Traditionally, before the internet and mobile devices, marketing and advertising options were limited and costly for the small business owner. Most small business owners would look to advertising in the newspaper, on local television or radio, or even handouts and flyers placed on car windshields and in mailboxes. As technology advanced, so did all the methods to stay out front of your competitors and customers. There are several tools online to help a locally owned business promote one’s self which carries little or no cost.
At one time, the standard form of advertisement for a business was to be listed in the Yellow Pages, which was the business-commercial section of the phone book directory. However, times have changed with consumers relying mainly upon their mobile devices more to communicate, and in some cases, not even having a home land line-supported phone. In place of the Yellow Pages are websites and business directories such as Manta, Merchant Circle, and Tap Into.
Manta is a website which lists profiles of local businesses, and allows for consumers to leave a review after their experience of either purchasing a product or service. Manta allows for a business to set up a profile, including spotlighting the services and products a business has to offer. The profile serves as a business card to the digital world. Manta also allows for local ranking of your business based on customer reviews and special awards a business may receive. Manta also has tools which allow local businesses find other resources, and to connect with other small businesses to fulfill operational or vender needs; all this without having to flip through pages of the phone book.
Businesses will benefit from using Manta. A small business can separate itself from the crowd of other similar local businesses by having customer reviews that new potential customers can use as a point of reference in making a buying decision. When new potential clients see a number of positive reviews about a business, they also see local brand loyalty. Repeat customers tell a very different story to the market than having hundreds of one time customers. Manta’s ability for a business owner to see customer feedback and reviews will allow for a business to identify areas of improvement within its business model.
Merchant Circle is another online business listing site. Merchant Circle is a platform that allows for the locally owned business to connect and network with other locally owned businesses, sharing contacts and ideas, while helping to connect the business with potential customers. Merchant Circle had advanced their capabilities beyond just being a local business directory. Merchant Circle has combined the concepts of a local business directory and profiles with the tools of social media and marketing. Businesses can level up and purchase additional marketing services from Merchant Circle, focusing efforts on a specific geographic area.
Local online new sites, such as TAP Into, also offer free business listing directories. TAP Into focuses its hyper-local content in the State of New Jersey and surrounding areas, and is supported by the local business community. Local businesses can list their business contact and location information. Also, businesses can submit press releases to the local editors and publishers, giving businesses the ability to promote an announcement or event.
These sites can help a business in establishing an online content footprint. Businesses that have multiple articles, or key search words or phrases in their business profile description are more likely to rank higher in search engines due to the amount of content. With so many people on the go relying on information at their fingertips from their mobile devices, if your business is not at least showing up on the first two or three pages of search engines, then your business will not be seen by new potential customers. Business listings with Manta, Merchant Circle, and TAP Into drastically change your local small business’s placement within the rankings of search engines. I have even seen businesses that don’t have their own website rank high in search engines because their business profiles are enhanced and provide a lot of detail to potential consumers.
Social media is the place a business should turn to in promoting their business wares and reaching new potential customers. Take your pick, there are many to choose, however, the front-runners for two-way engagement still stands as Facebook leading the way, followed by Linked-in, Google Plus, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. Each social media platform offers something different and serves a specific purpose.
They say, a photograph is worth a thousand words. That is where platforms like Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram have specialized in providing a photo journal online to be shared with family, friends, fellow colleagues, and potential customers. These platforms are designed to allow users to load up photographs in the moment and share them with fan base instantaneously, in hopes of creating a real-time feeling of “I wish I was there,” for the person viewing the picture. This emotional trigger also can work well in creating a product demand in the moment. A business can feature a picture of a spotlighted product, and offer to the first hundred people who comment on the photo, a discount on their next purchase with the merchant.
Video content ranks the highest on the internet. Video content is also the most sought after content in the leading search engines. Every smart phone or mobile device is now equipped to film short video. Small businesses can create their own small videos and post them to various video hosting platforms that will help a business establish a wider internet presence. The most popular of video social media sites is YouTube.
Videos created with the purpose to capture the attention of a new potential customer needs to grab the attention of the viewer within the first 15 to 30 seconds, or you will lose the attention of the viewer. Your video content should also be unique and have a different hook. There are tens of millions of videos posted between You Tube, Vimeo, and Daily Motion, so you will need to be creative in order that your video can be searchable and stand out among the crowd.
If your business does not have a website yet, you need to get one. You can acquire a domain name from Go Daddy for just a few bucks a year. Create-it-yourself website platforms Wix, Word Press, and Web.com, provide several pre-existing templates. The most important pages to have for a very basic website are: a home page or landing page which is the first introduction to visitors about your business and its products/services, a contact us page, which includes the hours of operation, information about your products and/or services, as well as a list of the most popular or unique products/services you provide, and lastly, the about us page, giving visitors a little more information about the business and you as the owner.
Monthly e-newsletters are another way to stay in front of your customers. Email newsletters should not be a large book or difficult to read. It should inform the reader on two or three key areas you desire your customers to focus on about your business. Maybe you’re going to have a product or service sale or host a special event; email newsletter is a great way to keep your customers reminded of your business updates. You can also offer up an informative article (about 200 to 400 words) that will help educate your audience on how to make a better buying decision or create public awareness about a cause your business supports. The online tools and services of Mail Chimp or Constant Contact offer a variety of low-cost options to reach your current clients.
It may seem overwhelming at first that on top of all your other business responsibilities you now must spend time in front of your computer marketing your business, and yes, there are many options to employ. There are tools to help you manage your online efforts. Two tools that will help you measure and manage your online presence are Google Analytics and Hoot Suite. Google Analytics can help you measure your marketing ranking and efforts online, so you can eliminate online marketing that is not the most effective or does not provide a return on investment. Google Analytics will also give you the data you need to enhance the online marketing that is helping create customer flow for your business. Hoot Suite is a digital dashboard that you can use for managing and posting content to multiple social media sites at one time, thus saving you time having to make daily posts to each individual site.
The choice is yours. You can choose to spread your marketing efforts over multiple digital platforms or you can choose to stick to one or two tools. Local businesses that employ multiple online channels to promote their business are usually the businesses that have the most physical foot traffic in their door. Once they are in the door it’s up to you to provide the best experience to keep them coming back and tell their friends and neighbors about you and your business.
Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.