Online Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses
You’re running your own small business and you’re doing an okay job with marketing; occasionally placing ads in the local Valpak mailer or other avenues.
But your online marketing strategies could benefit from a reboot.
I know, you’re already strapped for time with all of the miscellaneous things you need to do for your business that isn’t doing your business – you certainly don’t have time to do even more.
It could be that even the term “digital marketing” makes you feel lost and technically in over your head.
It’s not the doing, it’s the learning that you don’t have time for.
And it all changes so rapidly – how can you be expected to keep up with it once you start?
But increasing your business IS (always) a priority.
And because of that, you need to read this.
Here’s the deal, operating a small business by yourself or with a limited amount of help is extremely hard.
I’ve been there.
My family owned a retail store for a few years.
The day I walked away from my own business and into someone else’s, my life became monumentally easier. It was a foreign concept to me until then, but working for someone else meant I only had ONE job.
Before that I was responsible for every job role, even janitor and window washer.
We have a term in the corporate world called “wearing many hats”, which usually means a lack of resources has made it so someone has to stretch beyond their job scope into another role.
Well, small business owners typically wear EVERY hat, regardless of their expertise in that area.
That means for you to have a successful business not only do you have to be great at your job and an expert in your field, you also have to do a number of things you may not be inherently great at, which might include any or all of the following (and maybe even more):
- Community Outreach
- Customer Support
- Human Resources & Management
- Legal Compliance
- Website Building
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Customer Engagement
- Social Marketing
And if you’re operating on a shoestring budget, that means you are most likely doing it all, with little to no help from professionals.
It’s unfair to assume you’re automagically* great at all of these things, so don’t beat yourself up if you have mostly been focused on doing your main job – the thing you actually want and love to do.
But if you want more business (and frankly, who doesn’t?) and to ensure that your customers stay repeat customers, I’m here to help you with that – your marketing strategies.
I’ve read the top articles on how to do marketing in the new world of digital media, and quite honestly, I think if I was operating a small local business in today’s world, I would be so overwhelmed with all the technical jargon I’d just shut down my computer and cry.
Let’s take it down a few notches into relate-able and simple-to-understand territory.
It seems like most sites speak in riddles when it comes to the actual do-able content.
I’m all about the actionable and implementable steps – because that’s what I would want if I still had a brick and mortar local business. Give me something I can do today that will help me with my business.
So, here it is.
To follow the steps outlined here I’d suggest you download the checklist at the end – this will help you keep track of how often you should be engaging with your different customer channels. It’s a loose guideline, so feel free to adjust as you need to for your specific business.
If anything below is over your head or you’d like more clarity, please reach out in the comments or use the contact page to send me a question – I’d be glad to discuss it with you.
Almost everything I’ve outlined below focuses on better communication between you and your current or potential customers.
Communication with your customers will be the make-or-break factor that either keeps them loyal to you or causes them to run to your competition.
Whatever you are selling is not actually what you are selling.
You are selling you.
The back-and-forth dance of what your customers want, what you can give them, how well you do it and how much you care about them – that, in a nutshell, is the business you are in.
With more options than ever before, your business has to go above and beyond to show that you’re the right one for the job and that your customers can trust you to do it well.
My Goal is to Kick Start Your Business Engines
Here’s the thing, if you’ve gotten this far I’m going to assume you are serious about driving more business.
Reading this will do nothing.
I challenge you to commit to doing.
Print off the list at the end and try at least a few of the things that you aren’t doing today, and add these to a consistent routine.
Give it 2 months.
If nothing happens, oh well.
But… if you start to see noticeable improvements in your business traffic, keep going, do more, do everything on the checklist.
This is what I’m asking you to do.
Email & Texts
First up, one of the heaviest of hitters, email.
I don’t like the term Email Marketing, because everyone immediately associates this with spam.
If someone has trusted you with their email address, the last thing you should ever be sending them is spam or something annoying.
Instead, you should be communicating things they will want in their inbox – messages they would look forward to getting.
Think about what you would want – what would make you read it, what would make you happy versus annoyed?
Most likely, this is something informative, helpful, personal, funny, or valuable – or a combination of all of these.
So, perhaps sending a story about your life, a coupon, or a tutorial on subjects within your business category, might work well.
To set your company above others, the following should be the routine email/texts you send to your customers:
- Appointment confirmation: (Email or text) – I love getting these confirmations the day before an appointment. Even if I have the appointment on my calendar, it lets me know I put the right date/time down and that the business is still expecting me. I appreciate their acknowledgment of my upcoming visit.
- Thank You: (Email or text) – A great way to follow up any appointment or sale is to send a thank you to your customer. It’s basic etiquette that seems to be forgotten at times. Each sale/customer is important, and this shows that you value them and their business.
- Survey: If you’re not aware of a bad customer experience, how can you make improvements? Catch your unhappy customer before they post their discontent on a review or tell a friend not to visit your place by finding out as soon as possible if they were satisfied or not.
- Ask for Reviews: Most people won’t even consider a business or a product that doesn’t have any reviews yet. The more positive reviews, the more confidence people will have in your business. Encourage people to leave a review for your business while their experience is still fresh in their minds. You might consider sending the survey first and that will give you a chance to make reparations before a negative review comes out. Make it easy for customers to leave a review by providing them your Google Review link.
- Promotions/Sales: This is the real reason people subscribe to your email list, so make sure you’re keeping them happy with the occasional discount, even better if you made it exclusive for VIP members – this makes them feel special and glad to be part of your email group.
- Reminders: This might seem like it could be annoying, but a reminder of an upcoming service is actually really helpful. I usually don’t remember things like the date I had my dog vaccinated, so if my vet does it for me, I will definitely use their reminder to schedule an appointment.
- Business or Personal Story Update: It’s often said that people don’t buy from businesses, they buy from friends. With that in mind, you should be sure to reveal a bit of a personal aspect to your customers. Don’t be afraid to send them a “Year-In-Review” of things you did that year like had a new baby, backpacked through Europe, ate 100 different kinds of burgers. It makes you interesting and human, and that’s what we relate best to.
- Annual Events: Depending on your business, you might have seasonal ads/services to offer. For example, if you have a dog wash company you might suggest “Dirty dogs and turkey dinners don’t mix well – get Fluffy cleaned for the holidays,” right before Thanksgiving, as a push to make sure they’re thinking about a good smelling dog along with a great tasting dinner.
One common misconception around email marketing is that it should be infrequent.
How often you send something should be based on what you are sending and if it’s a weekly thing or a seasonal special – also the business you are in and how often customers might want to hear from you.
If you are sending out a generic promotion every now and again then yes, once in a while is fine.
But in the spirit of keeping things personal, a friendly note can keep you at the top of people’s minds.
If your hairdresser sent you a funny email of failed hairstyles (not of their doing) in a weekly newsletter, you would probably associate that with fun and friendship. You might even be tempted to forward that on to someone you know, basically promoting your hairdresser’s business for them.
I’m still on some business’s mailing list because he sent an email about how he woke up in the middle of the night and there was something outside that he thought was a burglar but it was actually a bird. His story was personal, funny, real and relate-able. There was nothing on the email selling me something. But if he does send me something in the future that I want to buy, chances are, I would buy it from him because I feel like I know him now.
On the flip side, another lady sends me stories of her life every day that are a mini-novel; I don’t have time for them, I don’t find them useful, and they come too frequently. I unsubscribed and will never use her services because, a) I don’t like her marketing style, b) I don’t relate to her so I assume that I probably won’t relate to her products, and c) I’m in general, annoyed by her.
Here’s an example of a personal email you might send out to your subscribers:
Bottom Line: It’s important that people remember your business, and that it stands out. And of course, in a good way.
You do want to be careful that you’re not that place that sends so much junk that your customers immediately get a bad taste in their mouth and want nothing to do with you.
Test what works and what doesn’t to develop your own best communication cadence. Don’t alienate your whole audience by sending a blast to everyone, try a few different emails to different people one at a time to see what people are responding to or unsubscribing to.back to menu ↑
There was a time when you could avoid this subject and still run a successful business.
That time is over.
If you are not on some form of Social Media you are probably missing a large piece of the customer pie.
When it comes to local businesses you might lean towards Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter as your channels – because these have the ability to geo-target (meaning your location is a factor for who sees your stuff). Pinterest and Instagram can be geo-targeted as well but these are typically better for businesses that need visuals to drive their business.
The great thing about Social Media is that it is free to use unless you are running ads. And if you do run Social Media ads these can often be a lot less costly than traditional marketing.
If Social Media confuses you, start small with one channel only; Facebook is a good place to start.
As soon as you set up your business account, send an invite to all of your friends and family and existing customers.
Then make sure you have a Facebook link on your site bringing people to your Facebook account so that they can easily join.
Post something regularly so that people remember your business.
Adding a post is as easy as logging into Facebook and inputting something in the “Write a Post” box.
This can tie into the emails you send as well – ideally, everything works in a synergistic manner so that it isn’t creating too much overhead. If you sent an email with current promotions, use that same content to make a Facebook post as well.
There are programs that will sync all of your Social Media together so that you only publish content once and it pushes out to all of your channels. But that’s more of an advanced concept and we’re trying to ease you into this slowly.
For now, just make sure you are using at least one Social Media channel and are posting on it consistently.
Tips for Keeping your Social Media Content Current:
- Respond to Questions: On a daily basis you should be responding to any questions or comments that visitors to your social channels have made to you.
- Create a Post with Ads or Information: Ideally once a week but at a minimum once a month post something about your business on a Facebook post. This can be promotional or informational.
- GeoTag your Photos: Use GeoTagging to help localize any Social Media photos (pictures of your shop, you, etc.) so that people know where you are.
- Audit your Info: At least every year you should be verifying that all of your info is current including your phone, address, and all of your branding. If you have a new logo, make sure you’ve updated your Social Media to reflect the new logo as well.
Your website doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be modern or slick.
Your website simply needs to be easy-to-navigate and provide the information people are looking for.
It also HAS to be mobile responsive – Around 50% of your visitors are on a mobile device (I am using my own Google Analytics numbers here).
Function over format is priority when it comes to your business’s website.
With that being said, generically speaking, your most important call outs are what you do, where you are, and how people can contact you.
However, priorities also vary based on the business you have.
If you have a boutique clothing shop, giving people a taste of your inventory via photos is probably a fairly important detail you don’t want to skip.
If you have a landscaping service, you want some before and after photos and some testimonials.
There is a simple formula I feel paints a complete story of your business for your customers – detailed below and in the infographic.
Your Business Website should include these sections, whether on separate pages or all on the main page:
- First, Address the Problem your company solves
- Second, explain the specific Services that support the solution
- Third, convince the visitor of why you are the Best Choice for the job
- Fourth, back this up with Testimonials, Photos, & Certifications (when applicable)
- Fifth, provide Contact and Scheduling details
- Sixth, answer any Questions before they ask with a Q&A or FAQ section
The aforementioned is a very boiled down equation, but everything else beyond these basic data points is just extraneous info – and you should be cognizant of avoiding confusion or creating cognitive overload for your visitors.
But as long as they can find this information without having to dig too hard, you’re probably okay adding additional content as well – as long as it makes sense and can be found using a logical path.
Items you should be addressing on your website on a regular basis:
- Responding to Price Quote Requests: This is self-explanatory. If it is legally feasible and makes sense for your company, you could potentially list starting prices on your site to reduce direct contact quote requests, i.e., “Haircuts start at $35.00”.
- Answering Questions on your Services: If you are receiving a lot of questions about something, along with responding to the question via the channel it was received on (email, comments on site,) you should also add this to your FAQ section so that people can find the answer easily. Chances are, other visitors have the same question but may not want to bother to ask it and may have just left your site when they didn’t find the answer.
- Post an Article: Blog posts are a fantastic way to boost your SEO and stay connected to your visitors. Google (and your customers) love to see sites that have helpful information. If you start to post, try to do it on a consistent basis, weekly, bi-weekly, or whatever rhythm is feasible for you. Try to target subjects that are relevant to the industry you are in – Google uses these signals to help define the category your business is in, so if you have an art gallery but you are posting about your cat’s excess fur, Google won’t understand what you do and what you should rank for. Case in point, Google thinks this site is about hair and potatoes. Google is unfortunately very literal and not very nuanced.
- Keep Your Content Fresh: You know those stale sites that still mention something from 2010? Yeah, when I see something like that it makes me cringe. I actually typically wonder if they’re still in business. Post updated photos, testimonials, and services at least once a month.
- Update Your Patches: Once a month at least you should be updating your site’s plugins/themes/WordPress or other CMS versions. When you log into your admin console you should see a warning if you have anything that needs to be updated. This is important to keep your site working properly, and to avoid any security vulnerabilities.
- Full Site Audit: Once a year you should perform a full site audit where you go through each link and each page to make sure everything is working correctly and that all of your information is up to date. If nothing else, make sure you update your copyright date in your footer to the current year.
- Update Article Dates: If you use any dates in pages/posts like, “Our Towing Service Recommendations in 2018,” make sure you update this to read, “2019,” and update the content for that year as well. Note that you should never make a date part of the actual URL since changing a URL will get you dinged by Google, even if you redirect the old URL to the new one, which is a pain to do.
Keeping your website current and well-maintained will show customers that you take pride in all aspects of your business.
Websites are too important these days to ignore, especially from a local business standpoint.
Don’t let it collect dust.back to menu ↑
So how do most people find your business?
Probably, through a search engine.
And that search engine, is probably Google.
That’s why as much as we can pretend that we aren’t, all of us are at the mercy of the Google Gods, true story.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay a little teeny, tiny, smidgen of attention to the other engines. You should make sure those have the right info too.
Check Your Search Engine Status:
- On Desktop & Mobile: Do a quick daily search for your business and make sure it appears on Google. Time permitting, check a few other engines like Bing or DuckDuckGo. If there is a problem with how you appear on search engines (like a wrong phone number), you should catch and fix this as soon as possible.
- Check Your Keyword Ranking: Try a few variations of your business keywords and see how you rank. You want to be keeping an eye on this in case you are dropping lower than desired. If so, spend some time beefing up your SEO.
- Commit to Improving Your SEO Ranking: There are plenty of tricks for this. The first thing you should do is carve out time to learn some best practices and then apply these a little at a time to see if your rankings improve. Dip your toes into SEO with our article on Local SEO, then sign up with Moz for the best (and free) SEO tips.
- Audit Your Competition’s Directory Listings: Take your closest competitor that does exactly what you do but outranks you (the #1 spot preferably). Do a search on their street address in Google and put into Google: “Their Name Their Address -site:[theirURL]”, replacing [theirURL] with their actual URL and removing the brackets. Make sure you included the minus before site: as well. Here is an example for an Auto Shop in Seattle: Repair Revolution 2437 6th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98134 -site:autorepairrevolution.com. This will give you a listing of all of the places your competition advertises with or has a listing with. You might want to also be added to these listings depending on the size of your advertising budget and how expensive it is to get listed with these places. A site like the Better Business Bureau is a good one to invest in if you’re not already a member. YellowPages.com, HomeAdvisor & Angie’s List are also great, especially if you’re in a home service industry.
- Monitor Your Trends: In order to do approximate yearly forecasting for your projected growth/profit, it’s important to understand your business’s trends and what factors might have been attributed to these. Do this at a minimum once a year. For example, did you see a spike in customers going to your website right after you ran a local Groupon special? If so, did the spike in customers offset the cost of the promotion? It’s important to understand and measure your organic and ad-driven yearly trends so that you can evaluate what is working and what is not working for your business’s growth. If you don’t already use a reporting tool like Google Analytics, start now – it’s free.
Consider boosting your local listing presence and your local SEO with a service like BrightLocal. There are plenty of other citation companies to choose from but you can read a good comparison here which compares services; BrightLocal gives you a lot of bang for the buck.back to menu ↑
Google My Business
If you haven’t registered for Google My Business (GMB) yet – DO. IT. RIGHT. NOW.
Seriously, stop reading this – take 5 minutes and sign up for free.
90% of your organic search traffic is coming from Google; which is nothing to brush off.
Here’s the thing friends, Google WANTS to give you MORE business.
And you want that too, right?
So, make it easy for Google to promote you by providing them your information so that they don’t have to piece-meal it together like some sad business information patchwork-fragmented quilt.
You might be a mystery wrapped in a riddle, but your business should be completely exposed and obvious.
It should be totally cut and dried as far as what you do, where you are located, and what people think about you.
Having a GMB account also gives you access to extra things that can boost your business’s appeal factor.
And, you did hear me correctly the first time, that all of this is for FREE?
Right, so no excuses.
The first thing to check once you sign into your account is that your listing information is correct.
Interacting with with GMB:
- Check for Reviews & Questions: As often as possible engage with any reviews or Questions. Questions are found in your Google My Business listing, reviews are on Google Reviews or can be on Yelp or other review sites as well and Google will usually show these too. While some businesses respond to all of their reviews, good and bad, make sure at a minimum you respond to someone who has had a problem so that other potential customers can see that you have made an attempt to come to a resolution. Remember to be polite even when the customer is in the wrong (yes, they sometimes ARE).
- Posts & Pictures: Update your listing with a post at least once a month. These are free ads you can run on your Google listing, so why not do it? Also, make sure you’re adding fresh and high quality images now and again. Just like anything else, make your info looking as appealing as possible to entice people. You shouldn’t go sloppy on one of the largest drivers of your business. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not very valuable.
- Audit Your Information for Accuracy: At least once a month make sure your information shows up correctly. This includes your address, website, phone number, hours of operation, and anything else about your business that shows up in your listing.
- Use Google Listing Insights: Similar to the recommended yearly reporting analysis, you can do the same thing with your Google Listing as well. Google will tell you how customers found you and what they interacted with (directions, photos, hours, reviews, etc.,). You should monitor this and try to find actionable ways to use the data. For example, if most people are looking at your hours and then leaving, it’s possible that the hours you have aren’t convenient for them.
It’s surprising to me that there are a lot of businesses that aren’t utilizing the free tools Google offers.
This may be because a lot of people are unaware of this functionality, but whatever the case – use it to your business’s advantage.back to menu ↑
There’s no two ways about it, the people around you are your customers.
The more you do for your community, the more your business is known by the locals and the more loyalty you gain.
Typically, sponsored events are a win-win because you can a) use these as a tax write-off, b) get your name out there, and c) build a positive reputation as a pillar of the community.
Steps to increase your community outreach:
- Keep a Local Event Calendar: Track community events on your calendar or with an app like Eventbrite.
- Nextdoor Business: At a minimum set up an account – the next step is setting up or joining a community event.
- Local Fundraisers: Participate in a fundraiser or sponsor a local sports team.
- Create a Yearly Local Ad Budget: Determine based on your analytics (and which local ads work best for you) how much and where (locally) you will spend your ad budget for the year.
These are the items that didn’t really fit into any of the above categories, but are still really important for your overall business health.
- Monitor Your Promotion Channels: It’s important that you’re constantly measuring what is working and what isn’t working for promoting your business. You should be tracking this information so that you can correlate where your business’s traffic comes from, which in turn will tell you where you should focus your efforts either doubling down on the ways that are working or trying to up the ways that aren’t. You don’t need a fancy way to do this either, simply ask your customers how they found you – then keep their responses tracked in a notebook.
- Ads: If you have advertisements that routinely work for you, keep using them. However, if you’re not already doing so you might try dipping your toe into the world of online ads, especially if you’ve never tried Google or Facebook Ads and have a little extra in your advertising budget to do so. You can run a Facebook ad targeting local clientele for relatively low costs (starting at around $30.00) and you might see a large enough boost to make this part of your re-occurring ad spend.
- Backlinks: These are actually a very important piece of improving your SEO, but they are also just good business. Backlinks typically come from other sites mentioning your products/services/website but you can also drive these yourself by guest posting on someone’s site. Popular sites are always looking for great, fresh, new content. Create an article about your area of expertise and pitch it to one of the many sites that allows guest posting – in return for your article they will allow you to link back to your site (make sure this is true before submitting your post). This will not only help your rankings get stronger, it will drive more website traffic from people who read your article and follow it back to your site. Try to do this once a month or once every few months, time permitting. You can also get backlinks from places like the Chamber of Commerce. If you donate to local charities, see if they are willing to give you a backlink to your site in return.
- Press Releases: There are sites out there that accept business press releases which will give your business a little publicity, provided you have some news to share. If you’ve upgraded your shop recently, added new services, come out with a new version of your product, you might consider writing your own press release and pitching it to a site which accepts and publishes them.
What You Can Do Right Now
This is a lot of information to process.
You might be tempted to put this to the side and tackle it later. If your business matters to you, don’t.
↓ Read the disclaimer ↓
In the corporate life we use this term called, “eating the elephant,” which is actually quite disgusting from a literal standpoint, but it means tackle something big in small, digestible pieces.
Take it slowly and start tackling what you can from the list below, but don’t take on too much right away.
Start improving your business strategies now by downloading this free check-list and printing it out.
- Keep your checklist posted in your business’s office or wherever you work most from your computer.
- You don’t have to do them all, but do as many as things on the list as you can.
- Stay consistent by adding these to your routines.
- Rinse & Repeat – Each time you go through these steps they will get easier and faster.
I think you will find that it’s not as complicated as you think, and once you form some good customer communication habits they will become second nature to you.
Tell me how these worked for you in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!
If you’re hungry for more juicy tips – checkout my latest post on LOCAL SEO FOR BEGINNERS