Ever dream of being your own boss? If you’ve got a good idea and are willing to take the plunge into starting your own business, it’s now easier (and cheaper) than ever to get a local business started.
Put Up Your Website (<$100/yr)
You’ll probably want your own domain, so you’ll have to shell out $12 or so to a domain seller like GoDaddy and get a shared hosting package for $7/month. After that, there are a number of free website builders you can use such as Weebly.
You don’t need to be a techy to do any of these things, but it helps if you are not afraid of trying to figure out how to do it yourself. And it couldn’t hurt to set up a blog so you can easily post some articles which can help you with SEO and customer engagement down the road.
Submit Your Business Info To The Top Local Search Services ($0)
Create a Google Places Profile and do the same on Yahoo Local, CitySearch, YP.com, Superpages, Yelp, InsiderPages, Merchant Circle and the major sites that rank for local queries for your service category (e.g. LocateaDoc, FindLaw, etc.).
Also submit your business info to the major business database suppliers – Localeze, InfoUSA & Acxiom. Make sure your data is consistent across all of these different sites. Cost = $0, although you could opt for some the premium services if you want to try to get things going faster.
Optimize Your Website & Relevant Local Profiles for Local SEO ($0)
Chris Smith spells out how to do it in great detail here.
Build a Facebook Page For Your Business ($0)
Do the same on Twitter, LinkedIn and any other site relevant to your market or your service category that allows you to create a profile. Start conversing with others in your industry/market to increase awareness of your service.
Check out Are You a Member of the Twitter Chamber of Commerce? for an example of how to build local brand awareness in Twitter or this one about how a new meat market in my town launched on Facebook before it had a website.
Write Some Articles For Local Media ($0)
There are any number of local media outlets that are eager (aka “desperate”) for content. It shouldn’t be too hard to identify a variety of opportunities for you to promote your business via a thoughtful article on something that you think might be of interest to your potential customers.
Some examples of perfect outlets include the local newspaper, the local business journal, the local Patch site (apparently AOL is looking for cheap content:)), local bloggers, etc. These articles can not only provide you with exposure, they can also help you with SEO via links and citations.
Launch a Group-Buying Promotion ($0 upfront – sort of)
A group-buying promotion can be a fantastic way to get a local business of the ground. A successful promotion could expose your brand to a large number of potential customers. The ability for a new business to get significant trial and early cash flow could be reason enough to do one. While you’ll have to make an investment in inventory and service capacity, I would assume that have already done so to get your biz started.
Since you are only paying the group-buying service when a customer pays you, the risk is not as great as marketing programs with upfront costs. Groupon and Living Social appear to be the top services to go with, but there are a plethora of group-buying clones that are likely eager for your business. Check out Yipit, a group-buying aggregator, or it’s competitor, The Deal Map, to get an idea of services in your area that are right for your business.
Once You’ve Got Them In, Convert Them To Your List (<$20 for materials)
The challenge with group-buying services is that you are basically renting the service’s customer list so it’s your job to get them on your own list. Perry Evans, CEO of Closely, has some great tips for converting dealbuyers into customers:
- Provide a “join our list” card with the check, to gather email addresses.
- Provide a card for users to take home so you can remember to follow/fan the business.
- Provide a point-of-purchase display soliciting consumers to follow the business to stay “in the know” on hot deals.
- Require a consumer to have “Liked” an offer before being eligible to purchase it.
- Providing extra deal incentive for liking or sharing the business offer.
Don’t Forget About Check-Ins ($0)
It couldn’t hurt to run a check-in promotion in parallel to your group-buying program. Providing incentives for visitors to your store to check-in via Facebook Places, Foursquare, GoWalla, Yelp and/or other mobile applications can increase your local mobile visibility. And you don’t have to pay any of these services a dime.
Rinse & Repeat
Now that you have some early customers under your belt and a hopefully growing social presence, review the success of each element of the campaign and focus on those that show the signs of greatest success. Hopefully your group-buying, check-ins and article writing promotions have generated positive word of mouth and you’re business is seeing an uptick in Friends, Followers, Tweets and links.
Of course, your actual mileage may vary and while some of these efforts are fairly low cost dollar-wise, they can be expensive time-wise. For years, Internet companies have been popping up left and right touting their ability to easily and inexpensively help local businesses get customers, and for years SMBs have been using the word “scam”, “rip-off” and “snake oil” to describe their experiences with these services; 2011 may in fact be the year when that is no longer the case.
*and maybe a few other services along the way
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.