Originally published on AllBusiness.com.
If I could go back 13 years to when I first launched my marketing company, I would do things a little differently. Of course, I’ve learned a lot along my entrepreneurial journey, and am much savvier about how to launch and grow your local business now than I was then.
Recently, I launched a second business — a local craft workshop company — and was able to learn from my own wisdom gleaned from mistakes made with the first. May you also benefit from these tips so that you get to success even faster than I did!
1. Invest in getting off on the right foot
With my first business, I was reluctant to spend even a dime on anything related to my business if there was even the slightest possibility I could do it myself. But I have learned that just because you can DIY doesn’t mean you always should.
Case in point: I designed my first website. And this was long before the days of easy-to-use website builder tools. So it looked like I, a non-graphic designer, created it. Nothing to write home about. I cringe at the memory. Now I use Wix and pay for the premium service to customize the site exactly how I need it.
2. DIY your marketing . . . but pay for it, too
I’m fortunate in that I run a marketing firm, so I’m adept at posting to social media, writing blog posts, and sending emails to promote my new business. But you might not be quite as savvy at marketing as I am, or you might be focused on other aspects of running your company.
Know where your weaknesses are and spend money to shore them up. Hire a part-time consultant to help with the marketing you can’t or don’t want to do yourself.
Most of the money I’ve made with my craft business so far has gone into marketing, and I don’t regret that decision at all. I invested in a six-month membership for a Meetup account . . . and within two weeks had booked a class that more than covered that investment through my Meetup group. I paid for a feature on Wix that allows me to book classes without paying a fee for it, and I’ve more than made up the difference. Yes, it’s scary to spend money when you barely have any, but when you can do more with your business, faster, it’s well worth the investment.
3. Establish your local presence
One thing that’s been different for me with this second business I’ve launched is that it’s locally focused. I host craft workshops at venues in my San Diego neighborhood, which means I need to be known to locals.
If you’ve got a local business association, I highly recommend attending regular meetings and mixers, not necessarily with the goal of selling, but simply focusing on building relationships. I am a member of my business association, and those relationships I’ve nurtured over the years are now paying off: now all I have to do is ask a local restaurant or bar owner if I can host an event at their location, and they’re happy to help me.
I’ll be participating in an upcoming community festival, so I’ll have my business out where hundreds of people can learn about it. This also gives me the chance to talk to people about what I do and get their feedback.
Additionally, I’ve advertised in our local neighborhood newspaper. Because I know my audience, for the most part, is located within a few blocks, I want to target them in something I know they’re reading.
4. Separate business from personal
Something I didn’t know when I first launched my marketing business was the importance of keeping everything business related separated from personal. One of the first things I did this go ‘round was to open a separate business checking account. Doing so makes it easy to keep track of business expenses so I know how much I’ve made in profit from a given workshop. It also makes it simple for my accountant to file my taxes for me!
Also rather than getting a second mobile phone for my business, I decided to get a virtual phone number (Google Voice; it’s free too) that routes through my phone. When I get a call, it shows up differently than calls to my cell number, and if I get a text, I also get an email notification.
5. Nurture those customer relationships
I’m just about done launching this business fully and ready to start growing it. My main focus will be on repeat business: my hope is that people who attend, say, my succulent arrangement workshop, will be so blown away by how fun it was that they’ll sign up for the macrame and watercolor classes.
Because my customer base is still relatively small, I pretty much know my entire contact list. I can have a one-on-one relationship with each customer, and that’s pretty special. One thing I’ve been doing is offering coupon codes to past customers to attend future classes. Or if someone donates art supplies, I give them another discount. That way, I can track each code and know where it’s coming from. I can also fill up classes faster!
I also ask my customers for feedback . . . and listen to it. When my first vision board class was held in a brewery that had noisy acoustics, I learned that participants had a hard time hearing the instructor. So now I carefully consider the venue to make sure it’s conducive for an instructional class.
Learning how to launch and grow your local business will take you down your own unique path different from mine. Pay attention to the lessons you learn along the way so you don’t end up wasting time making the same mistakes over and over. And pay it forward! Tell other new entrepreneurs what you’ve learned so they have an even easier time on their own journey.