In the United States, the small business sector represents a significant part of the nation's economic growth, with an estimated 28 million registered businesses earning 54 percent of annual sales in America. Small business accounts for 55 percent of all jobs and, on average 66 percent of new net job growth on an annual basis, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Given these statistics, there is nothing "small" about small businesses in America, except that these organizations typically follow a lean startup model, beginning as part-time businesses and growing only with time and cautious investment. Because of this limited growth model, hiring a marketing manager isn’t an option, budget-wise, for many small businesses.
However, what they lack in capital, these nusinesses can make up for with creative content marketing.
How can your small businesses leverage content tools and brand messaging to support your growth? Here are several strategies and software packages that every business owner should consider part of an effective marketing plan.
Master social media management.
If delegating social media management to someone on your team isn’t an option, become a master content creator yourself. There are many online courses available on Udemy that start for $10 per lecture, allowing you to learn at your own pace the fundamentals of digital marketing and social media. The courses will teach you what to share and when, to optimize the benefit of professional community management.
Learn what software applications the experts use to preschedule posts, and how to get alerts sent to your phone whenever someone likes or comments on your social media content. Empower yourself (or your staff) to respond quickly to customer questions on important social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Small businesses that sell online nationally, or internationally, can benefit from looking at metrics or analytics regarding their social media engagement. Learn where your customers are from, what posts have the most traction, the most active days or times for your customers -- and more. You can use Sprout Social. The software also comes with comprehensive scheduling applications, competitive reports and more.
Take advantage of newsjacking and trending hashtags.
Starting from scratch with new social media accounts means a slow, persistent build in terms of audience. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time and a lot of effort to gain traction and followers for your small business, but focus your efforts first locally, to build brand awareness in your immediate community.
Look for hashtags and other businesses in your local area that are "killing it’"on social. Follow charitable organizations from your community, including local associations and chambers of commerce. There is nothing unscrupulous about following up news events or headlines from your local area; comment, and like posts (or share them) to start networking with other businesses in your area. You can also expose your own business to more people by leveraging hashtags that are trending. Stay in the middle of the conversation.
Stimulate user-generated content.
Small businesses that advertise on social media platforms gain more traction by encouraging customers and users to create their own content. Just as product or service reviews help small businesses, so does user-generated content when shared online.
There are many ways small businesses can leverage user-generated content without pricey contests and large giveaways. If you own a restaurant, for instance, ask customers to share their favorite meal on Instagram, using a custom hashtag for your business. The hashtag will allow owners to randomly select a winner monthly, but the pictures of different items, and comments from satisfied customers, are worth far more than the price of a once-per-month "free dinner for two" incentive.
Invest in visual-content marketing.
You don’t have to be a graphic designer or professional video editor to create valuable multimedia visual content to share in your social feed. Finding the time may be a challenge for small business owners, but there are many free or low-cost smartphone apps that make it easy to create social-friendly creative posts.
If you are just starting out, and want to create some animated video posts with captions, try Ripl. The full version of the app (without the distraction of a watermark on your images or videos) is under $10 per month. Adobe Spark is fabulous software that allows a more advanced creative user to develop short videos, presentations (slideshows) and even magazine-quality graphic posts for social sharing.
Use an online-review service.
Gaining favorable customer reviews should be part of a small business marketing plan. Consider that any brand has an uphill battle to convince and convert potential customers. And favorable communication coming from the small business itself naturally has a biased opinion. The beautiful thing about customer reviews is that they hold a lot of merit with new customers, who trust the purchase or service experience of other consumers over the brand's own promises.
Some industry leaders in online reviews, like Trustpilot, are out of budget for small businesses, despite the fact that they offer a high-traffic and easy-to-use online review format. Other review providers, such as Google My Business and TestFreaks, are more budget friendly, and the ratings and comments they enable customers to leave can be embedded for the business’s website.
Proud of your service track record? Showcase it on social media and on your website as an important credibility piece, to help establish a positive online reputation. Don’t forget to design an effortless way for customers to leave your business a review, by designating a funnel on your website; and remember to respond to comments (negative and positive) in a service-focused manner.
Overall, don’t be afraid to show the personal side of your small business to your customers, on social media. Staff recognition, birthdays and charitable giving or events are all valuable from a public relations standpoint.
Small businesses have personality, and that’s why customers love to buy from them and shop locally. Let your passion and positive vibe shine through, and watch your small business grow.