SMB growth

Poll Says SMBs Should Try Online Marketing

As the final installment in our five week series on the results from our online poll published on April 15th, we asked what the best piece of advice a SMB owner needs to help them grow their business and the last piece of advice was “Try online marketing”.

To answer this question, I wanted to share with you a fantastic article entitled
3 Internet Marketing Tips by Debra Murphy of Masterful Marketing, in which she interviews Susanne Morreale Leeber, the President of the Marlborough Regional Chamber of Commerce. The article outlines a few Internet marketing tips for small businesses that I think provides a great starting point for SMB owners:

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1. Internet marketing is not a business model or a replacement for marketing basics

There’s a certain amount of confusion around this what Internet marketing really is. For some, Internet marketing is a business model – i.e. you have built an Internet based business. But for most small businesses, the Internet is a new media channel that can be used to reach your target market.

If you view Internet Marketing as another tool in your toolbox, then your mindset changes and you can apply basic marketing concepts to your efforts – that is who is my target audience, where can I find them and why would they want to connect and do business with my company?

2. Internet marketing is not a quest for the most likes, followers and friends

social-network-followers

Internet marketing is about building relationships and gaining visibility within your target market. Unfortunately there is something inherently important about fan counts, and it is human nature for people to check out your company profile on Facebook or Twitter and instantly judge them based on the metric of followers, friends or fans. But having many fake or uninterested followers does not help your business. So although growing your Facebook fans or Twitter followers organically seems tedious, those who follow you may actually care about and support your business. Using a service to quickly add 2000 fans only hurts you in the long run if you plan to do anything to market to these fans or followers.

3. Internet marketing is not about chasing the next new shiny object

Internet marketing is about creating a solid marketing plan, staying the course, evaluating your results and then modifying your activities as needed. I advise small business owners to create a marketing plan that’s flexible, can adapt to changes as the Internet evolves and fits your specific needs and overall marketing strategy. Not every new and improved online tool will be right for your business.

How does a small business owner effectively market their business online when they are trying to run their business on a day-to-day basis?

For many small businesses, it may seem that marketing gets more complicated and more confusing by the day, with constant changes to the technology and new platforms claiming help your business become more visible in the search engines.

The good news is that Internet marketing has transformed into a more sensible activity for small businesses, incorporating content marketing, search engine marketing including local search and social media marketing as the primary activities. The key is to find someone who you can work with who is knowledgeable about marketing and keeps up with the latest in this space. Doing so can help you focus on your base business, which is what you do best as a local business owner.

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With all of the pieces of advice we covered in our poll, I hope that you have a better understanding of what tools you need to get your marketing in order. Were these poll results useful to you? Did they provide the advice needed to grow your business? I look forward to engaging with you in the comments.

Should You Consider Using Pinterest For Your SMB?

pinterestbiz-3_600You may have heard the hype about Pinterest updating its iOS app last week, adding the ability to edit your profile from your phone, and a new close-up view of pins on the iPad.

This new capability may be exciting for us marketers, but many of my SMB clients simply want to know what Pinterest is and why they might want to consider using it in their business.

Pinterest is a pinboard-style social media site built around the concept of sharing photos. Users create and manage theme-based “boards” on topics that interest them (such as fashion, food, travel, home design, etc.). Users then “pin” photos to their boards for sharing and engaging.

While still relatively new, Pinterest has now become the third largest social media site based on the number of site visits. It has proven its ability to impact purchases, and is fast becoming an important source of referral traffic for websites, with some businesses reporting it surpassing Facebook for referrals in their analytics. Despite popular belief, your business doesn’t need to be product-based in order take advantage of their benefits.

However, while it might be easy enough to understand how B2C could use Pinterest to showcase their products, the manufacturing process, the ingredients, the lifestyle around the products etc., figuring out how to use it for B2B requires a little more thought. Here are a few questions to consider when deciding if “pinning” should be part of your marketing strategy.

  1. Is your marketing strategy focused on brand awareness? How can you use Pinterest for this purpose? E.g. how can you tie brand awareness into visual tactics?
  2. If you are a B2B business, is the investment of time equal to the return? E.g. if it costs you time to develop the creative visual and post it,what are your expectations of the return?
  3. Who is your target audience?  As Pinterest is most popular with women in the 25-44 age bracket, is this audience considered influencers or consumers of your service or product?
  4. On a very practical level, do you have the resources to execute and implement an on-going Pinterest social media site? E.g. do you have an art or creative department who can design infographics and repurpose images, and a social media person to post and measure its success?

Pinterest grew by 4000% in six months and its potential is huge. As the links to your site are being created and clicked on by real people, it can give your SEO a wonderful boost.

Do you use Pinterest in your marketing strategy?  If so, is your business B2B or B2C, and what type of success have you had?  Would you recommend using Pinterest for B2B?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

Top 3 Tips on Getting Started with Your Content Marketing Campaign

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, The ABC’s of SEO, many SMB’s who have been practicing SEO for years are now using content marketing; a new, innovative approach to help them increase their marketing reach.

Content marketing’s basic premise is to “provide some valuable information or entertainment – “content” – that stops short of a direct sales pitch or call to action, but which seeks to positively influence a customer in some way.”[1]

As a marketer, the idea of content marketing is very exciting as it means having the ability to use less intrusive means to gain a potential customer’s trust before they buy your services or products.  This often takes the shape of providing e-newsletters, whitepapers, social media posts and yes, even blogs to potential customers.  Content marketing does not ask audiences to buy anything or give us anything in return, it only provides information to build trust.  So instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent.

The premise of this type of marketing is intertwined with the content of a Brand’s equity. Users will become engaged and create a positive correlation experience with said Brand, making them more likely to purchase said Brand.

As the owner of Creativeworks, a marketing agency dedicated to increasing marketing results for SMB owners, my clients have started asking a few questions about how to get started with a content marketing campaign.  Here are a few tips on the key things you might want to consider before getting started with your campaign.

Note: Before creating any marketing campaign, make sure it is tied to your marketing strategy.

Create It

Content is king, as they say. Spend a good deal of your time mapping out exactly what you want to say. This type of marketing is not a one-off, so you’ll need to think of creating a content schedule for a long-term campaign.  For example, if you are writing an e-newsletter, one issue will not work to gain and build customer trust. You’ll need to think of creating regular content.

Publish It

Clearly the intent is to attract an audience to your content. The overall goal is to connect content with its intended audience. There are various means to accomplish this, including social media, e-newsletters, blogs, display advertising and content sharing tools like Pinterest, Yelp, and Pixable.

Measure It

To gauge whether your content marketing is working, you’ll need to see if you are gaining an audience. You can do this by looking at: the impressions, open rates, website analytics, customer actions and response and finally the ROI including the actual sales or customer impact as a result of media and engagement.

It’s important that equal amounts of time are spent on measuring the impact of content, as well as the actual content development or management.

Finally, we must remember that content marketing is yet another marketing tactic in your marketing toolbox. As such, it, like all marketing tactics, needs to be tied to a marketing strategy to realize long-term gains, build brand recognition and increase ROI.

How About You?

Are you thinking of trying content marketing?  If so, what made you decide to try it? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

If Your Clients Aren’t Important, Then Who Is?

It’s the beginning of a New Year, and new opportunities for small businesses abound… or so I would have thought.

Only one week into 2013, I have found myself unimpressed by, and amazed at the lack of basic customer service that I have encountered when trying to buy services from several small businesses.

To be honest, this experience is not new to this year. I have found in the last six months that, despite the fact that providing excellent customer service is the foundation for business growth, many small business owners are caring less and less about providing for their customers’ needs.

There has never been a time in recent history when we have seen such a boom in new business growth:

  • 543,000 new companies are started in the U.S. every month; (according to Forbes Magazine)
  • The 50 and over age group is the fastest growing segment of new business owners, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of start-ups in Canada;
  • The self-employed in Canada are more educated – a third have a university degree;
  • 70 per cent of new businesses in Canada are started by men but women tend to be more successful;
  • Businesses focussed on educational services (up almost 65 per cent since 2007) and health care are (up almost 20 per cent) are growing fastest in Canada;

 

(http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1041489/canada-to-see-unprecedented-boom-in-new-businesses-in-the-coming-decade-cibc)

Although this is very exciting news, from a marketing perspective, it also means that there is increased competition among small businesses. More than ever, businesses need to not only differentiate themselves, but also to provide excellent customer service, to present themselves in a professional manner, and to be accountable for their actions, in order to attract and generate long-term growth.

Considering the number of hard-working small business owners that I know, who are truly devoted to serving their customers, as well as being aware of the statistics which I have shared with you above, I’m always shocked when I come across SMB’s who appear to want business, but then don’t respond professionally when a new customer (me, that is) comes knocking.

customerservicephone

My process for finding a new service might sound familiar: I ask colleagues, consultants and friends for referrals for the service I seek.  Then, I narrow down the list to the top 2 or 3, and I look them up online. Once I find the one provider that stands out, I usually contact them either via their site, or with an email.  I wait a day or two.  If I still hear nothing, I pick up the phone and call them, usually leaving a message (as often, no actual person answers the phone). I wait another couple of days. Sometimes, I may email or call them one last time, and if I then still receive no communication from them, I write them off. In the past week, I have contacted three small businesses, and not one of them has called or emailed me back.

As I said in last week’s blog, I attribute much of my marketing agency’s success to the fact that I value each and every one of my clients. As such, my message to small business owners and entrepreneurs is to make your customers feel that they are important, and that their business matters.  Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.  If a potential client emails you, calls you, or contacts you in any way, get back to them within 24 hours. If you can’t do this yourself, make sure you have a back-up plan in place, so that you don’t lose their interest.

Bottom line – make sure you let your potential clients know just how important they are.

What customer service practices does your company follow?  Do you think asking for a response within 24 hours is too much to ask in this highly competitive world? Let me know in the comments below.