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.
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.
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".
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!!!
GDPR is a new European Union data privacy law (short for the General Data Protection Regulation) that goes into effect on May 25, 2018. Its purpose is to create a harmonized data privacy law across all the EU member states. As a small business owner, if you email EU subscribers, you must take steps to comply with the new regulations or face stiff fines.
If you use Constant Contact as your email service provider, rest assured, the company is certified under the EU-US and Swiss-US Privacy Shields and transfer and protect the personal data from the EU and Switzerland consistent with the requirements of the Privacy Shield program, governed by the Federal Trade Commission and approved by the EU Commission.
If you do not provide goods or services to EU there is nothing you need to do. This IS a good time to review how you obtain subscribers to your mailing list and how you communicate to your subscribers what information you collect.
Read more about steps recommended by Constant Contact and what they are doing to make sure you are compliant:
Have you ever received an email from a brand where you were greeted as "Dear valued subscriber", or "Dear friends and family"? How valued did it make you feel? You may wonder why this cute little guy is staring at you. Everyone loves guinea pigs, right? Maybe . . . maybe not. Let's talk about personalization.
75% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from retailers that personalize their message (Accenture: Personalization Pulse Check Survey). The sender of that email may have forgotten about the importance of making the message personal to the recipient. Our job as marketers is to provide relevant content designed to create action - a phone call, visit to your website, sign up for an event or buy a product. When content is irrelevant, the subscriber is likely to unsubscribe from your mailing list, or worse, hit the spam button.
So, how can we make our emails more interesting for our readers? Here are 6 tips to get you started:
1) Segment your lists: Include an option on your sign up form to allow subscribers to self-select lists that are most valuable to them. A pet shop may include questions, "Love dogs?" and "Love cats?" to let the subscribers choose what kind of offers they'd like to receive based upon their interests. A yoga instructor may have a mailing list called "studio news/class updates" and another called "daily meditations".
2) Personalize your greeting: This one is easy. It starts by asking for a first name on your sign up form and making that a required field. Note: Only ask for information you truly need on your sign up form.
3) Personalize your subject line: Consider using your subscriber's first name in your subject line to spark interest. "Hey Liz, need a getaway?" This would get my attention, at least enough to open the email.
4) Send relevant, personalized content: I've got nothing against guinea pigs, but I probably don't want to read about how to care for them. Send me a message on how to get Riley to stop digging holes in my yard and I'm all over that. Talk to your customer using words like "you" and "your", and talk less about your business. Make it about them.
5) Personalize the sender: An email coming from Acme Lawn Care is less likely to be opened than one coming from a real person like Joe Brown, Acme Lawn Care. Unlike big corporations, as small businesses, we have the ability to connect with our customers on a more personal level.
6) Add some style: More than 50% of emails are opened on a mobile device and subject lines are getting shorter as a result. Emojis have gone way beyond multiple smiley faces in a Facebook post or a thumbs up in Messenger. They are also becoming more mainstream in email subject lines, used as a way to get the reader to stop scrolling and pay attention. Emojis also make people smile which is good. Here's what my subject line could look like: "Hey Liz,🏖️need a getaway?" The beach umbrella lets me know that the content of the email may take me to my favorite spot in the sand. Use emojis wisely and sparingly. Here's a good resource to find an emoji for anything: https://emojipedia.org . Emojipedia lives on my toolbar for easy access.
Remember my motto, "Marketing should be fun, not painful!". You can do this!
Earlier this month Easthampton held its 5th Annual WinterFest. As the chair of the event, one of my roles was to communicate with venues, performers, participants, vendors and volunteers. Using email marketing, online registration tools and social media, I worked with my committee to make sure the day ran smoothly. Of course, planning an outdoor event in February in New England often involves the possibility of weather interfering with activities -- too much snow, not enough snow, melting ice, cold and windy conditions -- it all happens and we've learned to plan for contingencies.
Luckily, we were fortunate to have perfect weather. As the day unfolded, I made my way to many of the 15+ venues, monitoring volunteers, resupplying programs, checking donations, All in all, everyone seemed to be having a great time, so our job was done, right?
While we could have relied on our observations during the event, did we really know how well we did?
The day after WinterFest I emailed surveys to attendees, volunteers and vendors at our craft fair to ask for feedback. By segmenting the surveys, I focused on specific content that was pertinent to the recipient. I also made the surveys anonymous to encourage participation. The responses we received will help our committee plan venues, signage, pricing, volunteer needs and more for next year.
Surveys can also help our small businesses and non-profit organizations. We can ask our customers, clients and donors how we're doing, gauge interest on new products or services, and get valuable feedback on fundraising events.
A big reason why businesses don't survey is often due to the fear of hearing negative comments, similar to fearing bad reviews on Yelp or Facebook. Please don't let that fear discourage you from using surveys. The information you receive is important and any negative feedback can help you make positive changes.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Ready to get started? Decide what kind of survey you want to send (customer satisfaction, event follow up, product survey, etc.). Choose a survey template. Hint: If you use Constant Contact for your email marketing you may already have surveys built into your product, or it can be added. If you don't have an account you can try it free here.
Other options include Survey Monkey, Zoho, Google Forms, and Survey Planet. Some offer free versions which have limited capabilities or export options. Happy surveying!
noun - the action of delaying or postponing something.
We all do it. Psychologists study it. There's even a National Procrastinators week! I usually procrastinate about sending invoices. It's not that I don't like to get paid for my work, it's that I don't ENJOY the task. I put the chore in the same category as filing or shredding paper.
I've asked many small business owners what they liked least about running a business and often I'm told, "Marketing. I don't feel comfortable doing it and I don't know what to say, so I put it off." Sometimes we procrastinate when things feel out of balance, or when we don't have an efficient system in place.
The problem with putting off your marketing is that you are missing opportunities to grow your business by creating strong, lasting relationships with your customers.
Start with your mailing list.
You have people who already want to hear from you and you've promised them that you'd stay in touch regularly. There ARE ways to help avoid procrastination. Here are just a few tips to help you get past the urge to put off doing what feels hard.
Recently, Facebook announced that its algorithm is changing -- again. What does this mean for small businesses who devote hours every week to their business pages?
It's no secret that organic reach for business pages has been steadily declining over the last three years. Prior to the latest algorithm change, only about 5% of what you post is ever seen by people who have liked your page. Let's put that in perspective. If you have 100 people who have liked your page, you are posting for an audience of five.
It gets worse.
On June 29th Facebook announced the newest change to their algorithm and it's not good news for small businesses. Facebook will now begin to prioritize posts from user's friends and family in their newsfeeds (hey, it's what users want, right?). At the same time, content produced by businesses will decrease. Your 5% reach may now be 2%. Is that acceptable?
What's the answer?
It may be time to take a step back from your Facebook strategy, certainly re-prioritizing time spent on content creation and frequency of posting. In order to increase reach, Facebook is making it clear that you will need to advertise. The entry fee is likely to increase due to this new demand, so be prepared to pay more for that option.
What else can we do?
You might want to rethink your "list", you know, the list of email addresses you have been gathering from people who have asked to stay in touch. Devote your time to really learning how to engage with your customers, fans and supporters. The average open rate for email is 21% and if you use Constant Contact as your email marketing provider, you will enjoy a deliverability rate above 99%.
One last thought . . . . remember, you have no control over social media platforms. It's rented space. Go with what you own -- your website and your mailing list. That's where you can focus your marketing efforts for better results.
You just finished composing your first email marketing campaign and are ready to hit the send button.
WAIT. Hold on a minute. Are you SURE you have permission to email these contacts?
What's the big deal, anyway. If they don't want to keep getting your emails, they'll just unsubscribe, right? WRONG. You may be a SPAMMER.
A spammer is defined as anyone who sends unsolicited email. If you didn't get permission to email that contact, (we're not talking about one-to-one messages here, we're talking about sending bulk messages) you are a spammer. It has nothing to do with the content of your message, it only applies to whether that person gave you permission. So, let's break it down further.
If you bulk email using your ISP (Internet Service Provider, ie. Gmail, AOL, MSN, etc.) and send your commercial message to a bunch of contacts through BCC who have not given you permission, you are a spammer.
If you bulk email using your ESP (Email Service Provider, ie. Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, Vertical Response) who have not given you permission, you are a spammer.
Spam costs society over $20 Billion dollars a year (Source: 2012 research by Hotmail & Google researchers
What goes on behind the scenes?
When you hit the "send" button, your message travels through your ESP's servers on it's way to your recipient's inbox. Their ISP is constantly monitoring ESPs to make sure they are not sending spam. They monitor complaints, non-existent addresses, spam traps, engagement metrics (did the recipient open the mail? How long did it sit in the inbox?) They look at content and subject lines often associated with spam.
They also look at the sender's reputation.
If you send unsolicited email, or spam, your recipient's ISP (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) may block your ESP (Constant Contact, iContact, etc.) and can report the abuse to a 3rd party Block Listing Agency and share results with other ISPs. Getting unblocked takes time and costs money.
Companies like Constant Contact who have a very good reputation as an ESP, invest a lot of money making sure we all "play nice" and follow the rules. New customers with large lists and certain industries who are often responsible for spam may have their lists vetted. Customer support may ask your email collection practices. If you come to an educational workshop, you will receive "best practices" in how to grow a great mailing list. After all, we're all in this together.
So, how can you NOT be a spammer?
Liz Provo, Mass Marketing Resources.