How to Refresh Your Brand in 2017

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The close of one year and the start of the next brings many things. For most individuals and businesses a new year means a new start, providing a clean slate with which to move forward. While this may not be technically correct – after all, the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Eve doesn’t erase previous performance – the mindset of change and starting over can be refreshing, especially for small businesses with big goals.

Whether 2016 was a year overflowing with success or wrought with challenges, the coming of 2017 is the perfect time to refresh your brand, fine tune your focus, and get started on the right foot. A brand refresh can have great potential, reminding you of your vision, ensuring consistency, and encouraging growth rather than stagnation. Here’s what you can do to ensure 2017 is your best year yet.

Connect With Your Audience

Most companies choose to leave outsiders in the dark when it comes to business strategy. For many, this is a logical decision, preventing competitors from overtaking your ability to gain ground. However, this approach can have the opposite effect with customers, putting up walls that create unnecessary distance.

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to inspire some loyalty and emotional ties. Consider posting a blog summarizing your activity and successes in 2016 and thanking your customers and fans for all that they do for you. When shared on social media, these posts provide the kind of information that stimulates a connection between you and your customers.

Target a New Market

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If you’re a small company or a new business, you may not be reaching everyone who can make use of your products and services. In order to maximize potential, use the start of a new year as inspiration to grow and improve.

Take time with your marketing team, and review who you are targeting, what you are targeting, and where the majority of your sales are coming from. With this information, you can draw conclusions regarding what areas you can approach more aggressively, and which audiences likely aren’t receiving the attention they deserve.

Reevaluate Costs

Even the most successful companies in the world can feel the pain of pinching pennies. To improve your odds of financial success in the new year, it’s important to take a deep dive into your expense reports.

Start from the top down and evaluate each category that drives your spending. Sure, you may not be able to do anything about monthly rent, but making minor energy saving changes, like limiting printing to must-have reports, can really add up over the course of the year. Look for unnecessary expenses that your team can do without that won’t compromise employee morale, and make some cuts for the new year.

Try New Marketing Techniques

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How you market your products and services can be a great opportunity for growth and change. With so many options from social media marketing to email newsletters, there’s bound to be a strong strategy you’ve never considered.

Instead of doing the same things day after day, take a look at what your marketing campaigns may be lacking. Are you tracking your success with Google Analytics? Are you focusing solely on Twitter instead of taking advantage of Facebook? By taking the time to identify shortcomings, you can find a great way to move forward in the new year.

Brainstorm New Ideas

When the status quo is positive, it’s easy to fall into a predictable rhythm every year. However, there’s no good way to grow without incorporating changes. The start of another year is the perfect time to start brainstorming new ideas, whether that means putting more focus into research and development, or simply improving community relations with volunteer activities.

Consider putting out a suggestion box and soliciting ideas from your team. Take at least one option offered, whether functional or recreational, and implement it company-wide. This strategy not only shows that you listen to feedback, but can also demonstrate a willingness to keep moving forward.

A brand refresh offers many benefits, providing a new perspective on your corporate identity and an opportunity to build connections with current and prospective customers alike. If you’d like to do more than simply exist in the new year, this can be your chance to revitalize your brand and move your business forward. By changing up marketing techniques, building emotional connections, and launching new products or services, you help ensure that 2017 will be a smashing success.

8 Ways Your Small Business Can Take Advantage of Small Business Saturday

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Small Business Saturday has gained plenty of steam the past few years as a great way to promote local “Mom & Pop” shops that don’t benefit from the Black Friday mega-retail crowd and the Cyber Monday e-commerce traffic. The “shop small” and “dine small” day was initially started as an American Express campaign in 2010 and many small businesses have begun to embrace the day with their own marketing campaigns and promotions.

small-business-saturday

Here are eight ways your small business can benefit from Small Business Saturday:

Spread the Word

Print Small Business Saturday signs to hang by your point of sale or inside your business’ window. Consider creating postcards to send or pass out to remind customers about Small Business Saturday. Also, be sure to update your website. Small businesses with high quality online stores have a distinct advantage. Make sure your inventory has been updated online and special promotions are prominently displayed. Be sure to cater to the busy shopper by ensuring your website is fast, processes transactions quickly, and is optimized for mobile use.

Use Social Media

Social media can be your greatest promotional asset when used correctly. The Small Business Saturday page on Facebook has more than three million fans, so use it as a resource. Always use the official #SmallBizSat or #ShopSmall hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to highlight special offers or discounts since the topics will be trending.

Email Your Customers

If your business keeps record of your current customers’ email addresses, then send them all an email blast to inform them of any events or promotions you are running for Small Business Saturday. Your most loyal customers can become your greatest marketing advocates since they will help spread the word for you.

Advertise Online

Even though many small businesses have a limited budget to spend on online advertising, you can take advantage of ad credits offered by many advertising platforms. If you already spend money on online advertising, be sure to adjust your messaging for Small Business Saturday. Also, keep track of what you spend so you can calculate your Return on Investment (ROI) to see if the advertising was worth the increase in sales.

Offer Coupons and Discounts

Nothing drives more customers to your store than incentives. After all, incentives are the reason Black Friday has become the behemoth that it is. Take advantage of this by offering coupons or discounts for your products or services. Make sure to include your coupons or discounts in your promotional material leading up to Small Business Saturday.

Expand Your Hours

Extend your shopping day for customers on that Saturday by opening earlier or staying open later to make it even easier for customers to shop at your business location. Be sure to include your one-day-only hours in your promotional materials so your customers know they can fit your business into their busy holiday schedule.

Make it an Event

You can create even more excitement for your local small business by doing something different to draw attention. For example, serve free coffee in the morning, display balloons outside your store, hire a musician to play music in your store, or create a contest for a drawing. You can also partner up with other businesses. Build on each other’s customer base by having multiple businesses in the same line of stores or area actively participating in Small Business Saturday with promotions to increase visibility and attention for all local businesses.

Promote a Cause

Small Business Saturday is the perfect time to give back to the community that has given so much to you. Consider donating a portion of your sales to a local charity of your choice, and display this for your customers to see. You may also consider matching donations from your customers to your chosen charity.

 

Four Reasons Your Business Should Take Part in a Trade Show

Trade Show Tips 1

Trade shows are a great way for customers to find the right business to handle their home repairs or remodeling projects. While they offer a lot for the shopper, what exactly does the shopkeeper get out of it? For many, they get customers, exposure and advice.

If you are afraid your business might get lost in the sea of booths and exhibits, Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest offers you the following reasons why you should consider attending one as soon as possible:

Generate Leads.

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This is your chance to meet customers in-person. Forget relying on a fancy webpage or catchy commercial jingle —you’ll be able to give your sales pitch face-to-face and create a relationship with a person before they even step foot in your store. In fact, if you attend the right type of show you could be seen by thousands of consumers in just one day. *Pro-tip: Set up your booth so your logo is clearly visible and hand out a business card to everyone who stops by, even if all they want is a piece of candy!

Get inspired. 

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See what similar companies are doing. Are they using new technology or offering extended services? You might walk away with a few good ideas to help grow your business. *Pro-tip: Take some time to step away from your booth and talk to other vendors. Talk shop and you may build a business-to-business relationship that can be beneficial to your bottom line. 

Be in the know. 

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Some trade shows offer presentations from special speakers, workshops and even after hours networking events. It’s a great way to expand your knowledge while meeting new people in the industry. *Pro-tip: Be a trade show sponsor and your company logo will have prominence over other businesses. 

Get in the guide, get in their mind

Trade Show Tips 5

Many Trade Shows offer guidebooks and maps for visitors. Even if visitors don’t end up hiring a contractor, they’re likely to keep the guide and refer back to it when they are finally ready to make a decision. *Pro-tip: Stand out from the crowd by displaying your BBB Accredited Business Seal. Let shoppers know they can trust you the instant they meet you.

Live in the Portland area? The Portland Fall Home & Garden Show is set to run from Oct. 6 – 9, at the Portland Expo Center. If you want to get your company listed in the guide book, contact the BBB Programs department at 866-459-5222 or email them at programs@thebbb.org. Advertisement space and art must be reserved by Sept. 15, 2016.

BBB On Wright Stuff Radio: Maintaining Customer Relations

Better Business Bureau’s Chief Innovation Officer Dale Dixon joins Brandon Wright on his show Wright Stuff Radio to discuss how to get the most out of your business affiliations.

Other topics include: working with difficult customers and maintaining business relationships.

Wright Stuff Radio connects small businesses through education, business stories, and controversial topics. You can listen every Saturday at 2 p.m. MT on KIDO. BBB is a sponsor of this segment.

4 Ways to Use Email Marketing for Small Business Growth

Mail

One of the best ways to get and retain customers is to effectively use email marketing as a two-way communication tool. For instance, did you know that for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25?

Email offers the ability for you to deliver direct messages to your customers with personalization and hyper-relevancy more than any other marketing execution. So, before we dive in, let’s take a look at a few more reasons why email marketing should be held with high regard when it comes to growing your small business:

  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. (Campaign Monitor)
  • Eighty-one percent of online shoppers who receive emails based on previous shopping habits are more likely to make a purchase. (eMarketer)
  • Personalized emails deliver six times higher transaction rates. (Experian)

With that in mind, here are four ways to use email marketing for small business growth:

1) Get Customer Reviews

Leverage email as a way to communicate with your customers after the transaction to get reviews and testimonials on your products/services. Doing so will enable you to build trust and credibility, especially since 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

2) Promotional Offers

Make sure you segment your email lists so that you can send personalized promotional discount offers to customers who are more likely to buy again. Sending the same offer to an entire list of subscribers without much thought behind it can do you more harm, i.e. incur unsubscribes. Additionally, getting repeat business from existing customers is much easier as it is low hanging fruit versus trying to gain new ones. So, treat your existing customer base with enticing promotional offers that will drive sales for your business.

3) Contests and Giveaways

A fun and creative way to get engagement is to run a contest or do a simple giveaway. There are two ways you can do this – one being that you run an exclusive contest for just customers and second, you promote this contest via social media channels to get more participants. Not only will this help you put your brand in front of current customers, it will also help build awareness for those who have not yet heard about you.

4) Sponsored Emails

Run a co-marketing partnership email campaign by teaming up with other businesses who offer complementary products/services to yours. This will allow you to expand your reach and tap into different markets for growth. Make sure you tie in this campaign with a targeted landing page or implement URL tagging as a way to track and measure any new sales that come through.

In Summary

Make time and have patience for continual testing. Just because one email doesn’t convert, doesn’t mean you should stop your initiative altogether. Harness the power of email marketing to help you grow your business while also nurturing customers for retention.

Oregon AG’s Office Puts Magazine Subscription Scam Out of Business

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General
Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General

We received big news this week from the Oregon Attorney General’s Office when Ellen Rosenblum announced a $3 million settlement with Publisher’s Payment Processing.

According to the AG’s office, the White City company had operated a nationwide scam through a newspaper and magazine subscription ruse.

The numbers are staggering.

Better Business Bureau has received more than 800 complaints against the company within the last 3 years. These include sales and delivery issues as well as problems with service. The most common complaint was billing and collection issues. The volume of complaints, as well as the company’s failure to respond to many of them, have contributed to an F rating for the business.

Consumers told BBB they received bills from the company for magazines they already have subscriptions for, implying it was time for renewal. However, those consumers told us the subscriptions had not expired and they did not originally order from Publisher’s Payment Processing. What’s more, some consumers said the company claimed to have the lowest renewal fee, but they found they could get a better price if they ordered through their magazine’s publisher directly. Many told BBB that Publisher’s Payment Processing would charge a $20 processing fee just to cancel renewals.

The AG’s office says the settlement is not an admission of guilt, but Publisher’s Payment Processing will have to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to Oregon consumers who overpaid or did not receive their magazines. Service fees will also be refunded to Oregonians who have previously received refunds.

“This was a sophisticated operation that generated millions of dollars each year from consumers across the country who thought they were doing business with a reputable magazine or newspaper publisher, but were instead working with a company that made its money by scamming them,” Rosenblum said. “It’s a particular embarrassment to the legitimate Oregon business community when national companies based here don’t play by the rules. The only option was to shut them down—and we have.”

Read the complete Assurance of Voluntary Compliance here.

How to Respond Positively to Negative Feedback

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you’re lucky—but at some point, your business will be criticized. The Internet is pretty much a free-for-all of customer reviews, complaints and commentary.

Business owners often struggle to find the right words to craft a decent response. And some just don’t respond at all, which can be a huge mistake. When it comes to negative feedback that’s posted online, keep in mind that how you handle it is visible to the world. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and may even give off the perception that you don’t care about your customers.

If and when you do receive negative feedback, you can turn it into an opportunity to regain the trust and respect of that customer, and you could win over some new customers, as well.

Be polite
It’s natural to want to defend your business, your employees or your products and services, but resist the urge. The customer may be in the wrong, but saying so will not help your public image. Never place blame on the customer, and never respond in an emotional, accusatory manner. Instead, step back and take a breath. Consider how the customer feels, and think about what you’d want to hear if you were in his place. Maintain a professional, polite disposition, but be careful not to sound robotic—people want to see that you’re genuine and compassionate.

Keep it short
It’s usually best to keep your response brief. Acknowledge the customer’s feedback, and invite them to discuss it at length with you over the phone or at your place of business. Going into too much detail in your public response is akin to airing dirty laundry. Consider a simple “We’re so sorry you had that experience with our company. We invite you to call our customer service desk if you’d like to talk more about the specifics of the situation.” It can go a long way toward making the customer feel heard, encouraging a real dialog and showing others that you give proper attention to unhappy customers.

See it as a learning opportunity
When you’re feeling criticized or even attacked, it can be difficult to see the value behind someone’s not-so-pleasant feedback. However, consider this: There are companies that pay big money to survey real people for insight on how to better themselves, and you just got it for free! The comments your business receives online are a kind of customer research, and you can benefit from it. Make note of any suggestions or questions that are mentioned in the comments, and seriously consider whether you can use this feedback to better your business.

To quote Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Know when to walk away
You won’t be able to fix every problem and make everyone happy, and unfortunately, there are some people who derive pleasure from pushing your buttons. They don’t want your help; they just want to start an argument. On the Internet, this type of person is called a troll, and it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them.

How do you tell the difference between a real gripe and someone who just enjoys stirring the pot? Follow the steps above: Be polite, keep it short and try to find the value in the critique. If despite your best efforts they refuse to have a civil, productive discussion with you, it’s OK to let it go. Remember that everyone else will see how you handled the comments, and they’ll be impressed you kept your cool.

7 Ways to Research a Business Before Hiring Them

Image courtesy of Adamophoto | http://freerangestock.com/
Image courtesy of Adamophoto | freerangestock.com

Creating and launching a business website that looks completely legitimate takes about 30 minutes. But it takes less than five minutes for a consumer to get scammed by one of these rogue, “fly-by-night” websites that are here today and gone tomorrow—with your money.

Double-dealing “brick-and-mortar” businesses continue to exist as well, simply because most consumers aren’t sure how to begin researching a business before interacting with them.

Although the Internet harbors millions of scam artists who prey every day on unsuspecting consumers, the Web also provides portals through which anyone can perform a background check on virtually any business in the world.

7 Ways to Research a Business
  1. Search for a U.S. or Canadian business on Better Business Bureau’s website or call your local BBB. You’ll find a company’s rating (from A+ through F) along with a history of customer complaints. BBB also provides information about the services or products the business offers and whether government actions have ever been taken against the business. If the business is a BBB Accredited Business, that means the business has agreed to uphold BBB’s eight standards for trust.
  2. Contact your home or auto insurance agent for advice about directing to you dependable and professional businesses. Because insurance companies deal with a wide variety of commercial businesses, your agent may be able to help you discover whether a business is exceptional or substandard.
  3. Every U.S. business is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, a government organization whose goal is to protect consumers from unfair trade practices and other unethical business activities. On the FTC website, you can search for news about a particular company relevant to your research. Likewise, the American Bar Association oversees law firms and attorneys, while the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission standardizes financial entities.
  4. Search local, county and state civil and criminal court records for litigation cases containing the company’s name. Businesses that own property or have filed bankruptcy in the past may be included in country or state tax records if there is a lien against their property. Federal district and bankruptcy courts may also shed further light on the reputation of the business. In addition to running the company’s name through a search portal, checking the names of owners, co-owners and employees may also turn up interesting information pertinent to your research.
  5. Request a business credit/background report from Experian, Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet or LexisNexis. You will be charged a fee per report, but these are highly reputable services that are known to maintain accurate information on most businesses operating in the U.S.
  6. Don’t forget to check social media sites for potentially compelling information. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter may offer insights from other customers who have used the company. However, beware of review sites such as Yelp—what reviewers say about a business may be fueled by reasons more personal than business-related, which offers nothing helpful to your research. Take what’s said on those review sites with a grain of salt.
  7. If you don’t have the time or desire to do a comprehensive background search on a business, you can always hire a private detective or professional background check company that specializes in accessing lesser known databases and performing on-site investigations.
About Better Business Bureau
  • BBB is one of the best places to begin researching a business because of its easily navigable interface and the wealth of information provided by its database. In addition, businesses that are accredited by BBB and display BBB’s seal on their website or advertisements are favored by consumers over non-accredited businesses. In fact, 74% of consumers prefer to do business with BBB Accredited Businesses, as stated in a Roper survey.
  • A BBB Accredited Business maintains adherence to stringent BBB standards that include consistently applying ethical business practices to all facets of the company, protecting customer privacy, using honest advertising strategies and remaining as transparent as possible to customers.

Taking the time to research a business before hiring them may save you a lot of money, stress and time lost pursuing a potentially lost cause.

Why Every Small Business Should Use Google My Business

Small business owners know that marketing online is important. For many of them, this means setting up a few social media accounts and a website. But if you really want to reach your customers, you’ve got to go where they are: Google.

googlemybusinessAlmost 70% of online searches are conducted via Google, and one out of every five of those searches is regarding a business or place. That’s where Google My Business comes in. It’s a service that allows the physical location of your business to be found on Google Maps, letting customers track you down more easily. If you don’t have your business listed on Google My Business, you need to put this on the top of your “to do” list immediately. It’s one of the best things you can do to expand your customer base.

What Are the Benefits of Google My Business?

It’s the New Yellow Pages
Gone are the days when people reached for a phone book if they needed a specific service. Google My Business serves as the Yellow Pages today, especially for local businesses. Even if you don’t have a website, customers can search for your category (e.g. plumber, bakery, or photographer) and see a list of local businesses in that field.

You’re Easier to Find
When your business is listed with Google Maps, your exact address and location is given to customers. They don’t have to wade through the “contact us” section of a website or click through your Facebook profile to find out where you are. If customers are searching using their mobile device, Google Maps includes GPS navigation, providing turn-by-turn directions to your door.

It’s Free Advertising
What’s the only thing better than advertising for a small business? Free advertising! And that’s what you’re getting with Google My Business. Even if your small business does have a budget for advertising, it’s likely not large. Take advantage of everything you can, and advertise to customers in your area for no charge.

How to Sign Up and Have Your Business Listed on Google My Business

Making your business visible on Google My Business is simple. To start, you’ll need to have an account with Google or you’ll need to set one up. Once you’re signed in, go to google.com/mybusiness. Agree to some basic terms and conditions, and you’ll be taken to a form that lets you plug in basic information about your business such as name, phone number and category. You will need to actually verify that you have a place of business, but this is easily done by phone, text or through the mail. As a safeguard against scammers, no information you add here will be visible until you’ve actually verified your business.

Tips for How to Properly Use Google My Business

Now that you’ve signed up, here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your listing.

Use Keywords
Filling out the keywords and category section of your profile may be the most important step. Write a product description or a description of your business that’s appealing and describes what you do. However, don’t overdo it on the keywords, as that could actually cause your ranking to decrease dramatically.

Utilize Images and Videos
A business that is listed on Google My Business is allowed to add up to 10 images and five videos for no charge. Again, this is free advertising, so make the most of it! Include pictures of the outside of your establishment so visitors know exactly what they’re looking for when trying to find you.

Create a Google My Business Page for Every Location
If your business has multiple locations, creating one overall Google My Business listing isn’t going to do the job. Have a different listing for each location with its specific address and phone number. If your business serves multiple cities, create a single page and list those multiple cities in your description.

Encourage Customer Reviews
If you have satisfied customers, ask them to share their experiences and rate your services on Google My Business. It seems simple, but a better rating truly will attract more customers in a big way. Make sure you have genuine reviews, though. If you have reviews that Google thinks aren’t authentic, or it appears that you’re simply soliciting reviews for a higher rating, your listing could actually be pushed down.

5 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses

Image courtesy of sba.gov/nsbw
Image courtesy of sba.gov/nsbw

Whether you live in a large city of a million people or a small community of 10,000, you’ve probably seen efforts encouraging people to “shop local” at some point. But why exactly should you choose a local business? What’s the benefit beyond just being nice to a local?

As it turns out, there are actually plenty of benefits that many people never realize. Here’s a look at just a few of them.

1. You’re putting more of the money you spend right back to the community.
A big reason people shop local is they enjoy “helping the community,” so to speak. People enjoy knowing the money they spend stays right in their area. But when you do shop local, some of that money you spend comes back to help the community a second time. And even better, it’s a larger portion than it would have been from a “big box” store. When a local business owner feels appreciated by the community they’re in, they are much more likely to spend money at a small business themselves—because they know how important support is. They’re also much more likely to make a business donation to community causes (schools, churches, etc.). These businesses understand what it takes to keep a community strong, and are much more apt to be a part of local efforts.

2. You’re helping your community stay unique.
There’s a reason that one of the first things people do with out-of-town visitors is take them to their favorite local restaurant or coffee shop. People love sharing what makes their town unique, or what makes it “better” than all the rest. And local businesses truly are what make an area special. When visitors shop at these stores, they get a sense they’re really “somewhere” instead of the same store they have down the block from their own house. You’ll probably find products at these stores that aren’t available anywhere else. Ask someone about a recent trip they took, and they’ll either tell you about the incredible local cuisine and the quirky shop they found, or how the weather was as they drove to the chain restaurant.

3. You’re getting better service.
It sounds obvious, but nobody knows a community like someone who lives there. When you trust a local business, you’re dealing with someone who knows and understands your area. Sure, the big box store employees may be locals, too, but they don’t have the same investment in the community a local shop does. This doesn’t apply to all types of stores, but there are times when you just need a local’s perspective—at a garden store, for example. A small business owner will take the time to make sure you purchase exactly what you need and exactly what’s going to work for your area, and they will likely throw in some good advice you wouldn’t have otherwise.

4. You’re helping the environment.
If you do any interstate traveling at all, you’ve seen the large semi-trucks crawling across the roadway. These trucks are a vital part of the transportation of goods in this country, but if you’ve watched the smoke that billows from their exhaust, you’re probably thought it can’t be too good on the Earth. When you shop local, you’ve got the knowledge you had a little less part in that pollution than you would have otherwise. In addition, there’s a great chance that shopping local means you drove less mileage yourself, meaning you contributed a little less pollution from your own car.

5. Price isn’t always the bottom line.
It’s no secret that you might pay a little more for something when you shop local. But it’s an investment that’s worth it. Here’s the important part, though: Small businesses try to keep their prices as competitive as they can. They’re not choosing to charge more, but it’s simply a necessity. They can’t afford an expensive TV advertising campaign, and they can’t afford to undercut the prices of the big guys. But what they can do is focus on quality. More often than not, purchasing a product you know is quality from someone who is involved in your community makes all the difference.

But if for no other reason than the ones listed here, it’s always nice to support a local business simply to recognize the hard work and passion that went in to building that business. As any business owner can attest, it’s not easy. Local business owners truly are the backbone of any community, and your support means more than you probably know.

If you have a choice, make an extra effort to shop local. You may pay a little more, but know that you’re investing not just in a local resident, but in the community where you live.