Community businesses, like all good businesses, need customers to survive. Often this can be a challenge when the community you are trying to help is small, such as in an isolated village, or hasn’t got much money to spend, such as in deprived urban areas. Either way, making your community business a destination is essential to attract customers from further afield, so you can continue delivering benefit to local people. So here’s our 9 tips, gleaned from community businesses themselves, to get yourself on the map. Warning: it involves a lot of talking to people over cups of tea and showing them round your community business.
1.Check out the competition
Whether you’re running a community bus service, shop or art centre, you are running a business, competing with others businesses who are offering the same services as you. So check out the competition. What are your competitors doing really well? What can you replicate? What can you do better or differently? Get the basics right.
2. Celebrate your differences
Unlike private businesses, you have direct links to the community which means a direct link to your market. Use it to your advantage. Asking people want they really want and need regularly can make your business stand out. That could be hosting film screenings in your community swimming pool or a job club in your community library.
3.Link up locally
It’s worth linking up with other businesses and local services to see if you can refer customers to each other. Do you offer childcare? Partner up with a school. Do you offer activities that support mental and physical health? Partner with a GP. It’s also worth getting involved in your local business network or Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
4.Invite local media to run a story about you
Media is still one of the best ways to reach a wide audience. Once you have your story straight, get in touch with the local newspaper, radio station or TV channel. Tell them why you are different and invite them to visit your community business so that when you do want to appear, you have the contacts lined up. If you have a specific event going on such as Community Business Weekend, that can be of great interest for their local audiences.
5.Get on social media
Don’t underestimate social media. People new to the area will probably have searched online for things to do and active social media channels can help your community business rank more highly in search results.
6.Talk to the local tourist board and tourist guides
Local tourist boards are always looking for great places to promote and activities that are unique experiences for visitors to the area. Get in touch and make sure your community business is listed on there, and have volunteers on hand to show visitors around.
7.Create a map
Rather than competing for the same customers, try to work with local businesses to create a local trail/crawl/route/treasure hunt that can guide customers through your town and literally put you on the map. Then make sure it’s stocked all over town.
8.Become a hub of activity
As well as your main services, think about ways you can diversify your income and make local people visit regularly. Your community business could be the place people pick up their prescriptions, or you could set up a Food Assembly. As a community business, you have the opportunity to be agile and try new things your community wants.
9.Ask for testimonials
Studies show that people trust the opinions of other people the most, over government, charities and media. So it’s really powerful to have your existing customers leave great reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, Google and even your Facebook page. It’s also a simple way of getting feedback and improving your customer experience.
Community Business Weekend is a national open doors event that runs from 5-8 October. Community businesses all over the country will be inviting the public to hear their story and get involved. A great opportunity to get your community business on the map. Register for your free event organiser pack www.communitybusinessweekend.org