Marketing for a business that provides a local service to a given city or region requires some special considerations by you, the marketing professional. Unlike companies that provide global or national services, or services that are not location-dependent, marketers that promote a local business need to focus on A) targeting local customers effectively, and B) not wasting marketing budget on advertising to customers who are outside the service region.
Targeting local customers means knowing where your market is, where they shop, what they read, and what their network looks like. For example, if you market a local car service that has a high-end component that is responsible for a significant portion of your margin, it is important that you target the people in your area that are looking for such services: corporate executive, corporate executive assistants, party planners, wedding planners, high-level sales peoples, high-end tourist agencies etc. This is one example, but you should think about all your marketing decisions in the local service situation in terms of targeting your specific local market while saving money and maximizing ROI by staying local and specific.
Top Tips for Effective Local Marketing:
- Define your market very specifically. If marketing a car service, as in our previous example, the definition might look something like “Boston-based management level professionals that travel for business.” Try to come up with a definition that is very specific but complete. If you market has several tiers to it—for example the management level professional and teenagers that rent limos for the prom—you may need to consider several different market definitions.
- If you are in the situation where your market has several specific tiers to it (i.e. business professionals AND occasional limousine renters), make sure you divide you plan and execute different marketing campaigns that correspond to each tier, and do not try to cover the entire gamut with one campaign. In a local market, specificity is key to efficient and effective use of marketing budget.
- When advertising locally, print advertising is an effective way to target your specific audience. For example, a local publication for wedding planners, like a wedding planner association news letter, is a highly targeted effective way to reach a specific audience.
- Local internet marketing is also a highly cost-effective and targeted tool for reaching a local audience. Include internet marketing efforts that target location-specific keywords (name of your city, region, etc.). Include your business in online location-specific business directories (Google Places, Yahoo Local, Citysearch, Yelp, etc.)
- Attend local conferences, tradeshows, and events. Following our car service example, a local wedding planning conference or business networking conference is a great place to advertise your services, and local conferences are typically a lot less expensive than more general, larger conferences. Focus on conferences that are specific to your customers, NOT conferences and tradeshows that are specific to your industry and more likely to be attended by your competition.
- Possibly the most important thing you can do is ask for local referrals from your satisfied customers. Trust and communication exist among a local social or professional network, and leveraging this by asking your satisfied customers to tell other about you, “like” you on Facebook, etc. yields huge results.
Challenges in the Business World
Owning and running a business of any size is a difficult endeavour. There are many obstacles and challenges that are bound to pop up. For example, product shortages, shipping problems and keeping the client happy. It certainly takes a strong mind and constitution to handle the ups and downs of owning a business.
According to a study by Arthur Anderson, business owners feel that the most significant obstacles to running a business is finding and keeping competent employees. A business, no matter how innovative its product or services cannot properly function without knowledgeable, dedicated and hard-working representatives. A good employee is the hardihood of any company. Employees are the front line between the client and the company’s vision. A company needs to know where to look, what types of questions to ask in an interview and what sorts of answers to listen for.
Another challenge a business owner faces is creating up with and maintaining a clear vision for the company. Not only must a company’s goal be clear and concise, it must also be long term and flexible. The vision must be clear so that the client does not have to work hard to understand what your company stands for. When the customer has a clear picture of your company, they are more likely to put their trust in your brand, thus, increasing the likelihood of them becoming a loyal client. The vision must be long term because it gives the company something to work toward. Long term goals help set the company up to make decisions that benefits its future. The business’s goal must also be flexible because as time passes a product must be able to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the customer.
In recent years, running and owning a business has been even more difficult due to the recession which created economic uncertainty. As Thomas Cooley explains in his 2010 Forbes article, today’s economy’s recovery from recession into sustainability is “fragile.” Business owners have to be careful to understand the market their product or service falls into. It is imperative for the company to be aware of their market’s regular rise and fall so that it can be prepared if the economy takes an irregular downturn. This is, again, why good employees are so important. Loyal employees will understand that during economic instability a company may need to make temporary changes.
Because of the current economic uncertainty, gaining access to adequate capital is a concern for business owners. Business owners need capital to expand their company, to market and advertise their product or service and to gain new clients. In today’s world, banks and investors are more hesitant to back new companies and new ideas for fear that the economy will fall and their investment will be lost. Difficulty gaining capital can make contending with the dynamic world of technology very complicated. It is now necessary for companies to make technologies, such as social networking, an integral part of their business plan. For business owners who are not familiar with such things, becoming knowledgeable about how to successfully implement social networking and online advertising can be extremely difficult. What’s more, a company that has trouble accessing capital, hiring consultants to educate its employees may be out of reach which means many business and companies are left to muddle through this learning experience on their own.
Women owned businesses face all the same challenges as businesses owned by men but they also face unique challenges. Jenna Goudreau, a writer for The Next Women Business Magazine, says that “women owned firms account for [forty percent] of all privately held firms” and they “employ more than [thirteen] million people [but] …. Most of these businesses … have revenues below the million-dollar mark” which is, on average, “[twenty-seven percent] … of [the] majority [of] men-owned businesses.” This may be due to the specific obstacles women face in the business world.
One of the problems women face are stereotypes. Though men face stereotypes in the world of business as well, these are generally positive characterizations. For example, men are often described as ferocious, unrelenting, dedicated, rugged and courageous. Women, however, are often not taken seriously because the stereotypes that face them are not so positive. These types of stereotypes are damaging to the growth and maintenance of a business. It creates skewed perceptions and lowers the expectations investors have of women-owned businesses. Women are viewed as soft and fragile. There is a perception that women don’t have the inner strength necessary to handle the high stress environment of the business world.
Many women who start businesses do so later in life than men because, although times have changed, women are most often still the primary caregivers for children. Many women, who have been the primary childcare providers for years, start businesses as a way to challenge themselves and to “integrate work and family.” Women see owning their own business as a successful way to balance a career and a home life. They often want to keep their companies at a size where they can personally oversee all aspects of the business which can lead to problems of short-sightedness and a failure to plan for the long term. This may become a problem if the economy changes or there is a change in demand. In fact, research shows that the only statistically significant predictor of business growth is….the entrepreneur’s goal for growth which means that a business, according to statistics, may not grow if an entrepreneur does not plan for the future.
Women, on average, though often better at building relationships than men, are hesitant to form relationships with banks as they often see debt as a negative. Men, on the other hand often view debt as a necessary part of business. Women look to family and friends as investors instead of banks. This could “explain to a great degree why more women don’t seek more sophisticated forms of financial products and services.” What’s more, research shows that many women who own businesses “believe they would not get credit even if they applied” which “feeds the perception that [women] are not serious about growth.” In order for these negative perceptions and stereotypes to be converted into positive ones, women must swallow their hesitations about obtaining debt in order to grow the business, and change their mindsets regarding banks so that they can take the first step towards change. This change must come about so that the rest of the business world will begin to see them as truly committed to their company.
Distribution, Production and Legal: Women Can Handle it All
Business owners in today’s world face challenges when attempting to create and maintain a successful business. For example, business owners often struggle to find and keep competent employees create a clear and concise vision or goal for the company, keeping track of economic uncertainty and maintaining pace with technological developments. Because of the tumultuous nature of the history of women in the business world, female business owners face unique challenges on top of those that plague business owners in general.
Women in the business world, on top of having to search for knowledgeable employees, build a clear goal for their business, handling economic uncertainty and technological developments, also face negative stereotypes, a fear of accumulating debt and resistance to business growth in favour of maintaining a small business so that they can remain personally in control of their employees and business affairs.
It is clear from these three explorations into a few of the different areas of the business world that women have every potential to excel in business, even in the face of the unique challenges they face. Although women face extra challenges in the business world they also bring unique talents as well. For example, women are natural relationship builders, and this skill helps immensely in forming social networks. Two of the main reasons that women are excellent relationship builders are that women are very good communicators and that they have the ability to keep their end goal in focus but also making sure they don’t miss other potentially important details. This comes in handy, for example, for female lawyers who must keep their staff and their clients happy all at the same time. Or, for a manager who must at once listen to her employees concerns and also lead them in a direction that’s right for the company by efficiently delegating tasks. This also applies to the production retail owner who may want to keep her business small in order to give her company a personal touch and be able to better balance work and home life.
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