6 Lessons The Tech Sector Must Learn From Main Street Business

Think you know better than mom and pop? Think again. Lessons from opening a brick-and-mortar venture.

It's been my job for some time now to help other people build better businesses around their passions, skills, and talents. I did most of this work online, using the likes of social media, content marketing, and email to find leads, nurture relationships, and make sales. And I was really good at it.

Then I opened a main street business. My whole perspective on effective marketing, relationship-building, and business growth changed.

It's easy to think that our new generation of business--all digital, all mobile, all-the-time--is a more effective way of doing business. But tech companies, digital entrepreneurs, and even freelancers working remotely have a lot to learn from the way main street businesses grow and thrive.

1. BE CLEAR

I opened a coworking space in a small town, and "coworking" is exactly how I explained the business to start. Unfortunately, few people here get that. I've worked on clearing up my message, relating it to things people do know, and working that into every marketing channel I have. Instead of saying “coworking,” I say it’s an open office where lonely people who normally work from home can work together.

Your mysterious launch materials might work, but being clear definitely will.

2. WORK TOGETHER

Main streets are communities. Here in Astoria, Oregon, we have the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association. It works to promote, develop, and encourage small businesses in the downtown corridor. No one worries about competition. They find more and more ways to work together, because they know that when one succeeds, the whole community succeeds.

We’re currently planning a Neon Walking Tour of our downtown area. It’s a great way for businesses to support each other, share a little history, and get people excited about the town as a whole.

Business is a zillion sum game--even small communities know that.

3. ASK FOR HELP

In my "day job" business, I have a habit of going it on my own and working longer hours just to try to get everything done. With a brick-and-mortar business, there are just some things you can't do yourself. Like the electrical work.

There will be some things your team is really good at. Find people who are good at those things you’re not good at, and ask for help.

4. BE REDUNDANT

I generally assume my customers are going to be in one of two places: Facebook or email. But with my main street business, that's just not true. Often they're spread out about town, reading the newspaper, gazing at bulletin boards, or listening to public radio. The more places I can get my message, the more likely I am to attract customers.

Don't assume that one or two key marketing channels is enough. Plan to be everywhere.

5. MEDIA WILL MAKE YOU (OR BREAK YOU)

Speaking of being everywhere, getting my business featured in the local newspaper on a regular basis has been the best thing I've done so far. But it's more than just typing up a simple press release. Instead of leading with the facts, I spend a few extra moments thinking about the angle that's going to matter most for my community.

Make your pitch but also make it a great story.

6. NEVER STOP NETWORKING

In our little downtown, the two main coffee shops regularly send customers to the competing shop based on what they’re looking for. It's all due to great relationships between the people working at both shops--from the owners down to the employees. In an economy where the minutest difference can set one device or app apart from the next, knowing other providers in your market can mean knowing your next referral source.

Your next big opportunity is coming. Do you know the person who will hand it to you?

--Tara Gentile is a customer-obsessed business strategist and the founder of CoCommercial in Astoria, Oregon.

[Image: Flickr user Brett VA]

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