Customers find businesses in all sorts of ways, and you never know what ad or flier is going to draw them in. There is a great story that I’ve told many times about how a small bit of marketing led to me moving to Amherst, NY for an international outreach position at the headquarters of an educational non-profit. The lesson of the story illustrates how even the smallest advertising can have an amazing effect on your business, sometimes in ways you never could have imagined.
The gist of the story is that I went to go see a documentary. On my way out of the theater, I stopped at an information table that had free movie posters. I thought, “Sweet—free poster!” I didn’t know it at the time, but Center for Inquiry had put on a special event at the opening of the movie and the staff had left a stack of leftover promotional materials. On the bottom was an address label with their logo, address, and website. I was very surprised to see that they had a branch in Grand Rapids. I had no idea they existed in my area, but thanks to that label, I was suddenly aware of how to find them. And ‘find them’ is exactly what I did.
I went home and browsed the website, emailed to express my interest in volunteering, and mentioned that I was looking for an internship. Through a series of events and interviews, I was brought on as an intern, became president of the local student group at my university, then stayed as a branch volunteer after graduation, and finally applied and was hired for a position at the headquarters. Though I’m back in Michigan now, I still work with CFI, five years later.
All of this was because the assistant director took some time with a few volunteers to print and stick address labels.
What does this mean for your business? Just like sticking a label on some free material, you need to put your information out in as many places as is practical for you. You never know where your email will be forwarded, who will see your business card, what customer will mention your name, and so on. Once a customer has your name, can they find you?
Here are some free and low-cost ways to make sure people can find your business:
1) Social media:
Facebook pages show up in searches, and searching for a business or organization through Facebook is something I frequently do. I was looking for a restaurant the other day and wanted to know their hours, address, and what’s on their menu. A quick search revealed they didn’t have a website, but they did have a Facebook page which showed up in the top three entries of my Google search. On the page, they included their location, hours, and menu. Having a website is still important, but this is an example of a free way that you can make your information easy to find for customers.
2) Get listed:
Google is still the king of web searches. Love them or hate them, you need to be there. Google Places for Business is a way to get listed in Google for free. Make sure your customers have accurate information for where you’re located and when you’re open, if nothing else. Get more info about that here.
3) Your email signature:
I was out visiting local small businesses that I work with at Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and I had forgotten to jot down the address of one of the startups. I figured I could just use my phone to Google the name of the business and find their website and address. They didn’t have a website. Then I thought I’d search in Facebook and find their Facebook page. They didn’t have a Facebook page. Finally, I logged into my email and sought the address that I was sure would be listed in their email signature. Was it there? No. Luckily, I scrolled through an old email thread with others and found the address. Are you hiding from people who are trying to find you? Putting your info in some of these places that may seem small can have a big effect. You never know how people are going to find you, so do everything you can to put your information out there!
Ask some customers how they heard of you. Ask your friends to take a minute to search for your business and see if it comes up. Google the name of your business, and search the category of your business with your location. See if you come up for something like “Grand Rapids antiques store.” If you’re not showing up, take these suggestions to heart and start looking into Search Engine Optimization. Don’t be afraid of the term—it just means finding ways to get your business connected to more places and using strategic keywords so that you show up in searches. You can’t afford to hide from your customers, and you never know what seemingly minor marketing is going to change the future of your business.