Connect with your "neigh"bors using Google Places

This is the second post in our Small Business series about entrepreneurship and the various Google tools you can use to establish and improve your business presence on the Internet. Here, you’ll learn how Google Places (formerly called the Local Business Center) can help you attract and be discovered by customers in your area for free. -Ed.

As a local business owner, one of the things that sets you apart is your ability to make personal connections with your customers because of your passion for what you do. Letting people know who you are and what your business is about is a vital part of finding customers, building lasting relationships with them and helping your business succeed. Google Places helps business owners like you to manage your online presence and supplement your Place Page with all the information that helps people decide to visit you — from basics like hours of operation and address to helpful extras like videos, coupons and special announcements.

To give you a firsthand account of how Google Places can help a small business grow and succeed, I’ve invited Danya Wright to share her experience:
I first began riding horses at age six. Ever since then I knew that I wanted to spend my life working with horses and sharing my passion with others. I had jobs working for several barns and riding programs around Arizona, but always dreamed of having a school of my own.

Two years ago, I finally realized my dream and opened Specialized Training and Riding School — S.T.A.R.S. of Horsemanship. At S.T.A.R.S., we offer lessons to riders of all ages and skill levels, provide therapeutic horse training services for those with disabilities, and train Special Olympics riders. Our property is a 10-acre scenic environment for our students and horses. But because we’re located in a rural area of Gilbert, AZ, this also presents a big challenge: I don’t have the advantage of “window shoppers” or drive-by traffic. Without a storefront, those who do pass by may not realize that my stable is open to customers. Whenever I want to find a local business, Google Maps is my resource, so I wanted to make sure my business appears there too.

I did a little research and quickly found Google Places (which was known as Local Business Center when I first signed up). Within a few minutes, I was able to update the S.T.A.R.S. Place Page to add key details about my business, like exact location and contact information. And I could mention the special services we offer like group classes, private lessons, birthday parties, Scouting events, parent-child sessions and so on. Now when a company’s looking specifically for a team-building venue, they can find my business easily.

Since avid equestrians can be quite particular about facility details, I wanted to make sure that my Place Page included all of the specialized information that’s relevant to my target clients. Now when you search on Google, you can be taken to our Place Page to see photos that offer preview of our stables and even meet Salty, one of the horses. You can also find a coupon to help provide a little extra incentive to come try out our lessons if you’re new to horseback riding.

Since I started using Google Places six months ago, my business has grown tenfold from what it was before — I’ve gone from averaging around 10 to 15 students to now serving more than 100. To be honest, I had just figured that new customers would trickle in over time, but it’s boomed far beyond my expectations. And now I can spend more time with horses and riders, and less at the computer!