Winter 2015 Ready, Set, Grow

Ready to take your business to the next level? Here are some marketing basics you need to check off your to-do list.
James Mendelsohn

From social media and data analysis to the utilization of mobile technologies, digital marketing is changing how business owners operate. In fact, according to the latest CAN Capital Small Business Health Index, 38 percent of small business owners plan to allocate additional budget to digital marketing in 2015.

Implementing a comprehensive digital marketing strategycan get complicated though, causing many business owners who do not have marketing experience to feel a bit overwhelmed. With that in mind, here are a few important things to take into account before you begin planning your 2015 strategy.

Know your target market

Who is most likely to buy your products? Once you identify an ideal customer profile, you can understand how to reach them. For instance, if your target market is the young adult crowd between the ages of 18 and 35, they rely heavily on online research when making purchasing decisions. Millennials will search for retailers online, but then go a step further and look for that retailer on Facebook and customer review sites like Yelp.

Establishing an online presence and cultivating your online reputation are critical to reaching this customer base. While you may not need a full e-commerce platform, start with a general website displaying your product information and location. Be sure to monitor Yelp and respond to positive reviews of your shop, thanking customers and encouraging them to come back again. Address any concerns in negative reviews, apologizing when necessary and asking them to call, email or come by your location to speak with you to resolve the issue. Maintaining a positive and active online presence will benefit your business.

Social media matters

A strong social media presence is a critical component of your digital marketing strategy. Once you’ve determined your audience, you’ll want to decide which social channels you should be active on—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. A social presence can help you creatively attract customers. For example, if your business changes locations, post photos to Twitter detailing directions to your spot. If you’re a kiosk at the mall, post photos of customers interacting with your products on Facebook and Instagram and encourage them to tag your social pages in their own posts. Your social media pages should be fun to visit and create a community for current customers and draw in their friends and families.

Go mobile

The same CAN Capital Small Business Health Index found that forty percent of small business owners do not have their websites optimized for mobile devices, which is a huge missed opportunity. Smartphones are changing how consumers shop, allowing them to have access to any product or service at their fingertips. Small businesses can take advantage of this opportunity by developing their mobile websites. If someone has trouble reading your site on their phone, that might be a lost sale. Adapting your website for mobile devices, aka “responsive design” is a great tactic to increase visibility and, by extension, sales.

Search-engine optimization

Everyone wants to be the number one search result on Google, but the path to get there can be a real challenge. Search-engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is a strategy that aims to generate a higher ranking on search engines, which in turn can increase the traffic of visitors to your website. Organic SEO uses techniques like keyword analysis to ensure that commonly used search terms appear frequently on your page, or increasing the number of backlinks pointing back to your website. Many businesses choose to hire SEO firms more equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to improve Google search listing results. These firms can work on a one-time project basis or for a monthly fee for ongoing support. If your business’ website is already proving to bring in a fair volume of business, SEO can be a great investment to continue to build on your success.

Electronic mailing campaigns

As a specialty retailer, another effective marketing tactic to consider is an electronic mailout, or an email message to a large group of people who have subscribed to your mailing list. There are a variety of inexpensive tools available to help you manage your email list and mailings. You can email monthly newsletters, special promotions detailing sales, or even a simple seasonal greeting. Ask every customer who buys something if they’ll sign up for your mailing list, offering incentives like subscriber-only sales and discounts. Mailing campaigns can also help you stay in touch with customers and encourage them to come back again. Just be sure to only email people who have explicitly agreed to receive promotional emails.

Setting the stage

To set the stage for growth through increased marketing, keeping positive cash flow is crucial. After paying expenses for suppliers and employees, it can be challenging to find additional working capital to invest in marketing. Many small business owners may consider turning to traditional resources like banks to bridge the gap. These sources are lending less frequently to small businesses, especially if the amount of capital needed is below the bank’s minimum loan.

Before turning to credit cards or family and friends, consider working with alternative finance companies for fast access to capital, as these providers specialize in working with small businesses. Alternative finance companies can offer loans from $2,500 to $250,000 with repayment terms ranging from four months to two years.

Alternative finance companies are known for their speed and efficiency, with funding available within days, compared to the traditional banking process that often takes many weeks. However your business chooses to increase its cash flow, be sure to carefully analyze its cost to ensure the best decision for your small business.

So with all of this information, how do you get started? Make it simple: sit down and write out a budget and some goals for the year. From there, develop a marketing plan, deciding which tactics you want to focus on. Do you want to big a social media push for 2015? Create those Facebook and Twitter accounts and start putting your voice out there. Think mailers are the best way to reach your audience? Pick an email platform and start collecting customer email addresses in your stores. Digital strategies can seem like a big project to take on, but by going one step at a time and thinking carefully about who exactly you want to target, you’ll start to see results and you’ll be glad you made the investment.