Back to Basics #27: Keeping Up with Seasonal Demands

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Every year, when the holiday season rolls around, businesses large and small alike scramble to keep up with the increased demand for products. Whether they have to hire new seasonal workers or they simply have to carry extra products to ensure they meet demand, small businesses are often stretched thin and the owners are stressed. It's already December, so by some standards, this article is a little late (oops!), but there are still some good tips you can utilize over the next few weeks to make sure you're adequately keeping up with seasonal demands for your small business.

Labor Costs

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Spending even more money on labor is something that most small business owners shrink away from. It's not a fun prospect—many small businesses already struggle to keep in the black. And while the holidays are a great time to spread the good word about your products and services, they're also demanding. Customers want nearly immediate responses when they have questions, and they want fast product/service delivery. If you can't greet and help all customers during the busiest shopping season of the year, you might find yourself at the receiving end of some pretty scathing reviews. Lots of companies choose to counter this by hiring more staff. For instance, in the retail industry, many businesses must hire greater numbers of workers during the Christmas season to handle the extra work that comes with holiday sales.

For last-minute tips, try:

  • Offering an incentive for workers to come in early or stay a bit late--but be sure to follow through! Coupons, bonuses, and prizes all work well as incentives.
  • Extending customer service hours--even if you take a few calls or answer a few emails on your personal time, your customers will appreciate it, and you don't have to hire the extra help.
  • Setting up a comfortable area for customers to wait in your store. Providing free coffee, water, and tea can help ease tensions. And don't forget to make sure customers understand where and how long to wait.

Putting All the Details in Place

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Many small business owners say that they prepare for the holiday rush months ahead of time. They double-check to make sure their websites are easily accessible, up-to-date, and properly linked to social media accounts; others go a step further and post coupons and holiday deals that can be redeemed online or in-store. Some focus mostly on PR campaigns and online contests to ensure their customers hear about holiday sales on the most popular social media channels; in turn, they hope that the customers will share information with friends to spread the word. Still others prepare written materials to hand out to customers for word-of-mouth marketing purposes.

While some companies choose to plan everything to a T, there are others who choose to do things more "organically". They might opt for casual online events to save on the costs of printing or advertising, or they might try to prepare the best they can without actually crunching numbers or hiring anyone new.

Which method would be best for you? Well, it really depends on your industry and the flow of your holiday traffic. Retail stores might lean more heavily toward hiring staff, while a small, one-person business might simply stock up and hope for the best. Read this thread at The Guardian for some more advice from other business owners.

Stock Up

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If you think you can handle the busy shopping season by simply stocking up on inventory and planting your feet firmly on the ground, so be it! If you're more the kind who makes sure all holiday items are in stock well before the holidays and you've already hired all your seasonal workers, that’s great, too. Either way, you should always anticipate a higher demand for products and develop a plan to address that need:

  • Run through your numbers from the year. Which products sold best? Do you have enough in stock now? What if customers would like to have the items shipped?
  • Think about returns and refunds. Will you offer returns or refunds if customers decide they don't want to keep your product? What about gift receipts?
  • Are there any special items you only carry during the holidays? How about services that will need to be provided no matter what time of year it is (e.g., plumbing, emergency electrical work)? How will you handle any extra inventory if you should have leftover products? If you provide services, how can you make sure you are available during busy or inconvenient times (say, the day before Christmas)?

Another tip you shouldn't forget: Make sure your business is fully insured for special circumstances. If you have insurance but fail to update the cover for winter weather-related issues, you would essentially leave your business under-insured. For those who work from home, this can be even more dire: If you store your stock or products in a separate building, you might not be insured if the items are stolen or damaged. That means you'll have to be extra careful in this rainy, cold, and snowy season! So be sure to take the extra steps to ensure you have adequate stock, and that it's fully insured and protected as necessary. This is, after all, one of the worst times of the year to take a financial hit.

 

In the coming weeks, we hope you see a lot of success at your small business. The holidays are a great time of year—for family and friends, and for those of us who choose to serve the public through retail and skilled services. Let us know if you have any other tips that you think others should know about! It's the season for sharing, after all :)

Back to Basics #22: Small Business Marketing for Local Storefronts

SMALL BUSINESSMARKETINGFOR LOCAL STORES Here at Internet Local Listings, we focus on helping our small business clients with all of their online marketing needs—social media, websites, and managing local listings for a variety of business directories. This is an important part of your small business marketing plan, because being seen online is integral to your success as a business in the modern marketplace. And, as you know, it can be a bit confusing and time-consuming to handle all this on your own. Having help is a great asset in this case.

However, what we aren't able to help with is the management of your storefront. That might sound obvious, but an important aspect of small business marketing that many people overlook is the effect that a storefront's appearance can have on a customer. You already know that first impressions matter when you're on a job interview or first date, and the same can be said of a customer's first visit to your business—a store's appearance can have tremendous influence over whether a person chooses to return or not. In this article, we'll talk a bit about how appearance can affect a customer's decision to purchase or leave, as well as how keeping your store beautiful can help create more online interactions and engagement.

A Storefront's Appearance Matters.

According to a study done at Retail Customer Experience, more than two-thirds of the surveyed group had avoided a store simply because the storefront was unattractive, outdated, or dirty. Although it might be a bit difficult to make a building look newer than it is (particularly if you share the building with other offices and have no control over renovations), it's always possible to keep the inside of your store looking neat and tidy.

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Image from I Loved New York.com

Keep the Place Smelling Fresh.

Aside from keeping your store's appearance tidy and clean, you're going to want to make sure it smells okay. This might seem as obvious as keeping it clean, but if you're, say, a car mechanic and you're used to the smell of oil, you might not realize how off-putting it can be to some people. While you obviously can't control the smell of the vehicles you're working on in your shop, you can control the smells in the lobby. Brew some fresh coffee. Set up snacks. Keep everything wiped down and clean; keep the doors to the shop closed to prevent extra noise and smells sneaking in. Finally, you may want to use this as an opportunity to promote some great-smelling air fresheners!

This goes for any industry, however. Even if you run a bookstore (and many people love the smell of books), make sure that everything is clean without overdoing it on the “chemical” smell.

The “First Ten Feet” Rule.

According to Rick Segel, author of Retail Business Kit for Dummies, you must offer a price-sensitive incentive for customers to continue shopping within the first 10 feet of the door. For example, this could be a special offer you're running, a promotion for your store's top-selling product, or even a poster board offering information on local community events. Whether you're in the business of selling auto parts or you offer home cleaning services, you can always find some related community events or classes that would appeal to your clientele. Don't be afraid to get creative—have some of your customers asked questions about the availability of a specific product? Have they asked where you could learn more about your business? Maybe they just simply get lost on the way to the bathroom! Do whatever you can to help them feel welcome and at home in your store, and they'll be likely to remain long enough to explore. Plus, you may just earn yourself a repeat customer!

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Maintain Your Store's Fixtures.

Sometimes your store is clean, your employees are welcoming, and the place is set up to draw the customers in—but people just aren't staying. You're confused and you're wondering what could be going wrong.

  • Take a step back from your store. Walk into it again as if it were the first time you'd ever set foot in it. Now, you're probably so used to it that this will be difficult for you, but try really hard to place yourself in your customers' shoes. Here are some key things to look for:
  • Are your displays are neatly arranged? Do they look up-to-date? An old, faded poster or a messy stack of “clearance” products might make your store look disorganized.
  • Do the lights seem too dim or too bright? If they're too dim, it might make your store look unwelcoming or shady—which is, naturally, off-putting to customers. If your lights are too bright, it can make customers feel uncomfortable, too, because who wants to feel like they need to wear sunglasses inside of a store?

Finally, make sure your staff is friendly and welcoming.

Make sure there's always a manager or knowledgeable person available to answer your customer's questions. And of course, ensure everyone looks his or her best to keep with the professional appearance you've worked so hard to instill in your store.

The wonderful part of keeping your storefront clean and inviting is that it will cross over into the online realm. People will be happy to leave you positive reviews. They'll want to follow you on Facebook or Twitter to see what your new specials are. They'll refer friends and family. Remember that this is all part of the bigger picture--getting the word out about your fantastic business!

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Small business marketing is complex. It's a mixture of online finesse as well as a little bit of good, old-fashioned business skills. While the marketing experts at Internet Local Listings can help you with the internet marketing part of the equation, we can only offer tips for the local aspect of it! We hope you've found these helpful!

If you have any tips or suggestions, leave them in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe for regular updates from our small business marketing blog.

Back to Basics #19: Digital Marketing for the Holidays

digital-marketing-for-the-holidays Ahh, you knew something like this was coming up soon. It's October, which means that autumn decorations have been on the shelves since the 4th of July clearance rack cleared out (for Americans, anyway). Soon, you'll see Thanksgiving decorations, and then come the December holidays—it's all going to be Christmas and Hanukkah themes until it's almost 2015. And let's not forget about Black Friday and Cyber Monday...

During these next few months, you're going to see a lot of expensive marketing campaigns from big name companies. You'll see sales events, promotional deals, and all sorts of bundles and shipping specials and limited-time releases that your head might feel like its spinning.

And, as a small business owner, you might feel pressured to come up with some campaigns of your own.

But you don't have millions in your budget. And you don't have a lot of time to put something together. So how can you go about digital marketing for the holidays if you own a small business?

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1. Make a charitable donation. This is probably our favorite suggestion because it really helps everyone! You get to help others and draw attention to a great cause, as well as draw positive attention to your business.

Whether you choose to donate a small sum of cash or you volunteer your time at a local charity, these types of gestures speak volumes. Make sure it's something that you can get everyone involved with—your team can come up with great ways to make sure it's an event that won't soon be forgotten. But you also can't forget to let your clients and customers know that you're taking part in this special occasion. Be sure to send out a card or email and let everyone know that you're participating in a special charity event, and that your clients are welcome to participate, too!

2. Decorate your social media sites. Another cheap way to get everyone into the holiday spirit! Change your banners, headers, and color themes to reflect the holiday of your choice. You can even change your logo by adding a little Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween or a cornucopia for Thanksgiving. The best part is that you can reuse these again next year—a great return on your very small investment. And when you're finished? Simply replace the logo with your usual fare and you're good to go.

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3. Send out special holiday offers via email. This is one that you'll have to be careful with—you don't want to appear as if you're spamming, after all—but sending out special coupons or offers to customers who subscribe to your newsletter can be particularly effective. Make an announcement on your site. Say something like “only subscribers will receive a special deal via email, and they can look forward to receiving it just in time for the holidays.” The incentive can be whatever you want it to be—whether it's a coupon, a special one-of-a-kind item, or a free service. Whatever you can come up with!

4. Start thinking of gift suggestions. People choose different times to do their holiday shopping. While some wait until the last minute (right now would be a good time to capitalize on the Halloween costumes or decorations!), others do so months ahead of time (these people are already keeping an eye out for Christmas deals). You will want to keep your social media sites and blog updated with all the latest deals that would appeal to these shoppers.

5. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. We mentioned at the beginning of the article that you don't have the budget or resources to compete with the big companies. But you can make up for what you lack in budget with quality services.

For example, you're probably a small, local store. You can offer personalized attention to each and every client. Can a big-name store do that? No, they can't. You can also remind people that when they support your business, they're supporting local businesses and real people who contribute to the community. There are so many people looking to switch to buying local now (and sometimes exclusively), so this is a great way to let them know that you truly appreciate their business. If you have years of experience, highlight that. If you have a positive track record for customer satisfaction, mention it. And if you have a great story about how you came to build your business in your town, people will love to hear it. It's all about aligning yourself with the “big guys” in ways that highlight your strengths—not your lack of financial resources.

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By thinking a bit on the creative side, you can come up with some great ideas for digital marketing for the holidays—even if you're a small business without much revenue.

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below.

Back to Basics #15: Do it Like a Small Business SEO Company

small business team seo company By now, you’ve probably read a number of articles about how you, as a small business owner, can learn how to do SEO to benefit your own business. You may have read about how important it is to be on Twitter or Facebook; you probably saw studies claiming that a specific keyword density is key to ranking well; you may even have considered buying links to get more traffic.

It can all be confusing. It can be expensive. And honestly? It sometimes doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort, does it?

Well, we’re here to help you out. In this post, we’ll show you five easy ways you can get involved with your company’s marketing campaign just like a small business SEO company would do. With these tips, you’ll begin to see results that definitely pay off.

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Image courtesy of: Olive Harvey College Library Guides

1. Make friends with Copyscape. Are you writing your own content? Have you tried optimizing your front page or started a blog? You'll definitely want to look into using Copyscape. For no cost, you can enter your site's address and Copyscape will scan the web looking for plagiarized text. If your blog or site content have indeed been plagiarized, it can hurt your rankings. Furthermore, if you're using references in your writing, you might want to run your text through Copyscape. The last thing you need is to be blamed for plagiarism from your end. Make sure your content is 100% original all across the board, and you'll be better off for it.

2. Make content easily shareable. When people read an article and enjoy it, they immediately look for the “share” button. They want to tell their family and friends about the great thing they've just read. It would follow, then, that if you don't include sharable links at the end of your post, you've just potentially cost yourself thousands of views. Be sure to make it easy for your visitors to share your content to all the most popular social media platforms, and you'll notice that your content will be shared more frequently. If you need help figuring out how to set this up, there are plenty of tutorials around the internet as well as easy-to-install plug-ins for blogging software such as Wordpress.

3. Get your customers involved through reviews. We've written about this in the past, but it's so important that we feel we should reiterate here: your customers need to be involved with your company through reviews. There's a fine line between asking and encouraging your customers to participate willingly, and pushing your wishes in their faces aggressively. You can encourage customers to leave reviews by putting a sign up in your store, offering a coupon as compensation, or even provide a free service with proof of a positive review. Reviews not only help people searching for your services find your store, they also help you stand out in the crowd. Searchers nowadays rely on sites such as Yelp to help them make decisions about which business they want to give their money to. Don't let this opportunity slip through the cracks—you'll be surprised at how much good reviews can help.

pay per click advertising for small businesses

4. Consider PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. If you're just getting your business off the ground, we'll be honest: It can take some time for Google to start picking it up and ranking it. But that doesn't mean that you can't make the most of the time in between. You can purchase ads from Google for only a few dollars a day and they'll appear alongside search results related to your keywords, helping guide visitors to your site. Google ads allow you to get the word out about your site in ways that organic ranking can't; at least not in the beginning. Check out Google's free keyword planner to take a look at keyword suggestions you can use in your ad campaigns.

5. Try your hand at video advertising. A big part of advertising nowadays is visual. Think about it: If you're on Facebook or Twitter, you probably share images and videos all the time! That's why it's important that you get into the habit of creating media content for your company's social media sites. People are much more likely to share media than they are to read through a “wall of text”. Furthermore, video advertising helps a lot with SEO and ranking. Google gets strong ranking signals from videos and the keywords used in them. Even if you don't have a big media budget, you can still put together helpful “how-to” videos or showcase happy customers recommending your products and services.

You can do it like the SEO companies!

With these tips, you can easily dip your toes into the waters of advertising and marketing. It might sound cliché, but if you don't start small, it'll be too much for you to manage all at once and you'll feel as if you're drowning. You can do it like the small business SEO company professionals by trying these few simple tips! And as always, if you need help and advice, Internet Local Listings is here to help. We offer everything from business listings to custom content to personalized websites! Visit us here for more information.

Any other tips you can think of that we missed? Let us know!

Back to Basics #14: How to Deal with Bad Reviews

thumbs-down-how-to-deal-with-bad-reviews It happens to the best of us: At some point in your small business career, you're going to get a negative review. Even if you try to make every business decision with the customer's needs in mind, and even if you strive to ensure 100% customer satisfaction every day you're open for business, someone will still find something to complain about. From contractors to preschools to salons, no one is immune from the dreaded bad review.

Well, that was a depressing intro. Sorry about that.

So, now that you're feeling deflated and sad, how can we go about making sure that you're a) prepared for the review when it arrives and b) educated with a few basic skills to help you make the best of a bad situation? In this article, we'll talk about how you can best go about addressing a bad review. Of course, we'll also mention a few things you should avoid at all costs--because not every review is worth responding to.

Take a cooling-off period.

When you see that bad review, your first reaction is probably going to be anger. A few thoughts will probably be running through your head: “What did I do to deserve this?” “I don't recall anything like this happening.” “Well, this customer is clearly mistaken.” “They're lying.” “I'm just going to ignore them.” And the list goes on.

Well, any or all of the above may be true, but unfortunately, most small businesses lack the means to prove their side of the story. So in this situation, before you sit down and type a response to the reviewer in an attempt to defend yourself, it's best to just back away and think about what the customer has said. The reviews generally fall into two camps: The people who complain for the sake of complaining, and the people who want to offer constructive criticism.

The people who like to go online and vent about things for no real good reason are nearly impossible to appease. Respond to their complaint and they could berate you. Ignore them and they could get angry that you don't respond at all.

On the other hand, there are always going to be reviewers who have a legitimate complaint. Maybe there was a miscommunication, and it was just an accident. Maybe one of your employees was having a bad day and it ended up affecting their work. Either way, it's your job to consider what the reviewer has said before jumping to conclusions

Most importantly, it's vital that you be able to admit that maybe you really did make a mistake, if there was indeed a mistake made.

Then, once you've calmed down and evaluated the situation, you'll be ready to deal with the bad review in a professional manner.

Determine whether a response is needed.

As mentioned above, some cases will call for a response, while others are best left untouched. Situations where you will just want to ignore a response would be:

  • If the reviewer is using inflammatory language or just trying to pick a fight
  • If the reviewer is ranting about something that doesn't have anything to do with your services
  • If someone is leaving repeated reviews in an attempt to flood your page with negative comments

While most companies make every effort to respond to each review, sometimes dealing with the very angry or hostile reviewers can end up making the experience worse. Knowing how to identify these types of reviewers is a great skill for your company to develop.

In other situations, you'll want to respond to your negative review. Doing so requires you to have professional language and a legitimate apology. Don't just make excuses for the mistake. Acknowledge that this person is trying to constructively help you with your business—they're hoping that by leaving their review, you can see where you might be falling short of good customer service. Then you have a chance to win back business or, at the very least, to show customers how much you care.

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Respond in a timely manner.

There are instances in which businesses take too long to respond to a review. This can actually make a company look bad—like they can't be bothered to address the concerns of a customer. It's best to respond within a week of the initial comment, so check the popular review sites regularly and make sure that you're following up with your customers. 

Next, write a draft of your review. If the review was written recently and you've taken the time to cool off before you reply, it's still best to compose a draft. Have a friend or someone you trust read it through and make sure it doesn't come off as passive-aggressive or inflammatory.

Write a real apology if needed.

There have been a number of articles written on flimsy apologies vs legitimate ones. The intricacies of constructing a PR-friendly, yet personalized apology and follow-up promise to improve is beyond the scope of this article. However, the following tips should prove useful: 

  • Don't make excuses. Treat the customer with respect and dignity. Offering an impersonal and lazy excuse like “well the cashier was new” or “it was rainy that day and some people couldn't make it in to work” is not going to cut it.
  • Explicitly state that you are sorry for the inconvenience you have caused. Not the inconvenience you may have caused, or for the customer's feelings. (i.e., “I'm sorry you feel this way” or “I'm sorry if we offended you.” The customer is telling you exactly how they feel. You need to apologize for the mistakes made on your end, not for how the customer feels.)
  • Follow up with something to make it up to the customer. Whether that's a 10% off coupon, a free meal, or a complimentary service from the owner, any sort of offer to fix the problem will be appreciated. An apology needs to be followed up with the intent or promise to improve, or the customer will find it empty or phony.
  • If the customer doesn't accept your apology, move on. Don't argue. It will hurt that they still don't want to visit your business. But you can't please everyone—and arguing or begging will just make you look bad.

Finally...

Don't send your replies in a private message. Post these apologies publicly. People will see that you took the time to respond and it will only reflect well on you!

See more information on how you shouldn't respond to negative comments here: The Wrong Way to Respond to Comments

Encourage more positive reviews. As we discussed in a previous article, it's always a good idea to encourage positive customer reviews. There is a difference between begging for a review or being too aggressive in your requests vs posting a friendly reminder that you need customer reviews to help grow your business. You can offer an incentive for people who participate and generate more good talk about your company! 

Can you think of anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!

3 Reasons to Encourage Customer Reviews

customer reviews five stars Whether you really enjoyed your service or really hated it, chances are that you’ve left a review for a company before. Believe it or not, these reviews (even the bad ones!) can actually help a company in multiple ways: Reviews not only help a business gain visibility and credibility on the internet, but it also gives the owners a chance to converse with customers and learn how to make a customer’s experience better. In other words, reviews benefit everyone. But how can you go about encouraging customer to leave reviews for a small business without coming off as pushy or desperate?

Here are three reasons you should encourage customer reviews in a natural—not an annoying—way.

  1. Customers who read online reviews tend to purchase more. According to statistics cited by Econsultancy.com, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews. And when you really think about it, this probably rings true for you, too. In my case, the last time I was shopping for a book online, I read the reviews first. Sometimes I purposely look through books with terrible ratings just to see how bad they really are (strange pastime, I know); however, I will never end up paying for them. Instead, I’ll pay for the ones that have outstanding reviews. And I bet if you think back to the last time you were shopping online, you probably did the same thing.
  1. Reviews can help advertise a new product. Do you have a new product or service available for your customers? You can encourage reviews by offering a coupon or gift certificate to those who complete a survey or leave you a review. According to Sam Decker, vice president of marketing and products at Bazaarvoice, a gift certificate offered in exchange for reviews can boost your review volume by 500 to 800 percent. That’s a lot of new reviews for your company—and the gift certificates will bring in customers who may otherwise have decided against making a purchase at your store.
  2. Reviews help customers get more involved with your brand. When a customer leaves you a review, they’re spending their own free time offering you their voice. Whether the review is positive or not, this is a pretty big deal! Take the time to respond to your reviews. Make sure that you engage all customers with respect and honesty. And be sure to encourage them to review wherever it feels comfortable. For example, if you’re on Yelp as well as Foursquare, leave links to Yelp and Foursquare on all of your sites—social media included. Send out periodic tweets or posts asking customers (politely) to leave a review if they had a great experience with you. Before long, your customers will become more involved with your brand. And when they see that you respond to your customers, they’ll know that you take the time to read their opinions and that you take them seriously. Now that’s some positive PR!

With these things in mind, here are a few things you might want to avoid:

Don’t blast the customer with an email every other day. Have you noticed now that wherever you go—the mall, a restaurant, or even a website—that everyone asks you to fill out a survey or give an opinion? As a customer, it gets exhausting. As a business owner, it’s stressful. You, the owner, get irritated trying to get customers to cooperate. And in turn, they don’t feel like filling out a form after every shopping experience! So simply ask them in a polite way and move on. They’ll participate if they want to, and bugging them all the time won’t help your case.

Don’t beg for reviews. I’ve seen it on Twitter more times than I care to count. “Review me and I’ll love you forever!” “Help me out and I’ll follow you!” “Please, please, please review me, I need help!” None of this looks good; it’s actually totally unprofessional in the best scenario, and makes you look desperate in the worst. There’s no issue with occasionally tweeting something like “Have you had a great experience at our store? Leave us a review!” and posting a link to the review site. Just be sure to ask in a friendly, professional manner and try not to spam your followers.

Don’t fake reviews. You know the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it?” Well, that doesn’t apply here. Faking reviews is probably the biggest faux pas that small companies make, as well as the one most commonly seen. Your family and friends are probably more than willing to help you out by leaving you glowing, positive reviews. And that’s great that they support you—but you should be focused on gathering real customer reviews. Don’t fall victim to paying for them or padding your reviews with falsities.

Need help getting customer reviews?

At Internet Local Listings, we help our clients get their small businesses listed accurately across the internet. As an internet marketing company, we strive to help each and every client reach more customers, and in turn, grow their business. And because our packages are priced at a rate that the average small business can afford, we truly believe that by working together, we can make a lasting difference for your company where other internet marketing companies can’t. Call or visit us today for more information.

Working Effectively with Internet Marketing Experts

internet-marketing-experts So you’ve hired internet marketing experts to take over the marketing strategy for your small business. You’re excited to see results and you’ve already begun paying for your marketing team to begin the work. You check your rankings the next day, and it seems that you haven’t moved up at all. You check again after a week, and things still don’t seem to be going as planned. At this point, you’re frustrated and ready to tell them you’re finished—you want to work with a different internet marketing company. If you feel like this, you’re not alone. Many small business owners have felt the exact way you do—so in this article, we’re going to talk about making the most of your experience with internet marketing experts, and what you can reasonably expect while implementing your marketing strategy.

Internet marketing is not an overnight process.

When you hire a gardener to plant your garden and tend to the plants as they grow, you know the process will take time. You don’t expect a seed to germinate into a blooming flower the next day! The same thing goes for marketing. Internet marketing experts need to take a look at your individual case and plan accordingly. For example, some clients have zero presence on the internet—no website, no local listings, no blog. Others have been doing their own work and simply need assistance managing social media or content distribution. By the same token, there are industries in which there is a lot of competition—HVAC, roofing contractors, and auto mechanics. Other industries have an easier time ranking because they are one of a few businesses that provide a service in an area—people like dentists, medical specialists, or even psychics. Everyone’s case is different, and everyone takes a different amount of time to begin appearing on the first page. So how is this possible? Well, Google combs through data on a daily basis, and it begins to compare this data over time. So it makes sense that it’s not going to find your site, immediately deem it the “most relevant” and put it at the top of the search results above all of your competitors. It takes time for Google to weigh and determine site relevancy, so you must be patient as this process takes shape.

Changing things without consulting your marketing team can result in setbacks.

If you’re feeling antsy about a particular keyword not showing up, you might feel like you want to get rid of it and choose another. But if you go into your blog or Google Places and begin changing keywords around, you’ll eventually find that you can easily undo all the hard work you’ve put in already--even if you meant well. This isn’t to say you can never (or should never) change keywords—sometimes, you find that you’ll just stay on the second or third page indefinitely with the amount of competition you’re facing. In this case, talk to your marketing team and determine new keywords to use. Over time, you’ll hopefully see improvements for these terms. If you don’t see any new traffic growth over the first few months, then you definitely need to take a look at what’s going wrong and make adjustments accordingly. The main lesson here is to not go ahead and do things without consulting your team. You are, after all, paying them to help you rank. You should always understand one another and what your goals are. If there is no communication between you and your marketing experts, then you’ll essentially be throwing away money. You need to work together!

Get involved and learn about the process.

Obviously if you’re hiring internet marketing experts to manage your marketing strategy, it’s because you don’t have the time (or desire) to learn how to do marketing on your own. And that’s fine! But if you take the time to learn just a few basics about internet marketing, you’ll find that you can more easily follow along with the process and even enhance it. At Internet Local Listings, we do manage many clients’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. However, our clients often ask to be involved with the process, and we encourage it. By tweeting, updating your Facebook status, or writing content for your own page, you’re helping the process along and learning more about how to work with your internet marketing team as you go. That’s a great thing! By combining ideas and discussing tactics, you can enhance your team just like you would with traditional or word-of-mouth marketing. Give input, feedback, and get your hands "dirty", and you’ll get a lot more out of your internet marketing experience. If you would like to learn more about digital or online marketing, check out our Back to Basics series, where you can learn about SEO basics and discover simple changes you can implement on your site to help boost your rankings. If you want to hire a team of qualified internet marketing experts, simply give us a call at (888) 770-3950 or visit our contact us page and fill out a form. You can also use our scanner to see if your site is listed correctly across the internet! So contact us today to discuss your marketing concerns with our experienced, qualified internet marketing experts!   Check out these pages for more information on internet marketing tips:

 

Back to Basics #9: Local Listings for Small Businesses with no Physical Address

google-places-for-small-business

google-places-for-small-business In Back to Basics #6, we covered the importance of small businesses being listed across local directories such as Yellow Pages, eLocal, Brownbook, Manta, White Spark, and others. This process is easiest to do for those businesses that have a brick-and-mortar store: A boutique, hair salon, supply store, or car repair shop, for example. But what if you’re a contractor working from your home or you provide virtual shopping services? You don’t want to list your home address because you live there and want to keep that information private—so will you still be able to list your business effectively so that your customers can find you?

Listing your business without an address: Not as difficult as you think.

The great news is that it’s perfectly acceptable to Google to list your small business without an address. Now, this isn’t to say everyone should do this—first, think of your industry. If you have a store, you will want to make sure that your customers can find you; in this case, it's a pretty straight-forward decision--leave your address visible. If you are a mobile notary or car washing service and you have a small office but you also serve your clients away from the office, you may choose to indicate that as well. If you work from your own home, it’s understandable why you would want to keep that information private. So as you can see, it all depends on what you deem to be the best for your particular set of services.

Once you’ve made your decision to keep your small business’s address hidden from Google, the next step is filling out your listing. In the next part of this post, we’ll discuss filling out your Google Places information.

Filling out your Google Places Page information

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As you can see, when you set up your Google Places page, you have the option to check a little box that says you deliver services to an address. This would be the choice that you would want to make if you wanted to hide your address. If you also serve people from an office, you can select the “I also serve customers at my business address” box to show that you do both.

You can find all of this information on your Google Places page when you edit your address. It can easily be changed whenever you choose—so if you make a mistake or want to come back later and change things, it’s simple to do.

Hiding your address on other local directories

As we discussed, Google isn’t the only place you’re going to want to list your business. Other places such as SuperPages, HotFrog, Localeze, and eLocal will also have options to hide your address. When you claim your business listing, you can opt to leave off your address to ensure you keep your private information private. You may have to do some more searching on these sites—it’s not always apparent right away where these options are.

Now, in the past, there has been some debate as to whether Google will penalize any business that hides their business. Some articles claim businesses that provide services such as plumbing MUST hide addresses or risk disappearing from search results; others claim that every home-based business must keep their address visible or risk disappearing from search results. But these are now old articles, and this system has been in place long enough that it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore.

The important point to remember here is that some business owners need to hide their information for safety or privacy reasons. This should not interfere with your rankings, and it is certainly not intended to be a way to punish small business owners who want to keep their information private. It’s there to protect you—so if you want to keep that information hidden, do not be concerned about it affecting rankings.

Getting assistance with local listings for small businesses

Whether you do or don’t want to hide your business’s address, Internet Local Listings can help you ensure you’re making the most of your listings. We ensure all data is optimized for your industry and listed correctly across all the most popular directories. If you have concerns about privacy, we’d be happy to work with you. After all, everyone should be able to rank on the first page if they work hard enough for it—whether or not they have a physical address to list. Give us a call at (888) 770-3950 or fill out our contact form today to get more information on our services. Let us know what we can do for you!

Why Small Business Marketing is Essential in 2014 and Beyond

small-business-marketing-in-2014

small-business-marketing-in-2014 Getting the word out about your business has always been your top priority. As a small business owner, you already understand how important marketing is—whether it's word of mouth, fliers, direct marketing, or running local advertising campaigns, you know that you have to get the word out or your numbers suffer. But what many small business owners don't take into consideration is a marketing plan. And without some type of marketing strategy, you'll likely become frustrated, not knowing whether your efforts are paying off.

This is the primary reason that small business marketing is now non-negotiable. In 2014, we have a number of options to help us determine how and where to market to our clients: social media, blogs, video marketing, online local business listings, Google Places, and more. With all of these tools at our disposal, is there any excuse not to have a marketing plan in place?

No, there isn't. In this article, we'll talk a bit about why small business marketing is essential in 2014 and beyond. When you understand just how effective marketing is for your business, you'll have a better foundation to grasp the concepts of beginning your own marketing campaign.

Small business marketing is the only way to get the word out.

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You've heard of companies like Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, and Apple. Why is that? Because they have a massive consumer base and they have massive marketing budgets. Their ads are fed to you frequently to ensure you know what the company is up to, and they make sure that their products stay up-to-date and relevant.

Now, you're probably thinking, “Well, I don't have that kind of money to spend on an advertising campaign!” and you're probably right. Most small business marketing budgets are scant. And that's okay. You don't need a ton of money to start seeing returns on your efforts. As we've discussed in previous articles, you can implement social marketing strategies for very little money, and you can get started with blogging completely free of charge. The best thing about this type of marketing is that you can begin to spend money whenever you like to boost your efforts. Want to place an ad on Facebook? You can spend as little as $5 a day to promote your business. Want to pay for a domain name and host your blog as a website? For less than $20, you can grab a domain name, and hosting can be as low as $3-5 a month. There's no reason you must feel like you are required to spend thousands of dollars just to be seen online.

When you get the word out with small business marketing, you begin to build your audience online. And that's the #1 most important thing.

In 2014, traditional networking is still important.

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Networking. It sounds like a buzzword, and to some extent, that's what it's become. That aside, you should never underestimate the power of networking. If you go to local business expos, connect with influencers on Twitter and Facebook, and simply ask your customers to refer you to friends and family, then you're already networking. If you're not networking and these activities don't sound like they'll increase your sales, then think of it this way: you're building a strong reputation and a sturdy foundation of support and availability for your clients. And that is absolutely essential.

The easiest way to get started is to simply ask your customers to review you on Yelp and Google. This has the added bonus of sending “relevancy” signals to Google, helping you to rank higher. Many customers would be happy to submit positive reviews when asked, but they often don't bother to go online and leave reviews otherwise.

You can also get started on Facebook and Twitter for free. Place signs around your office or store that tell customers where they can find you online. Ask friends and family to spread the word. None of this will cost you a thing, except maybe an hour or two of your time to craft the signs!

Are press releases outdated? Nope. Not even close.

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Spread the word about newsworthy business developments: A new product, a sale, or a special event your company is attending or hosting. Try to send out a press release once a month to keep the word about your company relevant and fresh. This can cost money if you choose to promote your company online—you can pay anywhere from $120 to upwards of $250 to have your press release promoted on popular sites. But you don't have to do this. Small business marketing is all about leveraging your local connections. Talk to your local newspaper or ask to be on the news or featured on a radio show. You can talk about your new products or even offer customers a special discount if they mention your interview or article. By doing this regularly, you can easily make a good impression on your local community.

The new way of connecting to customers: Videos.

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Many small businesses specialize in a specific, niche service: Plumbing, dog grooming, notary services, etc. Think of how you felt when you first started learning about your industry. You probably felt overwhelmed and looked to professionals for guidance. Or consider how you feel when you want to save money and try to take care of things yourself—fixing a pipe or cleaning your roof, for instance. Many people look up tutorials now on YouTube.

This might seem counter-intuitive to teach your customers learn how to help themselves, but it is actually a great way for your customers and company to share a dialogue. It establishes you as an authority figure and expert in your industry. Plus, taking the time to create a video tutorial for your customers shows that you spend time thinking of their needs—and customers truly appreciate that. Finally, videos on YouTube, when properly optimized, send strong relevancy signals to search engines, and that helps your website rank higher.

And there you have it. Small business marketing is essential in 2014. You need to network to connect with clients. You need to create content to stay relevant on search engines. You need to connect with customers in new and innovative ways. As the internet grows more content-based, your small business will have to keep on top of these trends to ensure your customers are still finding you.

If you need assistance with any small business marketing services, Internet Local Listings is always here to help. Simply contact us here or visit our site for more information. We have a special running right now, too—so act fast and save money while you start bringing in more customers!

Mobile Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Mobile marketing tips for small  businesses Today more than ever, it’s important for small businesses to optimize their websites for mobile access. According to statistics released by Strategy Analytics, as of 2012, more than one billion people used smart phones to access the internet. But to be brutally honest, sites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices load slowly and look terrible—and smart phone users immediately leave a site if this happens to them. And can you blame them? If you are browsing the internet, you don’t want to have to feel like you must solve a puzzle in order to use a website! So if your small business website isn’t optimized for mobile, that is a lot of potential business you’re losing out on. What can you do to remedy this?

In this article, we’ll take a look at three great mobile marketing tips for small businesses.

Mobile Marketing Tip #1: Responsive Design

As mentioned above, mobile web design needs to be implemented in order for smart phone (or tablet) users to browse your site effectively. Responsive design is a type of web design that detects which device a user is using to access your site, and adjusts the screen accordingly. This reduces load time, simplifies form submission (who likes typing out tons of information on a phone keyboard? No one, that’s who), and makes the site look professional and clean no matter how your visitors are logging on. Your customers deserve to have the best experience possible, and you owe it to them as a professional business owner!

Mobile Marketing Tip #2: Optimize Your Social Media Accounts

According to Constant Contact, up to 91% of local searchers use Facebook to find business online. When you sign up for Facebook as a business, you can fill out your location, business hours, phone number, and any other important local information. When a visitor finds you via search, they’ll be able to see all of this information displayed neatly on their mobile device. Setting up a Facebook account is easy—it takes fewer than 10 minutes to get the basics down. Plus, it’s free!

Setting up Twitter is also simple. You can localize your Twitter profile by filling out the “location” section, and add your website or contact information in your profile header. Many people search on Twitter for businesses, so make sure that you can be found easily and quickly by completing your profile fully. Like Facebook, Twitter is also free to use.

The bottom line? If you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, you could be missing out on a large amount of mobile traffic. And because both platforms are free, there’s no excuses!

For more information on social media marketing for small businesses, check out our article here: Developing Successful Social Media Strategies.

Mobile Marketing Tip #3: Opt-in for Text Messaging

This tip is a bit tricky, particularly for small businesses just getting into mobile marketing. You can allow your customers to opt-in for text message alerts. But here’s the catch: text messaging is pretty private, even if the customers DO want to sign up for alerts. So texts should only be sent when you have something better than normal to offer—a 24 hour sale, a limited inventory, or for a limited-time item that’s almost sold out. Allowing someone to opt-in can be a great way to get a customer back into your store and purchasing your products, but you have to remember to respect their boundaries.

Check out this resource to get started on building your website with responsive designs:

http://www.cio.com/article/2387279/developer/7-tools-to-build-websites-using-responsive-design.html

Or you can always visit Internet Local Listings and check out our websites. With our premium website packages, you’ll get 100% customized websites that look professional and are completely mobile responsive!

Do you have other suggestions for mobile marketing tips for small businesses? Leave them in the comments below!