One of the first lessons a business owner learns is no venture can succeed in total isolation. All businesses, regardless of size or industry, are dependent on their local communities for their continued success. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a small retail boutique, a mom-and-pop restaurant, or a large scale B2B enterprise. If you want your business to enjoy long-term success you need to establish yourself within your community and you need to begin actively contributing to that community’s character and overall well-being.
It’s Good for Your Brand and Your Bottom Line
There are a number of very tangible benefits to employing a long-term community engagement strategy. Becoming more involved in community affairs and activities provides a wide range of opportunities to promote brand and grow your customer base, all while planting roots that will anchor and support your business for years to come. Moreover, a robust program of community involvement can deliver the kind of far reaching results that will elevate your company and establish it as a leader in the local business community.
Consider the following benefits of becoming more involved in local community affairs:
- Increased awareness for your brand
- Enhanced brand loyalty and customer goodwill
- Free publicity for your company
- Increased networking opportunities
- Increase SEO reach
- Valuable tax deductions
The best part of a structured community affairs strategy is that it doesn’t take much to start getting involved. Even if your business is small and your funds are limited you can still make your mark in your local community and start building positive commercial karma.
Let’s talk a bit about how your business can become better engaged with the people and organizations in your community.
1 – Serve on a Local Board or City Council
Serving on a local board or joining a civic council is a great way to become involved in your community while also establishing yourself as an up-and-coming business leader. It also presents excellent networking opportunities that can lead to lucrative partnerships down the line. Of course, you have to be committed to taking an active part in the board’s regular activities and that will mean dedicating some of your time and personal resources to the task at hand. Still, it is a small price to pay for the social and commercial boost you and your company will receive.
The majority of community boards and councils are comprised of citizen volunteers though you should be prepared to go through a selection process in order to join an active local group. It may take some time to find the council that best suits your interests and aspirations, but some simple research into local groups should help you narrow your choices down to a suitable short-list list of options.
Begin by concentrating on your personal interest and let that be a guide to finding your niche. Some local boards you might consider include:
- Local Arts Council or Alliance
- Small Business Council
- Downtown Redevelopment Council
- Local Board of Education
- Local Chamber of Commerce
The primary benefit to serving on a local board is working closely with some of the more influential members of your community. This presents the perfect opportunity to establish yourself and your business as a prime mover in local business circles, and allows you to make inroads into social and political groups. This can lead to increased business opportunities in the future, as well as to a boost in publicity commensurate with the boards profile and community projects.
2 – Sponsor Local Events
Many businesses choose to sponsor local or regional events as a way to not only give back to the community but to also develop some extremely valuable public good will. Sponsoring local events achieves two main goals for your business.
- It provides publicity for you and your brand. Every piece of advertising for the event will have your business name featured, and if it doesn’t someone is falling asleep at wheel. This expands the reach of your company, as well as its products and services, getting your name in front of a wider audience of potential customers.
- A degree of good will and positive sentiment is automatically attached to your business’ identity. Psychologists call this the halo effect. Essentially, it means that when people think of your business they will associate it with the events that you have sponsored. So, if you become known as a sponsor for the local 5K run to fight cancer the public will associate your business with positive and charitable event. That good feeling is the ‘halo’ that surrounds your business and its products.
Sponsoring regional events is also a solid way up your company’s SEO game. Search engine optimization is increasingly important for local businesses and companies need as many positive online mentions as they can muster. Charities and civic events invariably have websites of their own, on which they will give special mention to their sponsors. The same holds true for event organizers who may feature your brand name on their social media posts and online advertising. All of those mentions add up and they give your business a more substantial, trackable, and rewarding online presence, and that’s a major win for your company’s SEO strategy.
Choosing the right local event to sponsor is relatively easy. In most cases you will want to choose an event that ties in with your business, at least in a tangential way. For example, if you run motorcycle sales and repair business sponsoring a charity poker run would be a perfect fit. Likewise, if you are operating a high-end bakery you could choose to sponsor a charity bake sale. Of course, not every event must be closely related to your industry. Some high profile events (charities, local parades, civic renovation projects) attract sponsors of all stripes and provide the same level of positive publicity and SEO pull.
3 – Donate to Local Charities or Fund Raisers
Donating to a worthy cause not only supports important civic initiatives, it also helps to boost your local profile both online and in the real world. Many worthy charities depend on donations from corporations and local businesses to reach their public service goals, and in exchange for donations of time and resources they will give businesses advertising space in their brochures, websites, and event publicity.
Just as sponsoring local events can bring attention and good will to your brand so to can donating to important causes. The halo effect is also in play here, and the goodwill you generate by donating to fund drives, charity auctions or other non-profit events can elevate your business’ profile and reputation in the community.
Donations are also good for your bottom line. In most cases donations of tangible value can be leveraged into a tax deduction later on, which will help to save your business money when it comes time to file your taxes. That’s a win-win for you and your business. You benefit from some free publicity (enhanced by the halo effect) and your tax burden is lessened.
4 – Create and Fund a Scholarship
Scholarships provide much needed financial support for students who might not otherwise have the resources to realize their educational ambitions. Creating and funding a scholarship for local students is a great way to give back to the community. It also delivers some welcome publicity for you and your brand. That publicity not only enhances your brand in the community it can help to boost your online presence. Again, your business’ SEO needs citations to succeed, and links to scholarship websites are high value targets for search engines.
Business-funded scholarships are often tied to a specific industry. For example, if you’re a self-employed architect you might fund a scholarship award for students pursuing careers in architecture or interior design. Or, if you manage a chain of regional restaurants you might consider sponsoring a scholarship to a culinary institute of your choice. Of course, you could always choose to fund a general education scholarship or basic education grant for your alma mater.
When it comes to scholarships don’t let the amount of investment deter you. Even modest scholarships are worthy of investment, and can help support a financially challenged student in their career goals.
5 – Participate in Local Festivals
Most towns across the country host a variety of local festivals or parades throughout the year. These events provide an excellent opportunity to get out in the community and promote your business.
For example, you might set up a table at a local spring-fest and use the opportunity to advertise your business, handing out flyers or coupons while collecting contact information for potential new customers. If your city hosts an annual parade you might opt to sponsor a float each year. That gets your name in front of the public and provides print, television and online advertising opportunities for you and your business.
The benefits of participating in local events are many and varied. First and foremost there is a boost in favorable publicity that helps to promote your company, often to a portion of the public who may not otherwise hear of you or your brand. Second there is the ever-present SEO boost you get from online mentions in event literature, reviews and websites. Finally, there is the potential for valuable tax write-offs that can help to offset your business’ annual tax burden.
Get Involved in Your Local Community Now
Good businesses serve their local communities, but great businesses go a step further and actively contribute to the community itself. This goes beyond simple charity; it’s about fostering a positive perception of you, your business, and your employees.
Businesses that take time to engage with their communities, and that take in active role in community affairs, earn a greater degree of respect and confidence from the public at large. That goodwill translates to greater public support for your company. It also helps lay the foundation for the kind of longevity every business owner dreams about.