I was reading some of the posts within one of the groups I'm in on Facebook and it was asking about how to turn a mostly digital business small business into one that has more local clients. I think that's an AWESOME question, because I think it's so important to be active in your local community.
As you probably already know, I work with a lot of local businesses (local to the Fredericksburg area). Yes, it helps that this is my hometown and I know it, but to be honest, I started over almost completely when I moved back from Northern Virginia. Almost all of the local business relationships I have now have been formed in the last 3 years of running my own business.
I absolutely LOVE working with other locals: local businesses, local brides, local vendors. It has a near and dear place in my heart because I love seeing Fredericksburg grow into such an amazing town. I have a passion for it so it makes me want to get involved. I love working with others that have as much passion as I do. Those people who understand what it's like to run a small business; those people who know the value of your work because they work just as hard as you do. You can't run a small business in an area that's not growing or prospering. Well, maybe you could, but it would be hard! The better your local community is doing, the better YOU can do. And you need to work together to achieve that. I mean, isn't this the definition of Community Over Competition??
Okay, okay. Enough talk on why I love supporting local businesses.
There are so many ways to get involved and give back to the place you call home. I could go on all day. However, I can't give away ALL of my secrets, but there are a few ways to get started...
Be Visible. And not just on social media. Yes, social media is important. We all know this. But I'm just talking about being visible in your community. Go walk around. Go say hello to people. Go sit at your local coffee shop and make friends with the barista and be a regular. Go grab a drink during happy hour and introduce yourself to the bartender. Seriously. I can't tell you how many people I've made doing that. By keeping my mind open to meeting people; by managing my body language to be welcoming and inviting (i.e. don't cross your arms and look angry...smile and talk with your hands).
Shop Locally. I love walking around downtown and doing a little shopping. While I LOVE Target and all of the amazing hours I could spend there, I try to visit a local shop once a week for something I need and when I go, I try to talk to the owners or whomever is working there. I like to ask questions and learn a little bit more about their shop and who they are, and possibly even introduce myself.
Join a Local Group. While I love groups like Tuesday's Together, it can be very inundated with others in the creative industry. And that can be SO helpful in some ways, but in others it can make it really hard to find new clients. So this past year, I joined a few other groups of local, young professionals as a way to meet new people. I joined the boards and got on committees; I attended local events; I sponsored events; and I even started volunteering. Whatever works for YOU. This is another great way to be visible in the community.
It doesn't happen overnight. Ok, so out of all of this, this is the big one. It truly doesn't happen overnight. Don't expect to go to one event and walk out with 5 new client leads. Hell, don't expect to walk out with one if I'm being honest. I'll go to events that I think are a total blow, and then out of nowhere 6 months later I'll get emails asking about my services and wondering how I can help them.
The thing is, for some of us creatives, people don't know what they need until they need it. So they may not need any marketing, logos, branding or gift boxes now, but they might in the future...And that's when they contact me, because I made an impression and I made them feel welcome and like they could shoot me an email whenever they needed anything...which leads to my last point.
Attitude is everything...aka it's not all about business. If you come at this from a sales perspective all the time, people aren't going to want to talk to you because they will feel like you're always trying to sell them something. You know those people too and you know who I'm talking about. There's a delicate balance. Do'nt be afraid to tell them what you do and be proud of your profession, but also be interested in them too. Ask questions, pay attention, and be happy to listen to what they have to say. It makes such a huge difference! Don't talk to them with the intention of getting that sale; talk to them like you would a friend and create a bond that makes an impression.
Remember...A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.