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There’s no doubt about it. We buy from people and businesses we connect with. And while it may often seem that consumers are fickle and lack loyalty, the truth is that consumers prefer to be part of a community. They prefer to buy from businesses that they feel a connection with.

Local business has a unique opportunity in that many times they know their customers personally. But knowing someone doesn’t necessarily imply a strong community. The Internet provides both online and offline businesses a powerful opportunity. Let’s take a look at the many ways local businesses can build a strong community of prospects and customers.

Provide a Free Gift

People love to get something for nothing. Create a wonderful and relevant gift that you give away on your website. Depending on your business this could be a free report or eBook. It could also be a free product, service, or an online seminar. Offline, promote the freebie via word of mouth and in store advertising and promotions. Online you can promote the freebie by sharing it via social media, your email newsletter and including it in your email signature.

When your prospects receive a no strings attached gift, they feel indebted to you. They are grateful and begin to become part of your community. If you provide the freebie by requesting an email address in exchange, then you can continue to build that community by connecting with them on a consistent basis.

Education

Have you ever considered teaching about your niche subject? Regardless of your niche, there is an opportunity to educate your prospects. Offline you can do this by hosting local seminars and classes. In many cities there are community education opportunities. You can also hold classes in your place of business. For example, a chocolatier holds monthly chocolate making classes. A graphic designer might hold monthly seminars on the basics of visual branding.

Online you can approach education by holding online seminars or webinars. You can also create an online forum and answer questions from your prospects. By educating your audience you position yourself as a credible source of information. You become an authority in their eyes, which means they’re more likely to turn to you when they need help. Prospects become part of your community because they trust you as an expert.

Help, Connect, Communicate

Become a problem solver and a connector. Get out into your community, online and off, and begin connecting with people. Set an intention to provide value and to help. Online this is possible by responding to blog comments, by interacting in social media, and by becoming a frequent participator on niche blogs. Offline you can provide value by networking and enjoying face-to-face conversations.

Building your community is as simple as making yourself available to interact and engage. Online this happens by building a website, by participating in online conversations, and by providing a consistent stream of value to your prospects. Offline it’s about letting people know who you are and how you can help them. Connect, communicate and build your business by becoming present wherever your prospects hang out.