Whether you’re preparing to launch a small start-up business or growing an established operation, the importance of community engagement cannot be overstated. Although technology can play a pivotal role in increasing access to and raising awareness of your business, overreliance on the internet and social media means you run the risk of ignoring your local consumer base. In our highly connected high-tech world, community engagement is more critical than ever before.
It is well established that engagement and visibility increase profitability. The following five strategies for increasing community engagement and outreach will help entrepreneurs learn to turn their businesses into pillars of their communities, thus bolstering community support and boosting revenue.
Become a Member of Your local Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is poised to advocate for the interests of large and small businesses nationwide. State and local chambers of commerce play key roles in supporting the health of local business through advocacy efforts and increased connections among the business community in smaller regions. These goals are accomplished through programming such as workshops, networking events, and seminars; legislation; and members-only opportunities, including advertising and cost-saving programs.
Staying involved with the chambers of commerce that help to lobby your state or local government to protect your interests as a business owner is an important way to keep your finger on the pulse of the business community and consumers in your area. Also, consider joining a specialized chamber such as your African-American or Hispanic chamber of commerce if you belong to a group that offers one.
Fundraise for or Contribute to Local Charitable Causes
While fundraising is important to help solidify the financial foundation of your own business, it is also important to consider the ways you can give back to the community members who support your venture. Not only can these fundraisers and charitable contributions enhance your community through the improvements they can fund, such as helping to restore a local park, but they can also demonstrate strategic alignment with your enterprise’s mission statement, goals, and values. “Your business is only as strong as your community,” Kala Gibson, head of business banking for Fifth Third Bank said. “As you help build a stronger community, your community will help your business grow.”
A well-aligned fundraising effort speaks to your authenticity and builds trust with your community partners and consumers. Strategies can fundraising nights, matching gifts, in-kind donations, and community grants. If your business doesn’t have money to give right now, consider employee volunteer programs.
Work With the Local School System or Youth Organizations
There may be no better way to increase vibrancy in your local community than by supporting the youngest members. Partnering with your local school system is a great way to engage parents and educators while also supporting students and the educational system. Working with historically underfunded departments within schools, such as art or music programs, is an important way to support community needs while also increasing awareness of your services and bringing in business.
Partnerships between schools and businesses are mutually beneficial and allow for a variety of opportunities to engage the community, from advertisements to fundraising nights. Providing volunteer or internship opportunities for students and members of sports teams, scout troops, or youth groups is another exciting avenue for broadening your reach in the local community.
Host Community Events or Workshops
One of the easiest ways to drum up business while giving back to the community is to offer a service that will directly benefit its recipients. Whether your event is geared toward providing information, networking, entertainment, or volunteerism, there is no better way to create community than by bringing them together in the same physical space. “Use your knowledge to teach the community something, rather than sell them something,” Gibson said. “You will become known as the expert and go-to person when they need a service.”
Providing a product or service free of charge or reduced in price is another mechanism for building goodwill and encouraging a partnership between yourself and your community. The scope of your event can be as small as reserving a booth at a local community market or as big as planning an annual holiday festival that brings the community together. Additional benefits of this strategy include advertising opportunities (e.g., discounts, coupons, samples, or freebies distributed at the event), avenues for selling merchandise, and bringing in prospective customers who were not previously aware of your business.
Partner and Collaborate With Other Local Business Owners.
Put your networking skills to use by collaborating with other likeminded entrepreneurs from your local community in pursuit of common goals. Planning to host a community event? Chances are you will be able to expand the scope of the event by spreading the workload and cost among other business partners with values that align with your own. Building strong community partnerships is also a key way to increase awareness of your business—after all, word of mouth and referrals are a great way to grow your business.
You can use this list as inspiration to build your own personalized business strategy to increase community engagement and outreach. “Most important, you will be giving back to those who support your ventures and reinforcing ties to the community members who help your business thrive,” Gibson said. Increasing community engagement truly is a mutually beneficial “win-win” for businesses and consumers.