With the explosion of the internet, one thing’s for sure - it has leveled the marketing playing ground for both big and small businesses. The financial edge that large conglomerates and corporations used to have over small and medium businesses are now shaved off.
Although it’s going-too-far to say we now have the same footing as mega-million-buck organisations, what it does is give small businesses like us a better fighting chance. SMEs have a budget-friendly smorgasbord of options we never had before. Maybe it is wishful thinking but perhaps, one day, small business owners will stop being referred to as the “small fry”.
But what can you do as a small- or medium-sized business owner looking for windows of opportunities apart from throwing every door open?
The Internet is Jenga for Everyone
It’s safe to say that almost every small business owner, regardless of their geographical location, sighed with deep relief when online advertising proved to be far more cost-effective and efficient compared to traditional advertising and marketing. No longer are we slaves to conventional media which, suffice to say, continue to cost an arm, a leg and a kidney. There are piquant ways we can actually use to win this Jenga game.
And that is why it has never been more important to invest in a professional-looking website (or at least a blog or social media page) for your business. It’s no longer just a way to show off your winning strokes to impress potential clients/customers; it is now a NECESSITY. And once you’ve got that sorted out, you’ll also be investing in small-time ads on both social media and search engines.
For small to medium-sized businesses, it pays to spend time researching internet marketing because it’s something you can do for free. It’s a whole different ball game, I know, because the stage is so massively different. You’re fighting for the same keywords with not just your neighbouring competitors, but everyone else from all corners of the world. There is no more pecking order, but this means all chickens are out of the coop.
But it’s fair game, still. As long as you are patient, willing to learn and know your limits, search engine marketing is a doable task for small businesses.
Online information can make product research more efficient and it can be particularly useful for a feature-rich product. But it is not the only tool buyers use to gather information. - Pew Research Center
If you don’t have the time for it, scope out someone you can trust. There are right and wrong promotional techniques on the internet and, often times, these rules are unwritten ones. Becoming over-aggressive and using black hat tactics could land a company in a minefield of penalties from Google.
Connecting the Parade of Dots on Social Media
There are no Gurus on the internet, only lifelong learners, and successful experimenters. Remember that when you’re hunting for help. If someone tells you they’re a Guru at it, run the other way.
First, choose the right platform. With just one or two platforms, businesses can blossom from a home-based business to a flourishing retail outlet. This is the internet; anything is possible. If you’re are a corporation and organisation, focus on LinkedIn. If you’re dealing with everyday customers, sign up for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and work it. If you’re a photographer, you should be on Unsplash, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest or the up-and-coming Periscope. And if you’re a retailer, get yourself some eyeballs on sites like on Lazada, 11Street.my or Shopee.
Businesses are encouraged to cross-promote across as many platforms as they think fit, but with the limited number of hours and resources, learn how to prioritise. As long as you can diagnose what is working and what isn’t, crank things up on what you think will be your claim to fame.
According to an article written by Forbes, instead of thinking in numbers, when it comes to social media, we should measure by effectiveness and engagement. There are billions of blogs out there, each one vying for the same attention you are. If the stats are right, there is 1 blog for every 7 people out there....that’s a LOT OF BLOGS.
So, what secret ninja moves should we have up our sleeves?
“The most important thing about social media is that it’s not just about you! Social media is not a monologue where you tell the world about the awards you’ve won, or the special deals on your products and services. It’s an opportunity for you to connect, in a meaningful way, with the people who have helped you and supported you in business” - Brian Moran, SmallBusinessEdge.com
If you first think of how YOU can HELP the CUSTOMERS, you’re moving in the right direction.
The biggest mistake for businesses on social media is to think of it as their free-for-all megaphone. That’s not it.
Ask questions and get personal opinions. Always listen out for reviews and do your best to be cordial and responsive to feedback. Ask for recommendations and referrals because we’re all humans. Share your personal story and don’t be afraid to get real. Knowing you more as a person encourages support for your business.
In fact, it’s been shown that being too “promotional” might yield a negative effect. If there was a kickback for being a small entity, this is it. We don’t have the red tapes, hoops, and ladders that larger corporations have to contend with.
And here’s what Neil Patel has to say about using LIVE videos to promote your products/services/brand/company.
“There’s just something about live video that makes it more appealing. Maybe it’s the chance that people will mess up. Maybe it’s the transparency. Maybe it makes us feel more connected. Whatever the reasons, the fact is the same. People enjoy live video far more than they do traditional videos. That’s particularly true on Facebook.” - Neil Patel, NeiPatel.com
It’s also more important now than ever before to be visual using videos, slideshows, and pictures. Yes, content is still king and words will never go away, but to stand out amongst your competitors, you need to hustle harder visually.
Inspire them, give them ideas, share links, create value for your brand and ask for their opinions. That’s the way social media is headed right now.
Perfectly Prettying Up Your Place
Once in a while, we pretty up our stores for special occasions and holidays, like this coming Chinese New Year, Christmas, Deepavali, or Hari Raya. That’s the order of business and it is a proven method to increase footprint.
Other times, we just need to pretty a few things up, focus on redecorating your retail outlet with new ideas and innovative furniture solutions to draw the attention of new visitors or catch the attention of our regulars.
You can set up a simple gallery wall of the latest events in your shop, install a rainbow mobile to brighten up the room or make a bold statement with simple wall hangings.
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And the surprising finding is that not only will small re-dos to your office or retail outlet attract the attention of new clients/customers, but it also boosts employee morale as well. A little bit of pizzazz goes a long way and employees naturally see the place with a pair of ‘fresh eyes’. So, instead of making drastic changes, all you might need is a new display unit, a table, a new poster, a coat of paint or just new decor items at the receptionist.
The words you may want to focus on are:
- Good impression
Even if you don’t have the budget for major renovations, it pays to make your company look more organised and efficient, and all it really takes is some creativity and effort.
Fun fact: It costs companies hundreds of millions in interior decor fees for their award-winning looks.
For the rest of us without that kind of budget, there are cheap alternatives. For example, adding a mirror to your workspace or showroom. Mirrors make the place look more elegant and refined and, as an added bonus, it gives off the illusion of space.
Another good example would be lighting. Even with enough sunlight coming into the office, showroom or retail outlet, a down-light spotlighting a new product in a classy glass cabinet will make it look so much more polished.
You can also re-purpose old decors and ideas like retro stuff from the 1980s and 1990s. It can make a drastic comeback because who knows!
Say what you will, your customers might love it!
You’ve Got eMail!
Although many people argue that email marketing is dead because of strong spam filtering systems and the penchant to immediately delete emails before reading them, the fact remains that 2.5 billion people in the world continue to use them.
Between social media and email marketing, many internet experts contend that the latter will come out on top in a straight fight, especially viewed in the context of converting fence-sitters into customers.
And that is why email is not dead! As we step deeper into the social media vortex, having an email list will become ever more important in creating brand awareness, finding qualified leads, driving engagement with your target market and growing a loyalty base.
Promotions and Discounts, Help Your Customer Save Some Pretty Pennies
The honest truth is that people appreciate all kinds of discounts and any savings they can get their hands on. The same level of joy is achieved with a massive 70%-off warehouse sale as with an RM5 discount voucher. Studies show that the more your customers are exposed to promotions and discounts, the more aware they become of your company (dependent on brand, product category, etc).
And as small business owners, we know the margin for profit is probably really slim and we can sometimes ill-afford even the smallest of discounts. But let’s think about things a few months down the road, or maybe even a couple of years from now. People tend to remember businesses that offered them a deal, big or small, rather than the hi-bye ones.
On top of that, try your hand at establishing yourself as the go-to or authority in your area of business. Authorities don’t always have to make a case of everything they say, do, or touch. You’ll see that most effective leaders and authorities have a way of connecting with common folks.
Authority is a currency. The more of it you have, the more you can cash in on opportunities for growth of all kinds.” - Josh Elledge, upendPR.com
The Stage is Set for SMEs Regardless of Where You are
You don’t have to wait for a new year to make changes to the nuts and bolts of your business. One thing that needs to be like clockwork is change.
Google is set to change the rules (yet again!) for 2019, and marketing experts are already on their toes about the ever-changing social media landscape. And word has it that LinkedIn is going to massive for businesses and working professionals from here on.
So, we hope everyone had an amazing break over the weekend and raring to go!
For everyone else whose business remains open throughout the holidays, grind on!
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