The Internet has proven itself a great tool for small- and home-business owners to reach global markets.
But what about people in industries that rely on local clients?
It is unlikely that your average grocery store in Chicago is going to ship to a client in France (although some boutique specialty food stores do ship worldwide for special products). Can a hairdresser cut your hair over the Internet? (Maybe in the future, with a special helmet that goes over your head and plugs into your computer….)
Huge amounts of people use the Internet, and they ALL live and work somewhere! In my own region, studies have shown that 75% of residents use the Internet.
In January 2004, almost 146,000 people searched for the phrase “auto repair” through MSN and its affiliates. It is safe to assume that almost everyone is looking for a local auto repair shop.
“Weather” is almost always among the top 50 keywords searched for on the Internet. Unless you're traveling, chances are you are using the Internet to find out local weather.
When buying a car, many people use the Internet to check out pricing and features—then go to the local dealership to buy.
People are using the Internet to find local hairdressers, auto repair shops, schools, stores and other products and services. How can you connect with them?
Step 1: Make sure they can find you
Make sure that you include your local town or city name on every page of your Web site. This will improve your chances of coming up when someone types in a geographic phrase like “Seattle auto repairs.”
If there are local business directories on the Web, such as a local chamber of commerce Web site, make sure you're listed.
Step 2: Remind them about you
Invite your local clients to sign up for your electronic newsletter or email list. Give them some incentive by offering special deals that can only be accessed through signing up.
ClickZ recently published an article about an Ontario grocery store, Farm Boy, Inc., which used its electronic newsletter to communicate weekly with customers. The newsletter includes useful content such as weekly specials, recipes, coupons and even a feature called My Shopping List that readers can use to create and print a list of favorite products. Farm Boy also includes a poll to find out what shoppers are looking for. Their results? 62.5% of the people on their list open the newsletter each week! Most popular for readers to click on were coupons (35.5%), specials (25.4%), and recipes (17.1%). This same technique would work for hairdressers, auto repair shops, massage therapists, health providers, local shopping malls and other retail shops and services.
While planning for my move to Vancouver Island, I found a local Web site that emails me new real estate listings that match my criteria each week. You can bet I'll use their service when I arrive to start house hunting.
Step 3: Find local people online
When people go on the Internet, they join communities relating to their hobbies and interests, including their community. So do some research to find out if there are any online communities that attract people from your local area.
For example, I belong to a community network called The Ryze Network. It has 20,000 members, a wide range of discussion topics, and some local communities such as Ryze New York, Bay Area Hiking, Ryze Toronto, and others.
While the reach of the Internet is global, your local community is using it to find products and services such as yours. Learning to use the Internet to reach your local community will help you be their best choice for products and services.