COVID-19 Resources for Small Business

How are you doing? The best response I’ve heard to that recently is “pandemic fine”. Simply meaning, not bad, all things considered. And there’s a lot to consider, isn’t there?

As small businesses, we’re all dealing with this the pandemic, and business shutdown, in different ways. Some of us have been personally touched by an illness in the family. If that’s you, my prayers go out to you. Many others are wondering if there is a light for their business at the end of a tunnel that we can’t tell the length of.  Most of us are watching the news daily anticipating the re-opening announcements and trying to figure out where we fit and when our time will come. And will we be ready?

There’s a lot of great information out there and a lot of smart people sharing their advice, best guesses, and insights. I’ve captured some of the better resources I’ve come across in the hope that they can help some of you. I hope there’s something for you here. Stay safe and feel free to reach out with any questions about your marketing or just to chat.

Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses

If you’re not a member consider joining, but for now, they are offering many of their resources for free to help independent businesses during the pandemic. Everything from insights into government programs, free templates, weekly webinars, and more. Visit them at https://www.cfib-fcei.ca/en/small-business-resources-dealing-covid-19

Business Development Bank of Canada

The Business Development Bank of Canada is offering special financing for entrepreneurs affected by Covid-19.

Shopify

This is one of the only private organizations I’m offering a link for. I have no affiliation with them. A lot of businesses right now are trying to figure out an e-commerce strategy for their business. One of the larger players in that field is Shopify and they are currently offering a 90-day free trial to get set up, free email marketing, and a gift card program. I came across this while reading a post on the Digital Main Street website. They have limited Covid information, but they’re a useful resource if you’re looking for guidance on digitally transforming your business (and so am I).

Covid-19 Resources for Restaurants & Bars

There are a lot of organizations putting out helpful information for bars and restaurants to get through the pandemic and prepare for re-opening.

MolsonCoors
Molson-Coors hosted a great webinar with Jon Taffer. You can watch the recording at https://molsoncoorswebinar.com/en/home

Restaurants Canada is compiling a lot of great resources on their website, including provincial reopening schedules, government program overviews, and updates from Restaurants Canada. https://www.restaurantscanada.org/industry-news/navigating-coronavirus-covid-19-resources-for-foodservice-operators/

Covid-19 Resources for Small Businesses

At a more generic level, there are many organizations offering assistance and advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Here are a few good ones:

If you have found other resources, please share them in the comments section so we can all find the support we need. Stay safe.

Small Business Marketing Grant

This is not so much a blog post as it is a public service announcement for small businesses in Ontario.

If you live in Ontario, you could be eligible for a grant from the Province the the Ontario BIA Association to improve your digital marketing and technology. The deadline for submitting an application is December 31, 2019.

You can use that money to create or fix up a website, improve your SEO, build an email marketing program, run some digital advertising, or invest technology to help you better run your business.

Now, there are some criteria you have to meet. The big one being you have to be within the boundaries of a BIA or a downtown area.  The process does require you to watch a number of videos designed to educate small business owners, and you have to submit a plan for how you will spend the money and track the results of executing your plan (but you get the money up front if you’re approved).

We’ve helped a number of clients complete the application process and get the grant. If you’d like us to help you contact us.

If you want to learn more, visit the Digital Main Street website. Good luck!

Why Small Businesses Fail at Social Media

The reason most small businesses fail at social media marketing – scratch that, the reason most businesses, period, fail at social media marketing is that they bring social media into the equation too soon. They’ve jumped to the conclusion without really getting a handle on the problem.

Social media is a tactic. It is a channel. Social media is not a strategy. When you start with social media as your “strategy” you are asking it to do too much, and maybe the completely wrong things. Think of it like a telephone. A way to communicate and build relationships. Telephones are very useful tools, but I can’t think of a single company with a telephone strategy.

For social media to make a difference for your business, you have to begin with a strategy. It shouldn’t be, “Okay, how am I going to use social media?” Or, “I need to get lots of people liking my Facebook page.” You have to know what you are trying to achieve with your marketing. Social media may be a pathway to successfully executing that strategy, but if you start with social media your chances of succeeding are slim.

The reason you have a slim chance of succeeding is that you won’t really know what success looks like. When I read about small business social media successes, so many of the results touted are secondary metrics that don’t show evidence of any real business impact.

Measuring Social Media Success

If you give away a car on Facebook and get 50,000 fans, is that a social media success? What are you going to do with those fans? How will you convert them to sales? Will they even see any of your content on Facebook with the network’s algorithms geared to push brand content out of the feed, forcing them to buy ads?

If you hire someone to run your Instagram profile and they churn out some great content that gets you a bunch of new followers, was it worth it? How are you tracking the return on that investment? Will those followers ever buy from you?

The only way to know for sure if social media can help your business is to start with a business goal and work it down through strategy and into the tactics that will achieve that goal. If that process points to social media as the way to go, your chances of succeeding – and measuring that success – are much greater.

Here are a few ways that social media can help a business achieve those goals.

Advertising

If you’re trying to generate leads or increase awareness, then you need to look at social media as an advertising platform.

As an advertising platform, social media networks like Facebook are relatively inexpensive and allow you to target an audience pretty effectively. You can target people who have visited your website or upload an email list and have Facebook find those people on Facebook. You can target geographically down to the neighbourhood, and/or demographically using income level, interests, etc.

Your ads can drive people to a web page where you can capture leads, or do it right in Facebook with a lead capture form.

Customer Engagement

If your goal is to improve customer engagement and retention, social media can be a useful tool. You can do it on your own Facebook page. Or you can create a search plan for comments being posted on Twitter or Instagram related to your company or a problem you can solve. Then you can respond and connect with your customers and help, and in doing so build stronger relationships.

Many companies also create customer service accounts and have dedicated people to respond to customer questions and concerns.

Inbound & Outbound Sales

This last point combines two approaches other than advertising where social media can help with lead generation.

Many companies are having success with social selling on LinkedIn. Social selling is basically good old consultative selling done online. Here you find ways to build relationships by adding value and participating in the social activity of the platform and use the social capital you build up to generate sales. There are a lot more rules to doing the right way than that, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.

Social media is also a great channel for you to distribute your content. Are you writing great blogs, or making great videos or podcasts that provide real value? Use social media to get the word out. This can help you build a following and create an inbound lead generation machine.

These are just a few ways you can use social media to achieve your business goals. The important part, though, is to start with those goals. Build the strategy to achieve them and, if it makes sense, use social media to help you deliver the results.

 

How to Build a Lead Generation Website

Most small business owners I talk with have a lot of the same issues, one that comes up often is how to build a lead generation website. Sometimes it comes in the form of why isn’t my website capturing leads from the traffic I’m getting.

If you’re getting traffic to your website, but it’s not turning into leads and customers, then the tips in this blog will help you solve some common problems small business owners encounter when they’re trying to build a lead generation website. If you want some ideas specific to your website, try our Free Website Review.

The first issue is always getting the traffic to your website, but that’s a topic unto itself. For the sake of this post, let’s assume you’re getting some traffic to your website, but they’re not converting.

Engaging Your Audience

If the traffic to your website in not turning into leads and customers you are likely failing to engage your audience. You might be talking too much about yourself and hoping that, if you’ve got them to your website, they’ll sell themselves. It won’t happen. You need to demonstrate to them that you truly understand the problem they have and build their trust. The way you do this is with content. Authentic, helpful content.

Complete online presence audit

Blogs, videos, newsletters, ebooks, podcasts, infographics. They’re all designed to do one thing: build trust with your audience.

By engaging your audience through content that speaks to their problems, you’ll signal to them that you understand and may have something of value to offer.

Creating the Right Content

To do this, you have to take the time to map out what those problems are and offer helpful advice on how to fix them. And not all of that advice can be buying your product or service. You’ll get there, but it can’t be the first thing they hear from you or you’ll never build that trust.

Spend time mapping out the issues your prospective customers have and coming up with ideas for content that speaks to it. Then, either yourself or by hiring a content developer, write those blog posts, record those videos, create those ebooks, and build that content into every page of your website!

Have Strong Calls to Action

Once you have their interest and start to build their trust, they’ll be more likely to give you their information on your lead capture form. But you have to ask for it, and prominently.

That form could be a blog subscription form, or a form to download a special report or ebook, but whatever it’s for, it needs to be in their face with strong calls to action. “Get our weekly business tips right to your inbox”, Get the latest research …”, Find out what your competitors don’t know yet”.

If you hide your lead capture form on the bottom of your Contact Us page only a very few people will ever find – or be motivated to fill it out.

Lead Nurturing

Now that you have that lead captured, you have to nurture it. Your website has done its job and you have to keep it going. Continue to send them useful content they will find value in. Every now and then send them an offer for a larger piece of content that has even more value. It may be free, or even one they have to pay small price for.  If they accept, and download that content it will signal their interest and trigger you to reach out.

This phase is where your email marketing strategy needs to kick in and keep them engaged until they are ready to purchase.

“People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy,” – Jeffrey Gitomer.

If you build an effective lead generation website and combine it with a lead nurturing strategy that builds trust, you will be creating buyers.

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

For local businesses, showing up on page one of Google is a must. It can mean the difference between success and failure. COVID-19’s impact on consumer behaviour has made this even more important – more on that here.

Any local business wanting to be found online needs a good local SEO strategy, and a good local SEO strategy starts with a completely optimized Google My Business (GMB) listing. It’s an easy, but critical first step.

a GMB listing is free to set up an will help you appear in local searches on Google Maps, Local Finder, and all mobile searches.

First thing’s first. If you haven’t already claimed your listing do it now. To claim your business listing go to https://www.google.com/business.

Complete Online Presence Audit

Enter Your Complete Data

Once you’ve claimed your listing, follow the steps outlined by Google and fill in ALL the information they ask for. This is incredibly important step to optimize your Google My Business listing, and many businesses just fill in the basics and no more.

The problem with that is, if you don’t complete all the details, Google knows elements are missing and will ask others to complete your profile for you by asking questions like in the image below.

How to optimize your Google My Business listing

Pro tip: When filling out your business listing try to use some useful keywords you want to rank well for in searches.

For detailed instructions on claiming your business check out this Google article.

Keep Your Hours Accurate

Keep your hours of operation up to date. If you are closing for a holiday or staying open for one, be sure to list those special hours. Your customers will appreciate the accurate information and Google will notice that your listing is being actively managed.

Manage and Respond to Reviews

Online reviews are critical to your visibility online. Those star ratings next to your company name in a search can either earn you more business or cost you potential sales.  I go into more detail on managing reviews in this blog post, but I’ll touch on it briefly here.

Managing reviews comes down to asking for them and responding to the ones you get. There are a number of ways you can ask for reviews, but here’s a useful post from Google if you want to create a link where you can ask customers to leave a review directly in your Google My Business listing.

In your GMB listing, actively managed reviews will help with your visibility. Respond to your reviewers. When you get a negative review, try to acknowledge the reviewer and offer an explanation where possible. This can help to win this customer back, but more importantly, it shows people reading the reviews that you are responsive and professional.

Add Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words. Photos on your Google My Business listing not only say more to your customers, they also increase the likelihood they will act on seeing your listing. I’ve read that listings with photos receive 42% more requests for driving directions and 35% more click-throughs to their website.

Google My Business Posts

Once you have your listing created, take advantage of the Posts feature. This allows you to create a social media-like post that appears as part of your listing.

Use it to promote a special offer, or contest, or anything you want to highlight. And keep it current. Google will actually remind you on a weekly basis to refresh your post, which is an awesome feature for the busy among us.

You can even add call-to-action buttons like “Learn More” or “Sign Up” to your post and drive traffic to a specific landing page.

There is no definitive proof that these posts have a direct impact on SEO, but they can increase the likelihood of a potential customer clicking on your listing, which indirectly helps by signalling to Google that your listing is relevant to whatever search terms were used.

If you have more questions about managing your Google My Business listing, send me an email. If you’d like to get a better idea of whether or not yours is working, try getting one of our Total Online Presence Audits.

How to Manage Your Online Reputation

As a business owner, you need to know how to manage your online reputation. Your business’ reputation is everything. If you have a good one, people will hear and customers will come. If you have a bad one, people will hear that, too, and stay away – and worse, tell others as well. And if you have none at all, well, no one will hear about you and you’ll struggle to attract new customers.

In the online world your reputation is very much the sum of the reviews your customers leave on sites like Facebook, Google, Yelp, and the many, many niche business review sites. And these reviews are becoming more and more important.

Consumers are less and less moved by advertising and more and more influenced by recommendations from their peers. A recent study in the UK found that 8 out of 10 Millennials will not buy anything without first reading an online review.

There is also evidence to suggest that your reviews impact your SEO. Even if they don’t have a direct impact on how high you appear in search results, seeing those five little stars next to your business or product name in Google is definitely going to impact consumer decisions about whether or not to purchase from you.

So, how do you manage your online reviews and reputation?

It’s a three-step process to get started. You have to determine which review sites are important to you, ask your customers to post reviews on those sites, and manage your negative reviews.

 

Choosing the Review Sites That Matter to You

There are thousands of places your customers could leave a review about you. Which ones matter to you will depend on what business you’re in and where your customers go for advice. The most important sites are the ones where your business is already receiving reviews. If you’re not sure if you have any, try Googling “reviews for [your business name]” and see what comes up.

There are a few sites that are important to all businesses just because of the volume of traffic they receive:

  • Google My Business
  • Facebook

If you’re in the hospitality or entertainment industry some important ones are:

  • Yelp
  • TripAdvisor
  • Foursquare

If you offer local services, look into sites like Homestars, Trustpilot, and,  again, Yelp.

If you Google “reviews for” and insert your business type you’ll get a list of some of the more popular ones in your industry.

Another key place to be capturing and publishing your reviews is your own website. You want people who visit your site to see what others are saying about you. As I’ve stated earlier, this is what more and more consumers are looking for when making a buying decision, so make it easy for them to find.

Get Positive Reviews

Once you know where you’re getting reviews or identified the review sites where you want to get reviews, the next question to answer is how do you get positive reviews. Step one is to deliver a great product, service, or customer experience. Assuming you are already doing that, the next step is simple: ask for them.

You should have a process in place to ask your customers to give you a review. When you’ve made a sale, delivered a service, finished a project. Have a mechanism for asking that customer how you did. And, if the answer is positive, ask if they’d provide an online review for you.

The more specific you can be about the ask, the better the review you stand to get. A review that provides detail about their experience (and your product or service) is better than a generic “They’re great.”

There are online tools that can help you do this for a cost. But you can also manage it yourself with a short email template, a printed 3×5 card with a few questions on it, or even a phone call.

The other business advantage to asking how you did is that you’re going to find out when customers were unhappy about your product or service. This is hugely valuable. When this happens you have a chance to salvage that relationship and make things right. You can also prevent some of those unhappy customers from posting negative reviews of your company online.

Still, even with this process, you will still get negative reviews.

What to Do When You Get Negative Reviews

You will get negative reviews. It happens to everyone. The important thing is how you deal with it. Here are some tips to effectively manage those reviews so they don’t hurt your business.

Never, ever argue with the reviewer. Always take the high ground. If you get into an online debate with someone, you make the issue seem like a big deal and you, inevitably, end up looking petty. What you want to do is demonstrate that you are listening and you are a professional.

If there is merit to the complaint, acknowledge it, apologize and try to move the conversation offline. Never offer any compensation for a bad experience in your response. This will just signal to other readers that they can get free stuff if they complain. Just move the conversation offline.

If there is no merit, or you can’t do anything to make it better, simply acknowledge their feelings and move on. It will demonstrate to prospective customers that you take your customers’ feelings seriously and are a true professional.

If you take these steps towards managing your online reviews, it will form the cornerstone for how to manage your online reputation and turn it into a business advantage that your competitors just can’t compete with.