Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on how to view, embrace and incorporate change into your life as a small business leader. Today, I want to share an example of how you can do this right now in a really meaningful way if you are Indie. It starts with an understanding of location-based social tools.
In a nutshell, these tools include things like FourSquare, Gowalla and, as of today, FaceBook Places. Each allows people to use their smart phones to “check in” at locations so they can update their friends on what they are doing and where they are doing it. Sound creepy? It may be — unless of course you sell products to consumers and want to enable them to tell their friends where to go to buy what you have to offer. Here's what I mean.
In a conversation yesterday, a dear friend asked me why an Indie with a home-based business would ever want to really bother with location-based social tools. She explained that, if you want to work from home and you have a website and a FaceBook page, you can make your products at home and use a FaceBook storefront and your website to sell your products.
This is true. However, looking toward the future (“anticipating change,” in yesterday's post), with millions of people using location tools to communicate with their friends, it will become increasingly important for Indies to become more visible in their local communities. Whether it's a regular appearance at a local farmer's market or a retail store of your own, the easier you make it for your customers to tell their friends that they just checked in and purchased something from you, the more sales you will make, and the more influence you will have in your own back yard.
It's far too early to see exactly how this will all pan out. But with FaceBook's Places, the company has staked a powerful claim in the location-based social field. I think it's is going to be a powerful tool for Indies in the not too distant future.
What You Can Do
Here are some things you can do to begin to make location-based tools work for you:
Investigate getting your place added. Each location tool has a process that must be followed in order to have your location added. Unfortunately, the FAQ pages at their sites are not very helpful in this regard at this time. (Gowalla does not seem to have the information readily available at all, outside of possibly in a message forum; Facebook's is here, and FourSquare's FAQ is here. The FaceBook one looks most helpful of the three, but I'm not sure if following those steps creates a place for you as a user, or a place for you as a “place” or business owner owner.)
I'm thinking that, as these tools become more popular, each will have to be more forthcoming about how places are added, and they will have to create ways to incorporate very small businesses as they also delete or deny legitimate status to “places” that aren't really places at all. (If I find this how to information, I'll share it — if you have links, please share in the comments.) In the meantime, start using the tools yourself so you can see how they work, and then use your website, FaceBook page, blog, etc., to tell them how they can check in with you.
Tell others. If you don't have a location of your own to add, consider asking retailers who sell your products to add their locations, then let your customers know that they can check in at retail outlets to buy your products, and tell their friends. At some point in the future, maybe someone will launch an app that allows manufacturers to manage check-in locations through the retailers that sell their products. I think that would be a great app, but I don't know if it's out there yet. In the meantime, be creative. Work with your wholesale customers that have locations to create win/win situations for both of you. (This is a good example of “initiating change,” as discussed in yesterday's post.)
Consider co-op space. This morning, I visited the Light Bulb Coworking, Charlotte's first coworking office environment. With a conference room, cubicle offices and open office desk space that people can rent starting at $50 a month, it's a great way for people who work mainly from home to enjoy the credibility of a public location as they connect with other entrepreneurs in their area.
As I toured the facility, I pondered that a similar set up may be possible for small manufacturers. Consider renting a commercial kitchen and then leasing space to other manufacturers to make products on a daily basis. The products made by participants could then be offered for sale in a common retails area.
I haven't thought this concept all the way through, but it seems to me that, if you could get 5 or 6 like-minded, hard-working Indies to participate, you could use location-based social networking tools to empower customers to check-in for manufacturing demonstrations, how to classes, and in-store promotions. The possibilities are endless, I think.
It's still early to predict exactly how Indies can best use location-based social tools, and the jury is still out on the multiple privacy concerns involved. Having said, that, I firmly believe that the future of small business will include empowering customers on a local level to use smart phones to invite their friends to have fun supporting local businesses with them.
One initial hurdle is getting the men and women who run tiny companies from a home location to embrace the notion that their profitability may depend on allowing people to use social networking tools to find them at a place of business, and then check in with the world from that location.
Like I said, creepy on one hand. On the other, if you sell products to consumers, it's worth watching how they use location-based tools and then being innovative about how you can take advantage of them to increase sales.
Question: Are you comfortable with the changes that will be required of your business where location-based social networking tools are concerned? Is it just too creepy? Or do you see opportunities to anticipate, initiate and respond to change in ways that benefit your business, your existing customers, and your customers coming down the pike. Or both??! Can't wait to know what you think!