Infographic by Carlos Monteiro

Infographic by Carlos Monteiro

Do locally based Small Businesses need Social Media?

A lovely little boutique shop has just opened its doors for business in my local town centre, and to celebrate the opening the owner was throwing a bit of a welcome party.

There were free drinks and nibbles on offer to entice the passing public inside, a lucky dip box for its first paying customers, and the local press had been invited along for interviews etc.

Sounds good right? The owner was doing all the right things to welcome in passing trade, and getting her shop opening into the local press. The shop is in a good position in town with a lot of foot traffic passing her door each day, and the shop has been decorated and styled to look attractive and welcoming.

However, when I got a chance to chat to the lovely owner for a couple of minutes, I couldn’t help but ask if she had a Facebook page because I couldn’t see any reference to one on the business cards she was handing out.

It was then I heard the same words coming from her lips that I have heard many times from other small local business owners – “oh, social media isn’t for me. It would take up far too much of my time – time that would be better spent in the shop!”.

Ignore social media at your peril

It still surprises me that many small business owners think that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are only good for posting photographs of their stock, and that is pretty much it!

Little do they realise that they can be missing out on so much potential business, and if they have already committed themselves to sitting in their shop for 8 hours per day, every day, Monday to Saturday, then it would not be any more taxing to work on their website and social media platforms for a few minutes here and there during the quiet spells between serving customers and managing the shop. Over the course of a week, they would be clocking up some quite productive time.

Social media is changing the way people communicate with each other. There is no denying it. The importance is growing each year, especially for small businesses. The likes of Facebook and Twitter are not about to disappear any time soon, and although these sites started off very much for family and friends to connect and keep in contact with each other, it is now pretty much taken for granted than just about any sort of business will have at least one social media platform.

How social media has changed shopping habits

Retail habits have changed over the last decade, so these days customers will go online to search for the things they want, read reviews about products and services before buying, and will often see a press release about a new shop or business and want to find out more about them through their social media sites.

It really is in the best interests of small businesses, no matter how local and small-scale, to have an attractive and vibrant social media presence. It is where your customers are hanging out, so don’t you want to entice them in to your shop from the virtual world to spend some real money?

It doesn’t take up as much time as you think

You really only need to spend a few hours per week to see some great results. Having a strong social media presence will help you to grow your brand name, and build a good relationship with your existing customers who will be happy to return for more. A warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere can be nurtured that will encourage new customers, and make them feel like they are a valued member of your social circle.

Don’t worry if you feel a bit overwhelmed by the thought of maintaining your social media sites. There is no need to spend hours per day continually posting to your sites. You do need to get your content out there, and make an impact with your efforts, so posting regularly will certainly help, but always remember that quality is better than quantity.

Keep in mind the needs of your customers when you create your posts. Do they come to you because you offer something that others do not? Is it your uniqueness that is attractive? If so, this is a great start to keep your customers coming back for more. If you are a sole trader don’t be afraid to show your personality online so your customers can connect to the person at the centre of the business.



How big is your local community?

Many locally based small businesses will be a bit blinkered to the fact that their local community can be as large as they want it to be. Many will go into their enterprise with the aim of targeting passing foot trade only, and may not even think about attracting customers in from surrounding towns and villages.

Social media marketing can expand your reach and help you to connect with a wider audience, gain more followers, and establish your brand. However, the key word here is ‘social’. You cannot use traditional marketing techniques like posting out a ‘look how great we are’ message and expect people to come pouring over your threshold.

Your posts need to be written on a social level, as if you were chatting to a friend in conversation. Make it two-way where you ask for opinions and thoughts, and make an effort to reply to any responses you get from your posts, even if it is a quick thank you.

Social media can be a very useful tool

Sometimes when you start out on your solo venture, you can find yourself operating in the dark. You can utilise the power of social media to help you mould and shape your business into something that your customers are even happier with. Asking for feedback about your product range, service, business premises, décor, opening hours and customer service can really open your eyes to aspects of your business you may have been blind to before.

Being able to directly communicate with your customers is a powerful thing, and something you can use to your advantage, and for the future success of your business.

For many small and micro businesses, advertising budgets can be small, or even non-existent in some cases. But advertising on social-networks can be far more cost-effective than with traditional print media, and also has more potential to reach the very people who are interested in your business.

Paper or virtual?

If you took out an advert in your local newspaper for example, you would be charged according to the size of the ad, and you know that it will be guaranteed to reach whatever the readership number is of that particular publication. Readership numbers can sound impressive, but you have to consider the demographics of the newspaper readers.

How many readers will be males aged 65 years or older, who may not be interested in the fact that you own a dress shop. Or how many readers will be females with young children, who will not be interested in your bespoke shop selling made-to-measure suits for gentlemen.

For the same amount of advertising investment on social media, you will be able to target the exact demographic your business is aimed at, and your advert will not be wasted on the feeds of people who wouldn’t be interested.

Keep trying out different approaches on social media to see what works. Once you hit on something that works, just rinse and repeat! Don’t give up after your first attempt. If something doesn’t work, drop it and try something else.

Remember – social media marketing only works if you make the effort!