"Growing a small business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would have a business,” says Tom Tarasiuk, who knows firsthand the difficulties that small businesses go through when they try to succeed at online marketing.
As president and owner of Discount Water Softeners, Tarasiuk has helped his company streamline its efforts to provide an outstanding user experience and increase sales. This undeviating focus on the customer and a willingness to take risks have enabled the business to grow. Here are those all-important strategies he's used:
Customer-centric product development
Tarasiuk says that a key tactic in his company's growth has been the work by leadership to keep overhead costs low. One way that's been done is by eliminating the usual middle men and purchasing water systems directly from the manufacturer.
But even more important has been the company's customer-focused philosophy. The company keeps its overall inventory minimal and develops products and features that will meet the needs of its clients. It's done this by avoiding stocking merchandise that won’t sell because people don’t need it.
As Tarasiuk told me: “Happy customers are a critical part of our growth. We base our additional or new products on what customers are requesting or what areas of the market need a void filled.”
Improving the user experience
The company’s emphasis on the customer plays out in its online marketing strategy. Case in point is when managers decided in 2013 to switch ecommerce platforms. They had been using Volusion and transitioned to Magento.
Tarasiuk says they wanted a framework that would allow them to customize various types of content (images, videos, etc.) on any of their pages. Their goal was to improve the user experience and increase conversions. They did have some concerns about the switch, he says. They feared Magento would be less user-friendly on the back end. But without taking risks, an organization cannot grow. The result? After changing to Magento, the company's sales nearly doubled.
And it saw its organic SEO increase noticeably with almost no additional effort. At that time, the company completely redesigned its website. Again, prioritizing the customer was key. The location of optional items and upgrades on the site was improved, for instance. This allowed customers, Tarasiuk says, to “customize their orders and learn what upgrades would benefit them the most for their needs.” The site redesign, he says, increased company sales by as much as 15 percent.
Saving time with email
Another major part of refining the user experience and cutting costs at Discount Water Softeners entailed enabling customers to resolve some of their issues through email instead of over the phone. At one point, customer service reps were taking 45 minutes to handle each call that came through. Tarasiuk says he didn’t have enough employees to handle the volume of the calls. And hiring more workers would mean increasing overhead costs.
Instead, he solved the problem by allowing people to ask their most common questions through email. Through Magento, the company added PHP forms for people to fill out and used Crazy Egg to determine the best places on the site to put the forms. The company also increased sales by driving traffic to the forms by using Google AdWords. This solution cut, by 30 minutes, the time that its reps spent on each call, Tarasiuk says. It allowed the reps to handle a higher volume of calls without adding more employees.
Google AdWords has been crucial to growth.
Google AdWords has been crucial to the growth of Discount Water Softeners. In fact, Tarasiuk goes so so far as to call AdWords “essential to efficient performance and high ROI for sales.” He says he believes every company should have someone who is skilled at leveraging AdWords to its full potential.
Tarasiuk’s business has been using Google AdWords for over 10 years, and he describes learning how to leverage this tool as “pivotal in our growth.”
When the company first started using AdWords, it wasn't selling much and was spending only $20 per day on the tool. But then Tarasiuk found Gail Gardner, an AdWords advisor teaching pay per click strategies at the now-defunct SearchEngineForums, and the situation changed. The advisor told him that if he wanted his company to be "discovered," he should be spending at least $70 to $80 on AdWords per day.
Following that advice, Tarsiuk says, has revolutionized his company’s online presence and has been a decision he's never regretted. At one point, when Gardner changed her work and switched to managing PPC accounts, the company had to go without an advisor for a period and instead rely on Google support. That situation wasn’t ideal because it wasn’t clear whether Google was prioritizing the company’s campaigns or focusing on its own interests, Tarasiuk says.
Google did help keep Discount Water Softeners going, but it also didn’t see a marked improvement in its campaigns at the time. The assistance of an advisor was what really made a difference in itsprofits. So Tarasiuk contacted Gardner and asked for a recommendation for a new AdWords manager. “That original AdWords advisor was essential at not only jump-starting our internet presence, [but] she showed us how to use and manage AdWords," he says.
While there is no formula for growing a business successfully, there are principles that can guide you along that way. Take smart risks, and make your decisions based on what will help your customers. Because of the time and money Discount Water Softeners saved on strategies it adopted, it has been able to use the extra resources it gained to launch a new line of high-efficiency water softeners.
The company has also been able to diversify its merchandise, improve its product and benefit the environment, Tarasiuk says. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you do not take,” he says, quoting hockey star Wayne Gretzky.
This doesn’t mean you should be reckless. It means to get good advice, and then take a leap of faith based on that information. If you don’t, you’ll never know what you could be missing.