The internet holds a wealth of marketing opportunities, to be sure. For small businesses in particular, marketing through online channels is very attractive because it often requires a lower budget investment compared to the potential return in exposure (and in real leads that produce sales). I hear buzz phrases like “be the media” and “education-based marketing” tossed about a lot, but the thought of producing original content to put online is pretty daunting to most small business owners. However, the process may not be as difficult as you think when you use what you’re already doing.
Small businesses often have a great advantage in the ability to connect with customers just by their very nature. And connecting with clients is what online media is all about — meeting your customers right in their laptops, inboxes or smart phones. Small businesses are usually already trained to give one-on-one personalized attention to customers as well as cater their services to specific customer needs. This more personal approach is simply the way of life in building a small business. And, that approach can provide a head start in developing content for online marketing just by using what you do every day in your relationships with customers. Whether it’s a company blog or an email newsletter or a Facebook profile, here are 5 things small businesses can talk about online.
1. Your Staff — In a small business, customers tend to know your staff by name already. And more importantly, your staff tends to know their customers by name as well. Regardless of where (or who) your market is, I bet a large chunk of your customers would choose to work with someone they know by name rather than some anonymous sales representative. Online media gives the opportunity to expand the base of that personal attention beyond just those who can walk into your storefront. Use your online media channels to help people get to know your staff better. Share well-chosen personal tidbits about those personnel who are often the face of your company to help customers make a stronger connection. Give customers more insight into the personal expert service they can expect by sharing information about your staff’s experience and training.
2. Your Expertise — Sometimes small businesses battle the fallacy that bigger knows more. We all know that’s not necessarily true, and online media offers the opportunity to share the expertise your small business offers. When customers come into your store or business seeking your services, they trust your advice because you can cater it to their specific needs. You can share that same expertise online through tips or suggestions that relate to your services or products. Yes, you may be giving away some free advice, but you will also build trust in your knowledge to serve customer needs.
3. Your Customers — One of the time-honored marketing boosts of small (particularly local) business is word-of-mouth. Folks talk about your business to their neighbors and friends. Your online media offers that same opportunity, only your network is greatly expanded. With the permission of your customers, share testimonials of their experiences with your company. When you’re working with other businesses, extend public “thank yous” in your online media for their business. This not only gives your online audience a glimpse of the people who already trust your services, but it offers free publicity to your customers as well.
4. Your Calendar — In your small business marketing plan, you probably already target certain times of the year that are significant for marketing your services or products most effectively. You likely plan for special sales, product showcases or events throughout the year to connect with customers or move your inventory. And, you probably develop traditional advertising like printed flyers or newspaper ads to let your customers know about it. Add online media to the mix! Online you don’t have to pay to add color or worry about advertising deadlines. Use your online media channels to get specific about your promotions and share information that may not necessarily fit into your normal column inches. Plus, in the online format, you can offer updates about availability and special discounts that may occur on the spur of the moment, giving your online audience the opportunity to get “inside” information.
5. Your Vendors — Similar to what I mentioned about expertise, sometimes retail customers default to the big “box” stores because they believe they are the best source for the brands they want at the lowest price. Another myth! Small businesses can use online media to dispel that idea by sharing specific information about the brands they carry. Often times, you’ve developed personal relationships with the representatives for the brands and retail lines in your store. Offering customers some of the detailed information they provide not only highlights the benefits of the products, but it establishes your small business as an authority and resource for that particular brand.