There’s never been a better time to be a small business owner. Start-ups are booming, and a 2012 study showed that 12% of American adults started or began running a new business during the previous year. Technology — from e-commerce to social media to mobile — plays a large part in start-up growth, giving business owners more opportunities to grow their brand and expand their customer base. Technology also enables small business to innovate faster and more effectively than before, and can unshackle business owners from the need for costly brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Few people know more about helping small businesses innovate than Beth Temple. Temple, a New York-based consultant, has helped companies enhance their digital business. She works with start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike, and has plenty to say about how small businesses should be taking advantage of the opportunities offered by emerging technology.
Content is king
Content is your brand. Producing quality and brand-focused content will help drive your business, but it pays to do it right. “The first thing I tell a small e-tail business about content is that you’re going to have to experiment to find what you’re truly good at, and what your customers want,” Temple said.
“Video content is becoming more and more dominant as a way of story-telling and brand-building. Small business should experiment with short-form videos, ideally five to ten seconds long, that tell their story. These work really well as quick on-page product descriptions.”
But not just any video will do. Temple urges small businesses to makes sure that every video contains that business’s voice and brand. “For a small business,” Temple noted, “the best person to write content or appear in the videos at first is the founder or owner. The same goes for product descriptions. That’s the best way to capture the voice of a company, and it goes a long way toward establishing authenticity.”
If your business isn’t accessible by mobile device, then it’s going to have a hard time competing in a crowded marketplace. 10% of e-commerce dollars were spent on a mobile device in 2012. That number doesn’t sound terribly large, but consider that 96% of smartphone users have researched a product or service from their phone. That, coupled with plummeting computer sales, make a clear case for the necessity of a mobile-friendly e-commerce experience.
In March 2013, Constant Contact sent out a survey to small businesses asking them if and how they are using mobile for their small business. The top two ways are email and social media marketing, and they have a considerable lead over other uses, this isn’t a surprise as 66% of the businesses surveyed said that they are using mobile. This is a huge increase over the past few years. Mobile isn’t just for the big brand anymore.
- 73 percent conduct social media marketing.
- 71 percent conduct email marketing.
- 44 percent advertise through social platforms.
- 34 percent have a mobile-optimized website.
- 18 percent run a mobile tablet-based payment point-of-sale.
- 18 percent use mobile apps to manage operations, like accounting.
In addition to a mobile-friendly e-commerce experience, Beth Temple strongly recommends that small businesses take advantage of social sharing site Pinterest. “It’s really important to be on Pinterest if you’re going to do e-tail. Pinterest is mobile, and people actually do a lot of shopping on Pinterest. You can showcase products in a way that’s very visually appealing and easy to navigate. Plus, being on Pinterest means you’re getting both your social and mobile outreach with one outlet.”
Social media builds brands
Facebook is the first stop in the brand building exercise, and their Open Graph functionality is an easy-to-implement system that can drive huge amounts of traffic. But Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Twitter and Pinterest are great assets for reaching a massive audience and promoting a new brand. “Do a test on the major social platforms,” said Temple. “See what works. See where you find an audience. Not every platform will work for every brand.”
Here are some guidelines small businesses should follow when getting starting building a positive brand on social media:
- Be open-minded: We all know that all too often, there are backseat drivers. Those that are in the car with us enough to think that they can solve our problems, or suggest improvements. The best that you can do is to be open-minded to these ideas. A customer might bring to light something you haven’t thought about before, most decisions are based on user experience and who knows the experience better than the user? Clients, customers and followers alike love it when you open a positive debate with them on how to improve your service level.
- Be honest: Most customers have an innate, almost instinctual feeling when they are being lied to. If you have a product or service that has an issue or is being discussed in a negative light on social media, the best thing you can do is to be honest and vow to make it right. Of course, some customers will never be happy, no matter what your action is. It is important not to define your future actions based on a small number of negative people.
- Be a person: As a business owner of a small company you should try to be involved in the online community. Just be yourself. Try to connect with your clients. It gives you the opportunity to share updates about your company and allows you to connect with future clients. A small business can garner a personal touch if the business leader plays an active online role.
- Commit yourself: Social media won’t change your business’ appearance or make your business go viral overnight. You have to put time into it, you have to build a rapport with your consumers and followers.
- Listen, Listen, Listen: This is by far the most solid piece of advice any business owner can be given for engaging on social media. Listening, creates conversation, opens up debates, gathers functional data to make your business grow.
A solid and branded social media presence, like Rome, wasn’t built over night, taking all of the tips above can help you in your pursuit of social growth. Take it slow at first, and find which platform best suits your industry and business.
Analytics is easier than ever
Your small business doesn’t need a business intelligence team to help you find key levers to drive engagement and e-commerce conversion. Google Analytics is a free tool that’s extremely powerful, without being technically daunting. “You don’t have to have much analytics experience to work with Google Analytics,” Temple noted. “It’s an easy way for small businesses to see what’s converting and where their users are going.”
Of course, none of these developments will help your small business grow if you don’t embrace them. Many small business owners, particularly those not considered “digital natives,” may shy away from the opportunities of e-commerce, simply because it seems like a lot to learn. But doing so will cost your business dearly.
Beth Temple urges small business owners not to avoid learning the digital ropes. “If you don’t know your way around the digital space, then reach out to your network and find someone who can show you. Not knowing is fine, but not trying to learn is absolutely the wrong choice. The best part about digital is that you can make small mistakes, then correct them and learn from them. Never be afraid to experiment.”
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