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How a Virtual Business Can Leverage Foursquare


Foursquare and other location-based social media platforms rely on the ability of users (consumers) to “check in” at a business’s brick and mortar location. But many small- and even medium-sized businesses today, like the readers of The SMB Collective, are “virtual” businesses.

The Virtual Business Defined

New England Multimedia is a virtual business. That is, we don’t have a storefront or an office space where we meet with clients. Most of the consulting end of our multimedia business is done over the phone, by email, or on location at a client’s place of business. The website and WordPress development projects are done in-house and uploaded to the internet, our video production services are all done on-location at the client’s place of business or elsewhere, and our design projects are handled via the web. Even our on-hold marketing and audio production services are handled using email and telephone, with the actual production taking place in-house in our recording studio. Once in a while, we’ll have a client who comes in to record, but for the most part, all narration and music is done by our own team.

When a client wants to meet face-to-face, we go to his or her place of business, or meet at a local restaurant or coffee shop — where we run into a lot of our local business colleagues and competitors doing the same thing. (Felicia’s and Panera Bread are two favorites around these parts.)

So, what’s a virtual business like ours to do when Foursquare and location-based social media platforms are all the rage? Solution: partner with a brick and mortar company who caters to our market.

How to Partner with a Brick and Mortar Business

Are you a virtual business? You can do the same thing. Here’s how to get started thinking about the possibilities:

1) First you have to define your market. Who wants or needs your services or products? For us, it’s usually entrepreneurs, nonprofits, churches, small- and medium-sized businesses, and the home-based self-employed “solopreneur.” Who’s yours?

2) Next, brainstorm the local brick and mortar businesses who cater to and serve your market, without being a direct competitor. Ours might be print shops, coffeehouses and restaurants where businesses and movers-and-shakers gather, Christian bookstores, and office supply stores. Where does your market shop or visit regularly?

3) What services or products can you offer to the loyal customers of that business? For New England Multimedia, we might offer the mayor on a certain date a choice of services: a free or deeply-discounted web video; a free 2-hour consultation on websites, WordPress, or social media; a deeply discounted WordPress site; a free custom on-hold message; a free custom YouTube or Twitter background; a free website evaluation; or any other number of  internet marketing services and products. A product-based business (like a jewelry designer) might offer the mayor on a certain date a choice of jewelery pieces he or she has designed. A graphic designer might offer a free basic logo design or redesign, or any host of other services. What can you do to make your market want to visit — and check-in often at — the brick and mortar business you partner with?

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with ideas, since I’ve only recently begun to think about how we might use Foursquare or other location-based marketing platforms. I have a few businesses in mind to offer to partner with, too.

How about you? What ideas can you offer a company like, let’s say, a sports beverage developer? An artisan who sells jewelry made of sea glass? A creator of blown glass beauties? A screenprinter who designs T-shirts? And after the ideas, what steps would a virtual or home-based company need to take next?


About Author

Michelle QuillinMichelle Quillin is content creator and social media manager and consultant for New England Multimedia. An A+ BBB member, we create mobile-ready Wordpress websites responsive to all devices, and produce HD video for broadcast and internet use.View all posts by Michelle Quillin →

  1. Claude Fullinfaw
    Claude Fullinfaw05-16-2012

    Fantastic tips. I just read the book on power of FourSquare and the missing link was about virtual business and FourSquare. You certainly shed some useful tips on how to use this excellent tool. Thanks

    • Michelle Quillin
      Michelle Quillin05-17-2012

      Hi, Claude! Thanks to this article being picked up by other blogs, I think I’ll revisit this and write up a list of ideas that bring specific businesses together creatively. Thanks for stopping in and commenting – I appreciate it!

  2. Kimberly Castleberry
    Kimberly Castleberry01-27-2011

    Michelle this is some really brilliant out of the box thinking… as you said, its obvious someone forgot to tell you about the box!

    This is a huge piece of leverage (not to mention ways that people aren’t thinking about growing their virtual businesses).

    Powerful stuff!
    Kimberly Castleberry recently posted..Basic WordPress “Slow Loading” TroubleShootingMy Profile

    • Michelle Quillin
      Michelle Quillin01-27-2011

      Thanks for the encouragement, Kim!

      Foursquare and other location-based social media has me chomping at the bit to finally upgrade to a smartphone. I was the lone holdout at New England Multimedia, priding myself on frugality while everyone else is having all the fun. But after attending a Mobile Marketing seminar last week, I can’t take it anymore.

      My phone is on its way.

  3. Michelle Quillin
    Michelle Quillin01-03-2011

    Jayme, what box? There’s a box? No one told me there was a box! Haha!! :)

    I see limitless possibilities with parnerships. You’ll just need to target business who aren’t competitors, and whose foot traffic includes a sizable share of your target market.

    It’s a win-win. The brick & mortar business gets the benefit of your social media marketing prowess driving foot traffic to their store, while you get the benefit of having as many check-in locations as you can create parnerships with. Talk about brand awareness!

  4. Jayme Soulati
    Jayme Soulati01-03-2011

    Now this is thinking outside of the box, Michelle. This question is one I posted awhile ago to the location-based marketing experts who wrote on The SMB Collective. I didn’t get a decent response, as I think “virtual” businesses are a definite challenge for LBMS.

    Partnering with a brick and mortar is a fascinating idea, especially if it’s a client of yours, too.

    Love this creative approach; it’s where social media marketing needs to go to continue to convince clients of its value.
    Jayme Soulati recently posted..Change Twitter Habits to Spiff a Boring StreamMy Profile

  5. Kathie

    Great article Michelle. I have often thought foursquare is a great way to get your business brand recognition. Wow we spoke about this at one of the first Tweet And Greets we both attended! I have all our sites listed in Foursquare, and have requested special badges and clings from foursquare but they never get back to me. Besides being the Mayor, it is difficult for us (Rhode Island Blood Center) to have things to offer since everything we do is regulated and what we can give away is also controlled (to ensure altruistic donation). Foursquare needs to get on the ball with people who want to use them…I guess I should make it my New Year’s resolution to get what I need from them. Any ideas for a non-profit?

    • Michelle Quillin
      Michelle Quillin12-31-2010

      Ya’ll will love this article I found today on SocialFresh! Lots of great ideas to get the brainstorming sessions going for our unique needs: 21 Unique Location Examples from Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, and MyTown

      Hubspot’s Virtual Check In at SXSW can be applied to Tanner Glass’s desire to have check-ins at fairs and craft shows.

      I didn’t have a chance to read all of these yet, but I will this weekend. In the meantime, do you see anything here that you can use?

  6. Tanner Glass
    Tanner Glass12-30-2010

    Thanks for the mention!
    As an artist that sells in person (at retail craft shows), and online, I love this discussion. I would love to see Foursquare incorporate Festivals, Art Fairs, Craft Shows, etc. Many of these events don’t take place at actual businesses….they happen in parks, on streets and in schools.

    I’ll keep my thinking cap on!

  7. Jenn Whinnem
    Jenn Whinnem12-30-2010

    Hey ladies, I love thinking about how virtual businesses could use Foursquare – especially 3HatsComm. It seems like we need to figure out 1) which businesses Davina could approach to partner with and 2) which of her services she could offer. Or are we at 3) trying to figure out virtual checkins?

  8. Davina K. Brewer
    Davina K. Brewer12-30-2010

    Michelle, you and Susan have great suggestions. My conundrum (one of many, actually) is that I’m trying to convince small business clients of the value of PR and social media, show them the examples so they’re less likely to use it. I show them how that tweet looking for an expert on this subject got a client featured on an industry website yet still not always connect the dots.

    For other virtual businesses, per Susan’s suggestion.. why not virtual check-ins on Foursquare, Gowalla.. when you’re shopping on Amazon or any e-tailer? Trying to think of other mobile businesses, like say a home remodeler. Their physical location doesn’t matter, and they probably have customers who don’t want their home address published, but there should be a virtual way that they or their customer can do a virtual “Great work from custom fixers” check-in. Just thinking out loud, such an interesting idea.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..The Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions PostMy Profile

  9. Michelle Quillin
    Michelle Quillin12-30-2010

    Susan, your ideas make great starting points! With your services, you could be a hot commodity. Do you do SEO copy/content for websites? Press releases?

    For “check-ins,” I’m not sure phone meetings would be ideal. You might have people calling you with no real intention of purchasing your services just to check-in, hoping to become the “mayor” and get your services for free. They’d be tying up your time. Face-to-face is different. They have to be pretty serious to take time out of their day to actually meet you somewhere.

    But for speaking engagements & workshops? Oh, now there’s an idea!

  10. Michelle Quillin
    Michelle Quillin12-30-2010

    Davina, I’m brainstorming on ways you can use Foursquare. What services do you offer clients now? Susan’s comment gave me an idea, too — with the new comments feature Foursquare is using (I just read about it today), a “check-in” would be great for those coffee shop meetings, and clients could say, “Meeting with Davina Brewer of 3 Hats Communications.” I imagine a coffee shop or restaurant would be thrilled to have you partner with them!

  11. Susan Baird
    Susan Baird12-30-2010

    So glad you addressed this topic! I’m a solopreneur freelance copywriter and a FourSquare fan, but there’s nowhere for my clients to “check-in” when they work with me. I’d never even considered brainstorming a way to make it work, and I really like your idea.

    Here’s another idea that you’ve inspired… What if when my clients meet with me face-to-face or over the phone, they could “check in” on Foursquare to indicate they’re doing business with me at the moment, even if they’re not physically at my location? I’m also a speaker and social media trainer, so I wonder if people could “check in” when they’re sitting in one of my workshops or attending one of my presentations? Wonder what FourSquare would allow with regard to that?

    Maybe all of us virtual or roving entrepreneurs should petition FourSquare for a check-in option for us. Hmmmmm… Definitely worth investigation. Thanks for getting the wheels turning!
    Susan Baird recently posted..What’s the Worst Case ScenarioMy Profile

  12. Davina K. Brewer
    Davina K. Brewer12-30-2010

    Wow Michelle, now you’re really thinking: Combining location-based marketing with a virtual business. I too meet at clients’ offices, or in restaurants with WiFi. These are all interesting suggestions but I can’t think of how it’d apply to my practice. But for some of these, I wonder if the bar code scanning, GPS tracking APPs might be a fix.. if say you are drinking a bottle of X while shopping for jewelry Y, then use your handy smartphone to scan that bottle and “check in” that way? Not sure it makes sense, but you certainly have me thinking. FWIW.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..The Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions PostMy Profile

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