Ring out the old, ring in the new local business resolutions
As the new year starts, hopefully on a high note for your local business, it is important to start planning your new business resolutions. It is widely anticipated that the hike in VAT, rising food and clothes prices, high winter fuel bills and continued uncertainty in the jobs market, will have a negative impact on many people’s spending, especially on big purchases and non essential extras.
Depressing stuff? Maybe, but you can lessen the impact of these negative forces by some positive action. So what are you going to do about it? One approach would be to keep calm and just carry on, but if things get tough this could soon feel like wading through mud. A more productive approach would be to start planning how you are going to get your existing customers to buy more from you, your past customers to buy from you again and how you are going to attract more people to your business.
If you are a local business just how well are you communicating with customers and potential customers in the local area? The New Year is a good time to have a fresh look at any business, to identify areas of growing demand and equally importantly, to recognise where demand is in decline. Gaining new customers in a declining market is doubly difficult. Understanding market trends is important in any business sector, regardless of the size of the business. It is about finding new ways to meet needs, which are constantly changing, as a result of technology, people’s changing values and preferences and of course, the state of the economy.
If you are a local shop or restaurant (a business with a front door) you may argue that people already know where you are. Yet it is likely that the majority of people in the area will have never crossed your threshold. What are you going to do to get more people through your front door?
If you are working from home or in local halls and other venues, it is even more difficult to be found before you can even start to convince people that you have something of value to offer.
If you are running a local business, here are ten trends which might be relevant to you.
Maximising your online presence
Almost certainly the Internet will play a growing part of your local marketing in 2011. Having a profile on n21online.com will help you to be found, but if you haven’t got a website, which is going to draw people even closer to your business, now is the time to invest in a simple but effective website (preferably developed by one of our excellent local web designers). Having a website and an email contact are vital to encourage people to contact you and not another supplier or service provider.
Most people now use the internet to decide where to buy from locally. According to Google some 36% of online searches are for a local business. It is the reason why local businesses are shifting from older forms of advertising, such as phone books and local newspapers, to local search marketing. You need to understand how to be found when people are searching for goods and services they actually need and when they want it. Once you have a website, treat it with respect and think of it not as something to set up and forget but as central to your business, which needs to be updated regularly. As a web user you will have come across many sites that are poorly constructed, with out of date information, which you quickly move on from. Having a Facebook page for your business can be worthwhile, for maintaining contact but if time is limited, think of your website as your bread & butter, Twitter, blogs etc as the jam and cream. Good bread and butter can be a meal on its own!
In the next year or so ownership of smart phones, such as the iPhone, is going to increase significantly. Already over 30% of mobile phone users have one, which means that they can access the internet when they are out and about. This has led to a raft of new services (including PlaceCast, Foursquare, Vouchercloud, Checkpoints, Shopkick) offering people local deals in the area where they are located. Whilst these services are mainly used by big brands, it is one that even small local businesses should be aware of, as small businesses are starting to use technology to encourage people into their store, especially in the States. For example, San Francisco business, Specialty's Cafe & Bakery sends customers a ‘Warm Cookie Radar’ email alerts when batches of just-baked cookies have rolled out of the oven, come and get them while they are hot http://www.specialtys.com/
Minding the pennies
Many more people now routinely compare prices and are looking for ways of saving money. Often they get a kick out of their ‘none spending’ and are keen to spare their success with people they know. This might mean signing up for online offers from sites such as Groupon and My Voucher (definite threats to local businesses if you don’t have a listing), as well as price alerts from a range of sources.
At the local level, if people are increasingly responding to deals – make them at offer. Deals can attract new customers to your business. Buy local movements are on the increase, driven partly by people’s new appreciation of the importance of supporting local business but also by the emerging use of mobile services which alert people to businesses offering discounts and other offers to people in the local vicinity.
People don’t always go for the lowest price, so don’t worry if you can’t compete with the major online stores. They do however want value and good service and this is much more than just a low price. Customer loyalty is declining, people can be tempted to try a new business, if the offer is right.
Business on the move
If you want to win new customers you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do business with you. So if they don’t come to you, why not take your business to them? For example, if you are a dry cleaning business, operate a repair service, carpets, art framing, even interior decorating, don’t wait for people to come to you. Offer a collection and delivery service or offer to show samples or do the work on the customer’s own premises to save people time – such a valuable commodity. The same applies if you offer fitness, health, beauty or other personal services.
For a great new way of building a new mobile business using twitter and Facebook, have a look at the http://thecremebruleecart.com, a mobile dessert business, started by Curtis Kimball in San Francisco, which uses social media sites to alert people to where the cart is going to be trading for the day. In less than two years Curtis has attracted more than 8,000 Twitter followers, who rely on his tweets to find out exactly where he'll be, and what flavours are on the menu.
Added to this trend is the pop-up shop phenomenon, where empty premises and vacant property is put to use, especially over the Christmas period. There are a number of examples of successful pop up trading on n21online, including the Palmers Green Community market. There are a several vacant properties in N21 which have been empty for too long, including the offices about Highlands Village Hall and also the former garden centre site between Station Road and Compton Road, which was at least used for Christmas trees. Pop-ups make commercial sense for small businesses, as they allow them to try out new locations and stock without having to commit to a more costly, permanent outlet.
Going greener has become a mainstream trend. Many people are making a conscious effort to use less, buy less, buying more energy saving appliances, recycling more and appreciate that the companies they buy from are trying to do their bit. However, local businesses have sometimes been slow in reducing their carbon footprint. Enterprise Enfield offers free advice to small businesses on how to become greener and save money at the same time. If you make your packaging more eco friendly (banning plastic bags) or make any other significant green moves in your business – then SHOUT ABOUT IT!
The good old days
The current uncertainty, coupled by the sheer pace of change to our economy and our lifestyles is encouraging many people to hanker after ‘the olden days’, when life was simpler. There may have been less choice, but at least your brain wasn’t frazzled by the endless of choice of what to watch or what to buy in the supermarket. This nostalgia is fuelling a growing interest in crafts, old fashioned games, hobbies and pursuits, from bicycles to growing your own (also very green), to period drama, to old fashioned food, even Sunday roasts! You could even count starting to appreciate the value of your local retailers as a return to older ways of buying everyday stuff.
Turning “trash into cash” is another important trend which is generating many new business opportunities. With the increase in material and production costs, making use of previously used and even ‘useless’ materials and create something novel, innovative and appealing out of them, is another massive trend which is set to grow. Embroidery, crocheting and vintage fabrics are being resurrected and remade into stylish new objects which are a world away from the mass produced and bland merchandise to be found in our chain stores. There are some interesting examples of people who have created businesses out of old stuff on n21online, including pairless gloves!
If you are running a small business you can’t do it all. Whilst outsourcing, to reduce capital expenditure and fixed costs is not new, we are going to see a massive increase in the use of outsourcing in the new ‘stripped down’ economy. This presents business opportunities for many people, including small businesses and freelance contractors. At the same time, as a business owner it is important to recognise that outsourcing can also be good for your business. If you aren’t good at this technie stuff, even with marketing and selling, why not talk to an expert? There is plenty of free and low cost advice available and a small investment could take your business a long way.
How Wellthy are you?
No this is not a typo, but an expression of the importance of good health as a status symbol, on which a growing number of people are prepared to spend money. This trend covers not only use of fitnesses regimes, complementary therapies but also a growing number of technologies and apps that help them to monitor their health, improve fitness and alleviate symptoms.
Embedded generosity is a trend being demonstrated by many businesses, where businesses give a small donation to a worthy cause when people do business with them. For example, IKEA has a new solar lamp called Sunnan and for every lamp sold it is donating another to UNICEF. Sage Hospitality’s ‘Give a Day, Get a Night’ scheme encourages consumers to complete 8 hours of volunteer service in exchange for 50% - 100% off published room rates in their 52 hotels.
Closer to home, Vic Smith gave a donation to a breast cancer charity, for every bed sold during October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, while Julie Sondack and other local business owners raised money to fund the refurbishment of a school in Tanzania, whilst also generating positive publicity for their businesses. You get the gist, be creative, do some good for your business and well as a worthy cause.
Owner – less
Another trend, already highlighted by n21online, through interesting business examples from the four corners of the globe, where consumers are renting an ever wider range of products they either don’t need all the time or can’t afford to own. The trend is dark green, as it saves resources. Like Boris bikes, this trend has a lot of mileage in it yet.
Have a prosperous 2011
As the new year starts, hopefully on a high note for your local business, it is important to start planning your new business resolutions. It is widely anticipated that the hike in VAT, rising food and clothes prices, high winter fuel bills and continued uncertainty in the jobs market, will have a negative impact on many people's spending, especially on big purchases and non essential extras.