Small Business Online Strategies

For small businesses without big marketing budgets or staffs, developing and executing an online strategy presents unique challenges. Where do I get the funding? How do I generate content? Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

If you are spending money on Traditional Media (newspapers, direct mail, yellow pages, TV, radio), track effectiveness using a direct response device (unique phone #, p.o. box, etc.). If you can’t prove you are getting an adequate return, move the money into a New Media testing budget.

Next, if you don’t have a website, create a simple one so you can be found online. Companies such as let you build and host a site for about $25 per month. You can create a Facebook Page and Google Places profile for free! This lets prospects and customers find you on the web.

You are what you publish online, so create specific, personalized content for your site and pages. Use language from existing materials such as your brochures to begin populating your pages. Use the language your consumers use. This helps you get found by consumers doing Google searches.

Next, keep it fresh and have fun. Upload photos of your store or office. Create a video (or use a paid service like TurnHere). Post the video on video sharing sites like Youtube and Vimeo and link to it from your site. The more rich content you post, the more easily you will be found on Google.

Ask your customers for their e-mail addresses. Then use a company like Constant Contact to build an e-mail newsletter (fees start around $15). Focus on offering insights highlighting your expertise (e.g. how to insulate your home in winter) not discounts or promotions (the insulation you sell).

Now use your savings from Traditional Media to gauge the effectiveness of paid New Media. You can build a paid Google campaign to generate guaranteed clicks or have one built for you by companies like Yellowbook or ReachLocal. Test effectiveness by counting calls, not just clicks.

Many other opportunities exist to grow your business online. Online coupons for local businesses have become a popular topic with the rise of group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social. We will explore the pros and cons in upcoming blogs.


Ring Out the Old Marketing

As you begin 2011, look back and measure the effectiveness of your 2010 customer acquisition  campaigns. Did they work? How do you know? Too many marketers are trapped in the old paradigm of “I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

If this sounds familiar, you likely are spending too much money on Old Media. Old Media means non-trackable mass advertising in which you hope, by spraying enough advertising messages, that you will gain new customers and grow your business.

Many ad agencies disguise non-trackable mass advertising as “brand advertising”. The truth is, if you don’t know the ROI, you probably shouldn’t have done it. The only way to measure the effectiveness of Old Media is to use a dedicated phone number, p.o. box, URL, e-mail address, or other direct response device so you know exactly who responded to your message.

With usage rates falling on Old Media, your ROI on that spending is very likely negative. In contrast, usage rates on New Media are increasing. New Media means trackable targeted (usually digital) marketing. But don’t think of New Media as just better paid advertising, i.e. Google or Facebook advertising instead of TV, radio, newspapers or yellow pages.

New Media includes unpaid media – blogs, e-mail, SEO, social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook), online news releases, etc. The beauty of New Media is that the Media Filter – the Media Establishment – is disappearing. Now you can communicate directly with your prospects and customers free through the Internet without paying an intermediary to aggregate eyeballs for you.

The key is that you must segment your customer base into definable niches, determine who you are targeting with each campaign, develop the appropriate compelling content, use the most effective New Media tool to reach that segment – and measure the outcome. Ultimately the way you measure effectiveness likely begins with a click and ends with a phone call or purchase.

New Year’s Resolutions

As you begin 2011, think about how you can build your business despite the challenging economic times. Recessions often weed out weaker players and provide opportunities for savvy ones to emerge even stronger when the good times return. Here are 5 techniques growing businesses can and should adopt now to thrive in the new year:

  1. Collect your customerse-mail addresses – having your customers’ e-mail addresses lets you send them, with their permission, targeted communications that will motivate them to come back to your business for more products and services.
  2. Start a quarterly newsletter – Provide useful advice in your newsletter, not just blatant sales promotions. Example: if you are a heating and cooling company, tell customers how they can insulate their home in winter to reduce heating bills.
  3. Sign up with an e-mail service provider (ESP) – E-mail service providers like Constant Contact take the hassle out of managing your newsletter and monthly service costs are reasonable ($15-50 per month depending on level of service).
  4. Digitize your product inventory and make it searchable – If your inventory isn’t already in electronic format, input it into a spreadsheet like Excel and make it viewable on your website so customers can see what’s in stock.
  5. Build your website – If you don’t have a website, build one! Your site need not be jazzy – a simple informational site is often best. Services such as can acquire a domain name and build and host your site for around $25 per month.

Often small businesses find they want help from a local web consultant or web designer to get started on the web. If you don’t know a good local consultant or designer, study your competitors’ web sites and sites of other local businesses you admire and see who built them – often the designer’s name is at the bottom of the first page. Good luck!