Local Search Engine Optimisation

Some small business owners are rather scathing of local search engine optimisation but, invariably, this is as a result of it not being done properly on their site.

There are people who will tell you that they rank #1 on Google but haven’t received any customers as a result.

Invariably, this is because their website has been optimised solely for the name of the company.

This is rather pointless because the people who will be searching Google for your company name will probably already be customers.

When selecting the metadata for your site, you need to work out what your potential customers are going to be typing into Google.

But, it’s a bit more complicated than that because, if you are a coffee shop and you just use the keyword ‘coffee’ on your site, you’re going to be in competition with an awful lot of other coffee shops around the world. You need to take geography into account and use local search engine optimisation

If, like Mike at The Ark, you are offering various types of massages in the Southend area, your future client base would be searching for ‘massage in Southend’. If his website did not show up on that search, then his business would not exist to those customers.

However, another reason for lack of customers could be as simple as there is no effective tracking system in place to check who’s visiting your website and where they came from.

If there is nothing on the site that requests prospective customers to let you know how they found out about your business or if no one asks them when they telephone/email, then they may not voluntarily tell you.

You have to set in place proper systems for tracking where your business is coming from – and that includes paid advertising because, without that, you don’t know how effective any campaign is. If it’s costing you money, it is vital that you have a way of working out the value of every customer that is achieved through that method to assess whether the financial outlay is worthwhile.

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Small Businesses Advice

Great small businesses advice from Richard Branson via the Open Forum.

When it comes to social media, Branson said that “For businesses, social media offers both challenges and opportunities. For example, an unhappy Virgin passenger might use the megaphone of a social media platform to complain, when a push of an onboard call button would resolve the issue. But at the same time, social channels can help your customers find one another and allow them a change to interact, which makes an onboard community on an airplane, for example, a “smaller, warmer, friendlier” place.”

Branson believes that when businesses carefully monitor and respond, social media helps businesses anticipate needs. For example, when a Virgin passenger expressed his concern on Twitter about whether he might make his connecting flight, Virgin staffers made sure he made it.

Social channels can also offer immediate feedback on what your customers will respond to: When Virgin America announced a fare sale on Twitter, it became the fourth highest sale day in the airline’s history.

I think that’s what it’s important to remember when giving social media advice for small businesses. This is a route into your prospective and current customer base. You need to seek out where they are and connect with them. To find out who’s unhappy and who’s singing your praises so that you can respond to both – providing useful and immediate customer service for any problems and positively acknowledging the good feedback.

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Virtual Admin vs Social Media Virtual Assistant

A virtual admin is someone who helps out with typing and other office-related skills, catching the overflow without actually being based in your office.

A social media virtual assistant performs a somewhat different role. S/he is responsible for maintaining your online presence. The traditional PR role with some added oomph from the addition of online social media.

"social-media-virtual-assistant"The aim of all these interactive tools is to reach out to people and share your product or service in a fun way. Jo Dodds described it brilliantly recently when she coined the 3 ‘C’s – Connection, Conversation and Commitment. Getting to know people and building relationships by providing useful information and other help.

The main thrust of both Twitter and Facebook is regular status updates. Some of these can be personal but others should be informative statements or useful links that relate to your business or niche and so will require online research. Few business owners have the time to oversee the routine running of their companies AND look up relevant facts to entertain and engage with their social media audience.

Ensuring that all Direct Messages on Twitter, Facebook and any other platforms are answered promptly or possibly merely filtering out any spam so that the business owner can see the wheat from the chaff to be able to respond personally. Decluttering and organising using human intuition rather than a software program to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the task is nowhere near as overwhelming as it would first appear.

By identifying a series of accepted responses to certain questions/comments, the SMVA can deal with the regular day-to-day customer service-based interactions, leaving the business owner the luxury of more time to address any more complicated enquiries. If s/he wishes to participate more often in one media, the SMVA takes up the slack in the others but, because all responses have been pre-agreed, the transition is seamless.

The content and replies on any website blogs, Facebook Fan or Group pages, Youtube or Flickr accounts should also come under the remit of the SMVA, where the goal is to make sure that the same visual and verbal message is distributed across all media.

The social media virtual assistant also keeps abreast of technological developments in terms of both software and which platforms are relevant to and most effective for the promotion of the business, ensuring that the company website is bookmarked, publicised and generally brought to the attention of as many interested potential customers as possible but without aggressively shoving up their nose.

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Small Business Customer Relationship Management

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"When I worked up in Town, I remember that one of my secretarial duties was to file away all the business cards that my employer had collected when he attended different industry events/corporate parties/business lunches.

Our small business customer relationship management existed in the form of about four leather-bound books containing several hundred cards, most from different individuals representing the same major players in our niche, but there were an awful lot of bits of thick paper. Very occasionally, I would be despatched to look through the plastic pages to see if I could help my boss to remember the name of the person he had been chatting to about a particular deal a few months before so that he could invite him out to lunch.

In what my kids would term ‘the olden days’, networking was done over lunch or in the pub across the road from the ‘market’ but this was the City and it was not a process that really affected local businesses. Such establishments would get their custom from passing trade, many of whom would be regulars because that shop/firm would be the only emporium of that particular type locally. They might give out a few ‘gifts’ at Christmas to those clients who had supported them the most but, more often than not, they had a pretty captive market because no one was going to travel all the way to the next town on the off-chance that things might be a bit cheaper.

These days, every High Street has two or three representatives for any one type of store – butchers, greengrocers, hairdressers, accountants, solicitors, restaurants, cafes, wine bars, pizza, fish and chip, and other fast food outlets, banks, building societies, chemists, off licenses – and these are all in competition with the giant supermarkets, who seem to have a toe in a vast number of markets that never used to come under their remit. Times have changed and people are no longer confined to shopping locally. Suddenly, the competition is not only right on your doorstep, it’s in every other local shopping centre, as well as on the internet.

This is why it is vital for small bricks and mortar businesses to hold on to their regular clientele, but so many of them have absolutely no idea who these are and no way of contacting them.

I was listening to a webinar recently and the speaker reminded us of the ‘goldfish bowl’ that used to stand at the check out of most businesses in days gone by – well, in small town America anyway. This bowl was a repository for the business cards of the regulars – just in case anyone needed their services. That was what you did. You made opportunities for yourself by leaving your card in places that other people might see it. Nowadays, most shops no longer have such a thing… or if they do, they just dispose of the contents after a week or so, with barely a second glance.

But, said the speaker, if you turn the original purpose on its head, isn’t that a great way to find out who your regular customers are?

In today’s hugely competitive market place, we should be using every method at our disposal to discover and retain the identities and contact details of our customers so, if they don’t return for some reason, we can offer an incentive to make them check us out again. Often, they haven’t come back because they’ve just forgotten the great service that was given. In today’s busy world, there are so many distractions and, if someone else is shouting louder/offering a cheaper service, it is easy to forget the original provider. Loyalty is not really a reliable commodity any more.

By offering your customers an incentive to leave their email address or name and phone number, a business can acquire a list of clients and have the ability to contact them from time to time with the offer of a money-off coupon or just to keep them advised of new business activities/changes of menu.

It’s a far more cost-effective way of advertising because you are preaching to people who have already tried and, hopefully, enjoyed the company’s service. Think about what happens if you put an advertisement in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper. These tend to be grouped together according to service/niche and so your ad is surrounded by all your competitors. If one of them is offering the service more cheaply than you, then you’ve wasted your money on that advert. They also tend to be aimed at a very large geographical area so you can also lose out if you’re too far away from the customer’s locale.

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"If you can email your customer base with a coupon, that’s a great deal cheaper than putting the same discount promotion in a newspaper ad and also a lot more focussed.

However, small business customer relationship management is still a tricky thing. There are rules and etiquette and codes of behaviour. Certainly in America, there are even federal laws covering ’email solicitation’. And you can’t just keep trying to sell people stuff or they will unsubscribe.

As with all social media, the goal is to provide information and offer good service. To build trust in your brand so that when people do need your product, it is you that they remember.

It’s not a quick process, it takes time. But it is an extremely worthwhile endeavour.

So, where is your goldfish bowl?

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A Nation of Shopkeepers

So many local businesses just don’t seem to understand the concept of the Marketing Funnel. It is no longer enough just to have a presence on the High Street or an advert in the Yellow Pages. With so much competition from other businesses offering the same service only a mile or two away, you have to offer more, be more personal, make the customer feel like you are the best choice for them and will have thier best interests at the forefront of your mind.

This involves making contact personally and quickly, but there is a fine line to tread so as not to appear too desperate for the business. Following up is not to be confused with being pushy.

You want the customer to buy your product and tell their friends all about it in a positive way. This involves being personable and providing an invaluable service. Too often the British business owner is laissez faire in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The attitude is all wrong because we don’t like to sell ourselves but, by standing back, we can appear unenthusiastic, even rude.

Sometimes a shift of ethos can be required

Selling using the Marketing Funnel is quite a difficult concept for a lot of British businesses. It is almost alien to our mentality as ‘nation of shopkeepers’ to try to ‘persuade’ people to buy but, worse, it interferes with our attitude to ‘privacy’ to demand the name and address of every customer before we will do business with them.

This is what I meant about a shift of ethos. Persuasion is not necessarily the object here, it’s making the customer feel that, if only he had your product/service, his immediate ‘need’ would be satisfied. It’s appealling to an innate human emotion and building it up so that it overrides the natural reticence to spend money. And, with their email address, if they don’t buy the first time, you can ‘tempt’ them with other related products that might tickle their fancy in the future. You are still helping them to satisfy that need.

In these days where competition for many target markets is so extraordinarily fierce, combined with an economic climate that is making people more frugal in their spending, every available tool should be used to bolster your selling arsenal.

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