~by Katie Kapro~
It doesn’t matter if your small business has been around for 2 months or twenty years – there’s always more to learn. There are courses on website best practices, seminars on how to build an email list, and workshops on how exactly you’re supposed to handle those snarky comments on your company Facebook page.
Every once in a while don’t you get that feeling that you just want to throw your smartphone on the cement and stomp on it until all the commenters, emailers and reviewers leak through the screen into oblivion? I know I do.
We all get burned out on the internet every now and then. It’s natural. All of these online forums in which we participate pull us in ten different directions at once. It’s okay to take a beat.
A beat, yes. But a break? That’s funny.
You’re a small business owner after all. Busyness is the name of the game.
When you put down your phone, there are plenty of offline practices left to consider that will expand your customer base, improve customer experience and make your business a more appealing place to be. All without a computer.
We’re going old school ladies and gentlemen.
Attract Customers Offline
My favorite part about building up a small business’s web presence is making it look beautiful – quality photos, rich colors and an appealing layout. It’s personal. It’s like decorating your home before a party.
The same impulse can drive offline marketing too.
The appearance of the outside of a storefront has a huge impact on attracting new customers. I once worked for a small business owner who every morning had her employees decorate the sidewalk in front of the store with colorful printed tapestries, clothing racks, flags, rugs, and banners. It was a lot of work, but those tapestries and signs flapping in the wind attracted more customers than a street fair.
The banner was ingenious. Having her company branding outside of the store, displayed in a fun and creative way, took her brand recognition through the roof.
If you decide to try this out, keep in mind that whatever signage or canopy you choose will have to hold up against the elements. Trust me. I’ve spent more time than I should admit resurrecting wind-ravaged e-z ups and nylon flags. When done wisely, outdoor signage is a simple and intuitive way to 1) Let people know what you’re all about, and 2) That the store is actually open.
We’ve all looked up a store’s hours online only to drive there and find that no one is home. Sometimes low tech is better.
Build Community Offline
Another great low tech way to improve your business is to host an event.
“There’s something different about meeting face-to-face and having a conversation that’s not delayed or happening through Facebook messages or limited to 140 characters,” says Karen Hartline, a former event coordinator at Mashable.
Yes Karen, it’s human interaction. It’s personal. It’s kinda why we’re here.
Events can be anything – trunk shows, author readings, community lectures, craft workshops, or foosball tournaments. The possibilities really are endless. Think of anything that will engage your customers, and that’s your event. The most important factor to consider when brainstorming for what kind of event you might host is simple: who are your customers?
Are they eccentric, traditional, active, or nerdy?
What kinds of community activities pique their interest?
Often times when I ask myself these questions I have trouble narrowing it down – they’re all unique people, right? So here’s my advice: if you’re not entirely sure what kind of event might unite your client base, try looking at them through a broader lens for inspiration.
In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, Brandstar founder Mark Alfieri reminds us that “millennials, aged 18 to 34, are particularly more cause-driven than other market groups.” Millennials make up a pretty broad swath of the population. So if your customer base falls into that swath, consider working a charity into your event. Donate a portion of the proceeds to a charitable foundation or cause. It won’t put more money in your pocket that night, but it’s good for the world and it will attract more future customers to your business.
Try it Out
So now it’s time. We’re both still looking at a screen. It’s time to power-down and try out some of these techniques. Let everyone know how it goes in the comments!
Katie Kapro has worked for locally-owned, women-run businesses since she was 16. She holds her MFA in non-fiction writing, and can usually be found ogling jewelry at her favorite bohemian boutique.