Small businesses are the bedrock of local communities and when it comes to engaging with yours, the buck works both ways.
For you as an owner, it does wonders for your reputation, exposes your name to new eyes and opens the door to more sales. And for the community, it provides a sense of giving back. People up and down the country go out of their way to buy from local SMEs over large franchises so if you give them a reason to, they’d revel in the opportunity.
So, how do you start reaping all these awesome benefits? Here are eight starting points.
For starters, you’ll be doing something great for yourself. Volunteering’s incredibly rewarding and by the end of it, you’ll walk away with a real sense of achievement.
In terms of business benefits, giving back says a lot about your company’s values and in a dog-eat-dog world, sometimes, values can be the deciding factor of a sale; not the quality or price of your actual product or service.
And finally, depending on the nature of your volunteering, it could lend itself well to meeting lots of new people in the community and who knows how and when those relationships will come in handy down the line.
A couple of tips with this one:
Whether it’s your local grassroots football team, Scouts club, annual parade or monthly theatre production, in every town there are activities that rely on donations from local businesses. It’ll probably cost you a few hundred quid to get your foot in the door but the investment will repay itself in the long run.
What you get will depend on what you sponsor, so just make sure you’re clear on what you want from the outset - while being reasonable, of course, getting into a barmy with the organiser will do the opposite to what you’re after!
Now it might not be suitable for everyone reading this, but if you offer something ‘workshopable’, you could put on a free session (it doesn’t have to be long, 30-60 minutes would do) for fellow business owners to share your expertise.
Dedicate an hour of your time here and there to popping your head in other business owners’ doors and having a chat with them. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t require a well-thought-out backstory and it certainly doesn’t cost a penny, but just go and say hello.
Remember not to turn it into a sales pitch though. In the first instance, it’s all about getting to know each other and building the foundation for a future relationship - who knows what it’ll lead to later on.
See which local businesses align with yours and explore some partnership opportunities. For example, if you’re a cafe and at the moment you order all your cakes in from a company out of town, could you team up with a local cake shop instead?
Not only will you forge a great relationship with a new business, but locals will love the fact you’re keeping the production side of things in-town and that could even form another unique selling point.
Getting involved with community boards is another great way to get yourself known because, usually, the other people serving are connected to local businesses too.
Joining any board would be beneficial but to get the most out of your efforts, it probably makes sense to find one that’s closely (or if needs be loosely) connected to your business’ offering.
Remember: don’t just be on the board for the sake of trying to win new business. That won’t work. To have effect you need to actually bring something to the table.
More often than not, other businesses will be there too so you can use it as a chance to mingle - as well as shout about your business, win-win.
If your business isn’t really conducive to having its own stall at an event, fair or parade, that’s okay, you can still either:
And if you want to take it one step further, why not run an event of your own? If you’re stuck for inspiration and don’t want to make it all ‘me, me, me’ piggyback onto something else, like National Small Business Week.
...But make sure it’s specific to your local community, it won’t have the same impact otherwise. For example, sticking with our make-believe coffee shop, you could run something along the lines of:
“On the last Friday of this month, we’ll be offering all local business owners and employees 50% off their morning cuppa!”
Even if the owner themselves don’t take you up on it, at least some of their employees probably will and that’ll get your name on their radar.