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Why the South Charms Small Businesses and How to Compete if You Don’t Live There

Why the South Charms Small Businesses and How to Compete if You Don’t Live There

The South is well known for its charm, and many small business owners appear to be quite familiar with the region’s alluring qualities. My team at Vistaprint Digital recently noticed a trend among customers using our website builder—southern cities had the highest number of customers per capita. In fact, the top five cities for website customer density were all located in southern states. Naples, Florida held the number one spot—where our customers range from restaurants to home-maintenance companies—backing up recent reports that ranked the city as one of the best places to start a business.

So, what exactly is it about the South that appeals to so many small businesses and, equally as important, how can businesses not located in the South stay competitive?

Let’s start with the southern charm. While many lists of “best cities” or “best states” for small business come out every year, and each one is slightly different than the next, you’ll undoubtedly find a few southern locales listed on them all. The rankings boil down to a number of factors: business survival rates, cost of living, employee availability and, perhaps most obvious, business tax climate. Most states that constantly make these lists of top places for businesses (like Texas and Florida) are absent a major tax, whether it’s corporate tax, individual income tax, or sales tax. In addition to the tax benefits of many southern states, it’s important to note that more people than ever are moving out of some of the most populated states in the northeast, perhaps leading to the uptick in small businesses in other places.

However, the truth is that there are plenty of non-southern states on many of those “best places” lists, and not everyone is moving from New York to Florida, for example. Small businesses can thrive in any climate in any state with a smart business plan—just ask the owners of the 29.6 million small businesses around the country. No matter where a business located, they can take advantage of the right resources and tools to help them compete against their local market, southern counterparts, and even the big box stores.

One of the most important factors for any small business to succeed, regardless of location, is an effective on- and offline marketing strategy—especially one that hits across digital channels. With so much business being done online—from initial research to final sales—digital marketing is a must-have for any small business looking to expand its reach and connect with audiences both inside and outside its local area—often for a fraction of the price of traditional advertising.

While a survey of Vistaprint Digital customers (small and micro businesses) found that 38% said overcoming a lack of resources would be their biggest marketing challenge this year, a thoughtfully-crafted combination of the following basic digital marketing elements can give small businesses the leverage to compete in their respective markets and grow over time. With so many online tools available today, these baseline components will not break the bank or take much time, and they are well worth the investment:

  • Professional, mobile-friendly website – A website often serves as a first impression for small business customers. It’s like a digital version of a storefront window. Having a responsive and mobile-optimized website that looks professional should be one of the first steps in starting a business. After all, according to Vistaprint Digital’s recent Small Business Consumer Expectations Report, 42% of consumers say they are not very likely to visit or purchase from a business that has a poorly designed website – and 50% have the same expectations of a small business site as they do a large chain.
  • Active social media accounts – Social media marketing is another key element for small business marketing, but before signing up, it’s important to understand where the target audience for the business is most active and which platforms make most sense for its particular industry. For example, some businesses—like salons or landscaping companies—are more visual than others, which might call for more emphasis on Instagram versus Twitter.
  • Email marketing – Despite the rise of social media, email marketing is still an effective and budget-friendly option for small business marketing. Businesses can use templates, incorporating logos, fonts, and colors that are on-brand. But remember, email should always provide value to the recipient and remind customers why they signed up for alerts in the first place.
  • Blog – Recent research from Jadite Inc. found that small businesses with a blog get 126% more lead growth. Blogging provides a small business with additional engaging content to share—think of it as an extension of an email marketing or social media campaign. There’s also great SEO value in blogging. Not only can adding new content regularly boost search engine rankings, strategic keywords within a blog post can help get content in front of the right audiences.

While factors like tax regulations and cost of living can seemingly provide a leg-up for businesses in certain states, all small business owners are on the same playing field when it comes to marketing online. A thoughtful digital strategy that begins with the basics can open many doors for small businesses, allowing them to expand their audience without depleting their bank accounts.

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by D. Scott Bowen // Scott Bowen is VP & GM of Vistaprint Digital. The technology executive and Yale grad has more than 25 years of experience in his industry, with deep experience in digital media and International management including direct reports and business operations in six countries. Scott has had particular focus on M&A from $1M through $300M+ in size and has spent the last 20 years in the software and cloud services space.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.