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Local Businesses Can Compete in the Digital Age

25 September 2023

I am often asked how a small business can compete against their larger competitors in the digital age. Make no mistake, small locally owned businesses face both unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to competing against big-box retailers and online giants. While these large corporations have vast resources and established online presences, small businesses can leverage their agility, local connections, and a few strategic approaches to not only survive but thrive in the digital marketplace. Here are a few suggestions to start competing.


I am oftentimes amazed at the number of small businesses without an online presence.  Small businesses must establish a robust online presence to compete digitally. Creating a 4–8-page user-friendly website showcasing their products or services, provides essential information, and facilitates online transactions. A well-designed, mobile-responsive website is crucial as most consumers now browse and shop on their smartphones and tablets.


While you must know social media platforms aren’t your friend and simply data gathering companies, they do offer small businesses no-cost ways to connect with their target audience. Regularly posting engaging content, running targeted ads, and interacting with customers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can help raise brand awareness and build a loyal following.


Create high-quality, informative content that is relevant to your industry and target audience. Blog posts, videos, infographics, and other content can help position your business as an authority in your niche, attracting organic traffic and potential customers.


Optimize your website for (SEO) local search by using relevant keywords and phrases, creating Google My Business listings, and ensuring your business information is consistent across online directories. This helps your business appear in local search results, making it easier for nearby customers to find you.


Small businesses can stand out by offering unique or specialized products or services that big-box retailers may not carry. Highlighting what makes your offerings special can attract a niche customer base that values quality and individuality. Additionally, small businesses can excel in providing personalized customer service that online giants often struggle to match. Get to know your customers, remember their preferences, and go the extra mile to make their shopping experience memorable. Positive word-of-mouth and customer loyalty can be potent assets.


Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on platforms like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor. Respond to positive and negative feedback professionally and promptly. A strong online reputation builds trust and credibility.


While it can be challenging for small businesses to compete solely on price, they can employ pricing strategies that emphasize value, quality, and local support. Consider bundling products or services, offering loyalty programs, or providing discounts for residents.


While not always easy, allocate a portion of your budget to digital advertising campaigns, such as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google and social media ads. Target your ads to reach your ideal audience based on demographics, interests, and location.


If feasible, consider expanding your reach by selling products through online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy. These platforms can expose your products to a broader audience.


Craft a compelling brand story that resonates with customers. People connect with businesses that have a meaningful narrative, so share your journey, values, and vision. Actively participate in and support local community events, charities, and causes. Engaging with the community fosters goodwill and builds a loyal customer base that appreciates your commitment to the local area.


While it may seem daunting for small locally owned businesses to compete in the digital age against big-box retailers and online giants, they have unique advantages, such as personalized service and a connection to the local community, that can set them apart. By leveraging these strengths and embracing digital tools and strategies, small businesses can not only survive but thrive in the ever-evolving digital marketplace. Building a strong online presence, providing exceptional customer service, and continuously adapting to meet customer needs are key elements in the journey to digital competitiveness.


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.