One of my best friends would rather shovel manure all day than promote herself and her business to the community.

Entrepreneurs are not always the extroverted, always-selling-it caricature you might imagine. Putting yourself out there is a humbling, risky proposition that does not come naturally to everyone.  Living and working in a small town can make it even more challenging to those who don’t want to appear like they are bragging to their neighbors. So they keep quiet.

Today’s world requires a more active stance.  The shy, humble and introverted will fall short even with a tremendous product or service.

Small town business promotion falls into three categories:  relationships you create, word of mouth that you cultivate, and advertising you purchase.  They complement each other and overlap but they each require an intentional approach.

Unlike a shopping mall, the internet or the big city, local economies allow consumers an opportunity to know the business owners.  When purchasing locally, we like to know with whom we are doing business. Trust comes from relationships. Relationships come from interaction and networking.  A successful business owner in our villages is a community leader – a local celebrity.

Word of mouth is often seen as the silver bullet because it seems free.  Lots of buzz, going viral, the hot new thing, approved by the moms groups on Facebook.  But this too requires active participation from the business. Obviously, product, price and service must be up to snuff.  But product placement, donations, social media presence, photos, logos and press – the successful entrepreneur is intentional about pushing that out, hoping it takes hold.

Finally – marketing requires resources.  You can purchase ads, donate to a cause, hire a graphic designer or consult with a social media expert.  While outsourcing is a great solution for the shy introvert, it costs money. And, for local businesses, it rarely works in isolation.  You still need the relationships and positive word of mouth.

The Chamber offers targeted promotional opportunities for businesses looking to amp up their local marketing in all three categories.  But, like most community-oriented activities, engagement from the business owner is the key to making an impact.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...