The market is really competitive right now for organizations of every size. Even businesses that say they're bringing in profits are seeing smaller margins since 2007, with fewer consumer dollars spread between more companies every year. How can an SME make it when larger, better-known chains like Walmart and Sears move in on their turf? Your financial plan should include getting familiar with the neighbors as the first step to ensuring a long lifespan for your business, since these are the local faces that will build a personal relationship with your organization.

Making a connection with consumers will also help with marketing. Since many shoppers trust friends and family for suggestions, rather than traditional advertisements, it's important that your brand be the first one that comes to mind when someone asks one of your clients for a recommendation.

Getting to know you

Find out about local events and get your promotional giveaways ready. Getting out and being seen is one of the best ways to build a rapport with potential customers and cement existing relationships.

Events like fairs, potlucks, festivals, concerts and other big gatherings are perfect opportunities to give away branded items and business information, according to The Small Business Playbook. Talking to organizers and getting incorporated into promotional materials for the event itself will show a corporate investment in the community before customers even appear, and working with different marketing media will spread the message even better.

Spreading awareness

Since so much of our regular interactions are now targeted online, so should advertising and brand strategies for businesses. Getting a Facebook and Twitter account, posting on Pinterest and making a splash with creative logo design will encourage likes, follows and shares on social networks and get brand values circulating on the internet, wrote Chad Barr and Alan Weiss for Entrepreneur. Once consumers have established a positive identity with the corporation, you can begin building a more intimate relationship on a one-to-one basis. This will foster brand activism, the desired end-goal for marketing strategies.

Part of the fabric

To really establish a company as part of the roots of a community, though, you need to make customers associate your logo with something as tried and true as local government and trusted authorities like community banks and other official entities, Mikal E. Belicove wrote in a separate Entrepreneur article. He stated that directing efforts specifically toward a local audience from the top down can create higher-level connections with consumers beyond just being a store they know about. They will see the enterprise as part of the very fabric of the community, an integral part of the neighborhood's identity.

A private ad army

Once the groundwork has been laid and consumers trust your business, your financial plan should have a strategy in place for tackling larger advertising campaigns. If not, you're still in luck. A study by Deloitte revealed that more than three-fourths of referrals are based on word of mouth information, so increasing awareness to the brand activist level with regular customers can foster conversion on its own.

Offering free promotional T-shirts and tote bags can help seal the deal by boosting visibility while giving the business a voice for its mobile billboards in the customers who carry them. Providing them to employees as well will create an even more knowledgeable and authoritative band of brand activists dedicated to your corporation.

Creating a business identity that's incorporated into the fabric of a community will establish ties and help even small companies weather the difficult economic storm. While big brands may have national visibility, small companies have personal relationships that will keep them going for the long haul.