How to Run a Food Truck 21: Be Active in Your Local Community

One of the greatest parts of being a FoodTruckr is all the opportunities you’ll get to interact with and meet new people. From the employees at your local commissary to long lines of customers to other truck owners in your city, you’ll have literally thousands of chances to talk with new folks and to connect with people who are doing awesome things in your city. What could be cooler than that?

We wrote about how important it is to get involved with your community in one of the last lessons of the “How to Start a Food Truck” series—but because we think this practice is so important, we’ve decided to write about it again in our current series. Because our previous post focused on opportunities to get involved in the food truck community specifically, today’s article is going to branch out a little further. Instead of simply focusing on ways to get involved with people in the industry, we’ve put together an entire list of activities you can pursue to become an integral part of your town or city.

So without further ado, here are FoodTruckr’s top eight creative ways to promote your truck locally and to form connections in your area!

1. Sell City-Themed Stuff

Our first creative method for community engagement is one of the easiest (and most fun) to implement: selling city-themed stuff on your truck. If the residents in your town are full of local pride, they’ll be excited to see your truck embracing the city and highlighting some beloved cultural icons.

Here are a few fun ways to integrate your city into your truck’s brand:

  • Name menu items after local celebrities, neighborhoods, or landmarks.
  • Run specials when a local sports team gets a big win.
  • Develop a logo, slogan, or truck design that celebrates local pride.
  • Create new specials when something big is happening around the city (such as a “Founder’s Day Parade Special” or a “Our City’s 65th Anniversary Sale”).
  • Include your city or neighborhood on regularly-printed merchandise after your truck’s name (such as “[Truck Name]—born and bred in [City Name]” or “[Truck Name], a [City Name] original”).

2. Promote Other People

In addition to highlighting cool places and events happening around the city, you should also keep an eye on the exciting things that other people and businesses are doing. From local entrepreneurs taking on big challenges to teenagers working on charitable causes to other food trucks that are quickly growing, there are so many people in your city who have stories worth celebrating. Spread the love and honor the amazing things going on in your community by sharing their news with your fans and by lending your support to their causes.

Here are our favorite opportunities to promote other people and businesses in your city:

  • Share human interest stories from local news outlets about inspirational people and businesses on your Facebook and Twitter pages.
  • Share stories about other businesses and food trucks who are enjoying success in your area—and tag them with a congratulatory message.
  • Pledge monetary support to someone who’s working to collect funds for a good cause in your area.
  • Volunteer your catering services at a reduced rate to someone who is organizing a charity event.
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3. Head Up a Cause

Having trouble finding a cause that you really want to support? Start your own charitable effort! Leading your own civic-minded cause isn’t just great for the community (and for whomever you’ll be helping!), it’s also a good way to engender goodwill and to show people in your city how committed you are to giving back. Most importantly, you’ll have the opportunity to choose a mission that really means something to you—and the chance to spread awareness and inspire active participation in a cause you really believe in. It’s good for your business, good for your brand, and good for your soul.

Many of you probably already have a cause in mind, but if not, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Animals and shelters in need
  • Students in underprivileged areas who could benefit from tutoring, free lunches, etc.
  • The local homeless population
  • Impoverished areas in the world that don’t have access to clean water
  • Children who need mentoring and role models
  • Environmental efforts (recycling, upcycling, water conservation, organic foods)
  • Women’s shelters and missions for victims of domestic violence

4. Donate Stuff

If you don’t have time to organize your own cause—or if there’s a charity in your city that’s already doing exactly what you’d want to do—you can lend a hand and offer your support by donating time, money, or products to their organizations.

Look for local auctions, charity fundraisers, or events that are in need of donations and see how you can help. Food truck owners may be able to donate items like free meals, pre-packaged foods, merchandise, gift certificates, or catering services to event organizers who can make sure the proceeds and benefits go to a good cause. And of course, if you’ve donated something to a local fundraiser or auction, make sure to publicize the event on your social media pages! By promoting the events online, you can show the organizers how much you support their cause and also drive more traffic to the event so that it will be an even greater success.

5. Sponsor a Kid’s Team

Our next strategy for getting involved in your community is one of our absolute favorites—sponsor a children’s sporting team! This option is a fun way to get involved while also solidifying your position as an active participant in the community.

Sponsoring a team might sound like a huge responsibility, but in most cases, it’s actually pretty simple to get started. You’ll buy the team’s uniforms (jerseys or t-shirts, hats, etc.) and perhaps pay for some of their equipment or playing fees, and in return, you’ll receive some free advertising and a bunch of loyal fans in the form of your new little team members (and their parents!). Besides the awesome factor of having a local t-ball team named something like “The [Your Truck’s Name] Destroyers,” you’ll also have a great time attending some of their games and cheering on your namesakes. For extra fun, we also recommend bringing lots of snacks to the games and throwing an end-of-the-year party catered by your truck.

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6. Local Advertising

Looking for an easy way to start making your truck’s name a little more recognizable around town? If you’re committed to becoming an integral part of the community but you’re not quite ready to take on the responsibility of something like a kids’ sports team or charitable donations, you should start out by advertising your truck in as many local venues as you can find. Local advertising is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to spread the word about your truck, and there are plenty of different methods you can use to get your truck’s name in front of hundreds of eyes.

Here are a few of the easiest ways to start advertising your truck around town:

  • Post fliers in coffee shops and on community bulletin boards. Include tear-offs that people can bring in to redeem for a $1 off their meal or a free combo upgrade.
  • Take out an ad in your local newspaper or in local culture publications. Be sure to consider which publications your target customers are most likely to read (for instance, a super-crunchy truck with a true punk rock name might be best suited to advertising in a paper that’s all about arts and entertainment, while an All-American burger stand may have the best results in the regular daily press).
  • Invest in a radio or television ad (again, taking care to target a time of day and particular day of the week when your ideal customers are most likely to be listening or watching). These types of advertisements may also be more effective if you use them when you have a particular event or sale with a limited time offer going on that you can publicize.
  • Put up a billboard or pay to advertise your truck at a local business. If you’re opting for paid signage, we recommend putting it up somewhere near the area or neighborhood where you most frequently park.

7. Participate in Events

Events are likely happening all around your city all the time, and participating in them is one of the absolute best ways to promote your truck around town while also making it clear how much you care about getting involved in your community. They’re also a great way to supplement your income from daily street service, and they give you the opportunity to mix and mingle with other FoodTruckrs and with brand new customers who might not ever happen upon your truck during their daily routines.

We love to see food trucks at events like:

  • Food truck festivals
  • Community art fairs
  • 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons
  • Concerts and musical showcases
  • Theater in the park
  • Charity fundraisers
  • Sporting events
  • Summer festivals
  • Carnivals
  • Farmer’s markets
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We’ll write more about how to get your truck accepted into events in the future, but for now, the most important advice we can give you is to apply early and often if you’re interested in participating in local events. These types of spots tend to fill up quickly, and many of them are fully booked months in advance. It’s important to get started on the application process early on if you’re really interested in the opportunities of reaching more customers and bringing in more sales that events can afford your truck.

Bonus: Learn more about food truck festivals (including how to get involved and tips and strategies to get the most out of these events) in this podcast episode featuring Jessica Capistrant of the Phoenixville Food Truck Festival in Pennsylvania.

8. Connect with Other People

Finally, as we outlined in our previous article on getting involved with your community, one of the best ways to become an active participant in your city is to join forces with other people and businesses in the food truck industry. Look for food truck associations, equipment and ingredient suppliers, and other food truck owners in your area whom you may be able to connect with.

Simply having these connections and expanding your own network can bring a ton of value to your truck and your long-term business goals—plus, you’ll also have the opportunity to do cool things together such as:

  • Organizing your own events
  • Promoting one another’s businesses
  • Getting advice or mentorship on your goals and business plans
  • Working together to improve local food truck laws
  • Finding new opportunities for sales, donations, and promotions

Take Your Truck to the Next Level

Getting involved in your local community is one of the most effective ways to grow your business, particularly in your first year or two out on the streets. By getting out there and participating in events happening around your city, you’ll enjoy more opportunities to reach new customers, end up meeting more new people in the business community, and continue to improve your truck’s selling and marketing strategies. And of course, we know you’ll also have a ton of fun along the way!

In next week’s lesson, we’ll wrap up Unit 5 with some more tips on marketing like an advanced FoodTruckr! Packed full with the best ways to promote your truck online and new strategies for attracting more passers-by to your truck, this is one lesson you absolutely won’t want to miss.

Until then, we’d love to hear about how you’re currently participating in your community. Is there a local event you regularly attend? Do you have some special city-themed menu items? How have you engaged other local businesses and food truck owners in what your truck is doing? Share your stories with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

image by Public Information Office

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FoodTruckr

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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