Small business marketing is on every business owner’s to-do list. But getting a marketing strategy underway is often easier said than done. This is due to the many hats small business owners wear.

But make no mistake, small business marketing is a must when it comes to growth and year-over-year success. Part of a strong marketing strategy for small businesses is online marketing. Did you know that 97 percent of consumers learn about a local business online?

If online marketing has been a thorn in your side as a business owner, it is time to make marketing a top priority. To help get you moving in a powerful direction, we got answers to a number of small business marketing questions from expert marketing consultant John Bertino, CEO of The Agency Guy.

Q: How important is having an online marketing strategy in 2020?

A: This year has certainly had its ups and downs. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how important it is to have an online marketing strategy, especially for small businesses and local businesses.

We have seen more online shopping than ever before during the pandemic, with ecommerce and curbside service becoming the norm. Small businesses with an online presence were able to still connect with customers and drive them toward products and/or services to keep revenue above the red.

Q: Is value proposition still relevant within a small business marketing strategy?

A: Absolutely. Having a strong value proposition that speaks to customers can set a small business apart from local and national competitors. It is more important than ever to find ways to connect with customers in an emotional way that transcends your products and services.

Tell your small business’ story. People, especially those in a local community, want to hear your story, your business’ journey. For instance, how did you begin your business? Why did you do it? What problem did you want to solve in the process for the community?

Sharing a story can make a big impact on a consumer’s decision, especially if it is compelling. Let your community in and give them more reasons to shop with you.

Q: What about social media for small businesses? Is it worth the effort to have a social media marketing strategy?

A: Social media is a powerful tool for small business owners. In many local communities, social media is the #1 channel for consumers to find a business. In fact, many businesses use Facebook as their business website, rather than creating a simple business website.

Should you solely use social media networks like Facebook to promote your small business? No, but it can complement other online marketing strategies. The more online presence your business has, the more opportunity a consumer has to find you.

For instance, create a website with your businesses top keywords. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or robust. Then compliment that business website with multiple social media channels, like Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. If you have content on Google and YouTube, you are ensuring your small business is highly visible online. And be sure to have a consistent posting strategy for social media. Small businesses should be posting daily. Just be sure you are always serving up value on social media.

Q: With social media being so popular, are traditional marketing streams like email marketing still worthwhile?

A: Email marketing is definitely still worthwhile. In fact, 60 percent of consumer purchasing decisions are influenced by emails. However, email marketing needs to be done right in order to get the results you need and want for your small business.

First you need to capture emails. This can be done in a few ways for small business owners. To start capturing emails to build your email subscriber list, create an email capture offering on your website. This can be a 10 percent off coupon in exchange for an email.

A 10 percent offer can also be mixed into your social media posts, redirecting social media users to a landing page to capture their emails for the 10 percent coupon code.

Next is to capture emails in-store after a purchase. If a consumer buys from you and has a positive experience, they will be more than happy to share their email with your business for more savings down the road.

But this is where it gets tricky for business owners. Do not spam email subscribers. Only serve up quality content that has value for the subscribers. This could be local news pertaining to the community, as well as deals and upcoming discounts.

Q: Would you recommend working with a marketing agency?  And if so, how do you choose the right one?

A: The short answer is yes but it really depends on how you define agency.  By today’s standards, an “agency” can (and often is) as little as one person backed by a team of sub-contracted freelancers or service providers.  The trick is knowing which of these agencies is trustworthy and reliable.  There are little to no barriers to creating an “agency” and so there are many very poor and subpar teams out there.

I tell business owners to start by looking at the obvious things like case studies, asking for references, and looking at credentials.  For the latter, I like to see teaching credentials with legitimate universities or well-known institutions.

But beyond this, here are a few less obvious things I recommend:

1) Look for an agency that is willing to take the time to educate you on how things work but without too much bravado or braggadocio.  This quality is not only a good sign that they’re comfortable going into depth but it also shows that they’re willing to take the time to coach up clients and to set the right expectations.  I’ve found that this quality is often universal throughout an organization or lacking completely.

2) Find out who exactly you will you work with at the agency?  Meet that person. Insist on having a conversation with them and make sure you like the personality and communication style of the person you’ll be working with everyday.

3) Watch out for “full service”.  Too many teams claim to be full-service but, in reality, most are subject matter experts in one area and then simply bolting on the rest of the services to eradicate having any other cooks in the kitchen.

If the agency you are speaking with claims to be “full service”, press them on this issue.  Find out how they started, their roots and what they really like to do best.

Wrapping Up . . .

The above answers from expert marketing consultant John Bertino shed light on the importance of having a small business marketing strategy and choosing the right partners to execute.  What has been your top marketing challenges as a small business owner? We want to hear from you.

Michael Zhou is a Senior VP of Business Intelligence Development and has assisted the Fortune 1000 company with expertise in the web as a whole, including ground-zero marketing efforts that benefit both consumer and vendor. He is also contributor on Esprittoday.

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