’s worth having a news / blog page so you can share successes or unusual stories and drive traffic back to your site.
- Get social media savvy! Set up business pages for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and post regularly. Local content, pictures of your products, funny stories, heart-warming stories, news of new staff or fabulous staff! Share big news with local community groups – Facebook groups are particularly good for this (simply search for your area name in Facebook and see which groups come up). Always be polite and friendly on social media and share posts by other local companies – hopefully in time they’ll share yours too!
Well worth doing…
- Register with online directories. My Virtual Neighbourhood was launched in response to the pandemic to help promote small businesses – it’s free and the platform is supported by Wandsworth Council, which launched My Virtual Wandsworth in 2020, and now has close to 600 independent Wandsworth businesses listed. It’s a brilliant way of reaching a local audience. We also recommend registering with Yell, Yelp and Bing.
- Use email. Ask your customers for permission to add them to your mailing list, both in-store and via your website, so you can send them special offers, news or exclusive invitations to events and drum up repeat business. Email campaigns, if done correctly, can offer the best returns for your time investment. There are lots of platforms that will help you create and send out emails and most, like Mailchimp, have free options. Email your audience every week or two with relevant and interesting updates and make them feel part of the family. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes when creating content – would you be interested in reading it if you were them?
- Switch on Google Analytics. You need to know how many people are visiting your website, where they’re coming from and how they behave. This data enables you to tailor your marketing and reach a wider pool of potential customers. Google Analytics is a brilliant way of seeing what draws people in and converts them into customers. And it’s free.
Actively growing your business and keeping customers happy…
- Get involved in community events and charitable initiatives. The businesses which stepped up to help people in need during the pandemic built huge goodwill in their communities and that often translates into trade.
- When you have news, share it with local media. Take an imaginative picture that sums up your story and email your local paper or news websites. Make sure you include your phone number so they can interview you if they’d like to. Invite local influencers (press or those with big Instagram followings) to try your product.
- Get reviews! Ask loyal customers to review your business on platforms like Google, Facebook and Tripadvisor. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- Reward loyalty and delight your customers. Giving a little freebie or perk to a loyal customer will make them feel special and more likely to tell their friends about your business. Check out local loyalty clubs like www.localbuyersclub.com too.
“It’s so helpful to have a list of local businesses at your fingertips. If you are looking for a local restaurant, need to get something repaired, or want to buy a gift for someone at the last minute, it’s helpful to know there is a company nearby you can visit or that can get something delivered to you quickly. Even better is that most of these small independent retailers offer something different from the mainstream, which is perfect for curious people like me.” Susan Mucney, founder Shop Curious, Putney
Why not join My Virtual Wandsworth by registering your business or submitting details of your favourtite one here