By contrast, when it comes to marketing, small business owners have historically been asked to take a leap of faith – to spend their money without any clear sense of how much positive impact it will have. In essence, these traditional attempts at small business marketing have escaped any clearly definable Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. It’s for this reason that so many small business owners declare their sole reliance on “word-of-mouth” for marketing.
A lot has changed, however, in recent times. Sophisticated, yet affordable technology now exists that can track a customer relationship from a simple online ad placed on Google right through to a successful sale – offering small business owners a unique chance to be entirely data-driven in their marketing approach. Every single aspect of your small business can be tweaked and optimized to ensure that you are enticing customers, upselling where possible, and encouraging people to spread the word about your business.
The Early Bird Gets the Customer
Before you even open your doors you should be attending local flea and farmers’ markets to give customers a sneak peek of your product (and gather feedback). While there, you should start collecting customer emails so you can let the local community know when your actual store opens.
Take the time early on to get set up on one or two social media networks and start driving people there to stay up-to-date on your latest news. Start sharing the narrative of your new store everywhere you can – this is your opportunity to promote your mission statement early on and get feedback. People want to know what makes you special, so tell them why your store or restaurant will be different to everything currently available. By sharing pictures of that new fancy espresso machine or “sneak peeks” of your new store interior, you can gain buy-in to your central message and build some anticipation of your opening.
Once you have your space secured, you should get some nice pictures up on the windows that illustrate what’s to come. Put up leaflets that people can take away with them. You can even hang a clipboard and pen on the front door where people can sign up to hear more about your business. Once you have this list, why not stage a launch party and invite the local community (and local journalists). The first step for any business is always getting people to try out your product!
At a Glance:
- Small business marketing has come a long way. Expensive, difficult-to-track efforts like outdoor ads are now complemented by cheaper, immediately trackable options such as online advertising. This allows you to see a much clearer Return on Investment (ROI).
- Get started early and open your new business with a bang. Make sure everyone you come into contact with learns what your company stands for. Spread the word!
- No matter what you think of social media, Yelp, Google+, et al., your customers are using them to research your business, so make sure you take ownership of your online reputation.
- Your size is an advantage: Be local, be personal, and most of all be lean. Keep trying new ways of reaching your target audience and be ready to measure the results and change course where necessary.
If You’re Not Online, You Don’t Exist
It’s true that these sites do exert a lot of power over the success and failure of small businesses, but if you look at them another way, they also offer an invaluable opportunity for you to reach potential customers at a scale that has never previously been possible. It’s up to you to embrace this opportunity with open arms.
The right first step online for most stores and restaurants is creating a Google Local Business Listing. Google accounts for about 70% of all search traffic and more and more of that traffic is coming from mobile devices. Chances are, your customers are using Google to find you, so you’ll want to make sure your opening hours, description, contact details, address, images, etc are all accurate.
Edit: 06/11/2014: Google have announced a new hub online where businesses can ‘Get on Google’. It’s called Google My Business and promises to provide a one-stop shop for all the services you would want from Google as a small business owner.
David Slayed Goliath For a Reason: Sometimes Smaller is Better
Firstly, more and more consumers are rebelling against the generic offerings of big box retailers and seeking out the unique, personal touch offered by small, local business. You can leverage this message by weaving yourself into the fabric of your community. Canadian yoga apparel retailer lululemon has enjoyed explosive growth thanks to their ability to do just this. According to their website, “A lululemon store is so much more than a place to shop. It’s an education centre, a yoga studio and a meeting place. It’s a local hub for educators, ambassadors and guests gather to learn, sweat and connect. It’s our lifeline to our communities and the soul of our company.” Lululemon uses free events to make people feel they have a sense of local “ownership” of the brand and you can do the same thing! Getting people through your door is 90% of the battle and event marketing definitely can bring in crowds.
Secondly, your size allows you to laser-focus your attention on the right audience. Walmart wants to sell everything to everyone. Maybe you can just focus on selling colorful earmuffs to children in the Mission district in San Francisco. This kind of clarity allows you to compete for search rankings on Google, key positions on Yelp and other business recommendation engines, and for space on social media.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, your size should make you lean. Every single aspect of your store or restaurant can be tweaked and optimized to ensure more and more customers are coming through the door. As you experiment with strategies on Facebook or Twitter, introduce a new email marketing initiative, or simply erect new signage outside your store, you have the chance to measure your success and react quickly to failure.
Small Business Guide to Social Media
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