Running a small business is no small feat. Expert tips for marketing and growing your company.
A fellow member of Small Biz Nation asks, “How critical are reviews and testimonials to a small business and how do you manage and share those reviews within your organization?” My answer: so critical that it’s like throwing away money not to ask for them.
When seeking applicants for a job, the smart boss knows there are several ways to evaluate a candidate. The CV or résumé offers a snapshot of the person’s capabilities in presenting him- or herself in written form. The interview is about the in-person presentation and “the vibe.” Finally, the references provide 3rd party support for the conclusions reached in the use of the first two.
So too the client testimonial. Take these examples:
You’ve found great pictures of a bed-and-breakfast online and the rates look great. But many former guests have placed reviews on Qype that state the place smells, is farther from the city center than advertised, and its bathrooms are poorly cleaned. Will you still book your lodging there?
Or what about the new Indian restaurant. Your friends have just tried it and they’re RAVING about how good the food is. How more likely are you to give it a try than if you’d only seen their “grand opening” sign?
For any business, word of mouth advertising is how one stands out on a field crowded with competitors. Customer reviews/testimonials play a large part in that, especially as more buyers take to the ‘net to research before they buy. The efforts you can undertake to convince buyers to choose YOU and your products or services should include asking your current clients/customers to speak up on your behalf. (If they’re happy, they will do it for you GLADLY.)
How to make it work for your business:
- Make the ask: Place a call or send a personal email to your current and former clients asking them to be a reference for your business. If the person is also on LinkedIn, use the Ask for a Recommendation tool. Easy!
- Drop it into your marketing materials: Use snippets or even full text in your sales and marketing materials. If your current client says “I would recommend ArcherTC to anybody!” your prospective client may be persuaded by reading just that alone. Websites, brochures, sales letters — use it!
- Encourage your colleagues to do the same: Sometimes, the recommendation is for one of your colleagues. But if each member of the whole team is getting great feedback, that speaks wonders about the team as a whole.
- Help your clients talk about you: You know those “tell a friend” calls to action? They work. So don’t hesitate to ask current clients to pass on the news about what you’ve done. Better yet, make it easy for them by making suggestions: If they have a newsletter, ask them if they’d be willing to include a small statement about the work you did for them. If they’re in a business club, tell them you’ll offer a great price to any members they personally refer.
I’m sure others have more to share about their own experiences, so I’d love to hear them. What’s your take?
Your potential customers are looking for you online. Be sure to be there to greet them.
Technology has opened new doors to the small business owner. In the generation of our parents, there were straightforward needs: a phone number, a list of contact names, and the simple determination to market the business. The World Wide Web changed all of that. Now, while you still need that phone number and a list of names, you also are expected to have a website and – with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn sites dominating marketing news – a social media plan.
Do you need to have all of this in place before you begin marketing your business? Of course not. However, it does help to have a place to start and, increasingly, marketing experts state that place is online. So before you place your first call or send your first email promotion, you will want to have a website ready to receive your first customers.
Why Is a Website Important?
A website is now considered the core of the small business marketing portfolio. It is as important as having a number that your customers can call and a business card that you can distribute at a trade show. Why? In increasing numbers, consumers are no longer turning to the printed Yellow Pages for information. Rather, they are going online and using search engines like Google or Bing to find everything from basic directions to a nearby retailer to recommendations for a new family restaurant. According to an ongoing consumer-focused study published in March 2010 by BIA/Kelsey, nearly twice as many survey respondents (90 percent) used search engines as the Yellow Pages (48 percent).
Because the first step to a successful marketing effort is being where your customers are, it makes good business sense to be online and findable.
Why is Purchasing a Domain Name the First Step?
There are many ways to get your business online with its own website, but the first step is to purchase a domain name. Domain names – like buymecoffee.com or insertyournamehere.com – are simply the addresses whereby a customer can find your website.
You will read from some advisors that you do not need to buy a domain name of your own to create a business website. In fact, some companies promise everything to you for free: an online address and the tools to build your own site. But these offers come with strings attached: The first is that the address that they provide (yourname.theirname.com) is merely an extension of their business marketing. Place that domain name on your business card and you provide the other business with free promotion!
The second problem is that their tools often come with their branding. Perhaps you have already seen websites like this: the text and banner advertising points the visitor to different sites all together. Surely you do not want your site to direct customers away from your core message!
Finally, just as if you were subleasing an office from a primary leaseholder, you take on the risk of the other company. If their business site closes, so does yours. This may be an extreme circumstance, but being a savvy business owner means anticipating the possible.
Are these the problems that you want your small business to take on in exchange for “free”? With prices for domain names at less than $10 per year, do yourself a favor and buy your own, unique name. Just remember to make it simple and memorable.
What Else Do I Need?
In addition to a domain name, you have two very important choices: a web design that provides the online polish to your small business story and a website host to show that finished product to the consumers looking for your business.
Design: Beyond the free sites come there are many inexpensive ways for you to launch your small business website to the world. At sites like TemplateMonster.com and ThemeForest.com, you can purchase complete website designs and hire developers at a fraction of the cost of an original design – a blessing to both your checkbook and your peace of mind. If you need a more complex site – with a shopping cart or a regularly updated blog, for example – there are free, open source programs like Zen Cart, WordPress and Joomla with which you can have your site built. These content management systems (CMS) are well-developed and often backed by passionate communities of users – many just like you.
Of course, hiring a designer to craft a look that uniquely represents your business is the best choice. But if you do not want to make that investment at the start, these options are available.
Hosting: Once you have purchased a template or a unique design, the next choice is to find a company that will serve it up to your potential customers. Prices for hosting companies can vary widely and so can service quality.
It helps to know what matters most to you and your business before you begin shopping. For example, how important is it to you to have 24/7 access to a customer service representative? If you have a small writing consulting firm, unexpected server downtime may not be as critical for you as it is for the owner of an auction site.
Use review sites like VistaInter.com and FindMyHosting.com to help you choose a host that provides the right balance of industry standard tools, pricing plans, and customer service.
What Comes Next?
These decisions, while small, serve as the foundation upon which your small business marketing can grow. With a memorable domain, a great design, and a strong hosting infrastructure, you can turn your attention to what really matters: the use of your website to promote your business to potential buyers of your products and services.
With inexpensive domain registration and equally affordable designs at your fingertips, online marketing of your small business is simply business smart.
Help your customers find you today with your first small business website.
The author, Tammi L. Coles, writes for Archer Targeted Communication, an American English communications company in Berlin, Germany. Does your business need assistance in getting on the web? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the far edge of a bustling new city center, a neighborhood boutique sells intimate apparel to a dwindling, but dedicated customer base. As part of its efforts to keep customers aware of their signature advantages over the chain stores, the shop works closely with each client to ensure a custom fit, a service for which they charge a nominal fee. One day, two new potential customers arrive: young friends, one of whom is bringing the other to the shop to select undergarments for her wedding day. The visit ends in disaster, the subject of the following letter.
As a fellow small business owner, what would you advise the shopkeeper to do?
I am writing to express my distress about the encounter my friend and I experienced in your shop on Saturday, July 9. I am also writing to suggest a remedy.
My friend and I were first-time visitors to your store, but eager to shop there. I had seen your shop a number of times on my way to the city center, and a co-worker and neighboring resident had expressed her enthusiasm for it. In any case, my friend is soon to be married in September and, because she wears an usually large size, I thought this would be the perfect place to take her for a wedding gift.
As first-time visitors, we were very taken with the intimate-wear on the racks. I was pleased when a shopwoman approached us regarding a fitting, and my friend readily agreed. Not surprisingly, my friend had been too consumed with checking out your impressive selection rather than reading any wall signs. So was I. That means she received an unpleasant shock when she was told that the fitting would cost her $5.
Although my friend apologized for her ignorance and the shopwoman agreed to waive the fee, the situation still escalated unpleasantly. Indeed, both the shopwoman and you, the owner, insisted that a couple of signs stated the $5 policy. What was troubling, however, was your insistence that we should have noticed the signs, which we inferred as either (1) “any dummy could have seen it” or (2) “you deliberately chose to ignore it so you could misuse our services.” Not surprisingly, we left without shopping further or expressing an interest to return for a later purchase.
Because I have worked in customer service positions, I am not so foolish as to assert “the customer is always right.” But I do believe that customers should be given the benefit of the doubt and that deferring to misunderstanding more often than not serves to shore up good feeling and repeat business. Why did we not hear “we’re sorry for the misunderstanding, please come back again” from you or your staff?
Well, there is still opportunity for that. I would like to support a boutique shop such as yours and would like to recommend your business to my similarly-busty peers. I am enclosing the address of my friend below and I am requesting that you send a note of apology to her for yesterday’s incident and an invitation to her to return. I am certain that she would receive it well, and that she would signal to me a willingness to shop at your store again. Her name is Name Withheld and her address is 3200 Nameless Avenue, Apt. 301, Anycity, VA 12345.
Thank you for your prompt action. I look forward to hearing from you.
Readers, your advice for the shopkeeper?
Flickr photo credit: James@mannequindisplay.com