How to get more local customers

Local customers in café ordering food

There are lots of ways to get more customers in your area, from online marketing to local networking, but happy customers are the best advertisement of all, providing the endorsements that will bring more customers through the door

Creating a successful local business starts with great customer service. Satisfied customers make the best advocates for your business and every happy customer can potentially bring in several new ones. However, bad news travels fast - especially in local neighbourhoods - and unhappy customers can quickly tell others not to use your business.

So, customer service is the foundation of any marketing strategy; but there are many ways to spread the word about your business and increase revenue. Here are five things that you can do right now to bring in more local customers.

1. Get found on Google

Google has 93% of the UK search engine market according to data from Statcounter. What's more, research by GoGlobe shows that 46% of all searches on Google are seeking local information and 86% of people look up the location of a business on Google Maps.

So, it's clear that getting found on Google is absolutely essential for any small business. Google My Business is a free local search tool that puts your business information on Search and Maps, so that customers can find you when they look for a business in their area.

You just have to register for a Google account and create a profile that will appear in listings. A good profile should:

  • Show what makes your business special;
  • Include keywords and phrases that will help you get found;
  • List useful information including your web address, phone number and opening hours;
  • Provide photos of your products, team and premises;
  • Feature customer reviews;
  • Be updated regularly with details of offers or events.

An engaging profile will get more clicks; and the more people that click on your listing, the higher up the rankings it will go. It's also worth setting up Google Alerts so you get a notification when someone is talking about your business or giving you a review.

Of course there are other search engines and online directories, including YelpFree Index, Thomsonlocal.com and Yell.com. Signing up for these can bring in more business and could improve your Google ranking.

2. Optimise your website

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but you can be sure that anyone searching online will judge your business by your website. Red flags include a tired design, clunky navigation, hard-to-find contact details, out-of-date information, and broken links.

The best way to turn browsers into customers with your website is to provide:

  • Clear information on your products and services;
  • Full contact details;
  • Customer ratings and reviews;
  • A great About us page with a picture of you and your team.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) also plays a key role in local customer acquisition - make sure your website is optimised for all the relevant words and phrases that potential customers might use to search for a business like yours. It is also imperative to make sure your website is mobile-friendly - at least half of your website visitors will be browsing on their smartphone or tablet.

3. Encourage customer reviews

Customer ratings and reviews are more important than ever - especially for local businesses. Reviews provide social proof that your business is to be trusted. If you provide a service, whether you run a café, work as a plumber or rent out rooms on AirBnB, your reviews could make or break your business. The same goes for any business selling products online, on eBay, Amazon or Etsy for instance. Checking reviews has become a standard part of the buying process for shoppers so you can't afford to neglect your online reputation.

Small business owners often worry about encouraging feedback in case they get bad reviews. The truth is that shoppers worry when they can't see many reviews for a business; they understand that there will always be the occasional gripe and they are not expecting perfection. In fact, studies have shown that the vast majority of people are happy to shop with a business as long as it gets a four-star rating.

You can provide reviews on your website using a tool such as FeeFo or TrustPilot. Customers will also leave reviews on all the platforms that you are signed up to; these include Google, marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay and sector-specific platforms such as Checkatrade and TripAdvisor. It's a good idea to respond to reviews, good or bad, thanking people for positive feedback and addressing any criticism in a positive manner.

4. Up your game on social media

Social media is a fantastic marketing tool for local businesses. Many people follow their favourite shops and restaurants as well as local groups and influencers on sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Local customers will often use social media as a way to ask questions and keep in touch with businesses. So, it's vital to keep on top of all your social media activity, posting regularly and answering queries.

When it comes to building a local social media following it's all about engagement. Make sure your posts are interesting and helpful - social media is not the place for the hard sell. To reach customers in your area, always share your location and use location-based hashtags, such as #York and #Yorkshire. Show your support for local initiatives, post images of local landmarks and create videos of your business that highlight your local credentials.

One social media app that is ideal for local marketing is Next Door; it describes itself as "the neighbourhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods and services." You can sign up to Next Door as a business which will allow you to create a profile, list your business and post ads. Next Door users often ask their neighbours for recommendations for local suppliers, and you can reply to these queries by offering your services. It's also worth encouraging your customers to post recommendations on Next Door - once three people have done this, your business will start to appear in searches.

5. Network with other businesses

Other businesses can be an important part of your local marketing strategy. Joining a small business organisation such as the Chambers of Commerce (BCC) or the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is a great way to meet other business owners and potential clients at local networking events.

Another effective way to grow your local customer base is to build relationships with complementary firms so that they will refer you to their clients - and vice versa. It's all about getting word of mouth recommendations from a trusted supplier. For instance, estate agents recommend mortgage brokers and solicitors; plumbers can pass on the details of other tradespeople; hairdressers could recommend a beauty salon. If you offer a service like carpet fitting, for example, it's well worth dropping off your business cards at all the local carpet shops in the area.

Other businesses can also be a great source of support and advice. The Donut Small Business Collective on Facebook is a friendly community of more than 2,000 people across the UK that run their own businesses. It's a great place to ask questions and get ideas and tips.

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