Keeping your local business ahead of the competition can be a make or break tactic, especially in areas where it isn’t economically sustainable to have several of the same businesses. Marketing tactics and practices widely differ when we’re comparing local businesses to franchises and corporations. There are certain things you should keep in mind to help set yourself apart from the local competition.

Hands down the biggest place to start is through local listings like Google or Yelp. We dedicated an article to this a few weeks ago, but we can’t stress the importance of creating continuity with your local listings and claiming them. 80% of consumers use search engines to find local businesses, which immediately puts you at a huge disadvantage if you’re not being populating.

Another key tactic is to know your competition. Don’t be afraid to do some reconnaissance. Assessing successful businesses is an amazing resource for your own development, so isolate what it is that they’re doing that keeps customers coming back – whether it’s the service, the pricing, the atmosphere, etc. Check out their website as well and what kind of social media presence they have, and the client response they’re receiving on them.

With local competition it’s good to know what they’re offering, but it’s even better to know what they’re not offering. See what their weaknesses are and ways you can step in to offer that solution. Typically, your business isn’t going to be exactly the same as the competition, and there will be differing target markets that you can expound on. Also, sometimes it’s hard as a business owner to look at your own business objectively. It’s much easier to do this with a competitor, which can allow you to see holes in what you’re both offering, or ways they can improve, which you can apply to your business. Offer a guarantee on your services and product that is stronger than your competition’s such as a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee, or a promise that if you don’t offer the lowest price, you’ll match any competitor in the area’s price. Add ‘icing on the cake’ for your customers. There should be something relatively cost-effective that you can add as an additional feature for free that can help sway customers in your direction when they’re deciding between you and a competitor.

Businesses win huge points with the local community when they’re involved in sponsorships or charitable organizations. By sponsoring a children’s Little League or providing food donations to an event, you’re creating word of mouth buzz, which is a highly effective marketing tool, regardless of the size of your business. You should also get involved with your city’s Chamber of Commerce or small business association. These are great ways to network with other businesses and create cross-promotion.

Always be sure that you’re never overlooking the value of your current customer base. We’ve previously discussed just how powerful these existing clients are to the success of your business, but they’re also a fountain of useful information. Creating an incentive for them to fill out a survey can help you figure out what you’re doing that has customers coming back and use this to focus on your strengths.

It’s also important to commit to your brand. It’s easy to lose customers if your vision is too broad or hard to define. For example, don’t offer car oil changes and a moving business under the umbrella of the same company. Creating a targeted, precise product and message takes time and patience, but helps customers see you as an expert in what you offer.