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If you've been feeling pretty good about your small business lately, you're in good company. According to Gene Marks at The New York Times, it's a good time to own a small business. In his May 7, 2012, blog post, Marks paints a rosy picture for small business owners.
Gallup reports that the optimism of small-business owners has risen to its highest since 2008. Optimism is also up among chief financial officers. Small-business revenues are recovering from their recessionary depths.
And while there was a national hiring slowdown in April, employment growth in small businesses is doing a brisk business compared to the national average.
Every business owner knows about competition. Every business owner knows how important marketing is to the bottom line. When it comes to using social media and other forms of Internet marketing, however, the entire mess can be downright daunting. Wouldn't it be nice to have some small business tips to help navigate the New World online?
Well, we've got some for you:
Despite the confusion many small business owners feel on the subject, it pays for smaller businesses to embrace social media, blogging, and online marketing in a way that helps accentuate their individuality as well as highlight the perks a smaller business can offer their customers (i.e., personalization, consistent customer care, and flexibility of options) over their larger competitors.
In fact, the very nature of small businesses would seem to appeal more to the average social media user, according to a recent report from American Express. Your customer service can make or break things with social media users. As the AmEx report put it:
People who have used social media for customer service at least once in the last year are willing to spend substantially more (21%) with companies they believe provide great service – in contrast with the general population (13% more) and those who have not used social media for customer service (11% more). They are also far more vocal about service experiences, both good and bad. In addition, more than 80% of these consumers say they’ve bailed on a purchase because of a poor service experience, compared to 55% overall.
In addition, more than three in five Americans (61%) feel companies have not improved customer service, with a third of those feeling things have actually gotten worse!
So how does this affect your business?
As a small business owner, you have the advantage in the customer service game. You are a neighborhood business owner, a member of the community, and a person who understands the needs and concerns of your customer in a way the mega-corporations simply can't.
By stepping into the fray of social media--Twitter, Facebook, a blog--you can target your message to customers who are increasingly ready to take advantage of the benefits you have to offer. Customer who are sick of impersonal, rude customer service where the buck is passed continuously.
Of course, it's not just enough to sign up for Facebook or create a blog. Jessica Thomas of Thomas Marketing Consulting warned of five crticial mistakes businesses make using social media in a recent issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal:
- Lacking a plan or strategy. Thomas suggests at least a six-month strategy for your social media site. A stale or dormant site not only does not help your business, it can actually harm it.
- Lack of prioritized content. Another common mistake businesses make is thinking of social media as one big commercial for their product. Thomas stresses the 80/20 rule--80% informational content to 20% promotional. Excellent content will not only get you noticed and forwarded, it will prove to your readers that you are a valuable resource. (For more information on quality content for your blog, check out our blog writing service, or contact us).
- Automated posting to linked accounts. Nobody likes to be spammed. And while a message works perfectly for your Twitter followers, it may not translate as well to Facebook, your blog, LinkedIn, or other platforms. Show your customers you care by customizing content for each platform you use.
- Lack of desire to learn. If you do step out into the wild waters of social media, you have to commit. It's tempting to set up a site and just do the same old thing. But in order to fully benefit from your efforts, you want to take the time to learn about them. Thomas suggests investigating sites such as Hubspot.com, Mashable.com, SocialMediaExaminer.com or ArgyleSocial.com.
- Unrealistic expectations. Thomas put it perfectly: "Social media is not a sprint; it is a marathon." While so many of these platforms are free, this doesn't mean they're easy. Social media is a conversation, a way to meet and become aquainted with your customers. If you don't have the time or resources to do this, your best bet is either hire someone who does or stay out of social media completely.
The great thing about your small business--that thing that will completely differentiate you from the megacorporations--is you. Your values, your personality, your expertise. The Internet gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to an entire world of hungry new customers. The question now is, are you ready to get out there?