If you own a small business, chances are you have never worked harder in your life. When you're busy establishing yourself and getting those first clients or customers, marketing can seem like an overwhelming challenge. Older strategies like direct mail and telemarketing still exist, but today's business world includes e-commerce, blogging, and social networking. Where does a business owner start when there are so many promising opportunities for marketing?
One place to start is by defining your goals. How much do you want to expand your customer base this year? How will you know in six months' time if you're on the path to achieving that goal? If you keep your goals in mind, you can keep from spreading yourself too thin among all the marketing options and you can better choose which marketing options will work best for you.
Business.com recently spoke with Tara Jacobsen of marketingartfully.com. Jacobsen is an expert in setting goals, establishing good business habits, and choosing and using the many marketing options available to small businesses in today's ultra-connected world. We asked her for advice on marketing strategies and techniques for small businesses.
Q. Small businesses are understandably reluctant to spend money on things that don't yield immediate results, yet brand building is, if anything, more important to small businesses than large. How do you convince small businesses that smart spending on building a brand is money well spent?
A. The hard part about spending on marketing or branding is that is that the path is no longer straight. Getting from here to there involves social media sites, SEO (search engine marketing), creating a cohesive message that plays across platforms, graphic design and SO many more moving parts. The good old days of doing a yellow page ad or print piece and calling it a year are over now!
We talk with our people about having a strong presence that makes your little company look big and successful. Whether you are a single man shop or a SME, you can show up online strong and in control of your brand and message. The great thing is that all these sites level the playing field and give everyone a chance to shine, not just those with Madison Avenue marketing budgets!
Q. Again in reference to branding, how can businesses use branding to build relationships with partners and suppliers as well as with customers?
A. Okay, down to brass tacks! You need to become a thought leader in your industry. No one is going to follow you if all you do is shout a marketing message about your product or service. You need to get real about having a place in your industry, using content curation and content development to make an impact on the web and in your local market!
For example, a lawyer starting from scratch today cannot compete with a firm spending millions on billboards and TV ads, but he CAN come out of the gate hard branding himself as an expert in a specific field of law. He would then set up an online network talking on his own sites about that topic and perhaps speaking locally in person to establish an authority in the subject. Heck, he could speak on webinars around the country on that topic, spreading his brand even further and faster!
Q. What is one of the most common small business marketing mistakes that you see in your everyday practice?
A. This one is EASY! Most small business owners do not know what they sell. This seems crazy BUT since entrepreneurs start successful companies, many of them are all over the place on what their product offerings are and how to position them to be successful in the marketplace. It is VITAL that small businesses get VERY clear about what their sales goals are for the next 90 days, pick one or two products to market, and then market those relentlessly, looking neither left or right.
If you ask most entrepreneurs to talk about their companies, they are always looking forward, developing new products or services without getting their current product lines solidly in place. That creative spark and drive is what makes them GREAT entrepreneurs and less effective implementers.
Q. Some industries have trade shows that are almost legendary. How can small businesses use trade shows to reach new customers and positively interact with existing customers?
A. Trade shows are an amazing opportunity for small biz owners! Someone else has brought together people with a similar focus and gotten them all in one place at the same time. Some tips for the trade shows:.
1. Quit worrying about your handouts and brochures. You will be remembered for your people, how they treated the people they talked to, and how they followed up.
2. Make sure you are memorable. This doesn't have to be expensive; it could mean your whole team wearing orange shirts or the same snazzy ball cap. One year, we all dressed up in jeans, flannel shirts, and boots -- we were the the small biz lumberjacks and everyone said "hi" and noticed us!
3. If you are going to spend money on promotional products, make sure they are relevant to your industry and that you have enough that you don't have to look stingy.
4. Make sure that you have an AMAZING and industry-relevant giveaway that you can use to collect names and contact info. Giving away a free review of your product will not generate excitement, something neat like an iPad or a gift certificate will. Also, make sure that your giveaway matches your product line. If you are in the tech industry giving away a spa package, you are going to have a prospect list from the trade show of people who like spa packages rather than people who may be interested in technology.
Q. How is using Pinterest different from using other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for small businesses?
A. All three of these are very different. Facebook and Twitter are a little older and have a more established following. People on Facebook and Twitter are more jaded and unhappy when they think you are trying to sell to them. Pinterest is different: it has selling built right in, and if you do it right people will WANT to buy your product or service.
The main difference is how people use Pinterest. It is more about collecting information for reviewing later or for fact finding and searching out new material. With that in mind, it is totally appropriate to present your product or service with different pictures that represent different aspects of your offering. For instance, say you sell yellow jewelry. You could take a picture of a necklace on a person and put it on a board of people wearing your products. Then you could take a picture of the necklace by itself and put it on a jewelry board. Since it is yellow, it could go on a board about gold or yellow items. The possibilities are endless!
The main thing is to NOT treat Pinterest like your own little shopping cart. Items should be pinned at regular intervals, not all at once, since that basically eliminates all of the effectiveness of the marketing. While pinning over time does take a little more effort, it is definitely worth it in the end.
BONUS PINTEREST TIP: The best thing you can do is to research what types of photos (pins) match your product offerings and which are frequently liked and re-pinned. Instead of doing your WHOLE product line in one way or another, do some one way, see if they are well received and then try another way. You may find (like I did) that having memorable quotes as your pins instead of the titles of your blog posts are more sharable but receive less click-through traffic. In that case, you need to decide whether you want to grow your social media following (make quote pins), increase your website traffic (make pins of the post name) or both!
Photo Credit: Charleston's TheDigitel