Over the past several years, I’ve seen the following happen in a number of communities: a new business opens up, complete with ribbon cutting, signage, the whole nine yards. Usually, they fill some market opportunity or supply shortage in the area (other times, they’re completely redundant, but that’s another issue). Seems like they should make a go of it, but pretty soon, they’re among the 1 in 3 businesses that fail by their second year, and if they’re lucky, they’re not among the half of businesses that fail by year four.
Want to have dozens of eyes glued to your business name for an hour? Sponsor a little league team!
Of course, there are many reasons small business goes under: bad market analysis, bad management, more dreaming than doing, or whatever. But one trend I’ve noticed, in both the long-standing successful businesses and the blossoming newcomers, is the level of community involvement of the business and business owner.
Many businesses overlook a philanthropic marketing approach-sponsoring community events or programs, being a volunteer in the local schools, or belonging to area civic organizations. It’s not hard to understand why-the rigors of running a business, a traditional mindset towards marketing (advertising), and a focus on the bottom line can be distracting and overwhelming. Amazingly though, tapping into a vein of community goodwill really consists of only two activities: 1) being a public figure in the community, and 2) leveraging your business as a community benefactor.
If your customers are only entries on a spreadsheet, then they’re going to feel it and be less likely to refer your business to their friends, family and neighbors. Make a point to converse with your customers; even basic small talk begins to build a relationship, which your customers can use as the foundation of your “word of mouth” campaign. Most of all make sure they know your name, so that your business has a real person behind it all.
The flip side of this occurs on the other side of the counter. Business is a lot of work, during open hours as well as before and after. It’s critical to be active in some aspect of the community outside of business hours, whether it’s your kids’ schools, a local civic organization or in a place of worship. When people see you outside of the shop, it’s another opportunity to build relationships and show that you’re more than your business’ bottom line.
Whether you sell widgets, fix doo-dads, or give knick-knack advice, you want to get you and your business name to be well-known throughout your community. Marketing 101, right? Well, many businesses overlook some of the most cost-effective ways of marketing and promoting their businesses-sponsorships. In most of the business plans I’ve seen, the marketing section consists of a budget for advertising placement, signage and collateral marketing materials. Rarely do I see a section for philanthropic contributions or sponsorships as a means of business marketing, and this is a severely overlooked opportunity.
Local organizations and non-profits are always seeking money for their events and programs, especially in this economic downturn. The lack of funds creates the opportunity for generous sponsorship packages, driven by increased desperation for funds. Although sponsorship opportunity prices vary by event/program, chances are there is an option for any budget, and the benefits nearly always surpass the cost. Consider a business that sponsors a team in the local sports league-how many parents and community members go, eyes like lasers on their kids, whose team is sponsored by the local widget seller with its name plastered on the shirt or jersey? If the league also does its job, the parents are well reminded that their kids’ opportunity to play is because of your generous sponsorship. Compare that to the impact of a quarter-page newspaper ad.
Here are some great ways to get involved and have you and your business seen in your community:
1) Join your local Chamber of Commerce and attend networking events
2) Be a sponsor of a local festival or event, and volunteer to work or chair a committee
3) Sponsor local youth sports leagues or teams, or advertise with local athletic booster clubs
4) Join at least one civic or social organization
5) Participate or volunteer for local Junior Achievement programs
6) Purchase or volunteer for a segment of an “Adopt a Road” program
7) Underwrite or support local arts or cultural activities
8) Sponsor a team, or start your own, in a local road race (screen printing your business name on jerseys is cheap, no matter how well any of your runners do)
9) Get in the local parade with a float or other entry and throw really, really good candy to the crowds (if permitted)
10) Offer in-kind services to charities, programs, etc. that capitalize on your skills, talents or business areas
It’s important to remember that the greater purpose of philanthropic marketing is the philanthropy, and that any commercial benefits to your business are secondary and indirect. It’s also important to remember that philanthropic marketing won’t overcome a lack of hard work or inability to do proper accounting. But being an anchor in your community, as a business and personally, might be the difference between a sleepy storefront and a centennial business.