Getting involved in your community
Local companies are making big news in their communities lately. As the "shop small" trend continues, purchasing from small businesses has become a priority for more customers, and smart business owners are taking note.
Today's consumers take pride in patronizing local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, markets, shops and startups. In fact, according to a study conducted by AT&T, 90 percent of customers shop at small businesses on at least a monthly basis, and about half shop local weekly. Supporting companies that are unique to their area is a core value of younger generations in particular. Nearly half of those surveyed in the AT&T study do this to support local employment and to keep money in their communities rather than give it to a chain.
For these companies, boosting their profiles as a source of local pride means free advertising. To generate more enthusiasm and bring in new business, business owners can burnish their credentials as a community staple to please customers. However, to enjoy the immense benefits of being viewed as a valued resource and partner by the community, companies must first build strong brand awareness and identity.
Narrowing your focus to expand awareness
Some businesses have thrived due to their community involvement, and my company, Hatchbuck, is one of them. We put down our roots in St. Louis at one of the city's largest startup accelerators, T-REX. Since then, we've focused on helping other local small businesses by offering software discounts and providing them with marketing and sales consultation.
As we built strong relationships by following these practices, we found that word-of-mouth referrals and our extensive network helped us attract even more new customers outside of our local community.
Whole Foods provides another example of how demonstrating commitment to a community can reap big rewards. Supporting regional economies by working with local businesses and purchasing locally sourced produce and other products has helped the Austin-based grocery chain align with suppliers and partners in every community across its nationwide network of stores. And the model has paid off: Amazon is now acquiring that network for $13.7 billion.
Building a local presence
Becoming valued locally doesn't happen overnight. You can't develop a clear local identity without putting in the work and being strategic in those efforts. Here are some ways to get involved in the community and boost your company's standing.
1. Leverage networking events and local meetups.
Networking events can feel like a big waste of time, and many times, they are. However, you should still focus on attending a few worthwhile networking events every quarter. It might take some research to figure out which types of events yield the best results, so explore every option, whether by looking online or asking your local chamber of commerce.
Hosting public events gives you the opportunity to establish yourself in the community by showing government officials and other local companies what your values are and how you do business. You can also use an online platform like Nextdoor to interact with small business owners, partner up and exchange knowledge.
Networking events and meetups help you put your business's name out there, allowing you to more easily connect and partner with other businesses. If nothing else, you'll at least be able to gain a fresh perspective on your own business. Once you've established yourself as an expert in your field and other business owners come to trust your expertise, you can build an invaluable pipeline of connections.
2. Find or become a mentor.
Mentorship is the easiest way for a busy business owner to become involved in his or her local community. Local mentors offer tremendous value because they have experience in the same community you're trying to break into. They have been where you are and can offer specific advice, as they know the lay of the land already and understand what the community values most.
Find a great mentor for yourself through your networking efforts, but also do your part by mentoring other young professionals or startups in the community. If you can establish a great web of local partners you can brainstorm with, it will help you discover new ideas to propel your business to the next level.
This can be as simple as meeting up for coffee or lunch, or even a whiteboard strategy session to discuss how to solve a problem you're facing. Time and time again, I've personally seen these types of relationships pay it forward, driving interest in my company's products and services.
3. Build your personal brand.
Before you can turn your business into a pillar of your local community, you need to put a face on your brand. Humanizing your business and building awareness of your product or service is a prerequisite.
The key is to remember that customers respond to authenticity. Brand messages, for example, are 24 times more likely to be reshared when an employee posts them on his or her own page instead of the brand's social media account.
Many successful businesses rely on the face of their owner to demonstrate how they add value and give back to the communities they serve. Take the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Education Pathways program, for example. This special program focuses on improving the education cycle for students in the communities surrounding its headquarters in Washington by partnering with parents, educators, agencies and other influencers in the community.
You don't have to be a multibillion-dollar business to give back to the community; you can use the same tactics no matter what size your company is. Find your passion, and pursue outreach efforts that your small business cares about to create an authentic, personalized brand. Identify that passion, incorporate it into your company's core values, and use it to serve your community to help local audiences feel a more genuine connection to your company.
With local pride on the rise, the more involved your company is in your community, the better. Establish your brand as one that is truly committed to serving the community. The perceptions you foster will organically strengthen relationships all around and help you grow your business.