Trying to grow your business?

5 old school and 5 online marketing ideas to help your local business thrive

Having your own business isn’t easy. And neither is marketing.

Balancing time spent marketing your business and actually running it is no walk in the park either.

It’s crucial to find marketing ideas and inspiration that you can implement for your business and help it not only survive, but thrive.

In this article, I’ll talk about 5 of my favorite old school marketing tips (not involving tech or the internet) and 5 of my favorite new school marketing tips (involving the internet and email)

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5 Old School Marketing Tips for Your Local Business

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1. Co-promote with other local businesses

If you have a physical location (or several), try partnering up with other local businesses that are not in your same industry.

For example, if you’re a ski shop in Aspen, partner up with a local bar. Get the bar to have flyers around like “Show this flyer at Skippy’s Ski Shop for 50% off boot rentals” and in exchange at your ski shop you could have flyers like “Show this flyer at Dave’s Tavern for a free beer with any dinner entrée.”

It’s brilliant because you’re both sending people to each other, and you’re not at all competing. And it doesn’t have to be just limited to partnering with one other business. Maybe, if you’re the example ski shop, you can promote a coffee shop with a similar partnership, as well as partnering with the bar.

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2. Speak at groups and conferences

Speaking at a conference is a great way to get yourself, and your business, in front of a new audience.

Showing off your expertise encourages those audience members to “know, like, and trust” you, which can lead to new business or at least new relationships.

And it doesn’t have to be a huge conference in front of a thousand people. There are tons of smaller events you can speak at.

An example from my own life: years ago I was at a BarCamp in Philly (BarCamp is a one day tech conference at which anyone can speak on a topic) and the founder of an accounting company gave a talk about A/B testing, which is totally unrelated to accounting, but to this day I still remember that guy, his talk, AND his accounting company’s name, because he presented an interesting topic and provided value.

And if you know someone putting on a small business talk, you might even be able to do a really quick pitch at the end of the talk. I was trying to promote a local training event I was putting on, and I went to a talk someone I knew was presenting that was in the same industry, and was given ninety seconds to pitch and explain my own event at the end. And guess what happened? 25% of attendants came to my event.

So find local events and talks that relate at all to what you do, and do whatever you can to get in front of that group.

And really, it almost doesn’t even have to relate. That talk I attended about A/B testing led by an accountant? Totally unrelated, but if I needed an accountant at the time, I would have talked to him.

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3. Send a package to high value potential customers

You get junk e-mail, and you probably delete it without opening it, or at least without reading it all.

You get junk mail, but you probably open it up and glance at it before shredding it.

But what if you got a small package in the mail? You’d definitely open that. I would. How can you not? Curiosity would get the best of you.

So let’s say you sell embroidery services and promotional products, and you focus on the medical niche. You know that practice managers are your ideal point of contact within those medical offices, because they are the decision maker who can choose to order from you.

So you send them a box, an actual box in the mail. Inside, it has a handwritten note introducing yourself, and pitching them, and also some swag, some promotional item that you could do for them.

They’ll definitely open that. They’re very likely to remember it when you call the following week to say hello and ask if they got it.

In my space, it makes sense for us to send a really nice promotional Vacord Screen Printing t-shirt to companies that we want as customers. Once they feel how soft our printing is, and see how nice the print quality is, they’ll probably consider us. And spending $8 or whatever to send them a sample shirt to get their attention is so worth it, because of the potential lifetime value we can get from them.

So figure out what you can include in that little package, and start sending some out!

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4. Host an event related to your industry

I talked already about speaking at other events, but why not host your own?

If you have the space at your office or shop to have some sort of talk related, you should host an event. If it’s not a topic you can speak on yourself, or you’re (understandably) not thrilled at the idea of public speaking, you could always just organize the event and host it.

Hosting and organizing an event can be an effective and affordable way to get your space / your company / your service in front of people. Local experts on the topic may be willing to speak for free, just for their own exposure and networking.

If you’re a mechanic that specializes in working on foreign cars, host an event for Porsche owners to get together for breakfast, like a Cars & Coffee type event. Provide the donuts and coffee and all that, because that small food expense would be covered by just one new customer getting even a pair of new tires. Or host a Volvo owner get together. Anything like that can work, and getting specific can make it work way better.

When I was in college, I worked at a bike shop, fixing up old 3 speed bicycles. The owner hosted an annual event for folder bikes. That’s pretty niche, those weird looking bicycles that fold up to go on the train with you, but a specific niche is good, and it helped introduce his shop (which of course sold these expensive folding bikes) to people who were into the folding bikes. Perfectly targeted marketing. (That same shop also hosted free basic bicycle maintenance classes, which is perhaps even smarter, because it’s less work to put together.)

And if you’re looking to network with people who could be great connections to help grow your business, don’t host an event, just host a private dinner. Invite 8 to 12 local people that you think could help you out, and that you could help out, and, most importantly, would want to meet each other. Reserve a big table at a restaurant you like, and invite them all. Let them know who is getting invited (especially if they would be recognizable names), as that would potentially entice them to come more.

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5. Ask for three specific referrals

This one isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s effective. All of your customers know other people, and they could very well know other people who need your service.

Saying “We love referrals! Please send your friends our way” is really casual and polite, but it’s not effective.

What is way more effective is asking your happy customers for three specific people whom they can contact. This will only work if your customer is truly happy. If they think you only did an okay job, don’t bother.

When I got a custom suit made for my wedding, the tailor asked for specific referrals, so that he could pitch them and say “We did a suit for your friend Stuart, what can we do for you?”

He went a step further to make it easy on me, and actually had a print out of my LinkedIn connections who lived in my city! I thought that was kinda bold, but it made me really easy for me to circle anyone I thought could use a suit from him. And it worked. I circled a lot of people that he could pitch.

5 online Marketing Tips for Your Local Business

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1. Set up Retargeting

When I talk about “retargeting” to people, often their eyes glaze over and they have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. But this is how I explain it…

You know when you’re on Amazon, and you search for, say, some handsome new shoes? And you poke around and look at a couple options, then you get a call or you go back to email, or whatever else out of one thousand distractions, and you don’t buy those shoes… but for the next week, those shoes follow you around the internet. They are EVERYWHERE. They seem inescapable. And you probably end up buying them.

That’s retargeting. It’s powerful. And it’s a little daunting but you should implement it for your business.

2% of your website visitors for your business will take action on their first visit, if you’re doing a great job with your website. 2% is marvelous. But that still feels so crazy low!

So since they don’t pull the trigger on the first visit, you need to stay in their mind, and in front of them. And retargeting is how you do that.

Why does Amazon spend so much money showing you advertisements for those specific shoes you looked at? Because there’s a decent chance you want them. And that’s the power of retargeting. You know who is at least slightly interested in what, so you keep working them until they order or move at least down your sales funnel a bit more.

Let’s say you’re a car dealer. You sell Audis. You of course have a website. And maybe I’m actually in the market for a new car, and I’m sorta shopping around and sorta daydreaming about what to get. So I visit your website, and also the website for a local Mazda dealer, and a Volvo dealer, and a couple others.

As a car dealer, a lead is worth a LOT to you. When someone visits your website, you “pixel” them, which is basically tagging them, and adding them to a custom audience based on what they do on your site.

Not to get too in depth on retargeting, because that world can get real deep real fast, but you can put people in different retargeting audiences based on what they do on your site, to a crazy specific level.

In this example, let’s say I looked at the local Audi dealer’s main page, the index. But then I looked at the page about sedans in general, and then the page for the A6, and then I looked at the page with contact info and the page with info on financing.

Boy howdy, it totally looks like I’m seriously considering an Audi A6! I’m a warm lead. They don’t know who I really am, because I never called or emailed or anything, but the retargeting system is set up to understand that I’m pretty interested in an A6.

So what happens then? The Audi dealership should show me the A6 over and over. The dealership has their own Instagram account, and they show up in my feed as an ad.

Since I went to the financing page, I’m in a special audience, and they show me and everyone else in that audience a promoted article via Facebook about how an Audi holds it value, or why it’s a good purchase, etc.

I see more dealership ads on random websites as I browse the web and do my thing.

They even show me a Youtube ad with the salesmen inviting me to come in and test drive, showing stock footage of the Audi taking swift corners.

They’re spending a decent amount of money showing me and all the other people who hit those specific pages these ads.

And you know what? It’s so worth it. Because I’m not a cold lead, I’m not a random person seeing a billboard or a newspaper ad. I have shown interest so I’m worth them pursuing.

If you are spending money to drive traffic to your website, or doing anything really to get people to visit it, you should set up retargeting, even really basic retargeting.

(I recommend Perfect Audience because it makes it pretty easy to set up different audiences, and different ads going to different places, and keep an eye on what works and what isn’t cost effective. And you can get a $120 free trial with this referral link.)

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2. Write blog content and promote the heck out of it

Content marketing is getting more and more common, and it can be great for your business, as a source of traffic and leads.

If you like to write (luckily I do), it can be a pleasure.

If you don’t like to write, or it just takes you forever, you can always hire someone else to do it!

Content marketing works because it helps you retarget. People will visit your blog to read an article, and you can show them ads later.

It works because you can show that you’re an expert in your field.

It works because you can get people to visit your site that otherwise never would.

It works because you can get visitors to hang out longer on your site, as they check out other articles you’ve written.

And it works because it gives them a reason to download a “lead magnet” that means they give up their email address, in order to get on your newsletter (more on the value of that in a minute).

But what if your business is boring? I have a friend with a dry cleaning business here. Would you want to read about dry cleaning? I certainly would not. He probably wouldn’t either, and he’s even in that business.

But if you have a dry cleaners, your target market is so broad that it a large percentage of the population could potentially be your market, so you just have to get in front of them (and retarget later!).

If your dry cleaning business is in Memphis, you could write an article about the best coffee shops to have a meeting in Memphis (because people who have business meetings probably need dry cleaning). Or you could write about business networking events specifically in the area. Or about whether the Memphis BNI group or the Memphis Chamber of Commerce is better for business networking. You get the idea. Write content FOR your target audience’s interest, not about your own business, and then retarget them or offer a coupon for their first order or whatever you can to get them to consider your business.

However, writing a blog post is worthless unless you promote it. Share it with some other local business people that you know that could possibly find it interesting. Post it to your company’s Facebook page, on your Twitter page, on your LinkedIn, in a Reddit group for your city (if there is one). And speaking of content…

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3. Send out a monthly email newsletter

Those articles you write should go in your company’s monthly email newsletter. A newsletter is cheap to operate and pretty easy. And it can be extremely valuable for your growth and customer retention.

If you run a car detailing company, you could include recent before and after pictures of the most dramatic cleanups you did (like a family van that trashed with neon gummy worms embedded in the carpet, and you almost made it like new again.) If you’re a local marketing company, you could include small marketing tips in your newsletter. If you’re a landscaper, you could talk about how a recent late-season freeze affected local lawns.

Put whatever relevant content you have in your newsletter. The goal is to be helpful and interesting, but also stay in the prospect’s / customer’s mind so that when they need your service, they know who to call, instead of just going to Google and searching for a solution.

And what if you just can’t think of original content? You can get started just by curating other people’s content. Maybe you do web design and target local businesses as clients. Your newsletter could also just be the five best articles you have found in the last month relating to online marketing tips and local business news. Round those up, give your comments on them, and link out to them. This way you’re still providing value and relevant content to your newsletter audience without having to write original content.

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4. The “Copy Followers” technique

This technique can work really well to help grow your Twitter and Instagram following.

(Side note, if you don’t have a Twitter or an Instagram for your business, I’d recommend you get at least one of them. If your business is more informational or service oriented, like an accounting firm, Twitter might make more sense, because you can just share info and articles and whatnot. But if you’re doing something visual, like an embroidery shop or a restaurant, Instagram might be more effective since pictures would work well to show off what you do.

This technique is also a little nerdy. But it works. The idea is that, if you have an Instagram for your sports bar in Nashville, you should follow not the other sports bars in Nashville, but the other people who follow those sports bars. Why? Because they’re probably interested in sports bars in Nashville, and that’s what you have!

And it doesn’t have to just be other sports bars if you are trying to grow an Instagram for your sports bar. You could also follow people who follow the Instagram for local sports teams, local sports talk shows, stuff like that.

If you’re an accounting firm trying to grow your Twitter following, you could copy the followers of your local BNI chapters and your local Chamber of Commerce, as well as other accounting firms, local law offices, and so on.

The beauty of this is that you are finding little pockets of interested targets on social media, and you have a chance of getting them to follow you.

And here’s the method:
- Find a target Instagram or Twitter similar to your niche, industry or audience.
- Copy those followers, maybe 100 at a time
- Wait a couple days!
- If someone hasn’t followed you back, they’re probably not going to, either because they’re uninterested, they aren’t really active on the platform, whatever. But that’s fine, because now you are just going to unfollow all those people who didn’t follow you back!
- Repeat the process

If it’s well targeted, you’ll get 10 to 20% of people you follow to follow you back. Maybe more.

And if this sounds boring and repetitive, well, it is. But it’s easy. And it’s effective. I recently grew the Instagram for a local business by following the followers of the biggest local competitor. Our follower count grew 80% because of that, and those followers are pretty active and engaged.

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5. Get into an industry newsletter

There are tons of little industry and organization newsletters that are looking for content. They’ll probably be quite happy to have you as a guest writer just so they have some fresh content coming in.

And you don’t have to be an expert in that industry, of course, just offer content that could be helpful to their members. Quick example, if you’re an accountant, you could write an article about the 5 most common business accounting and tax mistakes that small businesses make. That’d get attention, and they’ll read it, and it’s great because you’re providing them value and getting in front of their eyeballs. And you can have a small byline, like “Jim Johnson is the President of ABC Accounting. If you have questions about your taxes or accounting, shoot him an email at” and you can get leads that way.

Maybe you don’t think that would work, but it really can. You may have to be a member of the organization first, but these organizations can be really cheap to join sometimes, and your ROI can make it worth it.

I’ve seen this work for myself. I don’t know if you can tell yet, but I love marketing. And I also go to community acupuncture sometimes. I ended up joining an organization for community acupuncture shops and I wrote two marketing articles for their newsletter, just small little articles, with a small pitch at the end for our screen printing service. And it resulted in six orders! Totally worth it.

How do you find these newsletters? Google is a start, of course, but if you have customers in a niche that you want to pursue further, ask them what organizations they belong to that they like for their industry, and those organizations will probably have a newsletter, either in print or just an online newsletter.

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Bonus old-school marketing tip:
Give away shirts!

Did you ever participate in some event, like a 5k or a volunteer event, and they gave you a boxy, uncomfortable shirt that wasn’t good looking, and it’s in the back of your closet, ignored forever? Or maybe you even use it a rag to wash your car.

That’s a waste of swag opportunity.

When Google Fiber was coming to my city, they offered free shirts to people. No requirement to sign up or anything, just ask for a nice free shirt and they’d send you one. And I saw hundreds of people wearing these shirts walking around. That’s phenomenal marketing. It’s good will to all these prospects for Google Fiber, and it’s also a ton of walking billboards.

And the difference between a volunteer shirt that you never wear and that Google Fiber shirt that you wear fairly often is quality. Those Google Fibers shirts were nice. It was a soft shirt with a good-looking print.

Giving away shirts may sound expensive, but they don’t cost that much each, even if they’re quite nicely done, and don’t have to just hand them out willy-nilly.

You could run a contest with your customers on social media and give the winners a shirt. Or just give shirts to your best customers. Consider their lifetime value versus the small cost of one shirt, and how their friends as well as strangers will see them wearing that shirt. That’s pretty great cost-per-impression, as they say in the marketing world.

When I lived in Charleston, I bought a mattress from a local mattress company. Mattresses are boring, but this company had really nice looking tshirts that they sometimes gave away. I never got one, because they had run out, but I really wanted one. I would have worn it. My friend there had one and wore it all the time. Imagine that, a soft t-shirt with a nice and simple logo on it, that customers actually would wear around town, for even something so not-exciting as a mattress!

And if you don’t want to give away shirts, you can always sell them of course. We print awesome shirts for a coffee shop in North Charleston, and they sell them to their customers. And they do sell, because they have loyal customers who care about them and their coffee shop. And it makes sense for them to sell them rather than give them away, because a cup of coffee isn’t much money. I mean, if you’re selling a $1000 mattress you can afford to throw in a $6 t-shirt, but maybe not so much with a coffee shop.

The live action adventure company, The Escape Game, lets you buy a shirt ONLY if you win. Their games involve basically being locked in a room with a group of people and you have to figure out how to get out (more fun than it sounds). But by letting people buy a shirt only if they win, they create a tribe effect, as well as scarcity, plus you can show off your pride that you won by wearing the shirt.

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