Successful small business owners have vision. But it isn’t tunnel vision.
Chances are you do one thing really, really well, and it’s the core service or product around which you built your business. But unless you’re big enough to delegate things like HR, bookkeeping and marketing, you have to own these secondary functions as well.
Marketing is crucial whether you’re a one-person startup or an established company. You may not want to do it. You may not feel like you’re capable of doing it. But ignoring marketing isn’t an option. Invest some time and learn to do it right. You might find yourself getting excited about the possibilities.
What is Small Business Marketing?
As a business owner, you probably know your customers pretty well. If you do, you’re halfway there. Smart marking means knowing what customers think, understanding how to engage them and predicting how they will react. It means being honest with them while putting a little spin on your message to steer them to the conclusion that you, your business and your services are the best option.
Congratulations, you just got a promotion! You are now a small business owner AND Chief of Marketing.
Here’s your first lesson: As a marketer, you’re a storyteller. The hero of your story isn’t you or your business. It isn’t your product, either. The hero is your target audience, your future customer. Your product (or your service) is the love interest. You’re going to tell the story of how they meet and live happily ever after.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover all the ways to tell the story of this match made in marketing heaven.
But there are three marketing workhorses that most small business owners are not using to their full advantage:
- Social Engagement
- Customer Testimonials
Consider exploiting one or even all three of them according to your business goals. Read on to see why each of them can make a big difference.
Ready for Your Closeup? Promote Your Business on Youtube
You might be under the impression that marketing and advertising are the same thing. But you’ve been promoted to Chief of Marketing, so the sooner you ditch that rookie notion, the better.
If war strategy were marketing, a cavalry charge would be advertising. If brand awareness is the goal of marketing, a 30-second television commercial is one targeted avenue that can help attain that goal.
Ah, but you are running a small business, and you don’t have the budget for television commercials, do you? That’s why we’re talking about marketing and not advertising. The war strategy behind expensive television spots can be implemented through cheaper avenues that are actually better targeted to your audience.
We’re talking about YouTube videos, folks. They’re almost as good as face-to-face interaction. They turn strangers into friends, and friends are a step away from becoming customers. With a minimal investment in audio and video technology, they let you talk about your business and show potential customers how you can meet their needs and solve their problems.
Don’t worry about getting top-notch production values at this stage. Just get something done and out there. You can make improvements later. You could even start with a $5 investment at Fiverr, where a “spokesperson” will read your prepared script. Bam—you now have your very own YouTube commercial to incorporate into your website and send out via email.
Take advantage of YouTube’s “tagging” feature to help people find you. Use relevant keywords in your title and description. And be entertaining if you can. Finding the next Star Wars Kid or Numa Numa Dance could make your video go viral, giving your biz more exposure than a Super Bowl commercial.
The (Social) Butterfly Effect: Engage Potential Customers Where They Socialize
You’ve known about social media for years. Your business probably already has Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. There are many other social platforms available to market your business. For example, Pinterest and Etsy are big if you have a handcrafted product. Trulia or Zillow have social elements to exploit if your business is real estate or construction.
But the thing that makes social media a marketing workhorse is the very thing small business owners often ignore. “Social” means “relating to society.” It’s about interactions. It’s not about slapping up an account and walking away.
Interact. BE SOCIAL. Open a Yelp account and respond to every single review you get (the good ones and the bad ones). Make sure you keep the comments open on your YouTube channel and on your blog (you can delete the ones that are spammy and abusive and respond to the rest). Answer the questions that your potential customers are asking, even when the answers ultimately send them to your competitors. You’re building trust here. You’re setting yourself up as a thought leader.
Sure, being social takes time, and when you’re busy running a business time is something you don’t have much of. But reaching out and making yourself available online—and in real life—is the first step toward owning your market.
Recruit Customers Into Your PR Army: Turn Testimonials Into Referrals
What’s more credible, a business tooting its own horn or a satisfied customer doing it for them? If you can use your loyal customer base to recruit new “fans” you’ll have a self-sustaining PR and marketing army singing your praises.
It’s a business phenomenon that keeping a customer is easier than winning a new one. A psychological phenomenon called the The Ben Franklin effect is all about asking small favors of people with the larger overall goal of building a lasting relationship with them. The small favor you will ask for is word-of-mouth testimony about how great your business is. That recommendation takes only a few minutes for your customer, but for you it’s priceless. It will build your reputation and introduce your brand to a new network of potential customers.
We’re not just talking about “word of mouth” here. You need content for your website, so why not write customer stories? These don’t have to be very involved or formal—at their most basic, they are case studies that show how your business helped a customer solve a problem. If your customers are other businesses, getting them to work with you to create case studies should be even easier. They’ll get more visibility for their own business by talking about how they benefited from a partnership with yours.
If your customers are individual consumers, think about offering newly-launched goods and services for free. People love to be included in “beta testing” groups. It makes them feel special to get something and to be asked for their opinion. There are endless variations on the the customer loyalty program (“buy nine burgers and get the 10th one free”), but an even better approach is a customer referral program (“invite nine friends and get a free service.”). The word-of-mouth campaign you build will depend on your business and its goals. You’ll have to be creative to come up with something that works. But when you do, it’ll drive new business exponentially.
There are no foolproof paths to marketing success. But there are roads less traveled that just may get you where you want to be while the competition lollygags at the starting blocks.