Community Connections Drive Sales

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Connections Matter Even If You’re Not Web 2.0

What’s a nice local store owner to do?  Your traffic has taken a hit, your transactions are down and nothing moves that isn’t 50% off.

The internet has changed everything, but what does that have to do with your storefront. Social networking? You depend on walk-up business, not clicks and clacks. 

And, in today’s post 2008 economy (do-over anybody?) your marketing budget is reserved for next Sunday’s family meal.

So – It’s time for Social Networking In The Real World.  Social networking is not just for the net.  Strong connections in your community using old fashioned as well as web 2.0 tools can drive traffic through your doors and provide long-term protection for your sales base.

1) Reality Connections.  Has something gone dreadfully wrong with your product mix, service standards or quality control?  No reason to go out and crow about what you’re doing if folks hate what your selling.  Talk to your friends, talk to your enemies. Find some customers you haven’t seen in a while.  Look yourself up on Google. What are people saying, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Can you fix it? Hurry up. Step two will wait.

2) Local Connections. What do people care about in your selling area.  List them all – charities, churches, landmarks, famous folk, schools, football, baseball, soccer, parks, community centers, museums, galleries, child care, yearly festivals, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Jr. League…. What do you care about? Now – how can you make a meaningful difference with any of these organizations. 

3) Electronic Connections. Looked yourself up on google recently? I’m not sure what is worse…finding your business with a bad review or not finding your business at all (Probably the later).  Figure out where you should be found.  If you’re a restaurant try www.foodio54.com, www.urbanspoon.com, or www.dinesite.com. If you’re a service try www.angieslist.com.  There are review sites for everything, heck, if you board pets try www.petservicereview.com. (Bit of advice – don’t write your own reviews and don’t get upset at poor reviews – we all have a bad day.  Work to satisfy the unsatisfied and promote the idea of reviewing your shop to customers you know were happy. Most readers can quickly figure out if a poor review indicates a trend or just a grumpy customer.) And finally, put up a website of your own.  Many librarys offer free web hosting to local businesses and organizations and most high school students can put together a nice simple site for the cost of food. (Although you should pay in real money.)

4) Communication Connection. How does word spread in your selling area? Local web site? Local press? Local gossip? Library? Figure out who people listen too.  (Most communities are down to one or two local reporters at best – read the local paper or web portal and you’ll see their name on every article.)  Meet the mayor and other local politicians.  Get them to use your shop. Connect with the library. Figure out the radio and TV stations in your area that might be interested in something crazy. Now, next something crazy.

5) Crazy Connection. Small retailers don’t make news by being conservative and laid back. The first four points were all about developing strong long term relationships. Now give folks something to talk about. That charity or landmark you care about – Offer to donate $10 for every person who can fit in your store before the fire marshall shows up. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.  

Work the relationships you have researched above. For example, in addition to donating a register to win, put together a nice large sign and a coupon pack offering to donate 10% of each purchase to the organization. Start a list of the folks you meet. Get their email so you can save on postage. Join the local service organizations and take care of members. Be a nice guy. Develop win-win programs for any charity that calls. 

As you move along – put together a Facebook page outlining the schools and organizations you support. Develop a twitter feed so you can follow your favorite customers and they can follow you. Provide text message answers to questions about stock and ta-dah — you’ve reinforced your real world connections with web tools and programs that motivate local customers.

Fred H. Schlegel is a marketer and writer at www.frogblog.biz

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