While talking to a friend of mine the other day – small business owner trying to grow her business like anyone else -, I had that line going through my head. You know, the one from A Few Good Men – “You want the TRUTH? You can’t HANDLE the TRUTH!” You see, my friend has big dreams; she wants and expects big things from her website…

The TRUTH About Your Small Business, Brand and Marketing Power

Can You Handle The Truth?

There’s a lot to be said for drive and ambition. Drive and ambition can take you a long way towards whatever your idea of success is. BUT, there’s a lot to be said for “keeping it real”, too, and today I’m going to throw some realism your way.

You CAN’T compete with big business.

When you run a brick and mortar company, it’s easy to keep your head out of the clouds and your feet comfortably situated on the ground. However, there’s something about taking your business online that tells you, “I’ve made it! I can conquer the WORLD!” (insert mad laughter here) You start dreaming about taking business from places like Wal-Mart, Overstock and JCPenny’s. You begin to think you’re bigger than the biggest dog on the block – until reality comes crashing down. Nothing worked the way you thought it would, and you’ve spent more money, time, or both to find this hard truth out.

That’s because you think you’re in competition with these mega corporations. You aren’t, because you don’t have:

  •  their massive marketing budgets,
  •  the millions of satisfied customers,
  •  the years of brand name building,
  •  their infinite (or close to) resources.

You simply can’t compete on their level! Don’t throw your arms in the air and give up, though, because there is something you can do.

Dream Big, In Small Doses: Branding & Inbound Marketing

You’re small, yes, but you’re not insignificant. You just have to tweak your thought processes a little. You have to learn how to dream big, but in small pieces. No matter how big your dream, remember the following:

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Your brand won’t be either. It takes time to build a brand. It takes customer satisfaction, authority, and the knowledge of who you are. People will have to learn what your business is all about, and you start with things like:

You have to start somewhere. Rome started with some dirt…

Your website is just a business card.

If you’re new to the online world and your site barely has the bubble wrap off of it, it’s nothing more than an online business card at the moment. It has a chance to grow, but it takes time. You’re not going to get online and receive tons of traffic the first day – life isn’t that neat, nor is it that convenient. Just as you would with a brick and mortar store, you’re going to have to work to build up visitors.

  • Create a blog, and decide how much time you have to put into it. How often will you be posting? Be conservative; once you start a schedule, people will very quickly learn to expect blog posts from you on those days.
  • If you don’t have enough time for blogging, pinpoint a few places for posting occasional articles to share your particular expertise with others.
  • Showcase your services or products, much like you would in a department store. How visible are they on the site? Did you just throw up a picture (or worse, a one-line description), or did you put thought into how the product looks on the page? The art of proper display is still everything!
  • Make sure your site URL and social info is on everything you put out that pertains to your business: business cards, letter heads, emails, and any trade show products, for example. Don’t miss these great opportunities to turn offline meetings into potential customers and relationships.

Your business card needs to be passed to other establishments – online.

What does that mean? It means Google Places; it means Yahoo Local, Yelp and HotFrog. It also means getting to know your neighbors, potential coworkers and competition. Therefore, just as you might introduce yourself to the business owner next door in a physical mall, you’d do the same online:

  • Make your social icons and accounts highly visible, giving individuals a chance to reach out and connect more closely with your brand
  • Visit blogs in your niche or relative niches
  • Introduce yourself and ask about them
  • Add your business to local directories
  • Treat Google Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, HotFrog, Bing and other sites as if they were allowing you to put a business booth up – because they are:
    • Videos
    • Photos
    • Maps
    • Testimonials
    • Phone number
    • Address
    • List of services

You can learn more about these topics by reading Local SEO: Are You Hitting Your Traffic Corridor and Local SEO Is Like Real Estate: Location, Location, Location.

Growth is Your Main Goal

Sales and growth are your main goals.

When you get online and start reading about all this SEO stuff, it’s easy to get stuck in the idea of traffic. You have to have traffic to your site if you’re going to succeed, right? The reason why optimization has grown to encompass so many skill sets is because traffic, in and of itself, does you no good. Traffic gets you nowhere if your visitors don’t buy. Otherwise, they’re just putting wear and tear on your merchandise by handling it and putting it back on the shelf. This is the number one reason why SEO is changing into inbound marketing (a whole other post by itself). Inbound marketing focuses on your main goals: sales and, through sales, growth. Yes, it’s done by traffic, but it’s targeted traffic – and that makes all the difference. Don’t obsess over whether you get more sales from one of your search place pages than you do from your website. Pay attention, yes, but don’t obsess. If you implement the tips above and your sales are growing, you’re doing well!

Meet the standards of SEO first – then worry about the rest.

In this instance, we mean “standard” practices first, before getting into indepth SEO. What are some of these standard practices? A short list includes:

  • Check your URLs. Are you being listed for www and non-www versions of your site? Are your URLs reader friendly or full of dynamic parameters? Are they easy to remember?
  • Make sure your meta data is strong – relevant, readable, clickable titles and descriptions.
  • Ensure your anchor links aren’t there just for SEO. Don’t add a link to increase optimization; add a link because it helps the user. Where should they best be placed?
  • Check your content for proper, semantic, heading usage (h1, h2 tags, for example).

Just making sure these things on your site are correct, relevant and strong can make as much as a 50% difference in your traffic and conversions.

Your Budget Isn’t A Suggestion

Your budget isn’t a suggestion.

You have set a budget, right? If not, set an annual, bi-annual and monthly budget. In this budget include your SEO, social and marketing. How much can you afford? Then, ask yourself, “How can I work within my budget to achieve what I want to achieve?” Can you break your marketing into phases? How? Many inbound marketing companies will work within your bi-annually or yearly budget – IF you let them know you have one. No matter how much you may want to spend tons of money on this product or that service, you have to face facts. The fact is that your budget is all you have to work with. When it comes to inbound marketing, it’s important to remember that it takes time. The less money you have the more time it takes, but it’s never instantaneous, no matter how much money you throw at it. Don’t strain your budget on products or services, hoping they’ll skyrocket you to the next level. We get lots of people contacting us that know they don’t have the budget for a full campaign, but aren’t willing to go for anything within their constraints. Be realistic about what you can afford, and work within those confines until you can do more!

The Truth Hurts, But…

You own a small business. You aren’t Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or any other Mart. You’re just you. –And yet, it takes a special kind of person to take the steps needed to become a small business owner. It takes your drive, ambition, courage and dedication to keep it going. That all translates into your business, your marketing and your brand – and that’s a brand I can get behind!