As we all know, “small business” doesn’t equal “small town.” In fact, Houston, Texas was recently named the fastest-growing small-business city in America, and Houston has a population of more than two million, according to the 2011 U.S. Census.
A study from American City Business Journals found that more than 100,000 businesses are located in 11 major metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
While a mom-and-pop operation can grow in a small town through mere word-of-mouth, reaching out to customers in a big city can be challenging, to say the least. Small retailers must compete with national franchises that have the benefit of national advertising. Still, a small business has an advantage many big-name retailers don’t.
“It all comes back to business strategy,” says marketing consultant Dan Vuksanovich. “They are big. You are small. They have strategic advantages because they’re big. You have strategic advantages because you’re small. Use your size to your advantage.”
Growing your brand in a big town is possible if you follow these helpful tips:
- Find your target audience. Whether you’re in a town of a hundred people or two million, you’re business will never appeal to everyone. The key is finding the segment of the population that is interested in products like yours, and reaching out to that population. Where do they spend time? What offers are most likely to bring them to your location?
- Forge partnerships. In an urban setting, joining forces with much larger businesses can be a great way to get your name out there. Join the Chamber of Commerce and attend networking events. Consider sponsoring major events, or participating in get-togethers designed to showcase area businesses.
- Be unique. One thing that sets small businesses apart from franchise operations is uniqueness. Instead of trying to compete with larger businesses, embrace those things that make you unique and remain true to them.
- Invest in technology. In a big city, customers expect to be able to roam cashless, bearing only a credit or debit card. If your small business accepts cash only, you’ll miss out on a large segment of your potential customer base. Several POS systems are available for small businesses, but if that is beyond your budget, consider a service like PayPal Here or Square, which can be used with your existing mobile devices.
- Use social media tools. Chances are, you can’t afford to pay for ad time on every major TV network in your area. Social media is free, and using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can help you reach local customers. A local plumbing company could provide tips on unclogging drains on those sites, for instance, and begin gaining traction among followers. Those followers may forward the social media posts, many of whom are likely located in the same geographic area.
In a big city, small businesses must work harder to be noticed in a crowd of competition. But by providing unique products or services and providing friendly, personalized customer service, small businesses can set themselves apart from others in the area, and build a customer base that considers them a vital part of the community.