Are you one of those people who wakes up every morning and “reads” your smart phone as though it were the newspaper? I am! I check each email inbox, then move on to my news feeds. If it’s a good day, I can spend at least half an hour browsing the day’s top stories over a cup of coffee. Something I read today caught my eye…
Somewhere in my Twitter feed this morning was a business article stating how 2012 was the year of Twitter. According to the author, last year Twitter ruled the social media scene.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2013 is going to be the year of the blog. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve read at least a dozen articles and blogs about content marketing. This morning my Sunday newsletter from business genius Chris Brogan was all about how to create content that interests your customers and makes them feel like they are a part of something–like they belong.
In my experience, creating content is the hardest part of blogging. Setting up a blog is fun and exciting, linking the blog to social media accounts is satisfying, but there’s something about sitting down and staring at a blank screen that sucks the inspiration right out of me.
If I’m right and content will be king in 2013, then small business owners who want to stay on the path to sustainable growth must understand the importance of blogging. My advice? Take a cue from Twitter’s success and make your blog more like a conversation. Keep it light rather than formal. Ask questions. And at least some of the time, share content about topics you truly love. If you’re passionate about what you’re writing, chances are you’ll strike a nerve with someone else who shares the same interest.
Are you one of those people who shares online content when you find it truly engaging or entertaining? I am, and if my social media feeds are any indication, most of us are. I believe this year, the most successful small business owners will be the ones who create content that compels their audience to join the conversation. So what are you waiting for?
In business school, the subject of defining target markets comes up repeatedly. Define the market with demographics and psychographics, don’t be too general, don’t narrow it down too much, do your research and slice that pie!!
Although identifying your target market is undoubtedly an important step in creating your overall marketing plan, I think a lot of small business owners get lost in the technical lingo and either try to market to everyone or fail to formulate a plan at all. As someone who’s not a fan of the “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach, I want to share my take on how small business owners can better understand their target customers.
1. Define the original purpose of your business. Yes, again. Many small business owners who are fighting for enough business to turn a profit lose sight of their original goals. Stop for a second and write down why you are in business. What product or service are you offering? Be specific and try to remember why you started your company in the first place. Did you want to help others? Was your goal to get rich? Did you desire to make a name for yourself? Whatever the reason, get back in touch with that logic. Make sure it still applies, and reaffirm your commitment to doing business the way you always intended. If you don’t take this first step to defining your overall business goal, then you can’t very well understand your target market.
2. Look at the the customer base you currently have. Who is using your service? What is the average person who buys your product like? Instead of trying to come up with an age, sex, income level, etc. for your target customer based on what you think your target customer looks like, take a hard look at what they actually look like. You may be surprised at what you find, but effective marketing is aimed at the people who want to buy your products, not at the ones you think should be buying them.
3. Connect the dots. Once you are 100% committed to your business goals and you have a good idea of who your most frequent customers are, all you have to do is put the pieces together. Find a creative way to show those target customers your business meets a need they currently have or will have in the near future. When I reach out to potential clients, I like to consider the lifestyle of my target customers and show them how my business fits in with and improves that lifestyle. You have to find the approach that works best for your business, and if you have a hard time with this step it may be a good idea to seek the advice of a business consultant.
I know the demographic/geographic/whatevergraphic approach to market definition serves its purpose, especially when applied by professionals and academic experts. But if you are the average small business owner, then you may not have the knowledge or the patience to wade through the jargon.
My advice: Understand that marketing to the appropriate customers is a worthy investment, and apply whatever method allows you to focus on and reach those customers.
I recently had a marketing inquiry from a small business owner in Cabo who needs help with her web pages. Her concern was that I would not be able to work with her budget, since she recently spent too much on advertising already and is still not seeing the traffic she hoped for.
Her budget I can work with. I really try to work with any budget so the business owner can see results as soon as possible. But her mistake in spending on the wrong type of marketing really got me thinking. I want to share some simple Dos and Donts for small businesses so overspending in the wrong marketing areas can be minimized.
1. Do make setting up a website and social media pages a priority. In today’s world, a business without a website is easily forgettable. Many customers investigate a company’s reputation online before paying for their products/services, so if you don’t have a website you automatically lose a bit of credibility. The same goes for social media–these days businesses are expected to be connected, so take advantage of the free networking opportunities and create some basic social media pages.
2. Do use your connections in the community to publicize your business. Attend networking parties and events to pass out business cards and meet new contacts. Write your own press releases and send them to local newspapers, magazines and online journals. A press release does not have to be perfect, just look up the format and write about your new business or your new product launch. If you already have a blog or social network page, publicize the businesses you know and trust in the area–many will pay you back with free advertising on their own pages or via word-of-mouth referrals.
3. Do follow up on every customer inquiry or comment. This is especially important at the beginning. Think of building your network as an investment. It truly is.
1. Don’t spend money on print ads, no matter how tempting the deal or how convincing the salesperson is. Take it from a Journalism major, print is a dying business. The chances are high that your ad will be tossed out before it’s even seen by a majority of readers. You’ll have far more reach with online networking–the world is literally your audience online.
2. Don’t pay a web developer to do your website until you investigate all your options. Sites such as WordPress or Weebly allow you to build your own basic website for free. I encourage you to take a look at these sites and explore their features. Most small businesses could get by with a site built on one of these platforms while you start generating income, and they really are easy to use even if you know nothing about web programming. You may be able to save thousands by doing your own website or by paying a friend to set it up for you using one of these sites.
3. Don’t use your personal social media pages as your business pages. No matter how much you feel your business reflects your personal life, it just takes one photo of you after hours or on vacation to give a new client the wrong idea. Don’t risk tarnishing your business reputation with a personal comment that can be taken out of context on your personal social media pages. If you keep the business pages separate, you will also likely give more thought to the content you post.
I hope these rules help you navigate the tricky waters of marketing your small business on a budget. It can be difficult, but the results of effective, affordable marketing can be so rewarding when you start earning greater profits.
These emotions almost always accompany one of my “slumps,” as I choose to call those periods when I lack any and all motivation to get anything done. Prior to starting my marketing business, a motivational slump might have had such relatively harmless results as an overflowing laundry basket, a brief lapse in personal hygiene (eek!) or even gaining an extra pound or two due to not lacing up my running shoes.
These days a slump seems far more dangerous. What if I miss the chance to connect with a potential client just because I’m not feeling up to logging in? Shouldn’t I be posting more blog entries? How negatively does it affect my reputation if I don’t tweet enough?
Well, fresh off the high of launching my business, taking a trip to Baja and getting some very promising leads, this past week I found myself smack in the middle of a slump. I should have seen it coming. I was recently moved to a new location in my day job, which means I’m learning and adjusting (read: getting a mental workout) for 45 hours a week right now. I’m feeling less and less satisfied with my day job in general and that leads to frustration that inevitably spills over into my work at home. Though I know I must be patient, I find myself getting worked up over wanting to work on helping others full-time through my business.
All this stress and dissatisfaction created my most recent slump, and as I contemplated how to get out of it I received a timely email newsletter from Chris Brogan. His newsletters usually make me feel good in general, and he has a unique ability to write to thousands of people as though he is writing to a dear friend. This newsletter was just what I needed, as the topic was Facing Failure. And when I’m in a slump, I feel like a total failure. After reading his advice, I decided to offer a few tips of my own:
1. Give yourself a break.
If I did this more, then I am certain I’d experience fewer slumps. If you spend day and night working on one thing or another like I do, then take the time once in awhile to rest and do nothing. Or do something fun. But don’t allow yourself to work. Sometimes when I relax a little bit, I actually get inspired so much that when I go back to my laptop I perform far better than if I force myself to sit down and write something when I’m not motivated.
2. Take baby steps.
This is a strategy I apply throughout my life, both at work and at home. Whenever I get overwhelmed to the point of feeling useless, I set a tiny goal that I know I can reach. I definitely have lofty aspirations of bringing together entire communities and driving tourism all up and down the Baja peninsula through good marketing practices. But I can’t get there overnight. Hell, sometimes I can’t even think of anything interesting to put on in the morning! So when I’m in a slump, I write down something I know I can achieve that very day. It may be to organize one of my online accounts, respond to a simple email or even just clean my office. Once you get going, you’ll find it hard to stop.
3. Don’t give up.
Even if you try your best to get inspired and it doesn’t work, don’t get so down on yourself that you throw in the towel. There is a natural flow to life that includes ups and downs. Keep trying! There are many quotes on the topic of not giving up, but an old favorite comes via a quick story from my own life. When my mom was losing her fight with the unexpected return of her brain cancer, I was five hours away at college. Not sure of anything and scared to death, a teary-eyed co-worker made sure I got safely into my car. As I set out to face the unknown, she whispered in my ear, “Sometimes you just have to fake it ’til you make it.” Meaning things might not be okay today, or tomorrow, or for a long time. But one day they will be, and we have to keep moving forward until that day comes.
So get up. Do something. Do anything and do it well. Though, as Dr. Seuss points out in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, “un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” In another one of my favorite sources of inspiration, he later declares, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So, get on your way!” Yes!!!