Support Local ArtistsThe Fox Valley area, west of Chicago, is home to a number of great towns similar to many you can find all across the country. Along with two partners, for 6 years I owned an IT service and web design company in a picturesque small town along the Fox River, population about 25,000, surrounded by several other similar-sized cities.

When it came to marketing our business, we did some of the typical things many small businesses do:

  • We joined the Chamber of Commerce and actively participated in events and got elected to board positions. (Like so many other things in life, you get out of it what you put into it!)
  • We optimized (of course!) our website and made sure we ranked well for our target keywords in our target geo area.
  • We promoted other businesses in the area by working with them, sometimes bartering services, recommending them and displaying their business cards in our office lobby.
  • Whenever possible, we spent our money locally and bought goods and services from our neighbor businesses.
  • We advertised in the phone book, the local newspaper and a local radio station. We did direct mail and doorknob hangers.
  • We offered occasional specials and coupons.
  • We rewarded the loyalty of our customers by providing special services and/or special pricing as a “thank you”.
  • We sponsored local events and charitable activities, and helped work at the events.
  • And more I’m probably forgetting!

But there were two things we did that are NOT typical marketing tactics. In fact, we didn’t do them with marketing in mind at all, and yet they paid off in multiple ways.

First, we volunteered to speak in the local high schools about what it’s like to run a small technology business.

At the invitation of the Computer Science teacher, each semester we would spend an afternoon presenting information about how we helped small businesses with their IT service needs and website needs.

Not only were the students really interested and attentive, they had great questions for us. In some cases, they had insights and observations that were helpful to us, but two unanticipated bonuses from the program were that we hired students to be summer interns for our business and the students were an effective word-of-mouth army that talked about us to friends, neighbors and parents.

We ended up with highly motivated great employees AND new customers!

Second, we participated in regular local “Art Walk” events in our little downtown area.

In support of local artists, we would display their artwork in our office lobby where we had fairly steady walk-in traffic. Not only did their work beautify our lobby area and create conversation, but it was also beneficial exposure for the artists. And it was awesome to have décor that changed all the time.

Once a year the Chamber would organize an Art Walk where each participating business would not only display the artwork, but on this evening we would host an open house where people could walk the downtown area, visit the local businesses, admire (and buy) the creative wares, meet the artists and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks and good conversation.

We loved these events and our goal was to support the Chamber, the artists, and our downtown business area. We didn’t really expect to get new business from these events as they weren’t really “business” oriented. However, we met people, made connections and even friendships, and inevitably got significant new business.

What are some not-so-typical “marketing” things your business has done?

Originally published June 16, 2014