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.

Twitter: The Good, The Bad and The #$%?!

Tweeting. Twitterverse. Tweeps. If the mere mention of these terms makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Despite boasting more than 500 million registered Twitter users worldwide, only about one-third of all Americans use the service. And according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are reluctant to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. So if the rich and successful business man doesn’t use Twitter to promote his company, why should you?

The answer is simple.  And in this case, it comes in the form of a question from someone far more qualified than I am to speak on the subject. In the above-referenced WSJ article, management professor and former CEO Bill George asks,

“Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?”

Considering all the social media channels at our disposal and the relative cost of each, I think George’s question should have more businesses asking, “Where do we sign up?”

Twitter is only one platform for growing your business network, but I recommend it to all of my clients because it is free, offers an enormous audience, and, in most cases, puts your business ahead of the curve in terms of social media presence. Businesses in my consulting demographic truly need to use as many social media sites as possible because they are targeting American tourists with smart phones who are connected to social media 24/7.

And now, my personal rant (a.k.a. The Bad Side).

I recently experienced a moment of panic when my shiny new Twitter account was suspended just a few days after I opened it. I could not believe my ability to connect with the world could be taken away without notice and seemingly without reason. After several minutes of frantic Googling to find a solution, I contacted Twitter via their appeals process.  Surprisingly, someone replied to me very quickly with a verdict. My crime?  An “aggressive following pattern.” Sheesh. More on that a little later. The moderator who replied to me promised after I pledged to stop violating their policies my account would be restored within the hour. It was about 24 hours before I could use my account again, but upon logging in I was relieved to find  everything just as I had left it.

Which brings me to the negative. Twitter is a third-party service that can decide on a whim to shut down or suspend your account. My violation of their terms consisted of sitting down on my couch one Sunday morning and following a number of businesses in the region I will be visiting shortly. I thought I was doing myself a favor and building a legitimate Twitter feed.  They called it “annoying other users.” Then, as I mentioned, they called me aggressive–a term I take offense to when used to describe me anywhere outside of my coed softball league.

This story has two morals: If we want to win at marketing with Twitter, then we have to play by their rules. Even if sometimes those rules are vague and subjective.

The other moral of the story? Sometimes Twitter sucks. And that’s just part of life in the 21st century.