Simple Marketing Rules for Small Businesses

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.

Do

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.

Don’t

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.

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Your Business: Four Things Smart Marketers Do

“Lady Gaga is a marketing genius.”  I’ve heard this phrase uttered more times than I care to count.  And while I’d love to debate the merits of who (or what) is really behind what Gaga does and whether it’s genius or insanity, I can’t deny she keeps her fans engaged about her next move.

Image: style.popcrunch.com

Ask three different business professionals for a simple definition of marketing, and you will probably get three different answers.  Some say it’s simply advertising.  Others call it meeting the needs of your target customers.  Marketing blogger Heidi Cohen put together a list of 72 marketing definitions here.  My personal favorite from her list is #14:

“Marketing is creating irresistible experiences that connect with people personally and create the desire to share with others.”  –Saul Colt of Fresh Books

Call me a jaded consumer, but it takes something out of the ordinary to catch my eye and make me want to share an experience with others.  Since launching my own business, I have definitely taken note of some recent experiences that made an impact on me as a consumer and definitely made me think about how we can make and maintain great relationships with our clients.

Here are four ways businesses with which I frequently interact have gotten it right:

1.  Be a brand champion.  I have always been a fan of this concept ever since I first heard about it in business school.  A brand champion is someone who backs the brand 110% and always defends the reputation of the brand at all times.  If, as a small business owner, you are not passionate about your product or service, then you are not your own brand champion and will enjoy mediocre success at best.  I am continually impressed by one particular local restaurant chain, which has many brand champions in its waitstaff.  Every face smiles at me when I walk through the store, the staff talks about their other locations to guests and the management team is involved in promoting the brand via social media.  When you have numerous individuals who believe in the brand and are willing to try to convince others it’s worth a try, the resulting satisfaction with the company’s product or service is infectious and customer loyalty is guaranteed.

2.  Do something different.  I have been a customer of the clothing company Express for many years.  Each year, like many companies, they send me a coupon just before my birthday for a nominal amount.  Sometimes the coupon brings me into the store, other times it sits in my purse until I toss it out months later.  This year, however, I opened my birthday card from Express to find a whopping $40 coupon inside!  I couldn’t get to the store fast enough.  I thought it was genius.  No other company has ever rewarded my loyalty in such an attention-getting manner.  And, as I’m sure they planned, I spent well more than the gifted amount of $40 on my visit.  If you can’t offer major discounts at every turn, then think of a way to make a significant impact and reward your customers in a way they will not be able to forget.  A round of drinks on the house, a free little something when they least expect it or an exception to the rule whenever possible will go a long way with most people.

3.  Deliver what you advertise.  This one seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised by how many firms are doing it wrong.  On a recent weeknight after work, I decided to order takeout from a family-owned hole-in-the-wall near my house.  I Yelped the place and found rave reviews plus a link to conveniently place my order online.  I was sold.  They offered one of my favorite dishes, shrimp fettuccine alfredo, which I excitedly ordered, for $15 plus tax.  I didn’t care about the price; I was hungry and eager to try something new.  When I got home with my order, I pried back the foil container, thrust my plastic fork into the steaming pasta and…was extremely disappointed to find it was bland and chewy.  Determined to set the record straight, I logged in to Yelp and left my opinion of the meal, describing my displeasure.  I ate some popcorn for dinner and didn’t give the place another thought.  UNTIL…a couple of months later, the owners of the restaurant commented on my review.  Thanking me for my honest feedback, I was thoroughly impressed to see that the little mom-and-pop place had upgraded to jumbo shrimp in their fettuccine pasta due to my review.  They changed the recipe!  And in making every attempt to deliver on their promise of a fresh, delicious meal, they will see me in their restaurant again.  These business owners not only listened to their customer, they followed up and let everyone know they were back on track with the problem solved.

4.  Admit when you’re wrong.  In my day job, I repeatedly tell my staff not to be afraid of a guest complaint.  My hope is to help them realize each time a guest is dissatisfied, we as a company have an opportunity to win them over by going above and beyond to solve their issue.  Of course, the last thing I want is for my employees to drop the ball, but, if they do (because we are only human), then perhaps our handling of the situation can create a customer for life.  I had an extremely negative experience last year with a large furniture chain here in San Diego, specifically with the scam insurance they convinced me to buy.  I Yelped about it, expressing my satisfaction with the products I purchased but clearly spelling out how selling a con insurance policy was negatively affecting their reputation.  I was contacted by a customer service representative, who at this point could have turned me into a loyal return customer.  Instead, she made me feel as though I were stupid and had violated the terms of the insurance.  She repeatedly defended the policy despite my making it blatantly clear (with examples) that I did not believe it to be legitimate insurance.  We emailed back and forth a few times before settling on a resolution–a prorated refund of the insurance fee I had paid.  I still might have returned to her store if she had simply apologized and processed the refund.  I am sorry to say she never contacted me again and the refund was never credited to my account.  While I can understand her desire to back her company, I do not believe it is ever okay to make the customer feel as though he or she has done something wrong, and at some point you just have to admit your company failed and find a resolution that works for both parties.

While I know some of these examples don’t have the most obvious ties to marketing, if you consider them in the context of what you can do to better promote your small business, I believe they can help.  Marketing has many definitions, and I think one of the most important aspects of this concept is making that personal connection with your customers in an endless sea of choices.