Marketing a small business is not easy. Not only are you trying to build a brand and reputation from scratch, but you're also lacking the marketing dollars that the big boys use to create awareness and traffic (foot and/or online).
However, in the past 15 years, the internet has leveled the proverbial playing field. With some strategic planning and a little luck, a small one-person operation can now strike it rich and compete with industry giants.
Take, for instance, Dollar Shave Club. Getting into the disposable razor industry seems like a terrible idea, with mega-giants like Gillette and Schick (to name a few) dominating the market share. Not to mention their distribution through Walmart and Amazon.com. You'd think it would be next to impossible to even get noticed, let alone eat up any of their market share.
However, with a solid business model that 'disrupts' the industry, and a brilliant viral video, the Dollar Shave Club brand was born:
Twenty million plus views later, and the Dollar Shave Club now has over 2 million members and a worth of $615 million, making them a major player in the disposable razor industry.
What Dollar Shave Club did to find success is a very repeatable strategy that any small business can follow. So whether you're a heating and air guy or a one-person interior design company, you have a real chance at success when you execute what we like to call a, "High Level Marketing Strategy."
Since 2009, we've worked hand-in-hand with thousands of small business owners. Together, we uncovered hundreds of different pain points along the journey. Some resolvable, other not. But what we found is that those small business owners that succeed often focus on five key areas of their marketing and business. This isn't to say they're not doing the rest really well, but these five areas are the differentiating keys to their success.
In today's online world of review sites and social media, it is in every business's best interest to focus on an impeccable reputation through proactive customer service. Having a contact email and a phone number is not enough. Your customer service must work to solve customer problems, ideally before they start. But hey, no business is perfect. However, how you respond to those issues (and how quickly) is what will set you apart from the competition.
Is the customer always right? It doesn't matter. They have hundreds of other options, and they'll drop you in a heartbeat if they're not happy with your products or services. Be honest, be transparent, and just be willing to do what it takes to satisfy your customers.
In the same vein as customer service, being open to customer feedback is the easiest way to fine tune your product or service offerings. As small business owners, we all tend to think we know what's best for our customers. This is a flawed way of thinking. Customers know what they want, and they'll tell you if you just ask.
If you're in a business that deals with face-to-face interaction with your customers, take advantage of this to ask questions before and after the sale. Speak with your employees about the feedback they get before they close a deal or make a sale. Then go back and ask your customers, after the sale, about how you can improve as a company.
Don't work with customers face-to-face? Build a survey online and distribute it via email and/or social media. Don't be afraid to ask questions that could result in negative answers surrounding your business. All of this information is vital for the future success of your company. Take it as constructive criticism and start improving one day at a time.
Referrals and word-of-mouth advertising is the cheapest form of marketing there is. But you can't earn referrals unless your customers are happy. And your customers won't be happy unless your products or services deliver on their promises. However, once you've reached a point where you've earned the right to ask for referrals, then be all means take advantage.
If you've never solicited referrals before, it starts with customer service. Having a regular dialogue with your customers will allow you the opportunity to ask for a referral when the relationship is in a good place. If you don't respond to inquiries or just simply ignore them after the sale, please do not ask for a referral. Not only will you not get it, but you'll also open yourself up to getting the opposite: negative reviews online.
Find out who your best 20 customers are, and entice the referrals out of them with some sort of kickback. This will help motivate them to take action, and you'll get a new business opportunity to grow.
The smartest business owners know exactly why they're successful. They know why their customers buy, and what they can do to get them to repeat that process. It's the same thing for your online presence. Hopefully you have a responsive website that allows you to attract visitors online. If you have that, then you can start taking a look behind the scenes (if you don't, give us a call!).
Two tools that I would recommend for all small business website owners are Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and Google Analytics (GA). GWT allows you to see exactly how Google sees your site. You can view the search terms that your site is being served up for, how many times people are clicking, and what errors Google is finding when it crawls your site. You can then use this data to fix what's broken and repeat what's working.
With Google Analytics, you can see how people are coming to your site and what they're doing once they get there. Use this data to optimize your website and drive even more traffic and conversions (new customers!).
Seems obvious, right? You'd be surprised how many small business owners lack a real passion for what they do (or the products/services they provide). Maybe the passion existed when they first started, but it waned over the years as times became tough. Or maybe they just simply burned out.
No matter the excuse, the reality is that it happens...and your customers can tell. When you're not 100% into what you do for a living, your work suffers. And when that happens, it's only a matter of time before the business fails.
So how do you keep the passion for your business? And how do you get it back once it starts to slip away? There's no one-size fits all answer for those questions.
It might be time to take a vacation and reset your mind and body. It might be time to bring in an energetic business partner can revive your own passion. Or maybe it's time to hand over the reins to someone that can take your company to all new heights.
What ever the solution is, the most important piece is that you're aware of it and you're taking action to fix it. If you aren't doing any of the above High Level Marketing strategies, then that's a great place to start. Sometimes getting back into learning about your customers, figuring out why you've been successful in the past and why you struggle at times, and optimizing both your online and offline operations allow you to get that reenergizing boost of "LET'S DO THIS" that you need.