Tips For Small Business – The Dos and Don’ts

In today’s tough economy with layoffs and slow economic growth, many people are looking to start their own small businesses. Over 600,000 new businesses were started last year. An alarming number of these businesses fail within the first year. The main reason: lack of money. Another significant reason: poor advertising and marketing. There are those lucky few companies that develop a great product or idea and can manage great success without a lot of advertising. But for the rest of them, they have to do significant marketing. In my experience I’ve seen some good ideas go to waste due to poor advertising and marketing efforts. Small businesses don’t need to suffer as much as popular belief would tell you. You could actually be successful in a short amount of time if you follow some steps and learn from other’s mistakes.

Here are some common mistakes that I have seen:

Inconsistent branding. I have seen new companies suffer from major identity crisis by not having a consistent brand. No logo and different names everywhere. You don’t have to be Starbucks to have a solid brand. In this one case, their web page, Facebook page, and Twitter account all had different company names and no logo. It was very difficult to establish what the actual name of the company was. In fact, the owner’s business card had a @yahoo email address. Nothing says “I’m a small unestablished business” like a freemail address on your card. His DBA even had a different name on it. It would be the same as introducing yourself to every person you meet with a different name. Establish the brand and be consistent with it, everywhere. Get help from a professional graphic designer to help you design and build a logo and identity. Just because you own a copy of Microsoft Publisher does not mean you’re a graphic designer. Let a professional do it. They know what a good logo and identity can do.

Another one, no marketing at all. Just simply relying on the premise of “build it and they will come” doesn’t work. Word-of-mouth advertising can only work so well. Not to be confused with Social Networking word-of-mouth, which we’ll talk about in a minute. I have seen a company with no web site and virtually no web presence at all and relied primarily on referrals. They couldn’t understand why their growth was so stagnant. Today’s small businesses have to market in the space where their customers reside, which for most businesses is on the internet. The Yellow Pages are all but dead. People these days go to the internet first to look for business and product information. That’s why the large companies are there! Sites such as Yelp are a great place to find information about local businesses. Even despite their recent legal issues, there is still some great information on their site. You have to get your word out to the masses. Build your presence. Build it where your customers reside. Get a good web site. Work on your search engine optimization so you come up high in search results. As mentioned above, get a good graphic designer involved.

Some best approaches:

Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you have to act and think small. Developing a consistent brand, as discussed above, is not just for big companies. Your brand is your identity. It’s who you are. Make a strong statement. Be aggressive with your marketing. Get involved in social networking. It’s not just for big companies. Many small companies have shown great success with Facebook and Twitter strategies. A Los Angeles-based bakery called Kiss My Bundt is a great success story using social media to build their business. Over 75% of internet users are involved in some form of social media. Once again, your audience is there. According to a recent study conducted by ROI Research, over 33% of Twitter users talk about a brand at least once a week. 32% give recommendations and 30% seek advice or recommendations. With over 100 million users on Twitter, that’s a lot of brand talk. That’s real word-of-mouth advertising and that’s just on Twitter. Facebook is now the #1 visited website on the internet. With close to half a billion users, imagine how much talk about brands there is on Facebook. Build a Facebook fan page (or Like page as some like to call them) and engage yourself with your audience. Make sure your customers are talking about you, but obviously saying good things. One of the great things about social media is it allows you to listen in to your customers comments and engage with them and respond to the negative comments as they happen.

Spread your message as far as you can. Take advantage of free press releases and free blog posting sites. Use HARO (Help a Reporter Out). You never know what kind of exposure you can get from one of the reporters.

Some of the worst approaches

See Inconsistent branding example mentioned above. When the owner of this business was calling on new prospects, many of which were old contacts he had, he wasn’t even using the company name. He was introducing the company with his name because even he had no idea what his brand was and thought his name had more weight than his company.

Other suggestions to build your business

Network as much as possible. Attend local networking events. Check for events in your area. Tell everyone you know that you’ve started a business and ask for referrals. Maybe even offer a referral fee or reward program for referrals. Customer loyalty programs are great way to encourage repeat business. Social network site Foursquare is making this easy. Expose your business as much as possible. Be thorough. Get everything in place before you launch, for example your website, your business plan, and your marketing strategy. Be prepared to hit the ground running and think big! Think and act like a bigger company would. That includes heavy exposure and marketing. A company with the best product in the world will fail if no one knows it’s there. Write blogs that demonstrate you’re an expert in your industry. Write press releases to tell the world you’re there. You never know where it might get picked up. Then, follow through on what you promise. Deliver what is expected and more. Under promise and over deliver. Run you business with honesty and integrity. This one I can’t stress enough. Especially in the beginning, dishonest practices will absolutely kill your business. Negative words will spread faster than positive words and your business will be dead before it can get started. Cheaters never prosper!

So Mr. and Mrs. Small Business Owner, don’t be afraid to make that dream of being a business owner a reality. But please do it right! Don’t be a negative statistic. Market yourself correctly! Build a solid and consistent brand. Get involved in social media. Encourage your customers to tell others about how great you are. Spread your word. If you don’t know how to do it, seek out workshops, seminars, or even consultants. Use whatever resources you can to help you succeed.

Steps to Starting a Small Business – Market Research

Getting enough information on your target market of potential customers is vital to starting a business that will produce income. Making guesses on what the customer really wants will not bring you very far, so it’s important to do some digging and get the answers directly from them through market research which is an important steps to starting a small business.

Some of the following questions to ask in order to device effective strategies:

  • Who is going to buy your product or service?
  • What kind of people are they? (buyer, influencer or end user)
  • How big is the market? (Competitor’s annual sales would give you an estimate)
  • How will market trends going to affect your business?
  • Does your business has any unique selling point?
  • Is the need for your product or service currently not being met?
  • Is the market already saturated?

Why do it?

You will not be able to sell something or services that has no demand. Knowing what the market is looking for and so that you can present it in a new twist, drives the need for a market research. The advantage of small businesses is that they are close to their customer and can easily get information on their purchasing habits.

How to do it?

Most of the big companies spend huge amounts of money on elaborate surveys from renowned researchers to determine if their products or services will appeal to customers at a price they are willing to pay. But for small business owners on a tight budget, there are other means to collect the key data needed without having to spend a fortune.

3 ways to collect information:

  • Get business school students to collect data at the mall.
  • Look for financial data and statistics in local library.
  • Join trade association not only to access market research they have conducted but do the networking there as well.

Do I need any ongoing market research while running the business?

Yes, this is how you gather information to evolve and adapt to the changes in market trends.

3 types of methods:

  • Keep a close watch on what your competitor is doing.
  • Install point-of-sales software to track sales or services trend.
  • Put up customer suggestion box where they can write suggestions.

Every business needs to conduct market research, it is a crucial steps to starting a small business, and tight budgets are no excuse for omitting a research plan. By starting out with some easily accessible resources, you can begin to develop better marketing strategies that can position you for market growth.

Effective Search Engine Optimization Strategies For the Small Business Owner

Consider This:

  • Internet Advertising Reaches $5.5 Billion in First Quarter
  • There are now 1.5 BILLION people online (210 million on Facebook alone)
  • Your customers have changed the way the shop and buy. Have you changed your strategy?

For small business owners the Internet has proved to be extremely beneficial. Unlike traditional forms of broadcast marketing the Internet provides several advantages that help small businesses reach more potential customers. Often referred to as “non-interruptive,” or “inbound” marketing, internet marketing does not require interrupting your potential customers to get you message across. Quite the opposite actually, search engine marketing is reaching out to those already looking for you!

While traditional advertising requires organizations to spend thousands of dollars on branding and promotional activities, online advertising and effective search engine optimization (SEO) yield better results and can be achieved with a much smaller investment. Moreover, results achieved online offer more lasting benefits than conventional promotions and your return is measurable.

More than 83% of people searching for goods and services begin their search online. Therefore, if a small business can attract just a fraction of these potential customers to its website and convert then into buyers it will increase its revenues significantly.

Internet marketing, which includes SEO and SEM, requires formulating and implementing effective strategies to draw more targeted traffic that can eventually be converted into customers. Although every business must optimize their websites in the search engines, for an e-commerce website it is an ‘absolute must’. An e-commerce site is a website specifically built for the purpose of transacting business online.

Small business enterprises engaged in e-commerce face fierce competition today. To stay ahead of the competition they need to be visible to their audience and quickly draw the attention of prospective customers.

Ranking higher in the search engines is the first major task, followed by a successful branding/PR campaign. Internet marketing is a direct response medium. Branding is important, but improving your site popularity and getting more visitors to your landing pages is much more crucial in the beginning.

For a small business owner to achieve her highest and best return on investment, it is crucial to first formulate a strategy before starting an internet marketing campaign.

Only after a well thought out strategy and budget are in place should you then move forward with your SEO and SEM marketing plan. Never has it been more important to “measure twice, cut once”.

“Internet Marketing Is Your Future. If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” –General Eric Shineski, former Chief of Staff, US Army

5 Steps to Online Marketing Success:

1. Know your Audience. This is the most important task since your entire internet marketing campaign is directed towards your niche audience. If you fail to know your audience you will target the wrong people and subsequently lose business. Keeping your ear to the ground and doing a little research will help you find the right strategy and make good decisions from the outset.

2. Set a Goal. Unless you have a well-defined goal, you won’t have any direction. As Tony Robbins writes, “it is no use climbing to the top of the ladder only to find out your ladder is leaning against the wrong house.”

Once you have your goals clear and know your desired outcome you can choose the optimal amount of resources and channel your efforts in the right direction. The budget for small business marketing can be estimated once the goal is set.

Goal Setting Questions to Answer before you begin:

1. How many visitors do I need to get to my site to reach my financial goals? How many am I getting now? * What is a good “Click Through Rate” for my industry? * Are my website pages, products and services properly optimized on my site before I begin an off site campaign? * What should I consider a successful return on investment? * What percentage of my online marketing plan will be “organic,” or natural and what percentage will be paid search (i.e. Google AdWords PPC)? This is an extremely important question to consider as it will determine the specific internet marketing initiatives you will take. See number 3.

2. Select the right SEO techniques. There are several SEO techniques that will prove helpful for your internet marketing efforts. A mix of various techniques is necessary to have a balanced SEO campaign. Basic SEO will include a balanced combination of Niche Directory Submissions, Social Media Marketing, On Page optimization through effective Meta title and description tags, great SEO content, a working internal link structure and a site map to name just a few.

Other important techniques include link building campaigns and excellent Press Release and article marketing strategies.

3. Very important, don’t forget to monitor your competition! Google your keyword search terms and see who ranks highest for your competition. Then, review their sites in detail to see what you can learn.  What are they doing that you are not?  How is their site different from yours? What keywords do you notice are being used the most?

Figure out what’s working for them and where can you make changes to your strategy to achieve similar results. Hint: Use Alexa and other traffic/competitive measurement tools to check up on your competition.

4. Measure the Results. Without measuring the results and properly analyzing how your website is performing you won’t know if your marketing efforts are bringing positive results.

However, keep in mind it can sometimes take 3 to 6 months to get tangible results from an organic online advertising and marketing campaign. Measuring the results periodically will help you identify if anything is wrong in your strategy or if you need to intensify your campaign.

Keep what works, change what doesn’t. Simple

5. Make proper adjustments. After measuring your results to determine what’s working and what’s not you will need to make adjustments. Again, internet marketing is a direct response medium and A/B testing is crucial for success.

Make changes to improve your results. This will be an ongoing process, not a one time deal. Google, Yahoo and even the smaller search engines continually change their search algorithms. So, what worked one month may not work as well the next month. Simple testing and making minor adjustments when needed will keep you ahead of the curve.

Now, more than ever you need to have an effective Internet Marketing campaign in place. Traditional advertising continues to lose market share while online marketing continues to grow at a staggering pace.

21st Century Marketing: The Rules Have Changed. Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”
Seth Godin, International NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen marketing books.  

If you’re not making excellent use of your online opportunities, I can assure you that your competition is or soon will be. Stay on top of your game by following the ideas outlined in this article lead your company to new heights this year.