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There are innumerable marketing strategies for small business owners, and all of them seem necessary for success—social media is an absolute must; in-person networking is key; Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a No. 1 traffic driver; the list goes on. Deciding what is truly essential can seem overwhelming. So we asked four, nationally known small business marketing experts to share their wisdom.
For any small business—whether a local brick and mortar store or a business with strictly online real estate—the Internet is the best vehicle for attracting, engaging and converting prospects into customers and clients. It’s the foundational tool for all small business marketing. The reason? “It’s where the people are,” says online visibility expert and business blogging advisor Denise Wakeman, (DeniseWakeman.com). “Two billion have Internet access. And most businesses don’t need that many customers to succeed.”
What small businesses do need is to get the attention, online, of people who want what they’re selling. The best way to do that, Wakeman says, is with targeted content that solves problems.
“I worked with a chiropractor to set up his blog, so that every post revealed how aches and pains of all kinds have a chiropractic solution.” As a result, she explains, potential patients got proof that he understood the source of their pain, while getting to know, like and trust him through the expertise he displayed in his blog. The business result? Fifty percent more clients.
“Content,” observes Wakeman, “is everything in marketing.”
For Suzanne Evans of SuzanneEvans.org, a multimillion-dollar business-building empire built over a scant four years, the word that best characterizes her take on marketing is connection. “People want to feel a connection with you,” she says. “You need to be a storyteller. And you need to show empathy.”
Evans, a charismatic extrovert who loves reaching out to people personally, walks her talk. “I totally built my business on speaking,” she says. “I have a personality brand.” In other words, she conveys her content mainly in person (or in videos).
Though not everyone is a larger-than-life speaker like Evans, it doesn’t matter. She and other experts say that you can still succeed if you market with your strengths instead of your weakest skillset. For instance, introverts may connect with potential clients by blogging for thousands of readers, rather than speaking to thousands of seminar attendees.
Evans points to another core success factor. With an email list of 20,000-plus people, you can send out an email blast and instantly bring in income. “If you can build a list, you can make money,” she says. Marketing to so many people, a percentage will always buy.
For Michael Port, small business coach and author of Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling, there are two key marketing words: relevancy and strategy.
“The only way to get clients,” says Port, “is to get their attention” with information that’s deeply relevant to their situation. In fact, he believes “marketing” should be replaced with the word “relevancy.” Being relevant to people—demonstrating that you can solve their problems—is what every marketing strategy ultimately strives to accomplish.
After you’ve shown potential clients you are relevant, focus on your strategy. “The seven primary self-promotion strategies are networking, direct outreach, referral, speaking, writing, Web and keep-in-touch strategies,” says Port. But he doesn’t advise using them all at once. “Focus on a couple,” he says. “If you do a little of everything you won’t build an asset.” In this case, an asset means lots of people who know what you do and may someday buy what you’re selling.
“When you’re just starting a business,” cautions Port, “make sure you do each initiative fully. Your commitment is what produces results.” One scenario: Network daily and, several times a week, build your speaking or blog-writing skills, along with your “warm call” delivery.
While outsourcing is only one aspect of her overall marketing approach, Pam Slim, business coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, advocates outsourcing administrative work to free up owner time for business development and marketing.
Slim sees every small business as being divisible into three areas: service delivery, management and marketing. The first and third areas should be the owner’s job, but the second can be at least partially outsourced— just not in the beginning, she says. Once your hourly rate climbs to a figure that’s five or more times that of an assistant ($20 per hour of assistant time, versus $100 to $200 per hour of your time), then it’s time to outsource routine tasks like email blasts, website updates and basic inquiry responses. The benefit of eventual outsourcing is not just monetary. With hours saved on routine tasks, Slim says, “You can go after new business, including high-value accounts.” But, she warns, delegating work may prove challenging for owners accustomed to managing every single aspect themselves. She advises a gradual phase-in and finding the best assistants through referrals.
While these expert tips represent just a few essential steps, following them can put you and your small business on the road to success.
Laurel Marshfield is a developmental editor, ghostwriter, book coach, and white paper consultant. Her Twitter handle is @BookEditorLM.