Unless you are black-balled (for any number of reasons), SEO will improve your search traffic, but don't forget to promote your site. The major search engines do see your marketing efforts and add extra points for both online and traditional marketing into their algorithm. But don't get spammy, either. This is where a well-laid out budget actually comes in handy. And yes, it can all be done free, to a certain extend (like starting out), but that will require more effort (of course).
Oh, and never forget, nothing creates interest and trust better than a personal visit to your local businesses. Press the flesh as much as possible and network in your sneakers, too!