Offline Marketing for Online Businesses Part Three
In Part Two of this series we talked about the benefits of using craft fairs and trade shows to market your business to your customers. But your customers aren’t the only ones that you want to network with. You also want to network with the people in your industry because that’s where you’re going to get increased opportunities to collaborate and grow your business. One place to start is to network with local businesses in your area that have a niche market that overlaps with yours.
Make a Collaboration Wish List
Ask yourself the following question, “if I could collaborate with any business in this city, which one would it be?” That should be the starting point of generating a list of businesses and small business owners that you would love to work with. Dream as big as you want. Go out into the neighborhood to scout for stores that you’d love to see carrying your products or hosting an event for you. Add them to your list. Once you’ve got a long list, you can start to narrow it down.
To narrow down your wish list to get started, consider the following points:
- Is this business in direct competition with me? You can actually benefit from collaborating with your competitors but it’s often a tougher sell so you might want to hold off on these until a later stage in your business.
- Will their customers be interested in what I have to offer? In most cases the answer is yes if you are creative enough to see the right way to approach them.
- Are their customers the right customers for me? Remember who your target market is. Figure out if these people are in it.
- Does this business have something that I need? For example, some small boutiques double as galleries so they can put your work up on the walls, which you can’t do yourself if you don’t have a storefront. Others have better publicity than you, which you may want to take advantage of. Those are the businesses you’ll want to approach first.
Identify a Fair Exchange
Before you approach local businesses with a pitch about working together, you should at least have a general idea of what you want from them and what you can offer to them.
Some of the things you might get from collaboration with a local businessperson include:
- Placement of your items in their store, either direct or on consignment
- Advertising through their ad channels and promotional materials
- The benefit of their knowledge of the local market
- A location and assistance for an event, such as a product launch for your new clothing line sold on Etsy or your latest comic book release
- Skills you don’t have to supplement what you’re doing
- Simply the benefit of association if they have a popular local brand
Some of the things that you might be able to offer to a local business:
- Advertising/ marketing through your online channels
- Percentage of any sales through the store
- A new product that would appeal to their customers
- An event that could draw people into their store
You can work out the details further along of course but it really helps to have a good idea of what the give and take will be when you approach a local business about collaboration.
Tips for Approaching Businesses
- Make sure you know who to talk to. Is there a single business owner? Is there a marketing person? Who is the right person to approach for collaboration? Do a little Googling and some social stalking to get your answers.
- You can start online if that’s more comfortable. Send over an email explaining who you are, why you like the store and that you’d love to set up a meeting to talk further.
- Start the chat by explaining why you’ve chosen this store. You shouldn’t just approach any old business. You should be able to say why that business was on your wish list in the first place. Make it clear to them that you’re specifically interested in establishing a relationship with them and explain why.
- Make sure you’re clear about why this collaboration would benefit the store. Explain what you have to offer.
- Listen to what they have to say. No isn’t always no. And yes may come with strings. Once you’ve made your pitch, listen carefully and respond accordingly.
Deliver the Goods
Your credibility is always important when you run a business. However, the stakes are even higher when you start trying to collaborate with other professionals. These are the people that can offer you a variety of different opportunities, probably ones that you haven’t identified yet, so once you’ve started to establish those relationships, it’s crucial that you follow through. Deliver whatever you have said you’re going to deliver in this collaboration and then go above and beyond to deliver a little bit more. You want these folks to be glad that they collaborated with you and to spread the word about you.
Additional Local Networking Opportunities
Approaching individual businesses about a specific collaboration is important but there are also numerous other ways that you can connect generally with local business people and those connections may also lead to great opportunities. Some ideas include:
- Attend local events in your niche. Craft fairs, industry expos, lectures in your niche … these are all places where you can meet the movers and shakers. Don’t just attend; always introduce yourself to at least one or two people.
- Join a local networking group. There are countless types of these groups so find the one that works best for you.
- Join local groups specific to your field. Do you have a yarn business? Join your local knitting/ crochet group.
- Take classes. You can take classes related to your business niche (such as a knitting class for the yarn seller). You can also take general business classes. The SBA and many local libraries offer free classes to get you started.
Full Circle: Take the Offline Back Online
You always want to take the connections that you have made offline and add them to your online activities to strengthen those ties. Ideas for doing this with the professionals you network with include:
- Send a follow-up email after every in person meeting.
- Add these people to your social media sites.
- Do an online collaboration in addition to your offline collaboration. (For example, you may do a cross-blog conversation with the store owner you’re placing items on consignment with.)
- Invite them to join your email list.
- And always hand out business cards with your website information on them!
Don’t forget to come back for Part Four when we talk about taking and teaching classes for the purpose of networking.