Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams character got bad advice.
"If you build it, they will come" might attract the ghosts of baseball players to a field in the middle of nowhere. For a business owner, though, that's a terrible strategy.
Unless you're located in a very high-traffic area where people will naturally drive or walk past your business, just existing is generally not enough. Even if you do have that advantage, you will probably still need to advertise and market your business. What follows are some easy ways to do that that can help make sure you find a customer base or grow an existing one.
1. Get out into the community
A small business needs to become part of the fabric off the community. That means going to a local event and showing off your goods and/or services. You might volunteer to help those in need, or simply spend money to sponsor local causes (think Little League teams, community events, and things like that).
The most important thing is being visible. If you, for example, own a local bakery, become known as the person bringing baked goods to community gatherings. That will build goodwill and bring people to your store.
2. Use social media
Being on social media isn't enough. It's a start, not a destination.
You need to build fans by sharing unique content that's tied to, but not a direct sales pitch from your business. Think about being interesting first and selling second.
It's also important to be an active participant. Answer questions where your expertise matters, and just be a good friend to people who interact with you.
Don't make your social media all about selling. Focus on building relationships and creating camaraderie that makes someone more naturally support you.
Advertising can be expensive because when it's done well, it works. This may be an area where you want to find a consultant. Look for someone who buys ads for lots of local businesses who's willing to tailor a plan to your business needs. Beware of anyone selling ads for any one form of local media, and try to find someone who understands the market well who will also take the time to get to know your business.
It sometimes takes experimentation to find the right mix for your business. Radio ads, for example, may work for a store, while direct mail might be better for a service provider. Mix and match, trying different things to figure out what works for you and what timing works best (it's much harder to get noticed at certain times of the year, and some businesses have seasonal peaks).
Be clever and try things
Since most small business owners can't build their companies simply by spending a lot of money, it's important to try a lot of things. If one works better than another for you, lean into that channel, but keep trying others, because things will probably change over time.
Promotion may not be the most fun part of owning a business, but it's arguably the most important. If you don't have customers, you don't have a company. That makes acquiring them and exposing people to your small business a primary task of great importance.