How social media can help regional businesses reach out to the world

How social media can help regional businesses reach out to the world

If your regional business isn’t hitting it hard on social media, you may be missing out on an opportunity to expand your market.

Are you a small business owner in regional Australia who’d like to expand your customer base beyond your geographic environments? Social media can be a low-cost way to market your products and services to out-of-area customers.

Don’t know where to start? The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s site has a free template and guide to getting going, while Blue Wire Media offers tutorials, podcasts and expert posts on all matters related to digital marketing.

Seventy-nine per cent of Australian internet users now use social networking sites, according to the Sensis Social Media Report 2017. Over a third of those users check their accounts more than five times a day.

Here are two small town players who’ve thrown themselves into social and are enjoying big business benefits as a result.

“We can speak to anyone in the world and a lot of those conversations occur through social media”

Can a technology start-up become successful if it’s based in a regional town like Wagga Wagga? Why not, says 365Cups founder Simone Eyles.

She says social media has allowed her to build a global profile for her order-ahead coffee app, 365Cups. It’s clocked up more than 1.5 million orders since its 2011 launch and the business is still proudly headquartered in Eyles’ home town.

“We don’t have a big marketing budget but we can speak to anyone in the world and a lot of those conversations occur through social media,” Eyles says.

365Cups has been on Facebook and Twitter from the get-go. Eyles manages the accounts herself and posts daily. Frequently, it’s a photo of her car, parked alongside a landmark, such as the iconic Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.

“I spend a lot of time in my car so I’m always dropping my pin on the map,” she says. “People really love that and they love our story – that we are from regional NSW – so I try to showcase that.”

Millwoods Shoes
Fellow Wagga Wagga entrepreneur Jane Robertson is also relying on social media to drive sales for her recently launched online children’s footwear business Millwoods.

“It’s really hard to find children’s shoes in regional Australia that look good and fit right and are good value,” Robertson says.

“There’s limited choice in a limited number of shoe stores, or you have the discount department stores at the other end of the spectrum. I thought there was a good opportunity to offer something in between.”

Robertson’s high-quality leather loafers for the under eights have drawn interest from as far afield as Queensland and Victoria, courtesy of strong positioning on Facebook and Instagram.

“Sharing and spreading is a great way to market – and you just have to make sure you have a good product to back it up,” Robertson says.

Doing the social detail yourself is a massive learning curve and takes time but it’s cheaper than hiring a professional and allows you to engage directly with potential customers and partners, she adds.

Do or die?
Not sure if you have time or inclination? Decide it’s too much trouble at your peril, Eyles warns.

“If you think you’re just going to service a local region in this day and age and live happily ever after, I think you’re missing the greatest opportunity,” she says.

“With social media, you can be in bed sleeping and still be selling to the world, be it a product or service or your brand.”

Keys to success
1. No budget? No problem! While large companies devote big bucks to their social media campaigns, you don’t need to follow suit to succeed. A DIY approach can be just as effective.
2. Telling your story on social media helps build stronger connections with customers so keep your eyes peeled for clever or quirky opportunities to share what’s unique about your SME.
3. Planning and scheduling your content in advance keeps the process efficient and ensures you have a continuous pipeline of content.
4. Look out for online resources and short courses to help expand and hone your social media smarts.

Protect your reputation
While social media can be a cheap and effective tool for promoting your business, it’s not without its dangers. If you are going to build a community and presence online, you need to be prepared for the good and the bad. It’s important to monitor posts from your followers and respond to comments in a timely manner.

You should also consider what risks you are exposed to as an online business. Small businesses can often be a target for cybercrime such as hacking or data theft, which may lead to out of pocket expenses and a blow to your reputation. Fortunately, cyber insurance can protect you in the event of a cyber incident. For advice on your options, contact our office.

Important note – the information provided here is general advice only and has been prepared without taking in account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Steadfast Group Ltd (ABN 98 073 659 677, AFSL 254928). Watkins Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd (ABN 23 059 370 455, AFSL 244427)