SUCCESS magazine’s third Start Small Win Big challenge for entrepreneurs not only offers great prizes but also gives you eight tips for growing your startup during the process of competing. Your business doesn’t have to be new either. Everyone’s startup phase is different. It can last a few months or a few years, depending on sales, stability and whether you’ve reached your initial goals. Or you simply may have a small business that you want to take to the next level.
Last month I covered Steps 1 through 4:
4. Creating a website
If you missed that article, you can catch up by reading it, and the blog posts with your homework for each step, at SUCCESS.com/sswb-2015.
Now, here are Steps 5 through 8:
5. Social Media
“Social media changes the relationship between companies and customers from master and servant to peer to peer.”
—Jay Baer, digital marketer and best-selling author
I don’t want to debate whether you should use social media to promote your business. The bottom line is that you definitely should. Here’s one good reason: 74 percent of all Internet users are active on social media, according to the Pew Research Center. There’s nothing mysterious about social media; these online communications simply constitute another marketing method—and a cost-effective one. Think of social media as a digital form of old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing.
In case you’ve been living in a cave, social platforms include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. (I omitted Google+ because it was undergoing a major overhaul as the magazine went to press.)
While Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla with more than 1.3 billion users worldwide, that doesn’t mean that’s where you should establish your social presence. The first thing to do is find out which social platform is most used by your current and potential customers. The easiest way to do this is to ask. You can have your current customers fill out an online survey (SurveyMonkey and QuestionPro offer affordable options). All social sites have “typical” customers, so check out their user profiles to see which closely match your ideal customers. LinkedIn, for instance, is particularly popular for business-to-business (B2B) companies, and Pinterest and Instagram are making huge strides among the owners of retail stores and other visually oriented businesses such as design companies, landscapers, architects, etc. Finally, see what sites your competitors focus on.
No matter which platform(s) you decide to pursue, you should stake your claim on all of them. Simply sign up for an account on all the major social channels. This helps prevent others from “borrowing” your business name and reserves a spot on that channel in case you want to market there in the future.
Then set goals. Social media can help you drive traffic and sell products online or in your store; sign up email subscribers; offer promotions and specials; build brand awareness; establish and cement customer relationships; find potential partners, vendors and employees; and much more. It helps if your goals are specific and measurable, such as getting 10 percent more retweets, 100 new Twitter followers or increasing Facebook “likes” by 50 per month, or generating 25 percent more web traffic a quarter.
Most major social platforms offer free analytics so you can measure your progress. Twitter and Pinterest recently launched small-business programs on their platforms. If you’ll use Pinterest, sign up for one of its free business accounts; these offer free access to analytics showing you popular “pins” and audience demographics. On Twitter, small businesses can now more easily buy ads and promote (for a fee) tweets to help spread their messages.
According to the recent Regalix report the State of B2B Marketing 2015, 82 percent of those surveyed plan to spend more money on digital marketing this year. LinkedIn was the big winner, with 85 percent of survey respondents planning to increase their marketing investment there; 78 percent said they would put more money into their Twitter presence; 70 percent reported they are going to boost YouTube spending. And note that nearly half, 48 percent, expect to reduce their Facebook budgets.
One key for social success is amassing followers and friends. My particular favorite social platform is Twitter. It’s a valuable discovery tool. I’ve found information and statistics for articles, entrepreneurs and trends to write about, and I even landed a few new clients using that social network. If you’re just starting on Twitter, here are seven ways to grow your followers:
• Follow other people. Many people will follow you back just for following them. Follow industry experts, people you do business with, your competitors and your customers. This will help you build brand awareness as well as give you easy access to news and information.
• Use Twitter’s promoted tweets to raise your profile (or highlight special offers) right off the bat; these are targeted to people who would be particularly interested in what you’ve mentioned. This costs $10, $20 or $50 per tweet, but Twitter says users who see a promoted tweet are 32 percent more likely to visit that business.
• Tell people about your Twitter account (this tactic works equally well with other social platforms). Put your Twitter account name (handle) on your business cards, in your email signature and on other marketing materials.
• Use hashtags, which are a search tool on Twitter (as well as on other social platforms). See what hashtags people in your industry use. (I use #SmallBusiness and #SmallBiz, but if you sell baby clothes and furniture, for example, you could use #babyclothes or #cribs.) Following some hashtag conversations will put you in touch with people who are interested in the same things you are.
• Offer promotions right away. This gives consumers an incentive to follow you and ultimately to become your customers.
•Use widgets. Twitter and other social platforms all offer widgets (buttons that offer shortcuts allowing users to instantly follow someone, share content, schedule posts and more) that you can add to your website. Some widgets allow you to embed your Twitter feed on your site, indicating your account is active and worth following, and others allow consumers to easily spread the word about something on your site to their social networks. (Visit SUCCESS.com/widget-explanation for great information about widgets and social buttons.)
• Remember that the social aspect is key. Social media is not a broadcast medium. It’s a venue for two-way conversations. The more you engage on social media, the more successful you will be. You can accomplish this by reaching out to others on those platforms and retweeting relevant tweets.
6. Mobile Marketing
“The trend has been that mobile was winning. It’s now won.”
—Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google (a December 2013 prediction for 2014)
In the last issue, I listed several reasons you should have a mobile-friendly website. And now there’s one more: As of April 2015, Google changed its search algorithms and boosted the search rankings of mobile-friendly websites. Google said this will have a “significant impact” on mobile searches.
An eMarketer study found that by 2018, a whopping 85.9 percent of spending on online search advertising will be geared to consumers on mobile devices. But the Regalix study showed many B2B companies weren’t investing time or money in mobile marketing—a big mistake. Most consumers are researching and increasingly buying personal and business products on their smartphones and tablets.
Your email marketing, such as newsletters or promotions, also should be mobile-friendly. Consumers are using mobile devices more and more, so you’re wasting money trying to reach them if your emails are unreadable because they’re not mobile-friendly.
7. Time Management
“How did it get so late so soon?”
A chronic complaint from small-business owners (including myself, after seven years of ownership): “There’s just not enough time in the day.” So many tasks (they’re often repeated at set intervals—nightly computer backup, weekly payroll, quarterly taxes, etc.) must be taken care of, especially during the early startup phase, that conquering to-do lists seems impossible.
Of course, sometimes running out of time is a symptom of growing pains, indicating you’ve added clients or gotten more work. At other times, the crush indicates poor time-management skills.
It helps to make notes on everything, moving it out of your head and onto paper or your computer or smartphone. Create a master to-do list (include personal tasks on that master list if you like) and prioritize it based on what needs to be done and when. You should review that list every evening, creating a specific to-do list for the next day, and recreate or reprioritize weekly.
It’s often helpful to divide large tasks into smaller, easier-to-manage steps. For instance, sourcing new products for your website can be an overwhelming job. But creating a series of interim steps, such as finding online sources of products on sites like eBay, discovering potential suppliers in other countries using sites like Alibaba, searching for resources provided by the U.S. government (e.g., those offered by the Small Business Administration or Commerce Department), researching shipping options and costs, etc., enables you to concentrate and more easily explore your options.
For me, it’s crucial to set deadlines, regardless of whether tasks actually require them. Creating my own deadlines keeps me focused on making progress. Without them, I tend to delay… because there’s no pressure.
Planning for the unexpected has to be part of your day. Small-business owners face many disruptions every day, so it’s smart to leave some unscheduled time on your calendar so you don’t constantly fall behind.
For many small-business owners, dealing with email is akin to stepping into quicksand. It seems innocent enough, but you easily get sucked in. Every email efficiency expert has different best practices, ranging from don’t check email first thing in the morning to check email only three or four times a day to aim for zero items in your inbox, and so on. It’s hard to say what will work best for you.
One of my partners checks her email on a strict schedule, but I’m constantly in and out of my inbox—and these methods work well for each of us. Here are some other email-handling tips that work for me (I receive an average of 300 emails a day):
• Create separate email addresses so you don’t have to sort through promotional and personal emails when you’re working. Check the inbox of your promotional/personal email after hours.
• Unsubscribe to email newsletters you don’t read or find helpful.
• Use the delete key. Sometimes it’s the most efficient way to eliminate old emails. If you haven’t answered 6-month-old emails, you’re not going to. Why are they still in your inbox?
• File or archive emails you want to keep but don’t need immediately. Create a categorized email folder for the ones you file (invoices, orders, receipts, etc.). Searching only in your categorized folders or archived messages will save time later when you look for an older message.
• Explore email providers’ new features. Some new functions may increase your efficiency, so check them out. Then use only the ones you like. For instance, Gmail now enables you to add other non-Gmail accounts to your Gmail interface, allowing you to access all your emails in one spot. Microsoft’s new Outlook app for Office 365 lets you do the same thing.
And finally, as counterintuitive as this may sound, taking breaks can actually enhance your productivity. Your mind and body need time off, so take a walk, read a book, go to a movie or play golf. You’ll probably feel refreshed when you return to work and may see a new approach to a nagging issue.
8. Overcoming Fear
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
—Vincent van Gogh
I’m not talking about being fearless, because that’s both impossible and counterproductive. Instead, put your fears to work for you. Think of fear as an early-warning system, alerting you to things that need attention. Afraid you’re going to lose a couple of clients? Perhaps you’re not paying enough attention to them.
But maybe the biggest fear for business owners is the fear of failure. My advice is to put failure in perspective. Failure is one of life’s best teachers: It instructs you on what to do—and what not to do the next time and the time after that. So don’t fear failure. Embrace it and learn from it. To paraphrase Henry Ford, failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Or as is often said in high-tech circles today: Fail fast. Fail often. Repeat.