Q&A: approaching local businesses

This week I received a sweet little email from a reader that said this:
Hello.  I stumbled upon your blog today and I LOVE IT!  Thanks for sharing so much.  I love my Stella & Dot business and am trying to gear up for the fall and holidays.  You had 21 things to do for November [that's this post] and I especially liked the reach out to businesses.
Would you have words to say by chance?  This is the bulk of what I'd like to do for the fall.  I even came up with a little flyer to hand out to offices.  I always get stuck so any thing you might be able to share would be appreciated.
First of all, THANK YOU! Thanks for emailing me :) I love it when readers take a minute to let me know that a blog post was helpful. 

On the topic of your question, here are some of my thoughts.

I approach and warm up local businesses the same way I do with any prospect. It's really about building relationships. We meet, I introduce myself, tell a little about my story, learn a little about the other person, then stay in touch and try to offer them a little something valuable.

Here are the specific steps I follow to do this with a business:

  1. I always try to visit the owner/manager in person. I find this is a much more personal touch and has a bigger impact than an email message. Ultimately, the idea is to establish a lasting relationship with your new contact.
  2. I try to do as much research about the company as I can in advance. When I walk into a storefront asking for the manager by name (not just by title), it is far less likely that I get a rude response in reply. Then, I simply try to be my charming self! 
  3. I introduce myself and explain that I am a local entrepreneur, specializing in jewelry and accessories. I've found that it really helps to position the conversation around the fact that I am an entrepreneur and small business owner (just like they are) who is looking to network and build connections with other businesses. They'll open right up!
  4. I avoid pitching a joint event on the first meeting. I find that a lot of people find it off-putting to have to make a decision about a "partnership" on the first time meeting you [I use the term "partnership" when speaking with other businesses instead of hostess/host - it's a language they understand]. Ask questions about their company, how they found themselves working in this industry, and any other questions you would ask a new acquaintance. 
  5. I arrive prepared. I suggest bringing a few look books and a business card - then, if the idea of doing a staff appreciation show or a joint event comes up in natural conversation, you have everything you need with you!
  6. After your first meeting, follow up with a quick email (because you grabbed their contact info too, of course!) to say how wonderful it was to meet them and a nice note or compliment about their business. At this point, if it hasn't already come up, mention how you've worked with other small businesses in the past to partner for a internal events and joint customer-facing events and if this is something they're interested in, you'd love to chat some more! [If you haven't yet worked with any local businesses, it's okay to embellish here a little
  7. And, as usual, following up by phone is key. Call them about a week later and see if they've put any thought into partnering with you.

This approach can take a little longer than a traditional stop-by-and-drop-a-flyer method, but I promise you that building an authentic relationship with the business owner will produce better results in the long run.

It is a good time to start at this now if you're wanting to build your business up for the Fall/Holiday season - most retailers and service-based companies will already be thinking about holiday appreciation ideas around now!

Tell me! Which local business is on your chicken list? Leave me a note in the comments below.

Q+A- approaching local businesses

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