Talking with a local merchant today, I asked, “Are you on Twitter?” She blushed a little, then replied, “No, me and my business partner are just too busy running this place to keep up with stuff like that. But we do other marketing, like sending out emails.”
Small Business Owners, New Customers, and Email Marketing
On the counter, certainly out of eye-shot of the usual customer, was an “email sign up sheet”, curled pages and all. Even the general observer would be able to tell this thing was,
- Not being shared with every potential customer,
- Not not being added to an actual database
- Not being used to grow new customers or connect with existing ones
Some business owners are more than a little frustrated just trying to keep up on their email marketing, forget about adding a new marketing task to what is typically an otherwise nutso day. I get it – but then again, I don’t get it. These same entrepreneurs waste time every day on tasks that bring them no closer to their customers, and some tasks that should be abandoned altogether. You may have strong customer service, and an excellent offer, but it won’t matter for long if your customer outreach is weak. So, how can you possibly fit more social media, optimized blog content, paid advertising, or inbound marketing into your day if you can’t even keep up with the emails that should be going out to your contacts? First, let’s dispel any reasoning for not using social media to grow your small business, and moreover, let’s look at some reasons why you should embark now. When you’ve woven together a routine that includes a little content creation and outreach, you’ll weave a wonderful new way to reach out and warm your current and future customers.
Web-Based Small Business Marketing Must-Haves
There are applications galore to help small businesses run more efficiently and easily, yet many still cling to the old way of doing things. One of the centerpieces of any small business marketing plan is your email marketing software. At Marketing Java, we use MailChimp and Constant Contact, both of which can help with small business growth. With a few clicks, you can brand your outgoing messages, keep track of people that want your offers, see who clicked what, and then… do it all over again. You can even automate certain types of content and send it to specific segments of your lists! The beauty of an email marketing program today is how easy it is to create and automate, but there’s more: your campaigns are both email and web-based, they can be shared easily on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites that work well for your business, and they can be forwarded to friends. Email marketing is a powerful marketing tool for a small business owner with limited time! If you really don’t have the time, consider finding a skilled small business marketing agency to help you produce your content and contact your customers each month. It might be more affordable than you think!
Information and Document Storage
There are a lot of documents a small business has to keep track of; order forms,pricing lists, customer databases, agreements, checklists, the latest idea for a cool flyer that’s being bounced around… whatever. Never allow a single computer to be the only place your team can find documents or information needed to run your business. Move documents that everyone needs, or that you’d like people to collaborate on into a place like the G Suite Cloud (which incidentally has a LOT of great Google tools) and your team can communicate, store, collaborate and manage content relevant to running your small business. When content is created for your newsletter, it will be handy to reach into the cloud and use it for this week’s social media posts! Collaborative environments provide a real boost to the creative process and the availability of content for your social sharing.
Hire Your Own Website Hosting
I can’t stress this enough: if you have a website and/or a blog, please…please…please – host it through an account you purchase, not through a reseller. Why? You’ll have access to all your stats, you’ll get the benefit of all the traffic to YOUR content, and you’ll control the ownership of your domain and all of your content. Still using the email address “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”? Really?! If you requested information from a small business and the reply came from email@example.com, would you have second thoughts about the credibility of the source? Isn’t it also time you began promoting your own brand instead of the tech giants of the world? With your own hosting, you can brand all your email accounts and domains and have them all pointing and raising up your brand. If this isn’t your area of expertise, hire a tech geek to help you set up an account with a hosting service. It’s that important. And one more thing about choosing a hosting company: cheap doesn’t always mean good, so really check reviews. Look for hosting companies like SiteGround with terrific uptime, great pricing, excellent back end tools, and humans answering the phone 24/7.
Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram?
You knew I’d get to these, right? But don’t assume because a social media site is big, it’s the right one for your business model. Depending on your niche, you will want to choose your social media sites based on where your demographic is playing right now. Your customers are using these free social media spaces every day to share, compare, tell, promote, bash, praise, and recommend, but which one they are varies according to a dozen different factors. Whether this kind of interaction suits you or not is really not the point: the question is, does it suit your customer? Than you should be there. Setting the accounts up is pretty simple. A smart teen can help you do it, and a good blog post can give you the particulars on image size, post length recommendations, expected content types, etc. Make sure you have your brand and contact info in your profile. Then what? Conversation. Talking. Not advertising (although sometimes making an offer or tooting your own horn is alright), but talking, building trust between you and your customers. Great things going on in your city? Share it. Tell people about fab deals other businesses have. I recommend a 1/5 ratio – 5 things about others, 1 thing about you. Then put up specials of your own occasionally – “web only” deals, “secret word” deals, have fun. Repeat – have fun. If authentic people and businesses connect with you, connect back. You never know who could be your next customer.
Stitch Your Small Business Outreach Together
You’re now equipped with a great starter set of tools, so stitch them to each other:
- Promote your social media places on your website or blog, your email signature, your marketing pieces, in your store or office, and in all your other social media spaces. Let your customers know you’re out there and want to talk!
- Schedule time each day to work on your social media channels and content for your upcoming email marketing. If you have a blog (and you should!), try to have content for it as often as you can muster – but never let an entire month go by without making a keyword optimized post that answers the kinds of questions your customers are asking.
- For all these efforts, start small, say 15 minutes a day. Put it on your calendar and actually commit time to do your marketing tasks. Don’t try to fit in half a day on Fridays – it’s not going to happen.
- Use tools to manage things more easily: All free, check into Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and Buffer. These applications will make managing things just a little more streamlined.
- Treat this marketing effort with the importance it deserves – if your products and services don’t reach your market, you won’t have any sales.
Taking this different approach, you will find that your marketing costs actually go down, while your customer connectivity goes up. For time, if you’re keeping to a schedule, you’ll find this effort will blend nicely with your day. Another terrific side effect? This kind of contact is the base component to building loyalty, because while your competition is busy coming up with the next great postcard, you’re busy talking directly to your customers about what they want from you. There is no replacement for direct communication with your customer and if they let you in that space, you have woven your business into your customer’s tapestry of trust and communication.