Methods of Networking and Marketing in Your Community
Networking and marketing to your local community is an artful blend of community relations and community involvement. This article is designed to help you get started within your local community.
Building and Presenting Your Professional Portfolio
In order to network and market your company, you want to create a book of work examples if you are a service oriented business, or product samples if you are a vendor or retail business. In essence, make sure you have an abundance of visuals to show your prospective clients. You must have your portfolio ready to present when you speak directly with prospects or when they ask to see samples.
If you have a product line, you should also be prepared with product samples so your prospect can touch and smell what you offer and see the quality you produce. At the same time you build your portfolio, you will want to list out business references with contact phone numbers so that your prospective clients can call them without having to come back to you first. This communicates both confidence and trustworthiness to your new client and helps you to close the deal when it's time for the client to make their decision on providers.
Chamber of Commerce
The Chamber of Commerce exists in all big U.S. cities and most small cities for the purpose of building business in the local community. The Chamber serves the local businesses to help build out businesses in the community and provide a number of marketing and business tools.
A major marketing tool the Chamber provides in most communities is a catalog or electronic copy of its members and their contact information. In some communities this list of information is available only to other members of the Chamber, but in most cities it is available to any business person who makes the request and pays the fee [normally under $100 in most communities].
This business list gives you immediate access to the business owners and top decision makers in your community. It helps you to identify common businesses of interest and of competitors. You will be able to scope out your competitors as well as immediately market your services to local business people.
The Chamber of Commerce also houses the center of the SCORE [Service Corps of Retired Executives] in most communities. In starting your business, you will want to seek the advice of SCORE advisors for resource information and local marketing tips. These retired executives are experts in their fields and can offer you professional advice as well on the ins and outs of local business marketing, trends and community plans.
Give Aways, Prizes and Grand Openings
When opening a new business, your first priority is to let your local community know that you are in business. Professional marketers point to a correlation between a business' success and its grand opening. Stats suggest that if your business does not do a grand opening, your percentages of succeeding in the first 5 years of business diminish greatly. Since most businesses [95%] fail within the first 5 years, you want to take measures to insure your success by doing everything possible to start out right – with a broad appeal to your local community and lots of local support. You will want to invite people to buy your goods or services and compare. A small investment in prizes and give-aways along with public promotion is necessary for your grand opening.
Planning your grand opening is at the top of important things to do; it's at least as important as your business plan in the first few months of your business. Be prepared to execute an appropriately planned grand opening with all of the right appeal, give-aways, prizes, discounts and opportunities. Be sure to make your prizes fit your business. Don't give away an airplane if you open a feed store.
When you plan your grand opening, you will want to utilize all of the free local newspapers that you can find in your area. Some papers are regional and have a larger draw. Don't discount the regional papers just because they are outside of your immediate community or city. For example, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area metroplex, The Greensheet is a local free newspaper that boasts a circulation of nearly 200,000 households; the Houston area circulation for this paper is just under 400,000 households.
The free newspapers in your area generally have large circulations and a population that is looking for both "the latest/greatest" and discount buying. This means that both your goals as a new business owner and that of the reading population are complimentary making the free paper an ideal advertising for your local market. A well placed ad announcing your business' grand opening running for several weeks is money well spent in the marketplace.
An upstart advertising budget of $45,000 for the first year can buy you at least 3 billboards in your local community each month and still have some left for small newspaper ads and other local avenues. Although this may seem like a large figure to many new business people, it is not a terribly large budget if you are beginning a traditional brick and mortar business. Online businesses naturally have a lower overhead and normally lower operating and marketing budgets.
Networking and Marketing To Your Region and State
The Art and Importance of List Building
Networking and marketing require "list building" regardless of what level of the market you want to reach. At all levels of business, you will want to designate someone in your marketing department as the go-to person for your company's list building. In the face-to-face world this means someone in charge of collecting and data basing prospective client's names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. There isn't a stage in your business in which this will not be of importance to you. Neglecting this important part of business is a formula for failure.
If your company is a new online business, the list building will be of most importance to you immediately. You will want to regularly focus on building out your list, especially at the national, state and regional level. But this is actually true at all levels of list building. The online company has a greater ability to focus attention to the international market as well without too much additional outlay. You may need some pages translated to hit foreign markets, but otherwise the costs are the same as domestic marketing.
The internet is packed with marketing and list building gurus as well as software to help accommodate the labor intensive, time consuming process.
If you have no online presence, no website or if you don't plan to implement a net strategy, then you may choose more traditional marketing such as direct mail. Even with direct mail, it is in your company's best interest to continue to both build and maintain your list. Your ability to directly reach your prospect or client is key to successful marketing for any new business.
On the low-budget end of the spectrum, you can purchase a program such as ACT 2011 by Sage to keep an active database of your list. The program costs less than $200 and can integrate with common desktop software such as Microsoft's Word. If you are a traditional brick and mortar business, then your direct mail list can be maintained through this software. It is also a top piece of software and designed in such a way as to integrate with other internet marketing systems if you decide to have an online presence and include online marketing in your business model.
In the beginner's stage and on the low-budget scale, you can start up your list building with a simple membership to the AWeber platform. The initial account holds up to 500 email addresses and is a low $19 per month. On the top end, platforms such as AWeber top out around 25,000. Once your list outgrows the platform, then you have other concerns. Also remember, AWeber, Constant Contact and similar programs do not manage database basics such as phone number, address and any other personally pertinent details that you want to keep track of. By contrast, ACT will hold all of those details integrate to their systems and keep your email list intact.
The "graduate level" [and high-end] of list building systems include CRM [Customer Relations Management] systems such as Infusionsoft.Infusionsoft is the Caddy of them all. It grows with you and has a seemingly endless capacity to accommodate your company's growth. On the low-end, Infusionsoft starts with a package for $199 per month that handles 10,000 contacts. On the high-end of the small business packages, it handles up to a half-million contacts for $499 per month. The really cool features in Infusionsoft's packages are that there is flexibility in the structure, the software handles the entire contact information, and they do not require a contract.
Your company's involvement with regional and statewide charities is another excellent source of networking and marketing to your local, regional and state markets. Big named and well respected charities are the best affiliations you can have and are somewhat easy to participate in.
Contact the charity and ask for the sponsor's requirements. This is almost always a financial figure that will be quoted to you. Find out your charity's event dates and payment deadlines and follow their direction. From there you simply have to show up and smile here and there.
Before the charitable event, you will ask about the publicity and if your company's name will be included in the list of named sponsors. This is particularly important when dealing with the free promotionals that come as you near the event date. You can be part of the hoopla in the free radio and television publicity that will invariably be a part of the event.
In exchange for your few hundred or few thousand dollars contribution, you become associated with the respectable cause in the community or region. There is a natural respect and honor that comes to you and your company from your association with the charitable event. Most importantly, the associated publicity and the event itself help to get your company name in the front of the public's mind and on their tongues. Close behind this publicity comes the visits and the wallets of your public.
College Interns for Marketing
As a local or regional small business you are able to build a relationship with the local college or university career center director. The director will give you the term schedule for career fairs, job posting opportunities and internships. Most marketing majors in your local college are looking for solid experience, often through an internship.
The internship that you offer through your local university can be paid or unpaid, but the coolest detail of the internship is that you get fresh, young views and energy into your company and your company's efforts. Regardless of your age now, there will be a day when you are not so young and your company can be at risk of growing stale and out of touch. With one or two regular internships operating in your company, you insure that you stay in touch and your company up-to-date, even after you have passed the "cool" ages.
As with any internship you will actually create a job description and a detailed and plain set of responsibilities for your intern(s). After all, you are offering the intern valuable marketplace experience which makes them prime for the pickings at graduation time. Don't rob them by not giving them responsibilities and some creative reigns. Your interns will work better too if they are taken under an executive's "wing" so they have exposure to a top decision maker in your company. The executive/mentor – intern relationship is ideal and can lead to other things such as an opportunity to recruit top talent from your local university.