Earlier this week, we wrote a post on six things every small business owner should include in his or her 2014 marketing plan. (Go check it out and then come back. We’ll wait!)
As an added bonus, we thought we’d round up some real-life small business owners and see what they’re cooking up for their marketing next year. You’ll find no big surprises—just sensible strategies that include healthy doses of social media, SEO, mobile, and a little relationship building thrown in for good measure. Let’s get to it.
The Website Is Where It’s At
Bottom line: small businesses are no different from big ones when it comes to their websites. Business owners want traffic, lots of it, and they want the traffic to convert into leads and sales. How business owners go about accomplishing these goals is where the differences come in.
Sari Holtz is the vice president of marketing for PearlClasp.com, a website aimed at making jewelry repairs (and purchases) easy and affordable. Holtz says SEO will be the big focus for 2014, so much so that her company has decided to take it in-house instead of outsourcing this important task.
Holtz explains, “After researching SEO providers extensively, we’ve decided to hire someone in-house rather than to outsource the project to a consultant who will take a lot of money and work only a fraction of the time. As someone who has been in the marketing world for seven years, I believe that many companies these days are relying on viral outreach and the instant traffic generated by PPC, rather than waiting for the more reliable results of romancing the search engines with white-hat tactics. The waiting game is difficult, especially when companies are hungry for business, but our hope is that it’ll pay off in the long run.”
Of course, producing engaging, “sticky” website content is another strategy that business owners are incorporating into their 2014 plans. Jeanne Ward heads up marketing for The Oliver Group, a leadership consulting firm with about 22 employees. Ward says that the company’s 2013 plan evolved as the year unfolded. Some of the strategies included getting more leads through compelling content that people found through social media, SEO, and paid search. As for next year, Ward says, “We will continue to emphasize content and also plan to redesign our website and branding. We need responsive design, a better layout to our website, and a simpler, more modern logo, so we plan on investing a bit in these things.”
Measuring website results and reviewing analytics are also important. Ian Aronovich is the president and co-founder of GovernmentAuctions.org, a site that compiles and provides information about government auctions of seized and surplus merchandise from all over the country. Aronovich says analytics played a big role this year and will next year as well.
He explains, “Our company is constantly working with analytics to generate leads and drive sales, and 2013 was no different. We use services like Visual Website Optimizer and Moz to test and improve conversion in our website’s landing and registration pages. That’s essential for our business, which is conducted completely online. Sometimes certain graphics turn out to be counterproductive, so we take them out. Sometimes certain keywords attract more visitors than others. Based on the data, we can then make the necessary adjustments in order to achieve our desired impact.”
There’s no escaping it: all businesses, large and small, need to be mindful of social media. Five years ago, a small business could make an argument for ignoring the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Not anymore, which means you’ll see more and more companies, even smaller mom-and-pop stores, enter the social media fray, just as Chuck’s Furniture in Morgantown, West Virginia, has done. James Prutilpac, whose family owns Chuck’s, recently took over the store’s social media reins.
Prutilpac’s goal is to continue the push into 2014. “The focus thus far has been on Facebook, but we are also pursuing Twitter and LinkedIn and hopefully more as time goes on. I use social media to promote new product as it arrives on our showroom or simply to show off pieces that are discontinued and we’ve marked down in price.”
Aronovich also shares his social plans for 2014: “We’ve also made heavy use of social media this year and in the past, so in 2014 we’ll be trying out more social media tactics to tie into marketing. It will be part of our behavioral retargeting campaign, so we need the valuable data that social media provides. There will likely be a social media overload in 2014 and also a move to more mobile advertising. With technological improvements, we’ll probably see a lot more video-based ads through e-mail and mobile marketing. As a result, our company may jump into video work as well.”
The past year was huge for mobile, and we believe 2014 is going to be just as big, if not bigger. The thing we expect to see in 2014 is more businesses adopting mobile mindsets (an easy prediction to make, considering that as of May 45% of businesses still didn’t have a mobile site or app). As for what a mobile mindset means, it runs the gamut, with some business owners considering mobile websites, others considering accepting mobile payments, and still others anticipating that they’ll be embracing a variety of mobile-minded strategies in 2014. That said, some are going to make the leap faster than others will.
Prutilpac remains cautious and notes, “We plan on moving into more mobile centric ways but are still evaluating our options. The same goes with non-social media ad options. We are looking to e-commerce, and once we get that up and running, our online marketing will certainly increase.”
Carolina Schwarz owns a boutique marketing and content development company. While she’s following a number of trends, she’s paying particular attention to what’s happening in digital marketing and in those industries where her clients are doing business. Schwarz says, “Some of the things I am planning for next year include revamping my website and including more options for my clients to engage with me virtually (accepting payments online or offering clients a space where they can check
their overall account performance online), making my site optimized for mobile devices, and including video blogging.”
Aronovich also sees mobile marketing playing a lead role next year. He says, “Mobile site optimization, mobile payment processing, and mobile apps are on our agenda for 2014. Everything will be done through bootstrapping, a method our company has relied on for funding ever since its launch over a decade ago.”
Real Relationships Still Matter
Even though so much focus is placed on online strategies, real life interactions with customers are still important. Schwarz says, “In 2013, I traveled to industry conferences to introduce myself to potential clients and I am planning on doing this as well in 2014. I found that person-to-person contact is still extremely important. Based on this experience, I am also planning on doing service presentations and webinars for different organizations to talk to my target audience in a very personalized way.”
Evan Fript, who launched a line of men’s dress shoes called Paul Evans earlier this year, echoes the importance of real-life connections. “In early October we had an event with a local tailor on the top floor of an Italian restaurant. We spoke with a lot of people and our booth was heavily trafficked. I believe the value of the relationships we made and the opportunity for potential customers to see our product in real life was significantly higher than any paid online advertising. We will continue to focus on events in the future.”
Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing—What’s the Verdict?
Just like everything else in life, the answer seems to be “it depends.” While there’s definitely been a marked shift from outbound to inbound marketing strategies for most businesses (large and small) over the last five years, that doesn’t mean all small businesses are abandoning the more traditional methods of engagement.
Prutilpac says, “We are still using a lot of traditional media. However, television is not as large of a focus as it has been. We’re finding the younger generations are skipping or bypassing commercials. We are balancing it a little more. Radio is still very good. Morgantown is a fast growing town and billboards have become very good platforms. As the traffic is increasing, billboards have grown in importance. We have more people sitting at stoplights than before.”
Tips from Those Who’ve Been There
What if you’re a small business owner staring at a blank screen, wondering where to begin when it comes to putting together your marketing plan for 2014? Some of the folks above weigh in with their thoughts.
Schwarz says you should think about what has worked in the past, write it down, and think about how you can add on to it. For example, if you did an email campaign and it worked well, think about how you can tie in a loyalty program to the next campaign. She adds, “Most importantly, I believe business owners shouldn’t wait until it is the ‘right’ time to do things, and should get in the game. As they say, ‘There are those who dream of success and there are those that wake up early and make it happen.’”
Ward offers excellent advice: don’t try to do everything at once, make sure your plan’s goals mesh well with the sales team’s goals, use downtime to write and stockpile content that you can release during busier periods, and leverage the power of mobile technology so you can do social media during downtime as well. She adds this gem, “And figure out how you can integrate your social media so that you can do dual postings. For instance, all my Facebook posts go to Twitter, but not vice versa, because I’m using Twitter more for one-on-one communications and at a higher frequency. But I can do both from my smartphone, wherever I am.”
Have you created your marketing plan for 2014? What are you struggling with? What are some highlights? Share in the comments!