As we edge into a new year filled with continued COVID fears and ever-changing protocols, it's hard for small businesses to feel optimistic about the coming months. Some have shuttered their doors forever. That's the very reason why we MUST create our own destiny and figure out how we can solve a problem for our customers and clients during this extended pandemic. Employees learned how to work remotely, fighting through new technology platforms. Students and teachers learned how to adapt to online learning.
While COVID has hurt many small businesses, it has also helped many discover how resilient and creative they can be. Small businesses took leaps of faith to retain their loyal customers by tracking ever-changing state and local protocols, embracing technology and thinking outside the box to serve their customers. Website overhauls now included e-commerce options as online shopping became necessary. Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, Shopify, Ebay stores and other auction sites replaced brick and mortar shopping. In-person workshops and events moved online using FaceTime, Zoom and other platforms.
I came across a social media timeline that brought back memories of joining LinkedIn shortly after it launched in 2003, then Facebook in 2005, Twitter in 2007, and Pinterest (still my favorite) in 2010. I joined Google+, but never liked it. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who lost interest in the platform as it was shut down for good in 2019. New platforms emerged - Snapchat, Periscope, Vine, and now TikTok. Two of these have already been shut down. An alternative platform to Facebook called Parler launched in 2019 and was forced offline by Amazon and Google.
So, what can small business learn from this ever-changing and fickle marketplace?
I spent many years facilitating educational workshops on social media and email marketing. At the beginning of most classes I showed a slide that featured a wheel. The hub of the wheel represented what we, as small business owners, controlled -- our website and our mailing list. The end of the spokes included all the various social media platforms. These are areas we cannot control and don't own. Now, more than ever, it's important to rely less on what we cannot control and bolster our relationships with our customers using our mailing lists which continually point back to our hubs - our websites.
I wish you much success in 2021.
In January, my husband had surgery to remove a brain tumor. Following his successful surgery, Sam experienced a series of complications due to infection in the hospital. Three additional brain surgeries left him unable to move his right arm or leg and the ability to communicate and he remained hospitalized for almost two months. My business was placed pretty much on hold as I navigated unfamiliar territory as his advocate. Sam was moved to acute rehab in late February and began the arduous work of regaining strength and letting his brain heal. At the end of March, amidst COVID-19 visiting restrictions and uncertainty, Sam came home to heal. He made great progress in regaining speech, learning how to stand and now can feel his right arm and leg. We continue physical therapy at home and he amazes me every day as he becomes more mobile. While the corona virus has certainly added additional concerns about his safety, it has also helped us find ways to be creative and more confident in our abilities.
My clients are all small business owners and I know many of you are worried about whether your business will survive. Will your customers come back to you after being closed? Can you recoup lost income?
I don't have all the answers to these questions, but I can tell you that you have a tremendous ability to get through this AND come out on the other end more nimble, more creative and more resilient. Rather than feeling that you don't know what to do to withstand the hardships during the next couple of months, here is what I am learning about our Western Mass small businesses.
December has always been a whirlwind kind of month. Long before I chose the path of self-employment in marketing, most of my employment was commission-based. Performance mattered. I was evaluated every quarter on the amount of business I produced, but no quarter mattered as much as quarter four. As many of my friends and family were enjoying holiday traditions, taking vacation time, or doing some shopping, my eyes were "focused on the prize" - meeting my annual sales goals, earning incentive bonuses, and helping my teams reach their goals for the benefit of the company. There was no time to stop and reflect and certainly no time for "self care".
I was at a WBOA meeting this week where we shared our experiences with holiday traditions, as well as special promotions we may offer through our businesses at this time of year. In all my years working as a public speaker and small business workshop facilitator on behalf of Constant Contact, I probably held over 40 "Rock Your Holidays With A Great Promotion" workshop heading into the last quarter of each year. Most small businesses make the majority of their income in the last quarter of the year, so learning how to reach new customers and value returning customers was important, and I knew that effective use of email marketing combined with social media would help them succeed. I still help many of my clients plan, schedule and execute their holiday digital promotions. I also shared that I seldom offer a holiday promotion for my own business.
This week I was saddened to learn that a non-profit organization that I have supported for many years was closing its doors. One of the reasons they felt they could no longer continue their mission upset and angered me. Right before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and the all-import Giving Tuesday for non-profits, their Facebook page was taken down with no explanation. This meant that all their digital advertising asks for donations that were scheduled to go during that time were held in the abyss of "Facebook jail". I have my thoughts on how and why this happened, but there is no way to change the outcome as Facebook makes its on decisions. They announced their decision to close to their newsletter subscribers this week.
We have become so immersed in social media that we forget about the power these companies can have over our lives, and our businesses. Between figuring out algorithms, paid vs. generic reach, and getting found in an overwhelmingly crowded space, maybe we are reaching the tipping point. Maybe we need to re-evaluate our dependence on social media.
Thank you for subscribing to my mailing list. I am grateful the many conversations I've had with subscribers who've attended my workshops and events, my clients who have worked with me through the countless changes in the world of digital marketing and the many small business owners I've had the privilege to get to know over the years.
Here's wishing you a very happy holiday season, however you celebrate. Take care.
The holidays will be upon us before you can change your clock back! As a small business owner, this is an important time of year for many reasons. Although we think of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday as big shopping days for retail stores, the holiday season impacts service related businesses and non-profits as well. Many small businesses make much of their income during the holidays. Non-profits rely on Giving Tuesday and holiday events that focus on the generosity of donors. It's also a time to thank our customers for their loyalty.
I was an Authorized Local Expert speaker for Constant Contact for many years and the workshops I facilitated during the holiday season were always very popular. Attendees learned about the types of promotions and special events they could offer, how to time the promotions, harnessing email and social media to connect and expand their reach with customers.
This year I am happy to offer you, as a valued reader of my blog and newsletter, the Holiday Marketing 101 Guide, published by Constant Contact that you can read in the comfort of your office, your living room, or even in bed in your jammies. You will find a comprehensive approach to planning and executing your marketing plan, as well as ways to carry your efforts into the new year. Take a deep, cleansing breath. You don't have to do it all. Pick what feels right to you and your customers. Just click the button to download the guide here:
P.S. If you are not currently using email marketing, or are frustrated with the service you've chosen, I encourage you to take Constant Contact for a FREE spin using my direct link. If you decide to purchase I will give you a promotional code to use as my gift. Try Constant Contact today.
I grew up as the daughter of an entrepreneur. My Dad, Charles L. Grandey was an independent insurance agent and his agency was located in our home. This picture of our Chevrolet Impala (I believe) depicts the life of a business person vs. family guy. Magnetic door ads were just beginning to be used in the 1960's. My Dad, an innovator and always at the forefront of marketing, ordered these sweet rolling ad banners from a local print shop and everyone knew when he was driving around town. The ski rack on top was for me, as I loved to ski and the road to Mount Mansfield in Stowe, VT was always open!
Dad was rarely without his fedora (wool for winter and straw for summer). He was a big part of our community, a member of Rotary, on the administrative board of our church, civic committees including the Water and Light and Soil Conservation. I never thought of him as having a political agenda -- he just volunteered to serve his community wherever he could. I'm sure there were many heated discussions at some of these meetings, but people respected each other's opinions and worked for the good of the community.
My father probably always hoped my brother would follow in his footsteps as an entrepreneur, taking over the family business. As fate would have it, my brother was more into education. He would never know that I was the one with the entrepreneur gene in the family!
Some of the many nuggets of information I learned from Dad included:
Put your customers first and show up when you're needed
As an insurance agency in Northern Vermont, he insured a lot of family farms. Every time the local volunteer fire department's siren sounded he walked up to the fire station to find out where they'd been called and would drop everything to be present at a barn fire to reassure his clients that all would be OK. Sometimes I went along for the ride, as the community surrounded the affected families.
Don't judge or assume
One night at dinnertime, someone knocked on the door to our home (not the office) and Dad welcomed the visitor in, leading him to the office. I remembered that he was wearing green work clothes, dirty farm boots and smelled badly. After he left I probably made a rude teenage comment about him and Dad looked at me and said, "Don't ever judge someone by the way they look. Bennie is our area's first millionaire. You never know someone's real story. Bennie was a chicken farmer whose farm was just outside town. You honestly had to roll the windows of your car up when you went past the coops. He had an inground pool and laundry hanging on the line and he gave land to all his family to farm.
This is the most difficult lesson I learned from Dad. He worked very hard, won multiple awards for his agency growth, brought in a partner who later purchased the business and business name of Grandey Insurance Agency. He also missed a lot of family events, rarely took a vacation and had 3 heart attacks before he was 60. After his retirement and selling the agency, he took up antiquing and enjoyed having a little shop, talking to customers, doing some picking - it was just his style. Luckily, he lived until he was 86, but it was not without the family trying to help him avoid the "stress" of self-employment. Today we have many ways for entrepreneurs to reduce daily stress - yoga, meditation, holistic health services, etc. We don't always pay attention to ourselves, though. Working hard is OK, but we must pay attention to the toll it takes on ourselves and our families.
I honor my Dad, miss his quiet strength and sense of fair play, community, and commitment to providing a good life for his family. I miss his humor, like the time he made my guy friends shovel the porch roof after a landslide of ice and snow fell on it the day after he knew they'd been partying. They did it because it was Charlie who asked, not because they wanted to be freezing their **sses off in zero degree weather.
A recent study by the Direct Market Association found that email marketing delivers a $38 return-on-investment for every $1 spent. In fact, email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel – including social and search according to a report by Monetate.
I have been using email marketing in my business for over 19 years ((yes, it's been around for that long!) If you've ever attended one of my workshops you may have heard me talk about the importance of your "marketing hub". In the world of marketing, you own two things -- your website and your mailing list. They are the hub. Social media channels are important, but since you don't OWN them you cannot CONTROL them.
Whether you are new to email marketing, or you've been using email to reach your audience for a while, here are 3 ways you can improve your results.
1. Know Your Audience
Not everyone is your customer and your customers are not all alike. Email marketing is a "one to many" tool, allowing you to reach a large number of people through one message yet speak to them individually. Make sure you are writing for one subscriber, not your whole list.
Not this: "To all of you who are looking forward to spring . . ."
But this: "Are you looking forward to spring as much as we are?"
People are more likely to subscribe to your mailing list if they will receive content that is relevant to them. If you owned a pet shop, you wouldn't talk to cat owners the same way to talk to dog owners, would you? In this case, you would segment your mailing lists based upon interest. Ask subscribers if they are a dog owner, cat owner, bird owner, reptile owner, etc. Let them self-select what list they join based on relevant content. Create private lists, too (ie. clients, event attendees, etc.)
2. Less Is More
Creating a robust mailing list takes time. Email marketing is a permission-based tool. You must ask for the privilege of receiving someone's email address. Where do you ask? Everywhere. Ask permission on restaurant menus, packing slips, at the cash register, on event registrations, in person at networking events - and on your website. The amount of information you ask from a subscriber can affect how fast your list grows. In the above graphic, the example on left was from a non-profit's website. Asking for a street address, phone and fax number could be too much information. Only ask for what you need. Would a zip code or state field help you without asking too much? Would adding a birthday field encourage sign ups? Maybe, especially if you offer a birthday surprise!
In addition to the fields you choose for your opt-in form, it's also helpful to let your subscriber know what they will receive and the frequency of the mailing. For example, if you are a yoga teacher you may send daily meditations to your mailing list. This is fine as long as your subscribers want that content delivered to them. Whatever the frequency you choose, be sure to keep your promise.
Why do you open certain emails from brands and skip over some, or unsubscribe (or hit the spam button) for others? The answer is simple - relevant content, stuff that's important to you. It doesn't have to be long, in fact, less is generally more. No one has time to read lengthy emails and people prefer watching video more than reading anything.
In addition to segmenting your mailing list to provide more relevant content to your audience, there are other ways to take your email marketing to the next level. Constant Contact, the company I use and recommend for small businesses email marketing, makes it easy to personalize your messages, from greeting your subscriber by name, to automating a series of emails based on user opens and clicks. Whatever information you collect becomes part of the database used to populate your emails. Going back to the example of the pet shop, if you asked your subscriber what their dog's name is when they sign up, you can include it in your message. Who doesn't like to have someone remember the name of their pet?
By the way, my dog's name is Riley. She's the sweetest Golden Retriever you'll ever meet. You can find hundreds of pictures of her on her Facebook album, "The Life of Riley".
The digital world doesn't stand still and finding ways for our businesses to be found online can be challenging. Google announced in December that Google+ is shutting down on March 7th following a data breach and low consumer usage. Each social media channel has a different appeal and demographic but among the top platforms based on usage are YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Of all the channels, Facebook still has the broadest usage and widest demographic. However, small businesses are often frustrated with Facebook's algorithm which continually makes it harder to be seen in a crowded marketplace. The push to a "pay to play" model has made it difficult to use the platform without paying for Facebook advertising. Still, having a presence on Facebook makes sense for most small businesses in order to create brand awareness and relationships with potential users of our products and services. The good news is that Facebook is a quality not quantity network. Posting 2 or 3 times a week can be sufficient as long as the content is relevant to your audience.
Here are 5 ways to harness the power of Facebook for your business:
This is the story of how one small business took control of their online marketing and lived up to their brand.
The owner of a well established, family owned construction company was finding it difficult to keep up with everything he needed to do to manage his crews and find time to keep up with his marketing. He had a professionally designed logo, lettered trucks and a business card, but that is where things became a little messy.
A family member had created his website years ago, but it was riddled with typos and outdated information. He had a Facebook page, which included a snapshot of him standing in front of a wall dressed in a T-shirt and unshaven. The page sat abandoned with only65 likes, no posts and linked to a domain that didn't exist.
An online search came up with a few very positive Yelp reviews. Unfortunately, he never claimed his Yelp listing. and didn't know they existed. He had no Google listing which prevented him from being found in a search of his competitors. A Better Business Bureau listing revealed an A+ rating, and a YP listing was also unclaimed.
The owner also was frustrated and wanted to dump AOL as his current email provider, but didn't know what to replace it with. That's when he called me.
WHAT WE DID.
These changes helped a small business live up to the quality and the promise of its brand. They are now ready to take on the new year looking as great online as they do in person!
It's easy to let the lure of summer let us kick back a little, slow down, unplug, maybe take a well deserved vacation. This is a good thing, assuming we've let our marketing continue on auto-pilot, as I wrote about in my last post.
September is right around the corner, which means that the last quarter of the year also looms on the horizon. What you do NOW to create and maintain your marketing strategy and campaign execution can make a profound difference in your end of year numbers.
So, what can you do in the middle of August to prepare to hit the ground running when it's "back to business" in September?
The first thing to do is create a visual roadmap for September - December. This calendar will allow you to map out everything that may affect your business and marketing campaigns throughout the holiday season.
Begin by adding special dates (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday (if you sell online), Giving Tuesday (non-profit giving), etc. Look for special recognition days, weeks or months that are important to your industry and could be used in social media.
Will you be planning any special events, ie. customer appreciation day, a sales event, workshop, pop-up shopping day? If so, look at your calendar to strategize a date that is far enough in advance to be able to market sufficiently.
Once you know what event you will hold, break out the tasks that need to be done. You can do this on paper now and add it to a digital task list later, or an excel or Google sheet which can be shared with others. What is the task, who is responsible, when is it due? If you're depending on others to create print material, update your website or create a campaign online, be aware that they may be busier as well. Don't wait until the last minute to place the work order.
Your social media, email, and traditional marketing campaigns need to support your seasonal "offer". Timing is everything. Don't overlook the time needed to produce, print and ship marketing collateral. What can you pre-schedule and what must you do manually? Inboxes are inundated with offers at this time of year. Do you have a strategy for resending an email to your subscribers who did not open your offer?
It may feel a bit overwhelming now to think about fall and holiday marketing, but with a little planning now, you can reap the benefit of a fatter bottom line on December 31st. You can do this!!!
If you are a solo-preneur, finding time to do everything you need to do on a daily basis to market your business can feel daunting. When it's time to take a few days off, have you thought of how you will keep your business "running" while you're away? Ask yourself these questions.
How "unplugged" will you be?
1. Create a vacation auto-reply for your email.
You can use a basic out of office message, but why not toss in a little marketing when you have the opportunity. An out of office message that includes marketing goes something like this:
Hello and thanks for your email. I’m currently away until mm/dd with limited / no access to email. If your request is urgent, please contact [NAME] at [EMAIL or PHONE]. In the meantime, did you know I have a monthly e-newsletter? Yep, you heard that right! A monthly dose of all your favorite [COMPANY] content sent right to your inbox. To ensure you don’t miss out on all the good stuff, sign up for my newsletter here. [insert email sign up link] I’ll be sure to get back to you when I return on mm/dd. Thanks,
2. Create a voicemail greeting for your work phone.
If you use the same phone for work and pleasure, being away from the office can be a bit tricky. The best advice is to NOT pick up the phone and encourage callers to leave a voice mail.
3. Send an email to your mailing list subscribers.
The timing of this email may depend on your type of business. If you let people know you're on vacation in 5 days, you may get last minute requests for service just when you're trying to lighten your work load. I prefer to send this shortly before I will be unavailable for a period of time. The content for this message can be similar to a voice mail out of office greeting, Consider including support service contacts.
4. Pre-schedule social media content.
Just because you're away, doesn't mean that you can't be marketing. There are apps available to help. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of free and paid apps you might want to consider: sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-scheduling-tools/
If you are only posting to Facebook, did you know that you can schedule posts directly from Facebook? Just create a post, but instead of clicking on Publish, click the down arrow beside it and choose Schedule. You can choose the date and time you want the post to appear. All your scheduled posts will show up in Activity.
5. Pack the essentials.
There are times when you may want flexibility to do a little work. Be sure to pack your wall charger, solar charger, laptop or tablet. If you need wi-fi, know where hotspots are available, or better yet, avoid the public wi-fi network altogether and add tethering to your mobile phone plan.
Liz Provo, Mass Marketing Resources.