A business’ effect on the community is an important thing to consider, as community support can create a positive reputation, attract new customers and encourage customer loyalty, regardless of the size of the business.
I believe there is a misconception about economic development and the oversight of the role of small businesses. Small businesses call the community “home” and may be on Main Street, on the outskirts or a farm/ranch operation.
One reason for the lack of attention to small businesses often stems from a perception that they generate little in terms of jobs and dollars for the community’s economic engine.
Small businesses supply many of the goods and services that are necessary to keep a community vibrant and fresh. In looking at small business best practices, it is safe to assume these businesses have a vested interest in their community, resulting in returning some of their profits back into other businesses in the area or investing in the community as a whole. This, along with the community involvement of the business owners, makes small businesses more vital to local economies than large corporations, unless those corporations happen to be headquartered in that community. Small businesses also provide many of the employment opportunities in communities.
As human beings, we need community. Community allows us to connect with people. In business, community is a way to connect with your audience. Once you’ve defined that target audience, you can do one of two things: engage in existing communities that reach your audience or start a community that attracts them.
For small businesses, networking is valuable tool and a great way to find out who your ideal customers are and positioning yourself in front of them so they know who you are and what products or services you offer. If you don’t have a good network of contacts and connections, growing your business could be much more difficult.
Networking not only puts you in front of other business leaders in the community, but it also helps you meet potential customers face to face so you can sell yourself and your company to them. Even though networking can be challenging or intimidating at first, it can be beneficial in growing your business. Make sure to stay in touch with the people you meet because your next client might be them or someone they referred to you.
Even if your company is small, you don’t always have to go it alone. Here are some suggestions for reaching out to your larger community of small business owners:
- Maintain positive relationships with co-workers — Because good employees represent a major resource in a small business, the time and effort the owner invests in nurturing that relationship has a huge return on investment. Employees who feel seen, respected and appreciated almost always produce more than anticipated.
- Join professional organizations — Our community offers so many professional organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Elk’s to name a few.
- Break down barriers — Be aware that people have a tendency to maintain loyalty to brands and services within them. It goes without saying that if they feel that what they are exchanging money for is well worth what they paid, they remember and will want to do it again.
- Be flexible — Be pleasant, light-hearted and conversational. This is the situation in which you really make the most of the fact that you are a person, not just a business. Find out what the person you’re talking to does and think of ways you could help them and they could help you. Discuss these openly. Make helpful suggestions and explain what you’re looking for. People will be more open to you if you can help them too.
- Join the chamber of commerce — Every community has a chamber of commerce and every chamber of commerce needs members and volunteers to help out and sponsor local events, workshops and serve on different committees. Contact yours and ask how you can get involved. Associate your brand with the community you live in. It’s a great way to support your city, build name recognition and establish valuable connections.
Lynn Pietroski is president and CEO of the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly in NNY Business.