Tag Archive: Marketing

Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers

Marketing Insight Q & A: Getting the Scoop on Your Customers by Iris Dorbian.

As a longtime marketing strategist and founder of Venture Drive Consulting, Mark Kotzer has amassed over 20 years working with what he terms “scrappy entrepreneurs.” From helping small business owners craft a vision and business model, to product launches and sales development, the Seattle-based Kotzer—whose clients have included Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser—has carved a niche for himself as a go-to-resource for companies seeking to advance to the next stage. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian caught up with Kotzer to discuss how entrepreneurs can better know their customers without being invasive and how that market intelligence can be used to boost sales.
ID: What’s the best way for entrepreneurs to know their target demo or audience?

MK: Part of that is going to be derived from the thought processes you put forth when you first started your business. Hopefully, the company will have created a business plan or a branding strategy that they will keep updated at times. One of the things I’ve found with companies is that they think about who their target audience is before they open and then not again. It may be prudent for companies to revisit who their customers are at least once a year. Part of that is going to be driven by who is actually buying the types of products being sold in your store. I strongly recommend that businesses focus on or identify the top 5 percent of their customers. That’s going to give you a much more meaningful indicator of who your target customer should be. You will have lots of people who are “lookers” but not “bookers.”

PQ_QAmarkkotzer.jpgID: Can small business owners know too much about their customers? What are the pros and cons of having that much information?

MK: The pros are that if you treat the information well, your customers are going to view you as not just a retailer but as a real resource. They’re going to look at you as someone whom they can count on for good advice or to help them solve a problem. Through the loyalty or trust they develop in you over time, they’ll become less price-sensitive and more brand-loyal. And that’s ultimately what the retailer wants. If you’re able to demonstrate through the information you provide on your website and through the quality of service and attention that you provide in-store, customers are going to reward you with their business and be a much greater referral vehicle as well. It’s that stickiness factor that you want.

ID: And the cons?

MK: If you become too aggressive with the information. It’s a relationship that needs to build over time. With all the information at your fingertips nowadays—particularly if you’re online—retailers can go overboard if they’re too overt or too direct. Saying things like, “We understand what you like or what you’ve purchased in the past” can feel too forward. It needs to be clear to the customer why you’re sharing that information. Also, if you’re asking them to share lots of information during a website registration or before they make a purchase, they’ll more likely enter incorrect information or discontinue that effort.

The other part of that is once they share [personal data] you’ve got to be judicious in how you use that. Look at it more in the aggregate and understand how that information can be better utilized to support the customers’ needs over time as opposed to being too direct. It’s a subtlety of the tone aspect that needs to be conveyed.

ID: So much current online advertising rests on behavioral targeting. What are your thoughts about this practice?

MK: For the small business owner it’s somewhat less of an issue. When you think of behavioral targeting, you think of the ads found on websites. I find it creates a lot of clutter and is a distraction. From the standpoint of a retailer, having ads on a website is a real negative. When people visit your website, that is a reflection of your brand. If you’re trying to be a trusted resource and you have ads that are popping up that are not related to your company—but are related to the specific visitor—then the customer will wonder what else you know about him or her and why do you know it? Retailers have to consider the overall impression their site will create and if there is any value to having ads there. Quite frankly, if the ads are not done well, they can even be competitive to the site itself. It can spur customers to leave your site because something popped up that interested them.

ID: What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs who want to know their audience without infringing on their privacy?

MK: Start out small and don’t be overly ambitious. Some entrepreneurs will insist that they have to be on Foursquare or other social media sites. And then they end up not doing anything particularly well. Whether it’s a frequent customer program—a punch card of some type if you’re a brick-and-mortar store or a loyalty program on your website—really focus on how you can best serve those people who clearly have demonstrated a repeated interest in your product. Build on that loyalty by providing incentives for them to purchase more. And over a period of time, give them opportunities to request more information from your business and share more information about themselves.

8 Ways to Market a Small Business on a Shoestring Budget

Steve Strauss 8 ways to Market a Small Business on a Shoestring 8 Ways to Market  a Small Business on a Shoestring Budget for a small business. The dirty little secret about entrepreneurship is that most people who start a business had no idea what they were doing when they began – myself included. Oh sure, they may have read some books and articles, gone to seminars, or maybe have even written a business plan. But actually knowing what to expect, what slings and arrows would come their way – no.

The good news about that, as one intrepid entrepreneur once told me, is that you don’t know what you don’t know. That is – you don’t know enough to be scared or timid. The bad news is that there inevitably will be a steep learning curve as mistakes are made.

One mistake I see often has to do with marketing. People usually start a business because they find something they love and want to do that every day, for example a gardener buying a nursery. But because someone knows how to grow orchids does not mean that they know how to grow a business.

Indeed, most small businesses discover one or two marketing ideas, use them, then beat them to death, and wonder why they are not getting any new customers. The reason it doesn’t work is simple: By doing the same old thing again and again, the same people see your business. If you mix it up and try something new, different people will discover you are out there and your business will grow. Here are some inexpensive and easy ways to implement marketing ideas that you can use. Let me suggest that you test several (maybe four or five) and then roll out two or three of the most promising:

1. Email marketing for Your Small Business: The idea is not to send out spam, but rather, individualized email offers to targeted individuals. Email marketing is the 21st century equivalent of direct mail. Create a list via a search or other means, create a snappy email offer and send it out. Maybe you will send it to members of your local chamber of commerce, or all the lawyers in town. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that you can get in front of new potential customers at almost no cost.

2. Create an e-newsletter for Your Small Business: If you don’t have an e-newsletter, then it’s time to hop on the bandwagon. E-newsletters are popular for a reason – they work. By offering interesting content (and a few specials) you can get people to agree to let you regularly contact them. Best of all, it costs nothing but your time.

3. E-newsletter advertising for Your Small Business: What about this cool, affordable trick – find some e-newsletters that you like, and think would appeal to your type of customer, and advertise in them. It won’t cost much because the circulation numbers, especially in comparison to traditional advertising, will be small, but it will be highly targeted to your target market. Even better, as with any e-newsletter, the recipients want to receive the periodical.

4. Pay-per-click for Your Small Business: As with e-newsletter advertising, the beauty of PPC ads is that you only pay for qualified leads – people who like your ad enough to click on it. Use PPC on Google, Facebook, Yahoo, MSN, etc.

5. Search Engine Optimization for Your Small Business for Your Small Business: Why even pay for a click when you can get one for free? SEO is the way. Yes, SEO takes a bit of time to learn, but it pays enormous dividends.

6. Overnight radio for Your Small Business: Drive-time radio spots on a big station can cost upwards of $500 a minute. However, if you advertise on that same station overnight, while the numbers are of course much smaller, the costs are likely to be significantly less, potentially as low as $10 a spot.

7. Co-op advertising for Your Small Business: My dad used to have a giant billboard on the San Diego freeway in Los Angeles that said “Carpet World . . . Elegance Underfoot.” In the corner it also said “featuring Ban-Lon Carpets.” Ban-Lon paid for about 80 percent of that advertisement. This is a perfect example of co-op advertising. If you have a wholesaler or distributor with whom you work, see if they offer co-op funds. Mention their product in your advertisement (online, in print, or over the air) and they will pick up a good portion of the costs.

8. Social media for Your Small Business: Engaging in social media, if done right, can create new relationships and extend your brand and again, requires little of your time.

Okay, you get the idea. By expanding your options and marketing more with inexpensive, shoestring options, you can grow your business in any economy. If you want to learn even more about different ways to market your small business, you can watch this video.

This is a another blog produced by Apple Capital Group. If you like this blog, we ask that you share it or google+. Thank you and if you are looking for a small business loan, please consider Apple Capital Group.

Staying On Message: How to Ensure Your Marketing Channels Speak as One

by SherroSmall Business Small Business Social Median Lumley.

Social media marketing – Who, exactly, are you? Amidst a veritable sea of sales pitches that consumers must navigate daily, that’s the essential question they are trying to answer when it comes to your small business social marketing. But if your company’s message is muddied or constantly shifting, connecting with potential customers in a way that reinforces trust and credibility becomes difficult, if not impossible.

“The world has changed,” says Sander Flaum, former chairman of Euro RSCG, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. “The whole concept has to be a unified one, because you look like an idiot otherwise. The marketing message has to be consistent. You can’t have one message for one channel and a different message for another channel.”

Staying on message means articulating a single passion or vision across all of the different platforms that your small business uses to advertise or promote itself—everything from Facebook to the phone book, from the graphics on your homepage to the signage on your front door. Keeping the content and appearance of your message consistent builds awareness, reinforces credibility, and fosters customer loyalty, while enabling you to reach multiple target audiences through the medium and style that they each prefer.

Many digital channels, one human voice.

 Photographer and small business owner David Lutz, of Portland, Oregon, recently started promoting his events on Facebook. As one of the top commercial photographers in the Northwest, he understands the value of local marketing, but he also wants to position his business at the cutting edge and push it into larger markets. “Large companies have the resources,” he says, “but how does a smaller business do it?”

According to a recent social media survey from Social Strategy1 and Office Arrow, nearly nine out of 10 small business owners recognize social media does or will impact their ventures, yet half still say there’s too much social media to manage. Additionally, 44 percent of small business owners are concerned that social media can feed an “information overload,” and negatively impact a business’s image. While these fears aren’t completely unfounded, social media remains a powerful way to bundle and multiply the effectiveness of a small business’s integrated marketing strategy.

To marshal his social media marketing forces and keep his message consistent, Lutz’s company website, blog, and Facebook pages are all linked. He also has the ability to simultaneously post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, making communicating that single message via all of these channels as simple as posting to one.

And as social media marketing giants like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have struck deals and formed partnerships, communication between the different applications and platforms has gotten even easier for users.  (For a quick and easy how-to, check out Mashable’s articles on syncing social media, such as this one: “Twitter to Facebook, Five Ways to Post to Both.”)

Whereas Lutz’s previous methods of reaching customers mostly included art shows, galleries, and direct mailing, he says his new social media marketing focus is mostly digital, with an emphasis on his website, online store, and PDF versions of his catalog. “My goal with all of the social media marketing  media is to drive people to my website home page, from where I get business,” he says. And while his Facebook page lets him showcase frequent photo updates, his business’s website is more content-rich, with consistent images.

Match your message to your social media market

“Your social media marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers, and to drive action such as generating sales leads,” says market strategist David Scott. Here’s the rule: “When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.”

Ernie Valdez, of Ernie’s Paint and Body Shop, in San Marcos, Texas, says with a wide range of customers from ages 16 to 80, his company’s slogan, “Just take it to Ernie’s,” works well because it solves a problem. Rather than selling any particular product or service, Valdez likes the idea of giving the customer a simple, reassuring answer to an age-old question: “How will I get my car fixed?”

For years Ernie’s advertising has included occasional TV commercials, billboards at the nearby college stadium, and local little league sponsorships. Now, with an increasingly saturated market, Ernie’s is expanding its marketing channels by adding an online component, highlighting its 25-year history and expertise on the company website, while also positioning the company as a trusted cornerstone of the community.

This tactic of sharing with the world your business’s expertise and developing messages that your buyers want to hear is a wise move, says Scott. Small businesses gain credibility and loyalty with buyers through content, he adds, so smart marketers will deliver messages targeted directly at their audience.  When the message and image are consistent, such as with Ernie’s, the reward is a loyal customer base.

In marketing, it pays to sweat the small stuff

Consistent marketing and social media marketing also involves choosing psychographic symbols that trigger a repetitive recognition in the customer. These brand standards can encompass something as small as an email signature or as broad as a musical melody (think Intel’s distinctive “bum-bum, bum-BUM”). The four most important elements are: logo placement and sizing, consistent graphic symbols and shapes, specific font styles, and, finally, color, which is perhaps most important because of its link to memory retrieval and emotions (think red for Coca-Cola and brown for UPS.) A good starting point for finding a cohesive color palette is Color Scheme Designer, a free online tool used by graphic design professionals.

Once the brand standards and social marketing message are set, some companies stand by them forever, but they don’t have to be etched in stone. “When a company begins to lose market share, this is when it’s time to change the message,” says Flaum. As a cautionary tale of strategy and marketing gone awry, Flaum cites one of the world’s top brands: Ford. After losing market share and dropping from the 30th to 41st most valuable brand in 2007, he notes that Ford acted quickly to refocus its operations and simplify its image—killing off its under-performing mid-range brand Mercury and selling off its expensive, luxury marques Range Rover and Jaguar.

Nowadays, a small business may reach its customers through a retail store, a website, social marketing media, direct mail, email, or even text message and online chat, making it possible to tap multiple market segments and socio-economic groups of consumers. However, to build the trust and loyalty essential to strong customer relationships and long-term success, all of those various marketing channels must speak with a unified voice, so the customer can answer that key question “Who are you?”

Seven Questions to Ask Before Rebranding Your Small Business

Although there may be various reasons to rebrand your small business, it’s important to ensure there is a definite need before committing the time, money and resources to the project. Below are some questions to consider before ultimately deciding if you should move forward with rebranding:

Is your current company name too limited to encompass new product lines?
Is your target audience a completely new market, i.e. upscale versus cost-conscious?
Have you merged with a business that has a more established brand identity than your own?
Is your old brand not considered trustworthy for some reason?
Is your company name easily confused with others in your industry or community?
Is your company name easily misspelled or does it have a negative connotation?
Is it difficult to get the domain name associated with your brand, no matter how much you’re willing to pay?

Once you’ve determined that you have strategic reasoning behind rebranding, it’s important to recognize that not all rebranding efforts are equal. The undertaking can range from a simple logo change to a full revamp of the company, its image and even its internal operations.

At the simplest end, you may just want to make a slight shift. For example, you can update a tired logo without losing all its design elements, or tweak your corporate name to make it more current or reflect an expanded market. At the most extreme end, you may need to overhaul your entire corporate look at once. This includes your logo, website, marketing materials, storefront signage and even the interior and exterior architectural elements of your business place.

Regardless, if you are planning to rebrand based on a merger or a major change in the markets you target, be sure that your internal processes and procedures also change to reflect your new image. Put in the effort to inform your senior management and staff about the new brand so that all communications from the company reflect your updated image.

Regardless of the extent of your small business rebranding effort, there are some general principals you should bear in mind:

Don’t be afraid to expand your customer base in the long term, even if that means losing some customers in the short term. Don’t become too closely attached with the original idea you created (i.e. a logo or a name)..This may cause you to not take valuable input from others.
When you develop a new name or logo – with or without the help of a branding consultant’s expertise – don’t solely rely on inspiration. Go through an analysis that encompasses questions such as the following: What does your company stand for? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What problems do you help customers solve? How do you stand out from your competitors?
Once you’ve settled on a new brand, be prepared to communicate publicly your new brand identity. Your loyal customers should be informed that your company’s identity has changed. You need to tell the story of your company’s evolution and the reasons behind it. Already loyal customers can help you do that.Pull Quote.pngFinally, examine your reasons for rebranding prior to making the investment. Don’t make changes simply because you’re bored, or fearful that your small business is becoming outdated. The most important questions to consider are the following: Is there something different about my company that requires a different image? A new product line? A new audience? A new corporate structure? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then it might be time to consider a new image. Have you ever rebranded your small business

5 Ways to Rise Above the Noise of Holiday Promotions

Last year during the holiday season, my daughter decided that she wanted to get my wife a nice tea set because my wife had recently gotten into drinking all sorts of exotic teas. I thought that was a super idea. One Saturday during the height of the shopping season, we bundled up, gave my wife some lame excuse about where we needed to go, and headed to the mall where I knew there was a store that sold nothing but tea and related accessories.

I had been in the store once before and found it to be a calm, serene place. But boy, were we unprepared for what we encountered once we arrived. That holiday season the store had apparently caught Selling Fever. Everything was On Sale! (Except it really wasn’t). The staff was Super Excited! And while enthusiasm is great, fake enthusiasm is not, and hard selling enthusiasm is the worst. The woman who was “helping” us was 100% certain that the simple tea set my daughter had picked out “just would not do. I am sure that your mom would love some of this blended tea from India. And these stainless steel tea strainers would cap the present off very nicely,” she said.

A $40 present should really become a $110 present, according to the saleslady. When we demurred, she practically insisted. We left.

It’s not hard to understand how the tea store got it so wrong. The holiday selling season is a time when 1) many businesses make the bulk of their income for the year and 2) competition is the highest. But mistaking the need to sell with a hard sell is not the answer.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

Instead, here are 5 ways to stand out during the holidays:

1. Become a destination: Instead of the hard sell, try the soft sell. Create a cozy corner where harried shoppers can have a rest. No pressure, no selling, just a rest stop. Offer everyone who comes into your shop some hot chocolate or a piece of candy. Or, have Santa arrive every Saturday afternoon for the month of December. That sort of thoughtfulness is what makes people want to patronize your business.

2. Have a special event for your best customers: In your e-newsletter, via your social media, or your channel of choice, announce a “Best Customers Only Event.” For these customers, open your store during the off hours, put a few great items on sale, serve cookies and punch and watch the register light up.

3. Donate to their favorite charity: Tell your customers that for every, say, $100 they spend in your store, you will donate $5 to the charity of their choice. You could have a form they fill out indicating the charity. Most people love that sort of generosity of spirit, and the chance to give to the organization of their choice (by shopping no less) and may help them turn to you for business instead of a competitor.

4. Give them a free coupon book: Remember when you were a kid and you would give your mom or dad a book full of coupons that said things like

“Redeem for one car wash”
“Good for one house cleaning”
“One free mowing of the lawn”

Well, why not do something similar for your customers, only specific to your business? This allows you to give your customers a present that would benefit you both.

5. Sell Gift Certificates: Because people love getting a bargain. What about selling $25 gift certificates that customers can use or give away – for only $20?

With a little ingenuity, your holiday season can be a successful one (and you won’t even have to hawk imported, expensive teas from India to make it that way.) How do you raise above all the other types of holiday promotions? Share your tips below with the SBOC community.

About Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here

Hard to grow your client base as a single-person operation?

When you are one person trying to run your accounting, finance, administrative, marketing, operations, and customer service departments during a 24 hour period each day, you start to wonder “How the heck am I going to grow this thing?” You do not have the time for networking events or posting flyers and you do not have the budget for any sort of advertising campaign (both online or in the physical world!)

So what do you do? I say focus on how you deliver your product or service!

Think about it! If you are a service-based company, then you are being hired because of your expertise in a given area (or because you are cheaper than your competitors.) The only thing your client expects is for you to deliver what they are paying for. You, however, actually have much more knowledge about what your service is provided for and why it is needed than your client may know and/or think they need to know. Educate your clients about your industry, products, and services and why they are needed. Share your knowledge with your clients that can help them make better informed decisions in the future and possibly prevent any problem situations that may arise down the road. Giving your knowledge to you clients is free to you, but invaluable for them!

The rest is up to you! You should be managing the entire client experience with your company in a way that promotes honesty and integrity! Become a vendor they can trust and count on! Show them you want them to become as successful as they can be by exceeding their expectations! Not just in terms of the service you are providing, but the way you provide it and the knowledge you share with them! They will love you for it and sing your praises, and not just to you! When they come in contact with others that need your services, they will remember you!

Now your business growth is fueled by FREE marketing in the form of word-of-mouth advertising and client referrals!

Marketing on a Shoestring: How To Achieve a Big Impact With a Small Budget

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Marketing on a Shoestring: How To Achieve a Big Impact With a Small Budget
Posted by SBOC Team on Aug 18, 2011 9:47:17 AM

White-in-article-portrait.jpgby Reed Richardson.

It’s an age-old predicament for entrepreneurs: Sure, you may have built a fabulous new product or developed the next killer app, but if you don’t also do a good job of marketing it to customers, your business can still end up failing. So, how can small, local businesses, a majority of which spend less than $2,500 a year on marketing according to a recent Merchant Circle survey, overcome this problem? The first step, say many marketing experts, begins with a change of mindset.

Put Marketing First in Your Mind

“For most small business owners, marketing is viewed at best as a nice add-on or at worst as some kind of foreign science whose secrets are locked away in an ivory tower somewhere, writes John Jantsch in his popular book Duct Tape Marketing. “Small business marketers need a totally different definition of marketing—one that’s honest, relevant, and more like real life.”

To get a sense of how this new definition plays out, Jantsch has developed a handy graphic about the purchasing process, something he calls the Marketing Hourglass. In a recent blog post about his Marketing Hourglass’s seven steps, Jantsch notes that “the most fundamental shift of all in marketing is the need to logically and systematically move prospects along the path of know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer—this is the entire game these days.” He adds that “any business that fills each of these seven touchpoints will be well on its way to finding and keeping customers.”

Pull-Quote.jpgProfile Your Target Customer

One common mistake among inexperienced marketers involves rushing ahead without a clear idea of which customers your small business is trying to reach in the first place. “Often, my small business students try to begin with tactical decisions, like whether they should put an ad in a newspaper,” explains Glynns Thomas, a small business marketing instructor who teaches an online course entitled “Small Business Marketing on a Shoestring.” “Instead, I try to pull them back a bit and get them to define their target market. By thinking about their strategic foundation first, that will then feed what kind of tactics to use later.”

Skipping this crucial step, Thomas adds, means a small business is likely to end up with a scattershot marketing plan—a Yellow Pages ad here, an email campaign there—that doesn’t tie together and nets little in the way of return on investment. “Small businesses really have to paint the picture of who their ideal customer is, where they can be found, and how they behave, and get really specific about it,” she explains. “If you try to market too broadly to, say, 1,000 people, you may only get 10 sales, whereas if you focus on 100 really well-matched potential customers, you may actually net 50 sales. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but by going smaller, you can actually get more in the long run.”

One low-cost tactic that Thomas favors involves marketing partnerships. As an example, she cites the experience of one of her students, the owner of a Greek restaurant located in a shopping mall’s food court. To expand beyond the primary customer base of mall foot traffic, Thomas suggested that the restaurant—whose menu focuses heavily on freshly prepared ingredients—partner with a nearby gym that has a similar, health-conscious clientele. In return for offering an initial discount to the gym’s members, the restaurant gained the ability to run a free ad in the gym’s monthly member newsletter, giving it hundreds of exposures to a like-minded audience. “It’s all about finding other businesses that are complementary to your mission without being competitive.”

Match Message to Market and Don’t Forget to “Sell the Hole”

Once you’ve identified your business’s key customer constituencies, then it’s time to craft a marketing message that fits your market and also speaks to its needs. This doesn’t have to be a complicated or expensive process, says small business marketing consultant Bob Wiltse, but if you don’t address both the former and the latter in your pitch, you’ll likely get little bang for your buck.

“A big mistake I see from a lot of small businesses is that they need to stop selling their product and start selling what their product can do for their customers,” explains Wiltse, who also writes a small business marketing blog called 390 Main Street. “For example, if your business is manufacturing power drills, don’t sell customers on the drill, sell them on the hole it makes. After all, that’s what the customers really want to use the drill for anyway. Likewise, if your company website just offers me a list of products without telling me why they’re better than your competitors, you’ve just commoditized yourself and left me little choice but to compare your products to others based on the only other piece of data I have, which is price.”

To boost your marketing profile and draw in more potential customers to your company website, you should consider a number of best practices, like adding embedded videos—for things like product demonstrations—and search engine optimizing (SEO) your website’s text content. If done right, these steps can be a very effective way of drawing people in through online search sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing and then keeping them there once they arrive. What’s more, these steps are not so complicated that, given some time and dedication, a small business owner can’t handle it by him or herself. (For a more detailed look at SEO, check out our article on the topic.) Even better, free tools like Google Analytics can track this search traffic and see who is visiting your website, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking at once they get there. This data can then be used to refine your target market even more and further hone your sales message.

New marketing tools like these are increasingly popular, but not universally known, Wiltse says, and so he says he often sees frustrated small business customers come into his office saying the same thing: “Everything I used to do isn’t working anymore.” For example, he points out that buying a costly, static ad in a Yellow Pages directory may have a diminishing return in an increasingly digital world and that many small companies would be better off establishing an online presence on local business search sites like Yelp, Yahoo Local, and Google Places. (In a perhaps telling move, the Yellow Pages Association recently changed its name to the Local Search Association.)

These local search sites typically charge nothing for their basic listing service. What’s more, they offer a much more dynamic and interactive platform, allowing businesses to provide more detail about their products and services while letting customers share reviews about their purchasing experience. And as smartphones and mobile tablets become increasingly popular conduits for finding businesses, having a robust local search presence online will become even more important. (For a good first step in checking your business’s current local search status, Wiltse recommends using the listing consolidator getlisted.org.)

Use Social Media to Keep ’Em Coming Back (and Bring Their Friends)

Once you’ve sold a customer, enticing them to repeat their business and refer your business to others becomes the final step in the marketing process. And when it comes to maintaining and strengthening your existing customer relationships, social media has proven to be a revolutionary platform. “Social media makes it so much easier to stay in contact with customers and keep your business top of mind,” Thomas notes, adding that its interconnected nature and “share” features makes asking for customer referrals much easier (and less uncomfortable). But, she cautions, building out your business’s social media presence should still be done with due diligence.

“I always recommend to small business owners that they start off small, with one or maybe two social media platforms, like starting a Facebook fan page and maybe a Twitter account for their business. And even before you formally set them up, I suggest they use the sites for a few months to get a sense of how they work and what people’s expectations are,” Thomas explains. During this trial period, she suggests that entrepreneurs create a list of several dozen sample Facebook posts or tweets that would be both appropriate and interesting. These will be the templates for future posts once their business social media is up and running.

“Often, I get small business owners who’ve already started with social media coming to me saying ‘I have no idea what to post,’” Thomas says. “That can lead to trouble because the whole idea of small businesses using social media is to engage with your customers, not just to tell them, ‘Buy my stuff!’” This kind of hard selling can be a turnoff, no matter what the media platform or message and it runs counter to the whole point of effective, shoestring marketing, Thomas notes. “When your target market and message are defined well, they meet the right person at the right time, and when that happens, marketing is no longer intrusive or annoying, it’s helpful, and that’s exactly what you want.”

Marketing on a Shoestring: How To Achieve a Big Impact With a Small Budget

small business woman in a storeby Reed Richardson.

It’s an age-old predicament for small business entrepreneurs: Sure, you may have built a fabulous new product or developed the next killer app, but if you don’t also do a good job of marketing it to customers, your small  business can still end up failing. So, how can small, local businesses, a majority of which spend less than $2,500 a year on marketing according to a recent Merchant Circle survey, overcome this problem? The first step, say many marketing experts, begins with a change of mindset.

Put Marketing First in Your Mind as a Small Business

“For most small business owners, marketing is viewed at best as a nice add-on or at worst as some kind of foreign science whose secrets are locked away in an ivory tower somewhere, writes John Jantsch in his popular book Duct Tape Marketing. “Small business marketers need a totally different definition of marketing—one that’s honest, relevant, and more like real life.”

To get a sense of how this new definition plays out, Jantsch has developed a handy graphic about the purchasing process, something he calls the Marketing Hourglass. In a recent blog post about his Marketing Hourglass’s seven steps, Jantsch notes that “the most fundamental shift of all in marketing is the need to logically and systematically move prospects along the path of know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer—this is the entire game these days.” He adds that “any business that fills each of these seven touchpoints will be well on its way to finding and keeping customers.”

Pull-Quote.jpgProfile Your Target Customer
One common mistake among inexperienced marketers involves rushing ahead without a clear idea of which customers your small business is trying to reach in the first place. “Often, my small business students try to begin with tactical decisions, like whether they should put an ad in a newspaper,” explains Glynns Thomas, a small business marketing instructor who teaches an online course entitled “Small Business Marketing on a Shoestring.” “Instead, I try to pull them back a bit and get them to define their target market. By thinking about their strategic foundation first, that will then feed what kind of tactics to use later.”

Skipping this crucial step, Thomas adds, means a small business is likely to end up with a scatter-shot small business marketing plan—a Yellow Pages ad here, an email campaign there—that doesn’t tie together and nets little in the way of return on investment. “Small businesses really have to paint the picture of who their ideal customer is, where they can be found, and how they behave, and get really specific about it,” she explains. “If you try to market too broadly to, say, 1,000 people, you may only get 10 sales, whereas if you focus on 100 really well-matched potential customers, you may actually net 50 sales. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but by going smaller, you can actually get more in the long run.”

One low-cost tactic that Thomas favors involves marketing partnerships. As an example, she cites the experience of one of her students, the owner of a Greek restaurant located in a shopping mall’s food court. To expand beyond the primary customer base of mall foot traffic, Thomas suggested that the restaurant—whose menu focuses heavily on freshly prepared ingredients—partner with a nearby gym that has a similar, health-conscious clientele. In return for offering an initial discount to the gym’s members, the restaurant gained the ability to run a free ad in the gym’s monthly member newsletter, giving it hundreds of exposures to a like-minded audience. “It’s all about finding other businesses that are complementary to your mission without being competitive.”
Match Message to Market and Don’t Forget to “Sell the Hole”

Once you’ve identified your small business’s key customer constituencies, then it’s time to craft a small business marketing message that fits your market and also speaks to its needs. This doesn’t have to be a complicated or expensive process, says small business marketing consultant Bob Wiltse, but if you don’t address both the former and the latter in your pitch, you’ll likely get little bang for your buck.

“A big mistake I see from a lot of small businesses is that they need to stop selling their product and start selling what their product can do for their customers,” explains Wiltse, who also writes a small business marketing blog called 390 Main Street. “For example, if your business is manufacturing power drills, don’t sell customers on the drill, sell them on the hole it makes. After all, that’s what the customers really want to use the drill for anyway. Likewise, if your company website just offers me a list of products without telling me why they’re better than your competitors, you’ve just commoditized yourself and left me little choice but to compare your products to others based on the only other piece of data I have, which is price.”
To boost your marketing profile and draw in more potential customers to your company website, you should consider a number of best practices, like adding embedded videos—for things like product demonstrations—and search engine optimizing (SEO) your website’s text content. If done right, these steps can be a very effective way of drawing people in through online search sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing and then keeping them there once they arrive. What’s more, these steps are not so complicated that, given some time and dedication, a small business owner can’t handle it by him or herself. (For a more detailed look at SEO, check out our article on the topic.) Even better, free tools like Google Analytics can track this search traffic and see who is visiting your website, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking at once they get there. This data can then be used to refine your target market even more and further hone your sales message.
New marketing tools like these are increasingly popular, but not universally known, Wiltse says, and so he says he often sees frustrated small business customers come into his office saying the same thing: “Everything I used to do isn’t working anymore.” For example, he points out that buying a costly, static ad in a Yellow Pages directory may have a diminishing return in an increasingly digital world and that many small companies would be better off establishing an online presence on local business search sites like Yelp, Yahoo Local, and Google Places. (In a perhaps telling move, the Yellow Pages Association recently changed its name to the Local Search Association.)
These local search sites typically charge nothing for their basic listing service. What’s more, they offer a much more dynamic and interactive platform, allowing small businesses to provide more detail about their products and services while letting customers share reviews about their purchasing experience. And as smartphones and mobile tablets become increasingly popular conduits for finding businesses, having a robust local search presence online will become even more important. (For a good first step in checking your business’s current local search status, Wiltse recommends using the listing consolidator getlisted.org.)
Use Social Media to Keep ’Em Coming Back (and Bring Their Friends)

Once you’ve sold a customer, enticing them to repeat their business and refer your business to others becomes the final step in the marketing process. And when it comes to maintaining and strengthening your existing customer relationships, social media has proven to be a revolutionary platform. “Social media makes it so much easier to stay in contact with customers and keep your business top of mind,” Thomas notes, adding that its interconnected nature and “share” features makes asking for customer referrals much easier (and less uncomfortable). But, she cautions, building out your business’s social media presence should still be done with due diligence.

“I always recommend to small business owners that they start off small, with one or maybe two social media platforms, like starting a Facebook fan page and maybe a Twitter account for their business. And even before you formally set them up, I suggest they use the sites for a few months to get a sense of how they work and what people’s expectations are,” Thomas explains. During this trial period, she suggests that entrepreneurs create a list of several dozen sample Facebook posts or tweets that would be both appropriate and interesting. These will be the templates for future posts once their business social media is up and running.

“Often, I get small business owners who’ve already started with social media coming to me saying ‘I have no idea what to post,’” Thomas says. “That can lead to trouble because the whole idea of small businesses using social media is to engage with your customers, not just to tell them, ‘Buy my stuff!’” This kind of hard selling can be a turnoff, no matter what the media platform or message and it runs counter to the whole point of effective, shoestring marketing, Thomas notes. “When your target market and message are defined well, they meet the right person at the right time, and when that happens, marketing is no longer intrusive or annoying, it’s helpful, and that’s exactly what you want.”