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Businesses are built on relationships. When you own a small business, you have the benefit of connecting with people on a more personal level than many companies do.
Moreover, if you’re looking for ways to forge strong, lasting connections, your local community is the perfect place to start.
Why Community Engagement Matters
As a pair of words strung together, “community engagement” sounds great. Companies employ it constantly. But if they were honest about it, few follow up on the concept.
This is unfortunate since community engagement can yield numerous benefits, including:
- Commitment. People in your community want to know you aren’t just there to take. They appreciate seeing you give as much as you’re getting. Community engagement exhibits your commitment to the former.
- Visibility. The more you engage with the community in various capacities, the greater your visibility will be. Even if you get involved in something that’s unrelated to your core business activities, you’ll enjoy the benefits of brand recognition.
- Trust. People are much more willing to trust a brand that goes out into the community and partners with other individuals, groups, and organizations. This may be the greatest benefit of engaging with the community.
Granted, community engagement can be time-consuming and messy, but an honest effort will usually render a positive return on investment. This is especially true for small businesses that depend on local markets for success and profitability.
How to Engage Your Local Community
If you’re a small business that lacks substantial in-house resources to conduct significant outreach programs, you may not know what it looks like to engage your local community. Though every situation will look a little different, here are some smart steps you can take to begin reaching out.
Invest in the Right Sponsorships
Sponsorships are a tried-and-true method of inserting your brand into the daily rhythms of your community and establishing brand recognition and trust. You can do it in a variety of ways, including sponsorship of local sports teams.
“We all know the big-name sponsors of our favorite sporting clubs, but just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you should be excluded from sponsoring a team,” entrepreneur Hiren Savjiyani writes. “Yes, we’re speaking on a relatively small scale, but just because you’re backing your local football team doesn’t make it any less of a marketing investment than a conglomerate sponsoring Manchester United.”
Sponsorships can also play a role in local events, such as a 5K race or chili cook-off. There are plenty of opportunities for small, isolated sponsorships as well as larger, ongoing relationships.
Explore all the avenues you can find, and attach your brand only to causes or organizations that align with your core values.
Attend Local Events
It’s essential that you don’t just slap your logo onto an event or structure and call it a day. There’s tremendous additional value in showing up at local events and making your presence known.
If you can find events that allow you to rent out space as a vendor or booth, do it. Set up a custom canopy, bring along some promotional items, and staff it with a couple of personable team members to represent your brand.
Whether a career fair, school event, or holiday market, showing up gives potential customers the chance to attach faces to your brand.
Volunteer for Good Causes
Gone are the days when businesses can sit on the sidelines and remain silent about social and political causes, needs, or issues. You don’t have to take a hardline stance, but you ought to show that you care about the world around you.
Community service is a great place to start. “A company’s ethics, employee satisfaction, and community involvement are beginning to become important factors in which brand a consumer chooses,” TheOneThing explains.
“The Reputation Institute has reported that consumers give more weight to a company’s reputation than their products at a rate of 60 percent to 40 percent respectively. Additionally, 41 percent of consumer perception is based on three CSR-related factors: citizenship, workplace, and governance.”
Encouraging your employees to volunteer — and giving them paid time off to do so — will yield dividends for years to come.
The Power of Relationships
Community engagement is not necessarily a simple proposition. Unlike most functions in modern business, it’s probably not possible to automate the process.
It requires time, energy, and personal involvement. Nevertheless, if you commit to building trust and establishing relationships, your business will most likely thrive.