Small Business Advice and Tips

Strategic small business marketing tips for business owners who want to get the best return from their online investments.

The Best Time To Start Marketing Is Before You Start Marketing – Podcast with Web.Search.Social

  No matter how big or small your marketing budget is, you want to make sure that you spend the money wisely, and get a return on your investment. That’s why you need to plan your marketing, before you spend on marketing! As the special guest on this week’s Web.Search.Social podcast, I chatted with Ralph and Carol Lynn Rivera about how to do just that. Take a listen below and find out: What to do before you start spending your marketing budget Why you may be experiencing “Internet Marketing Fatigue” How to avoid the trap of what I call “internal thinking” (which is really business navel-gazing) The fastest and cheapest way to find out what your customer REALLY thinks of you Plus some thoughts on Cuban pastries, zombies, and lots more… It was a lively discussion and I had a lot of fun. Leave your thoughts in the comments. Listen Here: Other Ways To Listen: iTunes Stitcher Libsyn...

Why Bad Reviews Can Be Good Reviews

Several months ago, a small hotel in upstate New York faced a PR nightmare when a policy on their website went viral. The policy stated guests would be fined $500 for every bad review. The owner of the inn, the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, NY, later apologized, but not before angry Yelp users retaliated by leaving over 3,000 negative reviews of the property. Yelp responded by removing the negative reviews they deemed inappropriate. While obviously this is an extreme case of trying to engineer one’s online reviews (which backfired spectacularly), it illustrates how tempting it is for businesses to keep all of their online feedback 100% positive. A new industry has developed that is devoted to burying bad reviews, called reputation management. But in an interesting twist of human psychology, bad reviews aren’t always a bad thing. In fact, a little bit of negativity can work in your favor. Can a Bad Review Help You Get More Business? In his book, Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World, author Bill Tancer looks at how online reviews affect businesses. I recently caught a radio interview with Tancer on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, where he talked about how small business owners are making negative reviews work to their advantage. One of the most interesting points that Tancer brought up is the growing trend for businesses to include ALL reviews on their website, good and bad. They discovered that doing this actually increased the number of people who booked a room through their site. It seems counter-intuitive… Why would having negative reviews INCREASE a website’s conversion rate? The answer lies in the way...

The Great Invisible Wall Experiment — Or the Power of Social Influence

I had a friend in college who used to demonstrate a funny trick at parties. While standing around talking, he’d bounce up and down on his heels. If he did it alone, people would look at him like he was nuts. But if he could get just one other person to bounce with him, others would start to join in. Only after people were bouncing, they’d say, “Why are we doing this?” I was reminded of this phenomenon, by a video my pal Jonathan Perez at Sure Fire Web Services shared with me on Facebook recently. Post by Gerry McCambridge. In the video, two people walk down a normal sidewalk and pretend to slam right into an invisible wall. Here’s the crazy part… Even when they have no reason to believe that something is hanging in mid-air, bystanders actually duck and move out of the way! The confirmation of a second person is what really sells it. People will disregard what they are seeing with their own eyes, if they see evidence to the contrary from other humans. What does this all have to do with marketing? The Power of Social Influence People will be much more likely to trust you and your solution, if they see that others have had a positive experience. You can use this to your advantage by providing social proof on your website. Here are just some of the ways you can demonstrate social proof: Testimonials Reviews Logos of your clients or partners Social media likes and shares Videos of people using your product or service Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t...

Marketing Lessons from a Swedish Meatball

Perhaps it’s a product of my restaurant-family upbringing, but if you follow me at all you know that I draw inspiration from the most unlikely sources, including food. On a recent trip to IKEA,  over a plate of Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam, I found myself once again inspired. IKEA does a lot of things right, and you can steal some of their strategies to apply to your online marketing. Lesson 1: Give People a Path If you’ve ever been to IKEA, it’s a bit overwhelming because there’s so much to look at. So what do they do? They actually have arrows on the floor, like a yellow brick road, giving you a path through the store. It’s one less thing for you to think about and frees up that anxious part of your brain that’s wondering the way out of this giant warehouse. What’s more, it makes sure that you see everything in the store so that you will suddenly remember you need a giant bag of tea lights or a new bathmat, even though you only came there for a bookshelf. Now the maze-like setup is kind of diabolical, so I’m not suggesting you pattern your site architecture after it! But if your site is complicated or has lots of pages, be sure to make it very easy for visitors to know where to go next. Takeaway: Create a logical path or paths through your website. Never leave them wondering “What do I do now?” Give them a call-to-action at the bottom of every page, whether it’s a buy now button or a link for more information....

Design Inspiration for the Humble Order Form

When it comes to web page design, most people concentrate on their sales pages and neglect the actual order form page. Don’t make this mistake! The order form page is crucial — this is when people will actually get out their wallets and start typing in their credit card information. For many people, opening their wallet is a unpleasant activity. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick So how can you ease the pain and help customers get over that last hurdle? Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes Think about what is going through their minds just as they are about to pay. Are they thinking it might be too much money? Are they worried the product might be cheaply made? Now provide them with the information they need to get them over the final hurdle. If there are any questions, answer them; any doubts, ease them. Worried about price? Show them how much it will cost them not to act today. Wondering about quality? Hit them with another testimonial, or a money-back guarantee. Example of a Good Order Form in Action Check out this order form from internet marketer Ryan Deiss. Here’s what I like about this page: The form is broken down into sections (Step 1, 2, 3), which makes a long form seem less intimidating and more digestible for the user. Typically, you want to make a form as short as possible. But if you need to collect all of that information, at least make it feel easy for the user. The sidebar on the right repeats what you’ll...

Stories Stick! Using Storytelling to Attract Customers

The other day, I read something that startled me into taking action. In 2009 my husband was killed in an accident. In the following hours, weeks, and months I was shocked by the number of things we had left disorganized or ignored. Critical documents you can spend a fraction of the time doing now… That excerpt came from a website I happened to stumble across, and those few sentences really made me sit up and take notice. The title was equally arresting: GetYourShitTogether.org. It’s a website that helps people gather important legal documents such as a will, living will, and power of attorney, before disaster strikes. I signed up for the mailing list immediately, which something I don’t do lightly these days. (It’s all about inbox control.) So what was it about that website that got me to break the email-abstinence habit? It’s something I’ve been pondering lately, why some copywriting sticks with you while others just fade away into a cloud of internet marketing white noise. …It’s the power of storytelling. In this example, I first felt a wave of compassion for the storyteller. Then I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if that happened to me?” By doing this, it completely bypassed my jaded consumer’s natural defense against sales pitches. Even if you aren’t selling, telling a poignant story helps your message stand out. Here’s another example of how using the right words makes all the difference: I think storytelling is powerful because it taps into the human side of marketing. It frames your message in a way that people can understand and relate to. This video is a perfect...

The (Blindingly Obvious) Secret to Improving Your Business by 30% In Just One Month!

I just got a really inspiring email from Joanna Wiebe at Copyhackers, courtesy of her Tuesday Morning Tips newsletter. (If you’re not following Joanna, you really should! She always manages to teach me something new about how to write engaging copy.) The subject was “The Rule of One Percent” and in it she shares an insight from a book she read recently called Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Here’s the inspiring part: “The biggest problem I have in delivering my vision is knowing what to do next. Either I try to do too much at once and get frustrated, or I sit immobilized because of the size of the job ahead. The rule of one percent reminds me that all I have to do is improve by one percent. Things can’t help but improve if you keep at it one percent at a time.” So how do you improve your business by 30% in 30 days? Simple! Improve it by 1% each day! Imagine that — instead of worrying about how to make big changes, start by making ONE change today. And another tomorrow. And another the next day. What ONE tiny improvement can you make today? Here are Joanna’s (excellent) suggestions: Today (Tuesday): Add a testimonial to the first page of your cart/checkout Wednesday: On your “Contact Us” page, replace the headline “Contact Us” with a reason to contact you… like, “Our CEO Answers the Phone! Call Us Today” Thursday: Add a nice, pleasant “thank you” message to your receipt page Friday: Add a persuasive summary headline over the testimonial you added on Tuesday Saturday:...

How to Tell if You Have a Lazy Website… And What to Do About It

Your website has the potential to be your very best employee. Is yours earning its pay? Imagine you have a sales employee. He shows up everyday, but you’re not really sure what he does. You keep him around because you’ve already invested money in him, but you can’t remember the last time he actually made a sale. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Yet I’ve talked to many business owners who take that exact attitude toward their company’s website. They have one because they know they should have one, but when I ask them how much traffic it gets or how many visits it converts to sales, they aren’t sure. You wouldn’t settle for that kind of performance from an employee. Why put up with it from a website? Now imagine you have a salesperson who can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no holidays, can talk to any prospective customers at once in multiple locations, and pulls in new business as you sleep. This is what your website COULD be doing, if only it was reaching its full potential. How To Spot a Lazy Website Ask yourself these questions: How much has your website cost you, between building it and hosting it annually? How many conversions (sales, email signups, or any other measurable successes) does your website deliver? In short, what is the return on your website investment? If your website isn’t at the very least paying for itself, it’s time to get your website into shape! How to Kick Your Website Into Shape The first thing to do is figure out what you need your...

The Case Against Perfection

Hi, I’m Sarah Peters, and I am a recovering perfectionist. There’s nothing wrong with perfectionism per se. As a part-time visual artist, I admire craftsmanship, the single-minded determination it takes to produce an enduring work of art. But as a web designer and business owner, I have learned (the hard way) that the pursuit of perfection can actually hurt your business. You can get so tied up deciding on the perfect idea/perfect approach/perfect headline that you miss out on opportunities you could have had if you had only taken action. There’s a great article on the Harvard Business Review blog by Ron Ashkenas that takes a look at what he calls The Problem with Perfection. Briefly summarized: spending too much time on research and analysis in search of the perfect solution can lead to paralysis by analysis, which can prevent you from taking timely action and seizing business opportunities. To break out of this way of thinking, Ashkenas suggests the following approach: Instead of viewing “action” as something that follows research, think about how action can occur parallel to research. In other words, rather than coming up with perfect recommendations and then flipping the switch months later, start by testing some of your initial ideas on a small scale immediately — while collecting more data. Then you can feed the lessons from these experiments into the research process, while continuing to implement and scale additional ideas. Here’s the great news: your website is the perfect vehicle to do this! For many years, creating a web site involved months of research, planning sessions, and many hours designing graphics and coding....

Marketing Lessons from a Pastrami Sandwich

I just got back from lunch with my grandfather at Harold’s, a New York-style deli that serves things like corned beef and brisket, chicken soup with matzoh balls, and potato knishes. At 2:00 on a Friday afternoon the dining room was absolutely packed, with people lining up out the door for takeout as well. At first glance it’s hard to tell why. The food is excellent, but the place is in a nondescript lot in the middle of a bleak industrial park. And they are NOT cheap. Far from it, in fact. They want $18.95 for a hot pastrami sandwich. $18.95!!!! So why are all of these people lining up to pay $18.95 for a sandwich in the middle of a recession? Well for one thing, the portions are ENORMOUS, even by American standards. Everyone knows this, so they order one sandwich between 2 or 3 people and take home the rest. I saw a family of four at the next table split one Reuben, and two grown men at the table opposite share a single bowl of matzoh ball soup (with one gigantic matzoh ball!) The restaurant does not frown upon sharing; in fact, they encourage it. There’s also a free pickle bar with various types of sour pickled things. Now if you take sharing into account, the prices average out to about $7-8 per person, which is normal for this area. But a normal-sized sandwich for $7 is nothing unusual, whereas a Harold’s sandwich is talked about for days. It’s not limited to the sandwiches, either. Immediately across from the entrance there’s a refrigerated case containing the...