Buy local sign on market booth

The Guide to Going Local With Your Small Business

10+ min read • Jun 26, 2020 • Jesse Sumrak

Local is the new global. The businesses that prioritize their own backyards are uniquely positioned to claim big wins and loyal customers. Small businesses might not have the scale of massive chains to conquer globally, but they do have the speed, flexibility, and intimate presence to dominate local markets—and that has the potential to be even more advantageous.

Shopping local is what most customers prefer—67% of Americans favor shopping at small businesses instead of large chains. Why? Because local businesses provide a unique gift selection, more personalized shopping experience, higher quality items, and better service. Plus, money spent locally stays in the community.

Small businesses can provide the convenience and improved customer support that local consumers want and need in a way big chains just can’t.

But winning locally isn’t as simple as opening a shop downtown and expecting the localvores and localites to flock. Just building it does not mean they will come. 

Going local (and winning local) requires optimizing your localized supply chain, investing in digital and offline local marketing, and incentivizing the local experience.

This guide’s tips for going local aren’t limited to brick-and-mortar locations or brand new businesses. Even if your business is completely online, you can win your local market with these tried-and-true tactics. And if your shop has been around for years or even decades, it’s never too late to teach your old dog some new tricks.

This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to grow your small business and conquer the local market.   

Build an Efficient Local Supply Chain

Beyond consumer preferences, building a local supply chain can protect your business from spreading protectionism. In light of Brexit, tariffs, and now COVID-19, shortening supply chains isn’t only an environmental consideration but also a business security and efficiency decision.

It’s possible to build, buy, and sell locally, and the businesses that master all 3 will be better positioned to win the local market. Here are a few benefits of building a local supply chain:

  • Minimize environmental footprint: The resources you use and the materials you source must come from somewhere, and the farther they come, the more energy and emissions you create. Almost 90% of consumers will switch to a brand connected to a good cause, and 66% claim they’d even pay a premium for more sustainable goods.
  • Boost employee morale: A study found that 50% of respondents (and 75% of millennials) would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible business. To hire and retain the best of the best, you’ll need to make sustainability a priority.
  • Support the local community: When you build and buy locally, you’re also doing your part to support a healthy community. And a healthy community isn’t just good for your happiness and well-being—it’s good for business.
  • Reduce risk: When you source your raw materials or goods globally, you run a few risks: delivery failure, lower quality, and overall lack of control.
  • Cheaper transportation costs: It costs a lot less to truck over raw materials from your region rather than fly or ship your goods from overseas.

Opting for local manufacturers and raw materials isn’t always the cheapest option, but the cheapest choice isn’t invariably the best choice. Consumers are willing to pay more for local products, which means you don’t need to source your products overseas to pinch pennies—you can raise prices to offset increased COGS (cost of goods sold).

How to Build a Local Supply Chain

Here are a few tips to help you get your local supply chain up and running:

  1. Research your local market’s capabilities: Discover what your local suppliers and manufacturers can do. Get a few price estimates, and see if there are any profitable partnerships.
  2. Be willing to work with suppliers: Some suppliers may not be primed and ready to support you right now, but they may be willing to modify or convert their processes to accommodate your business. Don’t just nix a business because it isn’t the perfect fit from the get-go—work with them to see if there’s potential.
  3. Leverage networking events and local meetups: Join your local chamber of commerce. Get involved in the community. Go to meetups and network with other like-minded professionals. You may find and create beneficial partnerships to support your supply chain.

Focus on Local Digital Marketing

Local digital marketing might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not. To win locally, your business will need to have a digital presence:

Pretty amazing, right? In-store shopping and the online experience aren’t separate worlds—they’re one and the same. You can’t capitalize on these consumer preferences if you don’t make digital marketing a priority.

If you haven’t built your online presence yet, take a look at our All-in-One Guide to Taking Your Business Online. It’ll help walk you through everything from creating a stellar website to executing your promotional strategy on the right channels.

After you’ve launched your online presence and have done the basic optimizations, it’s time to execute a few key local digital marketing tactics.  

Make Sure You’re Searchable

SEO (search engine optimization) is the practice of optimizing your website so that it’ll rank higher (hopefully, on the 1st page) of your customers’ Google searches. Local SEO is the process of making your business more visible to local search results. 

If you’ve optimized your site correctly, your pages will appear when users search for terms like “restaurants near me” and “best furniture store in XYZ.” Close to 80% of location-based mobile searches result in offline purchases, meaning your site needs to be both searchable and mobile-friendly.

Here are a few ways to make your business rank higher on local search results:

  • Create and verify your Google My Business page: Google My Business pages allow you to display and edit searchable information about your business, like business hours, contact information, locations, website, and more.
  • Add location pages to your website: Location pages let Google know exactly where your brick-and-mortar store locations are.
  • Create local content: Think about the kinds of queries your customers might be Googling. If you own a wedding venue, that might include searches like: “best wedding venues in XYZ county,” “top places to get married in XYZ,” or even “summer wedding flowers near me.” Use a keyword research tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest to discover the exact terms your customers are searching for online—then create relevant local content for them to find.
  • Mobile, mobile, mobile: More Google searches happen on smartphones than computers. If your website is mobile-friendly, Google is more likely to rank your page higher.

Grow Your Online Reviews

The internet might be full of trolls, and while haters are gonna’ hate, you can’t ignore the importance of online reviews. 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people (even if they’re complete strangers), and 67% of consumers admit that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. With that kind of power, you need to make your online reviews a priority.

First, you’ll need to start generating reviews. Create and claim your business accounts on Google, Bing, Yelp, Facebook, and any other review sites that are relevant to your industry. Next, use both digital and physical calls-to-action to request customers leave a review. Digitally, this could mean putting a “Leave a Review” button on your email newsletters or website. Physically, it could be having your waiter or waitress ask customers to please leave a review or giving out stickers requesting a review at the cash register.

Now that you have reviews rolling in, it’s time to moderate them. Thank customers who leave you 5-star reviews, and if someone leaves you a less-than-pleasant review, follow-up with their concerns and let them know they’ve been heard (then, preferably correct the issue).

Create Targeted Local Ads

You can use Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising to target your local customers. Google Adwords lets you get hyper-granular with your ads: you can target users based on a geographic location or when they use specific geographic keywords in their searches. Local ads are more cost-effective because you’re only advertising to buyers with the most potential.

You can execute the same targeted local ads strategy on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to connect with your customers in the most relevant online spaces.

Experiment With Local Influencer Marketing

You don’t need to sponsor a celebrity or famous athlete to win your customers’ business—you’d be surprised how much clout your local influencers have. Look for individuals in your community who your target audience trusts and follows:

  • Local politicians like the mayor
  • Semi-pro athletes or well-known coaches
  • Headmasters and principals
  • Artists and writers
  • Other respected business leaders

If the community respects the individual and they align well with your brand, a local influencer could have a huge influence on your neighborhood market.

How to Win Local Business Offline

While the world and its consumer preferences are shifting to a digital experience, you still have to win in real life (IRL). You’ll need to go above and beyond with your offline marketing and business operations to succeed. Fortunately, many of the local marketing tactics that worked decades ago are still effective today.

Partner With Local Businesses

Identify other local companies (that sell complementary goods and services) that’d be a good fit to work with. For example, if you own a gym, your business would naturally be able to work with massage therapists, nutritionists, coaches, and even sports stores.

Consider ways you can work together for mutual benefit. Perhaps you could invite a nutritionist to set up a booth at your gym in exchange for them recommending your business as their preferred gym.

Pitch to Local News Outlets

It’s a lot easier to score free press with your local media sources than with the bigger news giants. While large news outlets receive thousands of pitches, your local news is likely desperate for the latest and greatest stories—and they don’t always have the resources to go out and find them on their own. That’s where you come in.

Whether you have an upcoming event or are launching an innovative new product, look for ways you can tie your news to local stories or hot topics. For example, with COVID-19 the highlight of every news outlet, you could pitch the clever ways your business is dealing with the problem and helping local customers.

Revamp Your Store

First impressions mean everything. Users often leave web pages in as little as 10 seconds if they don’t immediately like what they see. The same is true for your visiting in-store customers and passerby foot traffic.

Let’s face it—practically everyone judges a book by its cover, and if your cover (storefront) isn’t impressive, many won’t give it a chance and come inside. Make sure your outside storefront and inside branding are clean, consistent, and intentional.

To really deliver a holistic brand experience, get your brick-and-mortar location’s branding to match your digital branding as closely as possible. Use the same colors, fonts, taglines, and images to make the transition from online to in-store as seamless as possible, and vice versa. 

Incentivize the Local Experience

Think about it—why would someone shop in-store or online at your local business when the whole world is their shopping oyster? Without some kind of local incentive, you’re competing against global competitors on price points, features, advertising spend, and other dog-eat-dog factors.

Deliver on what only your local small business can provide. People are willing to shop local (even if it means paying a little more), but what more can you give to earn their business? Here are a few ideas to consider:

Promote Your Locally-Sourced Mission

Customers enjoy knowing that they’re buying one-of-a-kind (not shipped at scale from overseas) products. Plus, customers get the double benefit of knowing they’re pushing the local business cycle forward by buying from you. 

However, customers aren’t going to know about your local build, buy, and sell efforts if you don’t tell them. If you’ve built a local supply chain, put it in your tagline, about page, and everywhere for your customers to see. This is one of the few things it’s okay to brag about.

Provide Unrivaled Customer Support

While email, chat, and phone calls get the job done, there’s nothing quite like talking to a local (in-person or online) to get answers to your questions. Go above and beyond to help your customers in ways a business across the country or world never can.

Sell Unique Products

In an ever-more connected world, it’s hard to compete locally or globally if your product doesn’t have a unique selling proposition (USP). Think of ways to differentiate your items or services. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling top-notch fish from the local lake or feature-rich vacuum cleaners handmade from the county’s best craftsmen. Find (or create) what makes your product different from its thousands of competitors.

Give Back to the Community

This strategy is both a local marketing tactic and a genuine philanthropic effort—a win-win on all accounts. Think of ways you can get involved in the community to make your local area a better place and to build awareness and respect for your business. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Sponsor your local Little League baseball team
  • Fund a park bench, shelter, pergola, or playground
  • Volunteer employee business hours to community services
  • Enter a float in the town parade
  • Support or host a local event, concert, conference, workshop, or festival
  • Donate to a local food bank
  • Give a portion of your sales to a local charity

Remember, it’s 2020—consumers are trained to detect baloney. Be genuine with your contributions and do it for the right reasons. Your local consumers will know the difference.

Sometimes Local Is All You Need

In an increasingly connected world, it’s easy to neglect your community and grow your business elsewhere—regardless of where you’re actually located. But going local has boundless benefits, and it’s what most consumers prefer.

The businesses that win at both local offline and digital marketing will stand out from the competition and continue to grow year after year. Use your online presence to drive offline conversions, and vice versa.

Your business doesn’t have to be a globally recognized brand to succeed. If you play your cards right, your local market might be the only consumers you ever need.

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Jesse Sumrak

Jesse Sumrak is a Social Media Manager for SendGrid, a leading digital communication platform. He's created and managed content for startups, growth-stage companies, and publicly-traded businesses. Jesse has spent almost a decade writing about small business and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped startup. When he's not dabbling in digital marketing, you'll find him ultrarunning in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Jesse studied Public Relations at Brigham Young University.