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Fishing for Business in a Small Town

Fishing for Business in a Small Town

Our One-Year Anniversary with a Store-Front

Reflections on opening a marketing agency, with the specific goal of serving small, local businesses.

With a master’s degree and more than 20 years’ experience in marketing communications, I had been successfully freelancing out of my home for four years. I’d often find clients throughout the U.S. by networking online, but slowly, I was making a name for myself in my local community as well. By taking on a couple of local clients and hiring a marketing assistant, I decided it was time to open a small office in town.

So, we found a tiny store front, right on Main Street in Stockbridge – a small town with just a few more than 1,200 people. No street light, only a four way stop where two Michigan highways intersect. However, we’re located south of I-96 and north of I-94 (about 30 minutes from both Lansing and Ann Arbor), so we’ve been able to draw new customers not only from Stockbridge, but also from Brighton, Jackson, and Ann Arbor.

Our services include developing a variety of marketing communications materials such as brochures, flyers, and business cards, but for the most part we help businesses with their online marketing efforts. Most of our clients are very small with one or two owners and few, if any, employees. Their website is either non-existent or terribly out-of-date.

Social media is of great interest to many of our clients, but they either don’t have any presence at all or started a page or profile and never update it. Most say they know they need to be on social media, but they often don’t know how to use it or are just too busy running their operations to take the time to manage it.

Increasingly, we find many of our clients just need extra planning, coaching and guidance on how to do the marketing themselves. So, we get them off on the right foot, with an integrated marketing plan and strategies, as well as the tools and training they need to implement them. Over the course of the year we’ve grown. I added an account manager, who has streamlined our business processes. I also promoted my marketing assistant to account coordinator. She does triple duty as our photographer and telemarketing specialist. Together, the two of them staff the office and I still work mostly out of my home, going into town for client and staff meetings. This suits me as I also have three teenagers at home and I shepherd our farm’s flock of ewes in my “spare time”.

Some of the lessons we’ve learned in our short tenure include:

  • Who Our Competitors Are – Our biggest competitors are the business owner’s spouses, relatives, and friends who offer to do their marketing for free or who say marketing isn’t necessary.  Instead of competing, we often work with local print shops, a business owner’s current graphic designer and hosting company, as well as their own internal staff, augmenting and adding to their current marketing efforts.
  • What to Charge – We’ve increased our rates twice and charge more for planning and coaching services. However, our aim is to keep our rates low to continue to serve small businesses. We often have to scale our services to meet our clients’ budget, which also may mean using graphics, photos, and materials that the client already has, in accordance with their wishes.
  • Which Services are in Demand – We’ve started offering additional services like website hosting, public relations, product photography, telemarketing, and event management at our clients’ request. We’ve helped with podcasts, published eBooks, produced videos, and frequently help with product, place, and pricing decisions.
  • When we need to Outsource – We started out contracting with several different overseas freelancers, but have also developed a few local sources of talent to help out when we need them. We outsource much of the data entry, graphic art and development tasks. Leaving the rest of us to do the project management, writing, and new business development.
  • Where our Niches are – With my background in agriculture, agribusiness had been a logical fit. However, we’ve soon found, though a combination of our personal interests and which businesses are growing oTabletr sprouting up locally, that we serve a variety of sectors such as recreation, organic food, construction, residential and commercial services, and personal coaching services.
  • How to Work with the Local Community – Each of us is involved in some form of local volunteer work. I serve on the DDA Board, my account manager serves on the farmer’s market board, and my account coordinator volunteers with the Chamber of Commerce. We’ve been part of most events that are put on in town. A highlight was during the Day in the Village celebration, when we sponsored (and our account coordinator built) a giant spiral balloon arch for the fun run put on by the chiropractic office with whom we share our building.

I don’t think we’ll entirely get away from working with clients throughout the U.S. who I come in contact with though online networking. However, we love our local business clients for a number of reasons:

  • Prime among them is that we enjoy being a part of and serving our community.
  • A close second is the huge difference we can make from taking a client from doing little to no marketing, to seeing results with the most basic materials and tools.
  • And, a third (somewhat tongue in cheek) reason is the general improvement to the look and feel of some of the worst websites you’ve ever seen!

Seriously though, we’ll soon have several case studies that show the results of our clients’ direct mail, social media, and online marketing campaigns. We’ll also have some before and after pictures of websites we’ve improved.

We strive to make a real and positive difference in our small business owners’ lives by helping them achieve the goals that they want to achieve. For some, that means increasing sales so that they can expand and grow. For others, it means maintaining a viable business during a time of flux when having a website and social media channel are table stakes. And, for a few it means providing the tools the next generation will need to continue making a living as a small business owner in their local community.

So, what does the future hold for our small-town agency? The vision is to continue to grow and eventually expand. I’d like to open additional offices in other small towns, hiring talented, local residents. While there is a real opportunity with the small business market segment, many of our projects are one offs. So, we rely on a steady stream of referrals, new clients, and a strong economy. I wish I had a crystal ball, but I truly believe that with everyone carrying an internet connected device in the palm of their hand, online, social media, and content marketing for small businesses is a growing opportunity.

Thank you for reading. If you are a small business owner in need of marketing services, please email me at tmiller@agiletmarketing.com or call 734-845-2445 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation. If you know any small business owners who could use our services, please tell them to visit agiletmarketing.com for more information. And of course, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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