It’s been a long haul since the mess in 2008, but their are signs that a recovery is underway. Unemployment was at 6.7% in December showing a steady decrease last year. The stock market continues to hit new highs and foreclosures are at pre-2008 levels. I don’t think I’d break out the champagne just yet, but we seem to be heading in the right direction.
Back in 2008, when the housing market imploded and the economy when into a tailspin, many wise small business owners recognized it was time to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm. We became very conservative with our marketing dollars knowing that the ROI on our investment was going to be low.
Well it’s been over 5 years now and it might be time to start thinking a little more bullishly. If the signs are correct and we see continued growth in the economy, it’s reasonable to assume that we will see an increase in small local business as more businesses and consumers begin to dig money out from under their mattresses. The question is, are we ready for the increase in business levels? Here are some considerations:
The Playing Field Has Been Flattened
The effect of the Great Recession has been to flatten the playing field in many markets and industries. As spending levels drop, all businesses are hurt and larger businesses often see greater impact on their financial well being, resulting in layoffs and drastic cost reductions, where smaller businesses are more nimble and can more easily adapt to a reduction in revenue. So over the course of 5+ years, the difference between the big guy and the small guy has shrunk. Advantage: small business.
The Early Bird Catches The Worm With Money To Spend
If we are at the beginnings of a sustained recovery, then there will be a competitive advantage in getting a jump on the competition in attracting new customers and business. If you wait too long, your competitors could very well steal away business that should have been yours.
Marketing Changes In The Last 5 Years
The internet continues to dominate how we market business. Yellow Pages are dead, telemarketing is bad for brand and mailings are expensive with low ROI. To succeed today means having an effective internet presence. For some, this may be old news, but even if you have had a good online presence in the past, you will want to re-evaluate your strategy going forward. Google has made significant changes in its search ranking algorithm that affects anyone with a presence on the internet. Mobile and Social Media must be accounted for going forward. You should not overlook the effectiveness of more traditional forms of promotional materials, however. You could consider adding branding to your vehicle to create a mobile advertisement seen by people walking or driving around town. You could look at buying a magnet for sale designed to attach to the side of your vehicle with no difficulty or damage to the bodywork.
So with that said, what are the challenges small businesses face? Here are some points to ponder:
Where To Advertise?
Advertising on the internet has to be a priority. There are no other advertising media that offer the same potential ROI. If budget and resources allow, consider print media, radio and TV spots, but for most small businesses, it’s all about the internet and Google in particular. Google is the Holy Grail of internet advertising – show up on Page 1 for relevant keywords and you are are home free. Well almost anyway. The question is how to achieve this ranking. Today, Google puts much more weight on Social Media and blogging to determine who is an authority in their subject matter. The days of direct selling are disappearing, to be replaced with what’s called Content Marketing. Consumers on the internet don’t want “In Your Face” selling, they want information. Provide answers that help them with a purchasing decision and you will reap the rewards with better rankings and more sales leads and conversions.
Part of this new age of marketing involves a modern website that is user friendly and performs well. Gone are the days of Flash animations and other frills. Shoppers arrive at your site seeking information, not some wild visual experience. Information must be organized and provided in a fast and clear manner, which might mean your site needs some reorganization.
In 2008, IPads didn’t exist and IPhones were but a year old. Mobile traffic was a small fraction of internet traffic and not a big concern from a marketing standpoint. Today, however, mobile traffic is on the rise, roughly at 40% and set for continued growth. Many consumers prefer a tablet device to those big bulky laptops (yes, I said that) and most cellphones are of the smartphone variety. Failure to provide a good user experience for your mobile visitors could be a fatal mistake. New website design styles account for any screen size, optimizing layouts for all kinds of different devices. Make sure your site looks just as good on a smartphone as it does on a large monitor or TV (yes, browsing on your TV is here).
For many years, small business owners debated the value of getting on Facebook and Twitter for their business. Was it worth the time? Is it a passing fad? Are my customers on Social Media? Well, for better or worse, Google has ended the debate. Google made changes to their search algorithm that factors in Social Media signals, not the least of which is Google+. Google wants their social media platform to succeed and they will do whatever it takes to make it the dominant platform. While the number of users may be half that of Facebook, it is on the rise and to ignore it would be a mistake.
What To Do?
So the good news is that the economy seems to be on the mend and more business will start to flow. The bad news is that the way businesses need to promote themselves has changed dramatically. An effective presence on Social Media combined with a mobile friendly modern website is the key to success. Social Media is free in terms of money, but can take a significant investment in time. Even putting in the time does not guarantee success. Your message has to be well crafted and coherent over time, building a network of followers and engaging your prospects in a way that makes them want to engage with you. No simple matter.
Your choice is simple – try it yourself or outsource to someone with Social Media marketing expertise. Either way, now is the time to get started.