danniewriter

Small business marketing on a shoestring

 

May is a time to celebrate small businesses. In our mail-order/drive-thru/cookie-cutter existence, you, small business owners, give our lives and communities character, color, and identity. Thank you.

I’ve written frequently about how tough it is for small business owners to think proactively and for the long-term when immediate concerns are so, well, immediate. I don’t have any answers to a lack of time, but I’ve run across some tips and resources that can help you market on a shoestring.

Writing for Forbes, Mike Kappel has seven tips for small budgets. Note: It has never been easier to start a website or blog than it is right now. If you’ve been putting it off, don’t. Start with a simple, one-page site with a concise description of what you do, where you are, and how customers can reach you. Make sure the site looks good on smart phones and tablets.

If you feel like your business gets lost among your competitors during the big annual sales, consider picking a new date for a promotion. Small Business Trends has some ideas, and a comprehensive list of lesser-known “holidays” and annual awareness campaigns. (Remember, May is National Small Business Month.) Don’t get lost in the crowd; find your own day and start making plans.

Need some inspiration? Check out the companies that the U.S. Small Business Administration singled out for recognition in their annual awards. Read their stories. Take a look at their websites. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m willing to be that you’ll find at least one marketing idea that you will be able to implement immediately.

Are you ready to write a marketing plan for your business? The SBA has a section of its website devoted just to sales and marketing. It includes a sample of a marketing plan to help get you started.

If you know you need to do a better job marketing, but can’t seem to find the forest for the trees, give me a call. The initial consultation is free.

 

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Tell your story with enthusiasm

No one “just” runs his own business or “just” leads a community non-profit organization.

Use the word “just,” and suddenly you are saying that who you are, and what you do is ordinary.

I’d be willing to bet it isn’t.

The story of your business/organization is unique. You’d probably be surprised to learn how interested your customers/supporters are to hear those stories.

Business/organizational leaders who wear multiple hats and direct small staffs don’t have much time for brainstorming, or what I sometimes refer to as “bellybutton gazing.” That’s why I really like Tami Brehse‘s approach to storytelling as marketing. Brehse, a former television news anchor, runs her own marketing and public relations consultancy in Florida.

A column she wrote about how to use storytelling to develop your company’s brand was distilled nicely into this infographic:

She also provides a free worksheet that will help you clarify your thoughts. From these simple tools you can develop the story of your company/organization that your audience is itching to hear.

If you need assistance in telling that story, don’t hesitate to contact me. The initial consultation is free.

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Take time to get inspired

The U.S. Small Business Administration realizes that small business owners are often too busy to attend the many great activities that the administration offers during National Small Business Week … because you are busy attending to your small business. That’s why they stream many of those events online.

Check out this year’s line-up here.

Why not schedule some time next week to listen to the speakers, and most importantly, fellow small business owners, for fresh ideas on marketing, promotion, and partnerships? Regarding the latter, check out all the resources on the SBA website and start building a network among your fellow business owners to promote Small Business Saturday (Nov. 25) 2017 in a really big way.

Want to learn from some of your peers? There are links to this year’s SBA award winning businesses from this page.

Case studies can be helpful resources, too, if you are seeking new marketing ideas. Here are a couple from Writtent:

And if you need help once you get that marketing inspiration, give me a call. Your initial consultation is free.

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One little list, weeks of ideas

postingsked

As someone who constantly stares down the empty screen and the unblemished page, I am always on the prowl for something that can get the synapses firing with fresh ideas. I ran across the Simple Posting Schedule above on Pinterest and knew it was a keeper.

The graphic itself was designed by GroSocial and is one of several ideas for social media inspiration shared by marketing blogger Rebecca Coleman.

If you graduated from the old school, like me, you might be rolling your eyes at this point and asking yourself what possible interest your Facebook followers might have in “a day in the life” at your business or organization. “And, aren’t there plenty of funny videos, GIFs, photos, and stories circulating already, why should I add to the mix?”

What we old schoolers sometimes forget is the “social” aspect of “social media.” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al., aren’t billboards without the scaffolds, newspaper ads without the newsprint, or catalogs without those annoying 3 x 5 cards falling from between the pages. Social media is community.

Commonalities of geography, education, affiliations, (and more) create communities within the larger community of people who live part of their lives online. Dogs or cats? Tea of coffee? Beatles or Rolling Stones? The beach or the mountains? Shared affinities are like stepping stones that, once aligned, create a bridge between individuals.

The sooner we accept the value that comes from sharing a piece or two of ourselves on a human level, and reject the notion that it’s all about trying to sell your stuff or your cause, the more genuine those social connections will become. And when we turn that corner, our community becomes our sales staff, and advocates for our cause.

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Some habits aren’t tough to break

Woman is getting bored on date while her boyfriend is typing sms

I ran across a wonderful article from HootSuite recently. As a rule, I try, often without success, to avoid writing and using negative headlines, but in this case, the content of the piece is too valuable to write off simply because it is written in a negative voice. The author, Sam Milbrath, knows her stuff.

Were I a betting woman, I’d wager the most frequent reason that businesses/organizations repeat themselves, often ad nauseam, on Facebook, Twitter, etc., is that they’re fresh out of anything new to say. As someone who struggles with this myself, I err on the side of deafening silence rather than the drone of repetition. The former is bad news, but the latter will get you unfollowed much more quickly.

In Milbrath’s first point, she mentions a previous post about the social media “rule of thirds,” that’s also worth your time. Here’s the breakdown:

  • One-third social content that promotes your business, converts readers, and generates profit.
  • One-third social content that surfaces ideas and shares stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
  • One-third social content based on personal interactions and building your brand.

Regarding bullet point two, a great place to find those ideas and stories is from your own Twitter and Facebook feeds. Every business or organization has its own trade publications, online communities, accrediting/oversight boards, and industry big hitters you should be following.

When you share content from other sources, be sure you give them appropriate credit. Often you will find a blog post or article that is framed around another article, such as the one you are reading right now. If there are no fresh insights and it essentially just links to another article, make sure you use the original piece in your blog. There’s no need to separate the content with another “generation” of social media unless it provides some unique, helpful insights, something I hope my posts provide.

Every few months, I review who I’m following on Facebook and Twitter. I drop those whose content I’m not reading or sharing, for whatever reason, and find a new source to follow for a while. It’s worth your time to do the same.

I can’t encourage you enough to take to heart the author’s suggestion to develop contests, giveaways and other ideas for user-generated content. Not only does it give you original material, it broadens your base of followers, and thus, customers and donors.

Take stock of your social media habits as you read point five. If you are new to social media, it’s possible you are creating spam and don’t even know it!

Finally, don’t forget, every reader/customer/donor interaction is an opportunity. Always put your best face forward. Be polite. Own up to mistakes. Accept constructive criticism, and even rude complaints, with grace. Social media is here to stay. Develop tactics for the long haul.

Need assistance or ideas for getting started or moving to the next level? Give me a call. Initial consultations are free of charge.

 

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Tendons, social media engagement; it’s about bridging gaps

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For nearly nine weeks, one of my digits has been in a splint, which is why the blog has been on a bit of a hiatus. It’s a case of mallet finger, which isn’t terribly painful, but at my last checkup, the ruptured tendon in question still had some mending to do. I certainly hope the splint is effective, otherwise I’ll need surgery. Based on the one YouTube video I dared watch, the procedure may involve hammering a piece of what looks to be the world’s thinnest rebar through the top of my finger.

Now that I’ve given each of us the willies, I’ll let you know what mallet finger has to do with marketing.

The splint forces the ruptured ends of the tendon together and promotes healing. If the splint doesn’t keep the joint fixed in the extended position, in comes the rebar to bridge the gap.

Take heart, dear reader, let me assure you that bridging the gap between your business or non-profit and your audience is must less painful!

You’ve probably read, repeatedly, that social media is about relationships and “engaging” with your core audience of customers, donors and other “stakeholders.” Here’s a quick recap on the concept from Digital Marketing Strategies 101.

Just like bridging the gap between two pieces of torn tendon, dialogue is needed to connect you to your stakeholders. This is achieved by inviting feedback from your audience and then responding to what they share.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking questions via your Facebook or Twitter feed. Remember, you’re looking for useful feedback that will help you better connect with your core audience. Phrase questions so you get more detail than a “yes” or “no” response. Questions that begin with the words “how” and “why” should stimulate conversation.

Ishita Ganguly penned a great post for Social Media Examiner that should give you several good ideas. Like so many efforts, follow through is key. Make sure your social media account is set up to notify you when someone has commented. You can have notifications pushed to your cell phone so you won’t miss an interaction. Thank the commenter and see if you can keep the conversation going. Chances are other followers will chime in.

If you’re nervous that your effort won’t yield results, enlist a few of your most faithful customers or donors and ask them to share their thoughts to get the thread moving. The more time and effort you put into your first interaction, the more steam you’ll have to develop an online environment that embraces dialogue and responds to stakeholders’ questions, concerns and opinions.

Need more assistance? Consider giving me a call. There’s no charge for an initial consultation.

 

 

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Good advice, warts and all

iphones

It pains me to recommend an article that contains grammatical errors, however, the content is pretty good. Shame on the author and Forbes.com, though, for poor proofreading and using a negative headline.

Finger wagging is finished, for the moment.

Daniel Newman makes some great observations about how businesses often miss the benefit of using social media because they treat it as advertising instead of a venue for dialogue and authentic information sharing.

Yes, social media advertising exists, and there is a place for it, but putting “ad speak” (One Day Only! Prices Slashed! Too Much Inventory!) in Tweets and status updates essentially just creates background noise on those platforms that users will be in a hurry to tune out.

“Most people aren’t on social media to make a purchase,” Newman writes. “They’re there to interact with friends, and learn about the world around them.”

As I’ve noted myself in this space, think like a user, not as a business owner. Why do you use Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest? Words such as “community,” “news,” and “ideas,” come to my mind. “Purchasing” happens on websites, through catalogs and at stores.

Depending on how comfortable you are with social media, this distinction may seem fuzzy. All the more reason to do some thinking, planning, and maybe consulting, before setting up that social media asset.

Here are some reminders on how to “engage naturally” as Newman puts it.

  • Share something of yourself. Post about things that matter to you and ask followers to respond in kind.
  • Share some of your expertise. Demonstrate knowledge of your business, the community, trends in your industry, etc.

Remember this post from last year that highlighted the transformation of River Pools? If you have yet to check out the video, I encourage you to watch it now. I guarantee you’ll be inspired and I bet you will get some ideas on how to create and sustain engaging content for social media.

If you think I’m harping on social media, well, you’re right. Check out this infographic from Marketing Profs and Morrison Foerster released Jan. 4 and you will see why.

 

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Content Marketing: Everyone is a teacher

teacher

I’ve written previously that professionals often make things sound more complicated than they really are. One way is by peppering conversations and writing with their insiders’ alphabet soup. Remember this great scene from Good Morning Vietnam ?

For small businesses and non-profits, the term “content marketing” may seem like a new and complex concept that would require an advanced degree to understand. Not so. It does require, however, a change of perspective.

To develop and maintain an effective content marketing strategy with free social media as the workhorse, stop thinking of yourself as a business owner or a non-profit manager. Think of yourself as a customer or donor.

When you start thinking from your audience’s perspective, you will begin to develop content (articles, blog posts, photos, graphics, links to other articles) that really captures interest.

As an example, consider the Virginia-based company, River Pools. Co-owner Marcus Sheridan reports in this video from the Content Marketing Institute that River Pools was nearly washed up when the economy tanked in 2008. But they didn’t, and Sheridan credits content marketing, along with a big buy-in from employees, with the turn around.

“Everyone in this company is a teacher,” Sheridan explains. Instead of focusing on selling their product, River Pools staff began selling themselves as fiberglass pool experts. They launched “The Most Educational Swimming Pool Blog in the Country” and began by answering common questions about in-ground swimming pools–everything from manufacturing to installation to maintenance.

I encourage you to take a moment to look at your Facebook page, Pinterest board or Twitter feed. Are you only posting info about sales, store hours, products/services, etc., or do your posts offer more. Here are some examples:

  • An antique store owner writes or shares an article about what’s hot on the auction circuit these days. He or she might also pen a blog post on how to check a piece of furniture to determine if it is a valuable antique or a reproduction.
  • As a way to encourage parents with biological children at home, the director of a foster care ministry shares articles on nutrition, discipline, kids crafts, etc. Those same people might be interested in contributing to the work or (even better) in foster parenting when their nest is empty. If you provide a steady stream of content that is well sourced, interesting and fun, they will remember you.
  • I have a friend with a pet-sitting business. She shares articles on pet care, adoption and debunks articles she believes are misleading.
  • The manager of a local food pantry offers up-to-date statistics on hunger in the community, state and country. Instead of only posting the needs of the pantry, he or she includes a thank-you note from a family impacted by the generosity of others. Posts about nutrition, vegetable gardening and smart grocery shopping would also be helpful to this audience.
  • A plumber, landscaper, mason or other specialized professional could readily expand his/her customer base by blogging. A common challenge among homeowners is discerning when a problem is a do-it-yourself project or should be handed over to a pro. Imagine the goodwill generated by helping customers do small repairs/maintenance at home. Chances are very good that a homeowner will call a pro who has been willing to “give away” a little bit of that expertise via social media.

Content marketing is a concept that is more subtle than shouting about specific products, prices and “deals, deals, deals!” When you hear the term “creating community” via social media, this is what the pundits mean.

As one expert in the video notes: “Nobody cares about your product. They are trying to solve a problem.”

If your sales are sluggish and it feels like your customer/donor base is shrinking, I suggest you pour an extra cup of coffee and watch this video. It is filled with real-life case studies, a look back at vintage marketing campaigns that worked, and funny observations.

If, after viewing, you want to try something new in promoting your business/cause, drop me a line at danniewriter@gmail.com or call (502) 432-8725.

 

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