Editor’s note: This is the second blog of a three-part series by guest blogger Alex Lau, Managing Director of SeeSharp Productions. The series looks at ways technology has changed the landscape for small business, covering day-to-day operations, marketing and communication, and customer relations and service.
As I explained in the first blog post of this series, embracing technology is a logical and vital first step to a small business becoming more efficient, directly leading to an increase in revenue and profitability.
In this post, I’m going to look at how the digital age has revolutionised marketing and communications, empowering even one-person operations to present themselves more professionally, more consistently and generally more impressively.
Every small business person knows how hard it is to attract new customers or win new work, so it’s pretty important that you don’t handicap yourself by making it hard for people to find you, initially, or to be sure that you’re the right company to engage for the task at hand.
At the same time, you don’t want to give competitors a free kick by ignoring an easily accessed marketing channel that others are making the most of.
So let’s look at some of the tools that you can use to present your offering to the world.
You may have heard the saying “if you don’t have a website you’re not in business”.
Without a website, you’re also making it next to impossible for someone to recommend you.
You might have done great work, you could be regarded as the go-to business in your area, and you might even charge less than your competition, but if someone tells their friend or neighbour all that and they hop online and can’t find your business, an opportunity is lost.
It’s so simple (and affordable) to create a website to promote your business that there’s absolutely no excuse for not having one … or if you have one, for it not being a good one.
In our experience as a brand agency, a good website strikes the perfect balance between visual communications, functionality and conversion.
It’s much more than just an online brochure, telling people the name of your business and how to contact you. It’s also not enough for it to simply look nice – the best graphic design is wasted if it’s not funneling users toward conversion.
It should use high-quality images and well-written text, have a logical layout, offer a significant amount of detail about your services or products, and present a very authentic picture of the business and the person or people behind it.
It should also be optimised for search engines and be created using responsive design (which means it works just as well on the small screen of a smart phone as it does on a tablet, laptop or desktop screen).
Creating a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Google+ page and a LinkedIn profile for your business is even easier than creating a website.
However if you don’t take a bit of time to consider how to present your business on social media, and then dedicate a few minutes on a regular basis to posting updates, it might be better not to have a social media presence at all, because a poorly maintained Facebook page offering random posts (with out-of-focus images and spelling mistakes) presents your business as unprofessional.
You can be friendly, relatable and authentic – that is represent yourself and your business in a very real way – without compromising your image as a competent professional.
After all, this is your reputation we’re talking about … and where are you without that?
Once you have a website and a social media presence, you can market your business online. Even just a few dollars a month lets you post an ad on Facebook or use Google Adwords to put yourself in front of a targeted group of users.
You also have the option of creating either text or graphic ads and doing deals with relevant trade sites, directories, portals or almost any popular site that people in your target market visit.
The vast majority of the population spends at least some time every day online, so if you have the budget for paid advertising, you should consider an online spend. Depending on your business, it might be more effective than the local paper.
There’s a school of thought that email marketing is a thing of the past, but I wouldn’t go quite that far. In fact I’d argue that while it’s much harder to do well, the rewards for success are greater.
Considering how many emails most of us receive each day, if someone chooses to open yours, you’re probably more than halfway to a sale. At the very least, you’ve established a trusting relationship.
More importantly, data is the new currency. If you capture customers’ email addresses, and keep track of what they bought (or the nature of the interaction, if it’s not a sale) and other information, it allows you to send them relevant emails, increasing the odds of a sale.
As an added incentive, if you have some good information to share – such as handy hints or news of innovations in the industry – and you format the email well, you might get existing subscribers to share it with others who might then also subscribe, expanding your audience.
Easy to use email marketing tools such as MailChimp not only help you with the design and formatting, but most importantly allow you to track the effectiveness of your email marketing.
It’s easy for you to tell prospective customers that you’re the best in the business, but that claim carries a lot more weight when it comes from a satisfied customer.
These days, people trust peer reviews they access online, which is why TripAdvisor has cornered the travel market, Urban Spoon is the go-to site for restaurant reviews, and some people won’t see a new movie unless it has a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s called “social proof” and has reinvented good old word of mouth as “word of the mouse”!
So when you’ve done good work and have a satisfied customer (hopefully every job you do), ask them to write a few words about their experience of dealing with you. Having a feedback form set up on your website is a great idea, but a post to your Facebook or Google+ page is equally effective. ServiceM8’s free Customer Feedback add-on is a perfect example of how easy it can be to start collecting feedback.
Even better than testimonials are Case Studies, which take a bit more time and effort but clearly tell prospective clients the story of successful jobs and satisfied customers. There’s no more positive connection with your business than a person being able to see themselves in a similar situation to the client in a case study.
Testimonials and Case Studies – as well as a couple of other methods of marketing, loyalty and referral programs – have a distinct crossover to the next instalment in this series, in which I will look at how technology can improve customer relations and customer service.
But for now, I suggest reviewing how you present your business to the world, because nothing was ever gained by hiding your light under a bushel.
I’d be interested to hear what tools have worked for you in attracting customers and generally building the profile of your business. Let me know in the comments section below.
UPDATE: Check out the final post of the series, which covers customer service and business reputation.
Alex is the founder and Managing Director of SeeSharp Productions, which specialises in turning regular small businesses into premium brands. He advocates working smart and streamlining operations using technology, unconventional marketing and strategic branding to enable small businesses to reach their full potential. For more of Alex’s insights, check out the SeeSharp blog here, and look out for his upcoming book “Marketing Reengineered”.