National Small Business Week celebrates its 50th anniversary this June on a high note: According to the Small Business Administration, half of Americans own or work for a small business. While this is a glowing testament to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, one of the biggest conundrums small businesses still continually face is marketing: knowing they need promotion to grow and thrive but often lacking the time, money, and people to do the work. “Of all the classes we offer during San Francisco Small Business Week, marketing courses are the most popular,” said Jane Gong, a City coordinator of the nation’s largest such event.
So what can small businesses do lickety-split to get started, brush up, or recommit to a marketing program? Here are some ways to start or reboot your efforts: After that, it’s up to you to make it a habit.
#1 Ask, Don’t Tell (When it Comes to Social Networks)
News flash to small business owners: social media is no longer a “trend” or “sexy”– it’s a reality of an integrated marketing plan. “Small business owners need to stop complaining about having little or no understanding of social media and no time to learn it,” said Brian Moran said in an article interview. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you don’t have the time to do something right, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” Gong said, “When people are starting a business, the questions we get asked most about are social media. They think they need to be on social networks to increase their returns, but if you’re a mom and pop corner store, they are not sure it makes sense.”
Kickstarter: Go where your customers social-ize: Though it seems intuitive to get your target audience’s input to help drive marketing decisions, many businesses don’t, not because of lack of desire, but preoccupation with five hundred other tasks at hand. In the end though, the time you spend upfront getting feedback will prevent wasted time later. Though Facebook appears to be the most popular social network for small businesses, get the raw data from your customers and prospects: survey in-person, by email, or quickly and free online . They’ll appreciate that you want their insight and the input will help shape your plans.
Once you establish your social media direction, get educated for free online. Also, check out what your competition is doing and get inspiration from the brands you admire. Start small by offering something of value to get fans and followers, such as a Facebook-only deal, a discount for Twitter followers, or showcase customer photos on Pinterest. But start something and do it consistently as you build and fine-tune your social media program.
#2 Give Your Blog Nine Lives (or At Least Five)
Chances are if you’re reading this article, you already have a blog or want to: as most bloggers will attest to, it’s one of the easiest and straightforward ways to promote your business. Did you also know there are at least five things you can do to transform a stale blog to fresh content? The best place to start is to check your stats (or tags and categories) and determine the best performing ones. If you don’t have a blog yet, come up with a popular industry topic and use that as a starting point.
Going through the stats exercise for my own blog, I found a piece from a year ago about J.C. Penney’s rebranding disaster was my third top-read post of all time. Upon further research I found out why: On a Google search of “JC Penny Branding Disaster”, my blog comes up fourth, below PRDaily and Forbes and above Huffington Post. Even though the position could change, I got great SEO by writing about a popular topic when the story was blowing up in the media. Now, to use it for my own purposes…
Kickstarter: Repurpose. Repurpose. Repurpose. Did someone say repurpose? For the J.C. Penney blog, potential ideas are: 1) Update blog to reflect the recent booting of its CEO and apology ad and republicize on all social networks; 2) Use as partial content for quick blog countdown “The Five Worst Branding Disasters of All Time”; 3) Turn blog into online story and publicize; 4) Reformat with some quick visuals and create Slideshare and blast out to social networks. 5) If I were feeling particularly ambitious, I could create a short video that tells the story of what happened (a search revealed just one interview.) People are hungry for online information in different ways to learn about big events, industry trends, and practical tips–you can be the expert, go-to source no matter which they choose.
#3 Putting the Cure in Curation: the Multi-tasker Extraordinaire
Content curation for your business can be a great marketing Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a lot of work. There are services that do the legwork for free, collecting relevant content in your industry, monitoring your competition, and even prepping a targeted customer newsletter. “I use the analogy that people really are looking for water,” said Scott Scanlon, CEO of You Brand, Inc. in a content curation video.” …ultimately they don’t want to drink out of a fire-hose–they want a glass of water. If you can be there providing that glass of water on a consistent basis you’ll begin to garner their trust.” Bonus: Content curation services enable topic discovery for your blog, web site, or email marketing campaign–the possibilities are endless.
Kickstarter: Max out a free curation service: Scoop.it , paper.li, Curata, newcomer Swayy and other services specialize in online curation from thousands of online sources to slash time and effort. Take advantage to get information compiled, organized, and leverage for your own purposes. If you use a curation service for customer newsletters, put your own brand stamp with commentary or tweaking a headline for your audience.
Too pressed for time to try any of these? Break down kickstarters into baby steps and do one part each week.
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