By Stephen Sheinbaum
Small business owners have an uneasy relationship with marketing. According to a recent study by Vistaprint Digital, only 37.4 percent of small business owners rate spending time on marketing as “very” or “fairly” important. On the other hand, big businesses invest big money in their marketing efforts—with big results that help them dominate many sectors of our economy. Your small business can’t, obviously, match the marketing spend of a Proctor & Gamble or Amazon, but you can match their smarts by focusing on these aspects of a marketing plan in 2017.
Online presence: The internet has been a great leveler of businesses. Before it came along, small businesses often struggled to sell in the next town over, let alone the next state. Now, having a website can help you sell well beyond your local market, but too many small businesses lack websites, especially websites that work well on smartphones. That can mean you are missing out on local sales too: According to a study from Bazaarvoice, roughly 39 percent of in-store shoppers research a product online before buying at a physical location.
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It won’t cost a lot to have a 21st century online presence. There are many free website design tools online now, like Wix and Weebly where you simply drag the photos of your business and products into a ready-made template. These tools will also guide you on creating a website that search engines like Google and Bing will track, which is important to landing on the first page of a prospective customer’s search. Need a fancy chart to demonstrate why you’re the best choice? Use Canva (also free) to create professional-looking graphics.
The last part of your online presence is to utilize social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Pick the one that most of your customers are likely to use and master it. You should also explore advertising through social media: More than half of the small business owners who responded to a recent eMarketer poll said they mainly use social media for their marketing.
Email campaigns: Yes, email still has big potential for small businesses. According to a report by McKinsey & Co., 91 percent of all U.S. consumers use e-mail daily. Step one on using email effectively is to get the email address of everyone who now does business with you. If you have a new point-of-sale (POS) terminal, you should have the capability of emailing customers their receipts instead of printing them—and collecting their addresses. Online order systems collect emails as part of the delivery verification). Once you have the email addresses in hand, send out a weekly or monthly newsletter on deals, new products and the like. Email tools that have been designed for small businesses like Constant Contact and MailChimp are priced with a small business budget in mind.
Local advertising: There should be a place for advertising in every small business’ marketing budget. Focus on where your customers are: Younger consumers will likely best be reached by online ads or social media ads, while older consumers may still be most responsive to print advertising. If you’re targeting parents of school-age children, take a look at the programs for cultural and sports events at schools. While buying a whole billboard may be beyond your budget, many markets now have digital billboards that let you buy a share of the display space.
Track your progress: Whatever local advertising method you choose, have a clear idea of how you will measure and track success. If you mail out a coupon and no one redeems it, don’t use that approach again. There are ways to track other marketing programs too. Install Google Analytics on your website, and make time each month to see how many visitors you are getting, how they are getting to your site and what they are doing once they are there. If you’re an electrician and most people are coming to your site through a search for solar panels, consider featuring your solar services on the home page instead of general electrical work. Whenever you have a new customer in person, ask them how they heard about you. It might just lead you to your next great marketing idea.
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