Getting Down to (Local) Business
by Ian Doescher
Greetings from Scotland, blog readers! Most of this month, I am on vacation with my family in Scotland. “Why, then, are you writing this article?!” I can hear you asking. I’m able to extend my time here by working half-time for a couple of weeks because I have generous and understanding bosses (thanks, Dave and Mark!). Anyway, for three of our four weeks my family is staying in the Orkney Islands, the chain of islands off the northern tip of Scotland. The Orkneys are a special place for us—we stayed here for two months in fall/winter 2014 during my wife’s sabbatical from work.
Orkney definitely has a small town feel. The island we lived on in 2014, North Ronaldsay, has about 50 full-time residents. The biggest city in Orkney, Kirkwall, has a population of about 9,000, so it’s still a small place. Most people know each other, or at least know someone who knows someone else. Many people have the same last names; there are a lot of Scotts, Tullochs and Craigies.
Unsurprisingly, most businesses in Orkney are local businesses, and that has me thinking about Pivot’s clients. Many of our clients are local businesses that pride themselves on being local. Being local is a huge asset, because you can offer more personalized customer service and really get to know a community. It can, however, also be a liability—customers may have the misperception that you can’t provide products and services that match national companies. Customers may believe that local = small or local = less advanced.
It’s time to put those misconceptions to rest, and some things I’ve noticed around Orkney may help:
- Make a connection with local knowledge. In Orkney, they rarely use the words “little” or “small,” but instead say “peedie.” “Peedie” means small. A peedie bairn is a little child. A peedie car is a small car. You get the idea. Businesses all over Orkney use the word “peedie” in their business names: the Peedie Hostel, the Peedie Chippie, Peedie Breeks Nursery, etc. What local terms or local imagery can you use in your advertising to make a connection with customers and let them know you are local?
- Put your best foot forward. Did you know Orkney Cheese’s cheddar is a multiple award winner? You might if you saw some of their ads. They don’t want you to think that just because they’re local, their cheese isn’t up to national companies’ standards. In just about every ad I’ve seen for Orkney Cheese—and that’s quite a few—they refer to the awards their cheese has won. If you are doing something better than your larger (maybe national) competitors, put that fact front and center in your ads. Let people know local doesn’t mean less. In fact, it often means more.
- Be known in the community. In a small community, companies often work together and are happy to recommend each other. I’m looking for a Harris Tweed jacket on this trip, and the local businesses I asked about it referred me to the other shops where they thought I could find it. (Alas, though many shops in Orkney carry Harris Tweed products, none have jackets. Maybe next week, in Glasgow!) In smaller communities, people and businesses need each other. What partnerships can you make with other local businesses? Yes, partnerships take time, but it is time well spent. How can you contribute to the community in a meaningful way that lets people know you care deeply about your shared life together? How can you make sure people know you are more concerned about people than profit?
I wish everyone could visit the Orkneys and experience life here. And I also don’t—if the Orkney Islands became a prime tourist destination some of what makes it so special would be lost. The thing that is clear here—and in so many places, including our clients’ communities—is that people care deeply about each other and about seeing their area thrive together. If your business can contribute to that sense of the common good, your community and your company will benefit.