Relationship Marketing - Key for Small Local Business

by Sharon Fling

Someone wrote me recently and said "I don't think every small business has the need nor inclination to send regular follow up emails."

The "no inclination" part I can believe, but no need? Not unless you have all the business you can handle. Otherwise you need to collect (opt-in) email addresses at every opportunity, and use them to establish and build relationships with your prospects and customers.

The key word in that sentence? Relationships. If you want to promote your local business effectively online, relationship marketing is key.


Relationship marketing is the act of building close relationships with existing customers and prospects. It's about having an ongoing dialogue with them over a period of time. It can also include gathering customer information and analyzing their behavior, but don't let that scare you. You can practice relationship marketing on a small scale and get plenty of benefits without implementing a full- blown system.

You may not have the financial resources of Office Depot or Wal-Mart, but as a small business owner, you can do something they can't -- have real person-to-person relationships with your customers.

There are 2 critical components to making this strategy work: a relationship-oriented website and the consistent use of email to stay in touch.


The relationship marketing process starts when a visitor arrives on your website. If you want the relationship to progress beyond "hello", make sure it's a wonderful experience. Invite her in, introduce yourself, and offer refreshments in the form of free information or something equally enticing.

At this point you should ask for her email address so you can send more valuable information in the future. This is crucial to your success - you must obtain the email address on the first visit. You may not get a second chance.

Once you have the email address, point your visitor toward helpful resources. A restaurant could offer recipes or discount coupons. A plumbing business might offer tips for avoiding costly repairs. A small business site could offer a collection of articles. Whatever the business, there's some sort of information or gift customers would find useful. Give valuable information freely and don't worry about giving too much away. Give before you get, that's the way of the web.

Ideally you'd have the ability to collect information about individual customers, but not all small businesses can afford the technology needed to track individual preferences and provide different experiences based upon them. If you can't, don't worry about it. But do try to collect first name at a minimum so you can personalize emails.

What else characterizes a relationship-oriented website?

Above all, show your customers that you're in it for the long haul, not the quick score. No flashing banners screaming "Buy Me!". No pressure to hurry up and buy before midnight. Set yourself apart from your competition. Slow and steady wins the race...and builds relationships.


If you are emailing your local customers, sending them offers, coupons, and useful information about your business, you are more likely to get their business than some stranger out in cyberspace. And if you're sending out a newsletter, you'll be light years ahead of all of your competition, local or not!

Maybe the idea of having to write a newsletter is the stumbling block. If so, don't call it an ezine and don't lock yourself into a schedule. But just as you use snail mail, newspaper ads, radio or TV ads to keep your name in front of your customers, you should use email to do the same thing. And it's a lot cheaper than any other form of advertising, so why on earth wouldn't you?

Here are a few ways to use email to create "brand" awareness within your local community.

I know all of this sounds like an awful lot of work, and I won't lie to you...relationship marketing is time-consuming and can be hard work. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Building a website that focuses on the customer takes more thought than slapping up an ego site (all about you). Maintaining a mailing list can be a real pain. Unsubscribing people who can't seem to read. Potential spam complaints. Answering subscriber questions. Responding to feedback or inquiries.

It's so much easier to forget the whole thing, which is what most people do. On the internet, if you want to rise above the clutter, you must do something to distinguish yourself from the masses. You must be willing to do what others are not willing to do. For a small business, that means relationship marketing.

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About the Author

Sharon Fling wrote "How To Promote Your Local Business On the Internet", and publishes "Local Business Today", which focuses on local business promotion. For more info, visit or email

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