If you own a small business in Montana—or in any other state, for that matter—you know how hard it can be just to get buy, and you’re not alone. Small businesses across the country face a host of challenges, and every year many of them don’t make it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, about 20% of small businesses don’t make it to their first anniversary, and more than half need to close their doors by their 5th year.
Why Do So Many Small Businesses Fail?
Every small business is different, of course, and the reasons some don’t make it are as varied as the products and services they sell. For some, it’s a lack of effective leadership. For others, it’s weak cash flow or hiring the wrong people. But for many, the reason for failure is something over which they have greater control—the way they market their companies.
In fact, many small, local businesses invest little or no money in the very marketing strategies that could, if effectively leveraged, win them new customers and take their companies to the next level. The reasons for this resistance to creating a marketing plan are several, everything from insufficient funds to a lack of understanding of how local marketing works.
But, as Forbes points out, effective local marketing is critically important to the success of small businesses—and those who “don’t know how to do it” should think of the money they spend—like the money to hire a competent agency—as a sound investment in their futures:
“If all of your capital is spent in product development and nothing is left over for marketing – you’ve got a big problem. Acquiring customers, getting known and creating a brand can be very hard, and as a result, gets ignored. Solution: If marketing isn’t your strong suit…hire a firm. Make sure the marketing firm you hire has a track record of measurable success in your area.”
What Are The Best Ways To Market Your Small, Local Business?
As noted above, every business is different, with different customers, different goals and different marketing challenges. That said, there are several best practice small business marketing strategies which work for the lion’s share of them, including the following 3:
1. Clearly Define What’s Special About Your Business
You’ve probably heard about “branding.” All it really means is clearly and consistently telling local customers what’s special or different about your company—and what sets your business ahead of the competition.
That could be many things. Maybe you offer products or services for less money than they do, or perhaps your business offers more consistently outstanding customer service. Take the time to think about what your loyal customers love about your business (if you don’t know, ask them) and incorporate that into your marketing messages.
Once you’ve identified your “brand,” you need to communicate it clearly and consistently. That means you repeat it everywhere—on your website, in social media posts, in promotional emails and through the content you post.
You should also reinforce that branding message with so-called “social proof.” That means things like reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers, or statements about how many products you’ve sold. This grounds your branding message and builds trust in your business.
2. Optimize Your Website
OK, that’s more marketing jargon. What is means is making it easier for prospective customers to find and use your website and giving them clear directions about what you want them to do once they get there. For example, you’ll need to learn about search engine optimization (SEO), a series of things you do on and off your website which makes it appear higher in search results for keywords related to your business. That will increase traffic to your site, which means more sales opportunities for you.
Other website optimization tactics include:
- Making sure your site loads quickly (you’ll lose about half of consumers if it takes more than 3 seconds);
- Making sure it works on mobile devices (most searches now take place on smart phones);
- Creating a contemporary, professional design;
- Clearly communicating your brand message (and how your business solves customer problems better than the competition);
- Keeping site navigation simple and intuitive; and
- Having clear primary and secondary calls to action on every page
3. Design A Smart Local Search Strategy
Over the past two years, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of online searches that include the phrase, “near me.” For example, 900% more internet searchers are typing “near me today” than just two years ago. That means more and more prospective customers are looking for small, local businesses like yours, and for the products and services you offer. To get on top of all those searches, your business needs a smart local search strategy.
Specifically, you need to do the following things:
- Get a Google My Business account: Google My Business is a powerful tool for local businesses like yours. Once you have your account, your business will rise to the top of local searches for your products or services and have a prominent presence in Google Maps.
- Get more “citations” for your business: citations are mentions of your business on the internet. The more times the name and address of your company appear online, the higher your business will appear in search engine results.
- Give your website content a local flavor: local customers like businesses that are active members of their community. If you’re a member of the Chamber of Commerce, say so. If you contribute to local charities, tell prospective customers. The more local references consumers see on your website, the more they’ll trust your business—and the more willing they’ll be to buy their products from you.
- Design a local keyword strategy: you want keywords that mimic what local searchers type into Google and other search engines. That means including keyword phrases like “pizza near me” or “living room furniture great falls.” If you need help finding the right local keywords for your business, you can get that help from Google’s Keyword Planner.
- Do your research: admittedly, getting your local search strategy right can be confusing. If you need help, there are some excellent (and free) online guides out there, like this one which will give you all the basics you need to succeed.
A lot of small businesses don’t make it. The “glass half full” side of that equation is that a lot do—and some of those achieve incredible success. There are many things that separate the winners from the losers—one of them is having a smart marketing strategy that polishes your brand, optimizes your website and ensures that your business comes out on top in local searches.
And the really good news is that you don’t need to go it alone. There are affordable digital marketing agencies right in your backyard with the experience and knowledge to make sure you succeed—and to take your business to the next level. To learn more about the ways our website optimization, local SEO, strategy and consulting services can be game changers for your business, schedule a call with us today.