There’s a shopping area not far from my house that epitomizes the value small businesses can bring to a community. Not only is there a wide variety of businesses with diverse offerings, but I can sense the camaraderie among the owners.
That’s why it came as no surprise to see a recent AT&T poll show just how much small businesses support one another.
In fact, 28 percent of those polled said doing business with other local shops is their single most important task as a responsible business owner. Small businesses can support each other in many ways, from a simple recommendation to sourcing products from their peers. Here are five ways I’ve seen businesses band together successfully:
1. Partner with local businesses that offer complementary products and services. Display each other’s marketing materials and consider offering reciprocal discounts. For example, a financial advisor and accountant might refer clients to one another, while an interior design firm and home goods store could offer location-based marketing offers toward each other’s business. You might even co-host workshops and share the attendee lists. After all, word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20-50 percent of all purchasing decisions, according to research by McKinsey & Co.
2. Who supplies the merchandise you sell or the office products you use? Who caters your staff lunches or special events? Look for opportunities to hire, contract, or buy from other local, independent businesses. This shows your community that you’re heeding your own message to support small companies, and it can pay off for you, too. Personally, I’m more inclined to visit stores and restaurants that work with local suppliers. Let customers know about your partnerships in your marketing messages.
3. Use your Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social sites to give a shout-out to your small business peers. If you are happy with a product or service you bought from a local store, or enjoyed a meal you had at a neighborhood restaurant, let your followers know about it. If you blog, consider swapping guest posts with business owners in complementary fields. These arrangements help bring added value to your readers.
4. Sidewalk sales, block parties and holiday-themed events are excellent ways to engage your community and boost sales. Some businesses in my neighborhood co-host a giant summer sale with discounts, kids’ activities, and small gifts with purchases. This is a nice way to say thank you and encourage customers to visit other businesses. Help increase sales at these events by creating a booklet customers can have businesses stamp when they make purchases. After a certain number of stamps, customers can be entered into a drawing for gifts from the businesses. Publicize your events on your social media pages,website, blog, and through your email list.
5. Along with getting involved in a local business association or chamber of commerce, joining small business-focused groups through online platforms such as Meetup.com or LinkedIn can be helpful for swapping ideas and learning what has worked well for other business owners. These groups can also be helpful for exchanging referrals and sharing best practices to help members grow their businesses.
How do you support other local businesses in your neighborhood? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Alice Bredin is America’s foremost small business expert, with more than 15 years of experience in the small business market. She has provided highly practical, actionable advice to millions of business owners through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary, and small business forums.