Over the last years, small brick and mortar businesses have been overshadowed by a gathering storm, which the weather lady nicely calls “Online Shopping”. These business owners have been standing in front of their door, cautiously observing the growing threat. If they keep standing there in sorrow or even indifference, the storm will get the best of them and crush their business without mercy.

The online shopping industry has gotten HUGE and continues to grow. Small business owners are facing online competitors, offering a bigger product variety to a much larger target audience. But, thankfully, there are ways to fight declining customer numbers, using the same weapon: The web.

One way to tackle online competition is to offer your products and services online. Although this is a great approach, it’s not easily done overnight and costs time and money. Another, less time-consuming way is to use location-based marketing to pull nearby consumers into your physical store. Doesn’t matter if you’re the owner of a shop, bar, restaurant or hair salon, such a marketing approach can significantly increase your customer base.

The key here is not to focus on your entire target audience, but on the ones living and walking around close to your location. They frequently make searches with a local intent, either on their laptop at home or on their smartphone while on the go. Use location-based services and listings to take advantage of local searches and start pulling in more customers!

Use location-based services to get found by your local target audience

Consumers use different online services to search for a business depending on the situation. Google is obviously the go-to address if they are at home, whereas location-based services come into play when consumers are out and about, using their mobile devices.

In order to reach your audience in all these situations, you need to be actively present on different location-based platforms and business listings. Try to identify which platforms suit you best by looking where your target audience is.

Google Places For Business

In order to get found on Google Search, Google Maps and Google+, you need to setup your business listing on Google Places. This is easily done and doesn’t take much time. After entering all your details, creating a Google+ page and interlinking them, you are good to go. The only thing taking a couple of days is the verification process, in which Google sends you a letter containing a verification code.

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Foursquare

Foursquare is one of the most popular location-based platforms consumers use to check into places and discover new ones. With more than 33 million users and 3.5 billion check-ins so far, Foursquare offers a lot of value to B2C businesses. You, too, should seriously consider using it to reach your target audience.

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Foursquare users are able to create venues themselves and start checking into them. Therefore, it’s possible that your business already exists on Foursquare. In that case, simply claim ownership of your business listing, otherwise create a new venue yourself.

Using Foursquare’s own analytics tool, you are able to track check-ins and learn more about your customers’ demographics.

Yelp / Qype

Yelp is a local search website, connecting local businesses with potential customers. People use Yelp to find great businesses, using mainly customer reviews to decide whether to visit that business or not.

Similar to Foursquare, you can claim your business listing if it already exists or create a new one. This allows you to react and respond to customer reviews, add pictures, create deals and monitor views of your business page.

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More than 86% of Yelp users are from the United States. So, if you’re situated in Europe, for example, then Qype might be the better choice. It is the European equivalent, which Yelp acquired in 2012.

Facebook

Facebook users like to share what they are doing and WHERE they are doing something with their friends. Every time someone adds your location to their status updates, they are indirectly promoting your business to their friend list. That’s good advertising for free. People might click on your location and check out your Facebook page, which you have to create first if you haven’t yet.

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After they found you, convince them to visit your business

It’s one thing to get in front of your audience’s eyes, but it’s a different thing to actually convince them to go and visit your business. If you’re not able to get them to your location, all your efforts were in vain.

The most important thing is to perfectionize your listing profile information. Things like a missing phone number, website or address make it impossible for potential customers to reach or find you. My credo is: Make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to contact you. Also, try to include a good description of what you’re business is about and use images to make your profile more appealing. Incomplete profiles can look shady and untrustworthy.

Whenever possible, offer incentives to pull consumers to your business more effectively. Most location-based platforms and listings offer businesses the possibility to create discounts and other deals. Start offering discounts or a cup of coffee to people who checked-in several times, for example.

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Especially people who are in a “discovery mode” and are using Foursquare, for example, are more likely to choose your business if they see that they’d get something for free (coffee, cookie, free product …).

These customer-rewarding options are called differently on the discussed platforms:

Another crucial thing is to be responsive. Interact with the people commenting or reviewing your business listings. This shows that you care about them, which is VERY important to consumers. Whenever you recieve bad feedback, try to figure out what went wrong, apologize and offer some sort of gift or future discount in more serious cases.

Also, through customer interaction and analyzing reviews and other feedback, you are able to get a clear picture of the image your customers have of you. This way, you are able to tweak the way you do business to fix weak spots.

Many consumer decisions are highly influenced by customer reviews. Obviously, you want to use that to your advantage, but what if your customers don’t write any? Simply ask them! There’s no harm in asking your customers to write a review. Offer them something in return for a review, for example. A high number of reviews are a good investment.

Chances are high that some people want to know more about your business before they decide to visit you or not. They might check out your website on their smartphone. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile devices, it could drive away potential customers showing interest in your business. Try to have a responsive website or at least a mobile landing page, to which all your listing profiles link to.

Final words

Leveraging location-based platforms and online business listings can increase your customer base immensely. Especially people, who are close to your location, are more likely to find you on their smartphone and, possibly, decide to pay you a visit.

It’s true that online competitors might be more appealing to people who are living further away from your location, but by being more attractive to the ones close to you might be able to compensate the loss. Now go on and future proof your business to bear up against the dark clouds of the online business world!

If you want to know more about online marketing for small businesses, I recommend to check out our beginner’s guide to location-based advertising and our complete online marketing guide for small business owners.