1. Be intentional about developing authentic relationships.
Being local is all about community. One of the reasons why small businesses are flourishing is because their owners tend to have more time or make more time to engage with customers and other owners. They play a vital role in the health of local communities. According to an article in The Houston Chronicle, "Small businesses also help stimulate economic growth by providing employment opportunities to people who may not be employable by larger corporations." For example, college students who have not graduated are an excellent resource for internships. In turn, they develop necessary skills for permanent employment. In addition to building relationships with local universities, think strategically. Create alliances with other professionals from diverse fields including: finance, shipping or graphic design for example. I recently interviewed the owners of a Nashville-based company called Beardition. Mark Williams and Kristin Schleihs create solutions that maintain men's beards and facial health. They maintain relationships with their customers via their blog "Beard of the Week" contest and social media chats.
2. Take every opportunity to crowdsource. Social media is an integral part of any business plan.
It is an ideal way to generate traffic through connections, promotion and collaboration. Your crowd, tribe, fans and/or supporters want to connect. Never be afraid to ask for help and support. Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub are another great way to connect on a larger scale. For some, these sites are less intimidating than the typical door-to-door sales pitch and allow contributors to explore your brand on their own time. Fundit, a new mobile funding platform out of Portland, Ore., is building campaigns for food trucks while giving back to hunger charities. A chance encounter on Twitter led to an interview with Fundit Founder Anthony Myers. He said, "Crowdfunding is the future. It's replacing bank loans and traditional investors and venture capitalists. Not only does it obviously help the Fundee, but it offers a new way for the crowd to be involved and support causes and businesses they believe in."
3. Be open to advice and change.
The Local Lady was originally a mobile app idea for a class at Belmont University. It hasn't materialized... yet. But my Professor, Dr. Syb Bennett encouraged me to follow my passion. A year later I transformed the mission of this app into a blog where I continue to showcase local businesses and physically going to visit them to keep my followers better informed. Although my original idea hasn't yet come to fruition, I am living proof that change helps you discover new resources if you continue to put yourself out there.
4. Read and then read some more.
During your free time, read!! You will learn new ideas to implement into your business and share with customers. Grow Your Handmade Business by Kari Chapin is a clear and concise "how to" book on how small businesses are born. She gives practical advice from fellow entrepreneurs about how to balance all facets of creativity while promoting self-care. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman is a compilation of interviews with experts like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, and Karim Rashid. Millman's interviews give advice on developing a strong brand for yourself and your aspirations. Jon Acuff's latest book Start empowers the individual to be proactive in their dreams and to ignore the effects of fear and insecurities.
5. Apply for contests and community fairs that support local vendors.
Flea markets and craft fairs are prime places to make new small business alliances and to form new relationships! Your city website should have event listings for links to these applications and their deadlines. Customers want to see YOU. Allowing them to see and possibly purchase your product in person is not only valuable but also makes a lasting impression. In a digital world, personal connections are still king. Tracey Levine started Haulin' Oates organic oatmeal blends in San Francisco. She then expanded to Nashville after her husband's job was transferred to Music City. Levine loves exchanging ideas with other vendors near her booth at farmer's markets. She actively hosts pop-up shops for other vendors in her store and encourages customers to bring back their used jars for a discount on new purchases.
6. Customers want to know your story! Be proud of what you've created.
Don't you dare think twice about the value of your dream. Every owner I have spoken with started from the ground up. It's all about putting on that smile of yours and reevaluating the importance of local. Then grab a camera phone and share your ideas, tips, passion and experience. You will help someone to avoid some of the pitfalls you've encountered. And sharing is therapeutic. Reflection will generate more ways to improve your business.
7. Don't give up.
While this tip is easier said than done, it is so true in the business world. Many business owners have the same struggles to reach the public so communicate and remember every journey is a day-by-day process. You are just one sale away from victory. So ring it up!