Thursday, December 24, 2015

Promote your business with partnerships

     Any small business can promote itself by partnering with other local businesses. Two businesses come together to hold open houses, informational meetings, workshops and other gatherings. These attract more attention than either acting alone.

     Informal gatherings are popular with the public. Especially when they are free. People are hungry for how-to information. They want to ask their questions and get answers from people who know. And maybe a cup of coffee or tea.

     Getting started -- Talk with another, non-competing, business owner. Set up an open house at your place or at the other business. Both businesses invite current customers/clients with phone calls, emails, Facebook announcements, Twitter tweets, maybe even a news release. Get the word out to as many people as you can. 

     Encourage attendance by emphasizing that it is free. Point to what will be demonstrated or discussed. Serve coffee and cookies. Tell people to bring their questions--and their friends. You don't need to rent a hall--most places can accommodate a dozen or so people.

     Partnering possibilities -- Here are five examples to show you the way.  1. A small accounting office partners with a financial planner to hold an open meeting on retirement possibilities, inheritance set-ups, taxes, and more.   2. A computer expert partners with a local cafe answering all questions about computer problems, social media, viruses, etc. Everyone has questions about computers, and attendees get to know another place to grab a bite to eat.   3. A florist partners with a wedding specialist to hold a workshop on how to make that special day more special. Or the florist partners with a caterer who furnishes hors d'oeuvres.   4. A landscaper partners with a book store to offer tips on taking care of yards, designing new landscapes, how-to information on pruning. Attendees get to know the landscaper and peruse the gardening books--and buy some to take away.   5. A potter partners with an artist who paints watercolors. The event is held at the potter's studio. The potter demonstrates how to throw a pot, while the artist demonstrates techniques working in watercolors. A partnering bakery is added to the mix, and attendees munch on goodies while they get to know the potter, the artist, and the baker.

     Small businesses benefit enormously when they partner with each other to hold events. Excitement is created in the community. The gathering introduces people to both businesses. It's among the best of promotions you can tackle.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Keeping up with the times

     For years, the word went out. The impending death of small stores was a favorite topic in the media. As usual, they were wrong.
    First, the bricks-and-mortars were going to give way to big malls. Then, online shopping was supposed to replace much of retail. But a funny thing happened on the way to the future. 

     Mall times -- Amy inherited a women's clothing and accessories shop in town. Sales were slow. Amy realized that women were drawn to the fashionable stores that popped up in the new mall outside town. She embarked on redefining her shop--not to compete directly, but to create a new destination. First, Amy visited fashion shows in big cities. She got on the Internet and found new designers looking for outlets. She began offering unique clothing designs and accessories that were not to be found at the mall stores. At the same time, she promoted heavily on social media. Today, Amy even offers a fashion show frequently at her shop, using customers as models. All this has created excitement among women shoppers. She has successfully separated herself from the well-known chain stores at the mall.

     Big box times -- Rick once had the only hardware store in his town. Then, a regional WalMart arrived, followed by Home Depot and Lowe's. Rick's options were few--he could close, move elsewhere, or go into another business. He decided on another option--to stay in the same business but redirect it, and move to a bigger location outside town. He developed a very clear idea--he would offer only quality products to discerning customers. And he would additionally concentrate on supplying electrical and plumbing contractors with the specific products they needed, using online suppliers to ship overnight whatever was called for. Also, Rick added truck and trailer rentals. Today, Rick is thankful that the big box stores came to the area--they forced him to expand his business.

     Small store times -- Mary spotted a unique opportunity when she looked at the changing marketplace. She and her friends frequently had conversations about their experiences in malls and big department stores. All the products looked the same, the quality left something to be desired, and customer service was iffy at best. Mary decided to open a small in-town shop. She filled it with clothing made from natural fibers, simple toys for children, jewelry handmade by local artists, unique tools for kitchen and garden, and many additional and unusual items. Her shop appeals to the first time visitor and they are returning. People--especially younger shoppers--appreciate the convenience, unique products, and the personal attention they get. Mary is building her brand and her loyal customer base. She posts pictures regularly on social media, and she has added shipping to her website. 

      Malls and big box stores have their place in the vast American marketplace. So do small shops. Astute owners of small businesses make adjustments--to survive and thrive. The shopping-small and shopping-local movements are alive and well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Turn your pictures into ads

     You take a zillion pictures with your new technological marvels. But how many times have you used your pictures to promote your business?
     Time was, you had to hire a professional photographer to take pictures for your business promotions. Those days are gone.

     Today, professional photographers still stand ready to serve. They take pictures meeting high standards of quality--weddings, events and product photography are examples.

     But using pictures to promote your business on social media is a different world. Viewers see your pictures for a few seconds. Pictures remind people who you are. The pictures build your brand. And they get passed around to friends.

     Healthcare -- Yolinda is a certified acupuncturist. She opened her place and attracted a growing stream of clients, but she knew she could do more. To promote, she decided to set aside a room devoted to community acupuncture. People could walk in, no appointment necessary, spend 20 minutes in a quiet, darkened room and relax. It served as an introduction to acupuncture. She posted close-up pictures (no faces) of her work on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram two or three times each week. More curious clients showed up--including healthcare professionals eager to learn more about acupuncture.

     Construction -- Mike is a small contractor specializing in creatively designed decks and porches. To promote, Mike takes pictures of jobs in progress and he posts them on social media. His multi-level decks attract lots of attention, and the close-ups of details of his work clearly show his expertise as a carpenter. Recently, he posted pictures of a tree house he built for neighborhood kids. These pictures led to several new projects.

     Interiors -- Susan is an interior decorator specializing in window treatments. She, too, takes pictures of all projects underway and posts on social media. Pictures of her drapery arrangements have created quite a buzz. Drapery materials, pleats and hangings are shown in her pictures. But nothing attracted more attention than a picture she posted showing open drapes with a cat curled up on the windowsill. Pets can be used to promote any business--work them into any picture you take and watch the results. 

     You are missing opportunities to promote your small business if you don't post pictures on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and others. Just keep taking those pictures.