We live in a world where Amazon and Facebook seem to have control of everything, from how we shop to how we communicate. As a small business owner, it can seem daunting to create and run a thriving business in this climate. One vital tool for your success is forming strong relationships with other local businesses and owners.
Why are local business relationships important? There are a lot of cliches to answer this question. “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” and “rising tides lift all ships” come to mind. Supporting other local businesses can help boost the entire business community and promote your own business.
This might seem manipulative and a little self-serving. However, when these local relationships are sincere, you are creating a community of fellow business owners. Most likely, you’ve all dealt with the same frustrations, roadblocks, or missed opportunities in your business journeys.
Benefits of Local Relationships
The overarching benefit of forming relationships with local businesses is the opportunity to connect with more potential clients. There are other advantages to actively creating and maintaining bonds with other businesses.
Word of Mouth Marketing
Most marketing professionals agree that word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing. When a potential customer trusts the person offering them a recommendation, they are more likely to take their suggestion. Person to person, this looks like telling your best friend that they should try the new Thai restaurant because it’s delicious.
This word-of-mouth marketing also works on a business level. If a customer trusts a business and enjoys their product or service, they are more likely to ask for recommendations or listen to suggestions. These close customer relationships are less likely to happen in large or chain businesses.
Small businesses can be the heart of the community and connect with hundreds of potential customers. The neighborhood accountant, the craft coffee shop on the corner, and the mom-and-pop bakery are all businesses that locals tend to feel a higher level of connection and loyalty to. By getting to know these other businesses and their owners, you can all support and recommend each other to customers.
As a business owner, you are making multiple decisions a day. This can be daunting and overwhelming, especially if this is your first gym or business. Local connections can offer recommendations for lots of different things, including:
- Local businesses for banking, bookkeeping, signage, etc.
- Which newspapers/magazines to advertise in
- Upcoming events to participate in
Just like word-of-mouth marketing can influence potential customers, recommendations from other business owners come with a level of trust. You know that they have already worked with the person or organization that they recommend so you can be more confident in what to expect.
For martial arts studios and fitness gyms, participating in local events is a great way to meet the community and get the word out about your business. Most of these local events, such as school carnivals, community functions, and holiday celebrations, are planned months in advance.
Businesses that have been running longer will already have connections with the organizers of events and an idea of when the events will take place (and more importantly, when businesses need to express interest). Depending on the size of your town, the ability to get involved with local events can put your name in front of thousands of potential customers.
Friendship and Camaraderie
Don’t underestimate how beneficial friendships can be. It can be hard to understand the struggles and lifestyle that comes with owning your own business. Friends and family may not relate to the struggles or successes of your business.
We are naturally drawn to like-minded individuals and fellow business owners can easily relate to one another. A group of business owners can offer a helping hand, a quiet ear if you need to vent, and sincere congratulations for your successes.
How to Connect With Other Businesses
This part may seem a little bit like trying to make friends on the first day of school, but that is essentially what it is. If you are new to an area (or just now looking to connect with other businesses), start introducing yourself. Start with the businesses located near your gym and work your way out.
Some topics to ask about their business and to explain about yours are:
- The services or products offered
- How long you’ve been in business
- Average or usual customers
- How you might be able to work together or help each other
This is a great time to hand out business cards or invite them for a free session or week at your facility. It shows goodwill and offers them the opportunity to learn more about your business. If you’re lucky, you may even find a new client!
Offer a Service
Offering a service is going to be specific to the type of business you’re connecting with. For example, corporate wellness events are a great way to help a business and meet potential customers. Set up a free lunchtime workout or demonstration for their team. Another option is working with after-school programs, private schools, and summer camps to provide an intro class for their students.
See if there is a business council or group in your community. This is a fantastic way to meet other business owners and help your neighborhood. These groups often work closely with local governments to discuss business-friendly decisions in the community.
If you are not able to meet a business owner in person, see if you can connect with them through social media. These days, most businesses have at least a Facebook page. You can also look on Instagram, LinkedIn, and even TikTok to find business accounts.
By connecting on social media, you will be able to see what other businesses are up to. They may be showcasing upcoming events or offering promotions.
Types of Businesses to Connect With
It can be helpful to make connections with any and all local businesses, especially those located close to your gym. However, some organizations can be more beneficial to a fitness gym or martial arts studio.
Fitness or Health Studios
Even if you own a gym, it is great to know the other local gym owners. Not only can you partner on larger events or community celebrations, but you can also refer customers. This might sound counter-intuitive, but fitness has hundreds of modalities to choose from. Sometimes people like to try out different things or incorporate multiple styles in their training. Instead of seeing other gyms as competition, see them as partners in trying to improve people’s health.
Schools and After-School Programs
If you offer children’s memberships, working with a school or after-school program is the best way to spread the word about your business. Schools regularly partner with local businesses for events, fundraisers, advertising opportunities, and more.
You don’t need to just be promoting your business. School events are run almost entirely by parents and volunteers. Get your employees (and clients) together to volunteer at a school event. You’ll be helping out your community and get some passive marketing if you wear your business shirts.
Kids participate in lots of activities, including dance, sports, and scouts. Meeting these local businesses and organizations allows you to offer free demos or support their fundraisers. These groups also tend to recognize their community partners. Your business name could even be front and center on some youth soccer jerseys.
With chain restaurants taking over strip malls and shopping centers, it is extremely important to support local family-owned restaurants. These relationships may not offer as many reciprocal benefits, but you should want to support the other businesses in your community. This is where the “rising tides lift all ships” comes into play.
Hairstylists and Barbers
This is the secret holy grail of relationships for any kind of business. Many people sit down in the stylist’s chair and start talking about their life. The conversation can go in a thousand different directions, but sometimes they might mention wanting to get in shape or try martial arts. This is the moment where a good business relationship comes into play.
How to Maintain Relationships
It is not enough to just make an initial connection with another business. By continuing to communicate with and support other businesses, you can maintain a strong relationship for years to come.
When the opportunity arises, genuinely recommend the local businesses that you have come to know and love. It is an easy thing to do and something you are probably already doing with friends and family. Recommendations from trusted people and businesses can be the most impactful on consumers when making a purchasing decision.
Many towns and neighborhoods have Facebook groups or forums where residents can discuss local happenings and ask for recommendations. This is a great way to support other local businesses while connecting with neighbors.
When you are running a special event or a fundraiser, collecting donations from other businesses can help boost your raffle or prize. You can do the same for other businesses by offering free classes or a monthly pass to your gym.
Since you are not donating a physical product, the actual cost of your donation is minimal. However, the business, organization, or charity that you give it to can profit greatly.
Community Partner Listings
If you have a community board in your facility, you can allow other local businesses to post contact information or flyers about upcoming events. A great place for these boards is actually near the restrooms. Your clients who are waiting for their turn will be inclined to check out the board.
You can also list community partners on your website, especially if they have donated services or products to your events or fundraisers. While not as impactful as a word-of-mouth recommendation, your customers will tend to trust the businesses you suggest.
Be a Patron
The best way to support another local business is to actually shop there, eat there, or use their services. Oftentimes, a small business is the main source of income for a family. By supporting their business, you are directly supporting their family.
Whether you are opening a new gym or you’ve been in business for a while, you can only benefit from getting to know the other local businesses in your area. Connecting with other owners gets you camaraderie, word-of-mouth marketing, event information, and recommendations. You should work to connect with any and all local businesses, but other fitness studios, schools, children’s activities, and hairstylists are some of the most advantageous relationships to build. Once you’ve met your neighboring shops and organizations, make sure to maintain the connection by supporting their businesses and recommending them to others. Together, a group of small businesses can support and grow the entire community.