Remember the old days when people did all their shopping on Main Street? Back then grocers, pharmacists and hardware stores made names for themselves based on more than just the goods that they sold. It was also about being a member of the community and somebody that could be counted on for their expertise. Reputations were made by the talk on the street about how a merchant stepped up to help, and they were likewise lost when word got out about a shady deal or a finger on the scale.
Times have changed and the digital marketplace has replaced Main Street, but the truth is that when it comes to local customers the old ways are still the best. The more you connect with customers and establish yourself as a trusted brand, the more positively your business will be perceived and the more likely it is that when consumers need what you’re selling, they’ll come to you. The secret is in knowing how to translate that old-fashioned customer service and brand integrity into the digital forum. Here are my top three recommendations for putting yourself at the top of the list when it comes to attracting local customers.
Get Listed on Local Search Sites
This is a step that far too few businesses are taking advantage of. From Yelp to Yahoo to Google Plus, every local search listing provides businesses with the opportunity to establish a profile for themselves at no charge. These profiles include information on hours, location, how to contact you and even limited space to provide potential customers with a brief description. Additional information can be provided for a fee, but it’s more important to make sure that you’re actually there and that you’ve taken ownership of the free listing than it is to have the biggest and best listing. Getting all of your pertinent data onto each site means that when people in your area search for your service, you show up. And showing up is half the battle.
Ask Customers for Online Reviews
This is crucial. Once you have your listing on local sites, it is essential that you ask your clients to write reviews of your business. The secret to doing this is to make it easy for them. If you are a service business, send out an email thanking your clients after you’ve provided them with a service and in the body of the email include links directly to the sites where a review would be submitted. Explain how much you appreciate their business and how important these reviews are – most people use reviews themselves to make decisions, but they may not realize how critically important it is for a small or medium-sized business to have lots of positive comments, or what a difference it makes. If you run a retail establishment, provide an iPad right in the store next to the register, or when you submit a check at your eating establishment. Most consumers rely heavily on reviews that they find online to make purchase decisions, so make sure that you have plenty and that they’re current.
One more note on this — make sure that you take the time to respond to reviews. Taking the time to post an explanation or make good in response to a negative review or complaint, or to thank somebody for their positive review, are both viewed positively by people considering your business.
Build Your Digital Presence
Today’s consumers want to know more about you than what is on your website — they want to see different sides beyond what you’re selling. This means that you need to use social media sites to provide a sense of yourself as an innovator, a thought-leader, and a trendsetter. Make sure that you have a blog that is providing readers with interesting, well-written content related to your business that is refreshed on a regular basis. Establish a Facebook page and an Instagram account that posts photos and events on a regular basis so that customers can engage with you. The more of your clients follow and comment on your posts, the more people in their networks will see you as well. Finally, learn how to use Twitter and build a quality following by posting and retweeting news that is of interest to your target audience and industry.
Mastering the digital marketplace is not difficult – it just takes an investment in learning about the various tools that are out there. Once you’ve become comfortable and start engaging with each, you’ll find that you’ve given yourself a whole new way to relate to your clients and establish yourself as a trusted brand.