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When it comes to online marketing, small businesses tend to think they have a disadvantage. The truth is, they do have an advantage in a certain sense and a disadvantage in another. Since you serve a local clientele and your business is smaller, you can be much more nimble than a larger business or multi-national corporation. The downside is your budget is smaller.

But you don’t necessarily need a big budget to be effective online.

I don’t agree with everything Matthew Barby says in this post, but he’s got some good content ideas.

For instance, this QR code idea was pretty good:

I visited a coffee shop a few weeks back and some of the staff had aprons on with a big QR code on the front that said “zap me for a 10% discount.” When you scanned the QR code you had to like their Facebook page and the member of staff would give you a discount there and then… awesome!

Now, I’m not saying you should go splatter your QR code all over everything. I am saying you can afford to be creative with your content. Think of your entire business being a giant content pool – your employees, your marketing collateral, your brick and mortar.

If you think of your business as a content pool, you’ll see the opportunities that are right in your face every day.

Yelp recently announced the acquisition of an online reservation management tool called SeatMe. This makes me wonder, will Yelp get into providing online reservations for local businesses? I could see how that would benefit Yelp customers and provide a more competitive landscape in local marketing.

If you run any type of local business or a business based on reservations (including hotels, B&Bs, certain entertainment-style venues, and travel packages), then Yelp getting into providing online reservations for company’s like yours would be a good service at the right price. Right?

As Greg Sterling points out, Yelp already has an affiliate relationship with OpenTable, which provides online reservations. Being able to do it themselves means they can cut their affiliate relationship and go directly to the customer.

As a small business owner, or a local business owner, if you could get an online reservation fulfillment service at an affordable price, would you go for that?

I don’t know what Yelp’s pricing model would look like, and I’m only speculating that the purpose of purchasing SeatMe would be to provide an online reservation management service, but it does make sense. The question is, is it something that small local businesses want, and is it something they could use?

E-mail marketing services provider Constant Contact conducted a survey of small businesses and asked them how running their businesses today is different than it was five years ago. There have been some interesting findings as a result of the survey.

For instance,

  • 59% say it’s harder running a business now
  • 84% use more online marketing tools
  • 51% say it’s important to be a locally-owned business vs. 42% five years ago
  • 98% use e-mail marketing today vs. 64% five years ago
  • 87% use social media marketing vs. 10% five years ago
  • 72% expect revenue increases in 2013, however, 56% do not expect to hire new employees in the next six months
  • 55% say the biggest impact on their business in five years will be the economy; 18% say mobile and search marketing technologies

These certainly are interesting findings. The fact that small business owners are turning to online marketing tools to grow their businesses today means a lot. In five years, I expect that 84% to grow to over 95%, possibly nearer to 99% or 100%. If you look at the e-mail marketing number (98% of small businesses today), that’s where I’d expect all Internet marketing numbers to be in five years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see video marketing and mobile marketing to be a bigger part of the survey by that time.

What are your thoughts?

If you own a small business and you’ve been wondering how you can take your business online to Pinterest, your prayers have now been answered. In other words, you can now set up a business account on one of the fastest growing social networks online.

Pinterest is highly visual. You can pin your favorite photos and that has the potential to drive new customers to your business website. Not only can you pin photos, but you can also pin videos.

And you can share, re-pin, and like the photos and videos posted by other users.

Until now, Pinterest has encouraged individuals to use its services. They’ve only tolerated business users. Recently, however, Pinterest has set up a business subdomain and now allows businesses to set up brand pages, allowing them to convert their current accounts if they have them. I highly recommend that you do this.

If you are a business currently using Pinterest, it would be a good move to convert your account to a business brand page. If you are not on Pinterest and you have a lot of images on your site, or videos, then I’d encourage you to join Pinterest and start pinning.

Don’t delay. The future of your marketing plan starts right now.

54% of the top brands are now using Instagram, but what is that? In short, it’s a photo sharing app for your smartphone. But what can you do with it?

Several small business owners share what they do with Instagram, but the question is this: Is it for you?

Like all social media, what you get out of Instagram is directly related to what you put into it. You don’t have to spend all day taking photos and sharing them to make it work for you. I think it will be more rewarding if you use Instagram in conjunction with other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

The key to any social network, and that includes Instagram, is to integrate it into your overall online marketing plan.

Rather than use Instagram to push your brand on unsuspecting consumers, why not just use it to highlight key aspects of your business once or twice a day – or, once or twice a week even? You don’t have to make a big splash to be effective. All you have to do is be consistent.

Instagram, like Pinterest, Photobucket, and Flickr, allows you to share important news and events about your business in a graphic way, and images can often be more powerful than words. Just be smart in how you incorporate it into your business. Think it through and it can work for you.

It’s no secret that video marketing is picking up speed. More and more companies are figuring out that online videos drive traffic and increase engagement. Surprisingly, the Fortune 100 companies have figured it out too.

Remember, just a couple of years ago marketers were asking, “Where are the global corporations? Why aren’t they making inroads into Internet marketing?” It turns out, now they are, and they’re doing it with video.

In 2010, only 50% of the Fortune 100 companies had YouTube channels. Last year, that number was 57%. This year, it’s 79%. What changed?

I think they’ve figured out that people will actually watch their videos. They’ve been told that no one wants to watch a boring commercial if they don’t have to. After all, when the commercials come on TV, we go to the fridge. Evidently, that isn’t necessarily true. Some people DO like the commercials.

In fact, 2 million viewers subscribe to the Fortune 100 channels, and these companies are keeping their viewers engaged.

That’s good news for the small business. If the global companies can do it, then you can too. The key to effective video marketing is to entertain first. Keep your audience engaged by giving them some reason to return to your channel over and over gain. Feature real people doing spectacular feats, or entertain them with your skills. Tell them a story. Do something that will get their attention. Don’t be a salesman.

A post at Constant Contact shares 21 ways non-profits can use Facebook. You can use these same tactics to promote your business. Here are 21 outstanding ways to market your business through Facebook.

  1. Shoot videos of your employees working.
  2. Share your company history on your Facebook page.
  3. Make good use of all of Facebook’s tabs.
  4. Use as many of the tabs as you can for your business.
  5. Take a survey.
  6. Share your customer testimonials.
  7. Take candid photos of your staff doing what they do and share it on Facebook.
  8. Get customer approval first, but show them being happy with the results they got.
  9. Link to press releases and press coverage of your business and its events.
  10. Link to relevant legislation that affects your business.
  11. Ask for comments on your page.
  12. Take pictures of your events and post them on Facebook.
  13. Post event invitations.
  14. Educate consumers.
  15. Share private feedback from customers (but get their permission first).
  16. Tag your partners and suppliers in posts that are relevant to them.
  17. Share news of common interest with your fans. It doesn’t even have to be about you.
  18. Sum up your business’s mission with your cover photo.
  19. Share awards you win as a company.
  20. Welcome new customers. However, if customers expect confidentiality, then get their permission first.
  21. Have a contest or a promotion.

Facebook is an incredible marketing tool. Most businesses aren’t using it to its fullest potential. Are you?

One of the biggest mistakes that new Internet marketers make is starting a blog then to stop writing it. The mistake part is not the starting part. The big mistake is in the stopping.

I’ll be the first to tell you that blogging isn’t for everyone. But, if you decide that you want a blog, then keep in mind that it IS one of the most powerful marketing vehicles on the planet.

Blogging is constant SEO. Every blog post is a separate web page, so if you blog every day for a year, that’s 365 web pages on your site. And each one of them has a variety of chances to rank well for specific key phrases related to your niche. Let’s just say there is an average of 3 key phrases that each blog post could rank for. That’s 1,095 potential No. 1 rankings.

Now, multiply that by 10 years of blogging.

But that’s just one benefit. Blogging also has the power to brand you long term, deliver massive and constant traffic to your website, increase your website’s link portfolio, make you an instant expert … and the list goes on.

Nevertheless, it never surprises me to see small business owners start a blog and 30 days later to stop writing to it. You’re killing your business. Why would you do that?

This is just what you’ve been looking for. Well, that is, if you are a small business video maker.

We all know how expensive video production can be. Especially if you have to find and pay for talent to be in your videos. And if you want professional grade videos – not those home made throw togethers that are popular in certain circles – then you should expect a somewhat big production budget.

But I think YouTube is about to change all of that, and for the better.

AdAge is reporting that YouTube will soon launch a marketplace where video producers can hook up with talent for their videos. This is a great idea and I’m surprised it’s taken so long to get there. But I like what Baljeet Singh, group project manager at YouTube, had to say about the talent on the world’s largest video sharing site.

“The creativity coming out of YouTube rivals that coming out of creative agencies any day of the week,” he added. “And we already know that their content performs really well on YouTube.”

In other words, if you are a small business making a video to promote your brand, why pay thousands of dollars to an ad agency to get you a celebrity spokesperson when you can be just as effective with a fraction of that cost by hiring direct from the marketplace a YouTube celebrity? There are thousands of people on YouTube now making six figures by producing their own video channels. One of them could be your short video on-screen talent saving you a bundle while you get a professional quality video that promotes your brand.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Do you have your contact information clearly visible on your small business’s website? If not, why not?

I’d say this is one of the most important pieces of information to include on any website, especially if your business is a local small business that serves a geographically-based targeted audience. Your contact information is essential.

The days are long gone when the average person pulled out a Yellow Pages and thumbed through it to find a local business to customize. Today, more than half of the people in any given geographical market will go online and conduct a search for a business and they’ll most likely use Google. Ninety percent of them will use either Google or Bing. Therefore, your contact information is essential.

There are places other than your own website where it might be prudent to include your contact information. For a local business, you should claim your Google Places and Bing Local listings. A listing at several of various local business directories like Yelp and SuperPages might also be in order. But your website is the most important place for your local contact information. It is there where people are likely to engage with you and to seek out your services. If your website is optimized for the right keywords and geographical audience, then contact information will be even more essential.

People search for phone numbers online. All they have to do is type in your business name. If you have a website, what do you think they will find? If they are looking for your phone number, address, or e-mail contact information and it isn’t on your website, they will go to your competitor. It’s really that simple.

MerchantCircle conducted a survey and found that most small businesses would put all of their marketing budget into SEO if they could only choose one channel. These are interesting results. Why is it that small businesses would choose SEO over social media or traditional media?

I believe the answer is quite simple. Quite frankly, it’s the most effective and most cost efficient marketing channel.

SEO allows you to attract the type of customer you are searching for by “pulling” them in based on their own active search for information that you have to offer. And even today, the best converting traffic for most websites is traffic that comes from search engines. It’s almost a no-brainer.

But how many small business owners actually know how to conduct a search engine marketing campaign using the latest best practices for SEO? The answer: Not many. So who is going to do the actual work of optimizing their website?

It may be time for you to consider an SEO consultant. There are really three kinds of SEO consultants.

  1. The do-it-all consultant who analyzes your website and looks for opportunities to better your on-page and off-page SEO for increased search results. Then they implement a strategy approved by you.
  2. The assist-you consultant who analyzes your website and makes recommendations that you follow up on and implement.
  3. The hybrid SEO consultant who uses a combination of these two strategies and the two of you work together.

There are pros and cons to each type of consultant. Whichever is right for you is your call, but now is the time to consider an SEO consultant for your business for the upcoming year.

Aaron Wall is punching at Google again. This time he’s accusing the search giant of favoring big companies like Wal-Mart. At the expense of small companies. Here’s what he says specifically:

In the meantime, I expect Google to keep increasing search complexity such that it’s prohibitively expensive to make & market a small independent commercial website. That will force many smaller companies to live inside the Google ecosystem, with Google ranking the Google-hosted pages/products/locations for those companies, so that they can serve ads against them and get a bigger slice of the revenues.

In other words, small business owners will be forced to use Google-powered site hosting products because they won’t be able to afford to pay professional SEOs to do their optimization work. Meanwhile, big companies like Wal-Mart will be favored in the search engines unless small businesses use the Google-hosted sites, which will serve up ads and increase Google’s revenue at the small business owner’s expense.

Somehow, I don’t think that business model would work well for Google. What would happen when small business owners discover the game is rigged against them?

SEO is already plenty difficult for most small business owners. They either have to take the time to learn how to do it themselves, and most of them don’t have that kind of time, or they have to pay a professional anyway. Forcing small business owners into a corner doesn’t seem like a plan that would benefit Google.

It might be too late to make the announcement, but did you know that today is Small Business Saturday? You can learn a little bit more about it on the Small Business Saturday Facebook page.

The sponsors of this movement – American Express – are offering free in-store signage and e-marketing materials. Of course, today is the day so it might be too late to take advantage of some of these offers. But there’s always next year.

Meanwhile, the page was set up to help small businesses take advantage of holiday shopping. Other resources available through the page include:

  • Share An Offer – Which allows you to create an offer for your small business that shoppers can take advantage of.
  • Create A Facebook Page – Free.
  • Create A Video
  • Get Twitter Followers
  • Create A Buzz On LinkedIn – One of the best bets for small business owners.

You can also join the Small Business Saturday e-mail list and forum. That might be a good way to promote your business today, especially if you do any online marketing.

The event is sponsored by American Express. If you accept American Express, why not take advantage of Small Business Saturday. If not this year, then look for it next year.

According to a recent survey, Facebook is the most effective social media website. Surprised?

A look at the numbers is really telling:

Very Effective:

  • Facebook = 36%
  • Twitter = 14%
  • Video sharing = 14%
  • LinkedIn = 10%
  • Review sites = 7%
  • Google+ = 5%
  • Local/daily deals = 5%
  • MySpace = 1%

Moderately effective:

  • Facebook = 47%
  • Twitter = 32%
  • Video sharing = 23%
  • LinkedIn = 24%
  • Review sites = 12%
  • Google+ = 7%
  • Local/daily deals = 6%
  • MySpace = 2%

Don’t use the site:

  • Facebook = 4%
  • Twitter = 24%
  • Video sharing = 47%
  • LinkedIn = 38%
  • Review sites = 65%
  • Google+ = 70%
  • Local/daily deals = 76%
  • MySpace = 81%

I don’t think anyone is surprised that more than 80% of small businesses aren’t using MySpace. What is surprising is that 76% of small businesses aren’t using the local and daily deals websites. Or that 65% aren’t using review sites.

While it’s easy to say that Facebook is effective for the small businesses that are using it, it’s really difficult to compare it to sites they aren’t using. Can we really compare?

Who’s to say that review sites and local deals sites wouldn’t be more effective if more businesses didn’t use them?

The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not there is a social media site poised to give Facebook a run for its money. Right now it seems that Google+ might have the mojo, but getting small business owners to try it seems to be the challenge.

If you are a small business owner and you’re ready for social media, are you going to try Facebook? Do you see an alternative?

Google is not just a search engine. In fact, for many businesses it’s a life source. There are many ways that Google as a company helps small businesses, or can. Here are some of the best services that Google offers for small businesses looking to establish a presence on the Internet.

  • Sites – Need a website? Google Sites allows small business owners to establish a basic website without having to pay for hosting.
  • GmailGmail provides e-mail addresses for millions of online marketers and business owners.
  • Blogger – Google’s Blogger service allows anyone to establish a blog online – even for business.
  • Images – If you use images on your blog or website, you can get unlimited hosting with Picasa.
  • Image Editing – Edit your images with Picnik.
  • Video Marketing – Start your own channel, host and market your videos (and your business) with YouTube.
  • Offers – Promote your business through Google Offers.
  • Reader – Keep tabs on your competition and other important industry news blogs with Google Reader.
  • Alerts – Monitor your reputation and important topics with Google Alerts.
  • Code – Create awesome products with Google Code.
  • Trends – Research popular search trends you can respond to within your niche.
  • Custom Search – Create your own search engine and use it for your website.
  • Google+ – Go social with Google+, Google’s own social networking website.
  • Checkout – Take payments on your website with Google Checkout.
  • Calendar – Stay organized with Google Calendar.
  • Documents – Create and share your business documents with Google Docs.

I’m certain these are not the only Google services you can use for your business. You can find more through Google’s service listing page.

I’m also not saying that I recommend all of these services. In some cases there is a better alternative. For instance, PayPal is a much better payment service than Google Checkout, but if you were so inclined you could feasibly run your business using Google Checkout and take credit card payments through your website (you can do the same thing with PayPal).

In this century, Google provides small business owners with many services that allows you to run your business entirely on Google.

Video marketing is one of the 21st century’s most powerful vehicles for branding and small business marketing. You can produce powerful videos that stay live on the Web for a lot less than you can spend on TV or radio advertising – vehicles with a limited shelf life.

Still, ineffective video marketing can cost more than effective marketing in other media. Make sure you are doing it well.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind about video marketing as you strive to get your business in the minds of consumers:

  1. Shorter videos do better – Don’t go for the 2-hour documentary or 10-minute infomercial. Instead, go for the 30-second or 1-minute quickie. You’ll be a lot more effective.
  2. You don’t have to hire actors – You want to keep your video budget down. Use a slideshow or voice over artist. A full scale production isn’t necessary.
  3. Distribute widely – Don’t just distribute your video through one channel. Go as wide as possible.
  4. Promote through social media – “Push out” your videos through social media in order to “draw in” your prospects.
  5. Drive traffic to your website – Use videos to drive traffic to your website, then close the sale.

There’s no secret recipe to video marketing. There are good sound principles that are still in development. No one owns the best practices monopoly. Be creative, experiment, and make your message strong.

For years now Google has encouraged advertisers to spend money on Google AdWords by giving away $50 credit to new advertisers. In many cases, if you set up a new Web hosting account, you got this credit from your host. Google is still doing this.

Now, Facebook has joined the party.

Starting next year, Facebook will give away $10 million in free advertising to small business owners.

There’s more to the story than Facebook merely wanting to steal your business from Google. That would be nice for Facebook, but they really want you to start advertising on their platform – even if you continue using Google AdWords.

Most small business owners haven’t figure out how to use social media as a marketing tool. But they understand advertising. With 800 million + users, Facebook has a huge opportunity for small businesses to tap into the company’s user base and that’s why they are willing to give you $50 in free advertising to get you to at least try it.

I think the opportunity is a great opportunity for small businesses. Google AdWords has proved to be a very effective marketing channel for businesses that have tried it. Facebook’s advertising platform is a different animal, but it’s an animal worth riding nonetheless. Pay per click is no longer a search engine advertising tool; it’s gone social.

Prospecting is something that every business has to do. Methods change, but the prospecting continues. In the last few years, many businesses have found it more profitable to perform their prospecting online.

One online prospector likens the process to gardening. Here’s why:

  • Prospecting is like “growing,” not “killing” – a reference to the war analogy
  • You can’t control everything. Embrace uncertainty because when you are a gardener you deal with Mother Nature and no one controls Mother Nature. You can’t control your prospects either. Nurture them instead.
  • Prepare to be disappointed and surprised. Sometimes what you think is a sure thing turns sour while other things you didn’t think would happen turn into huge successes. That’s cool.
  • Take out the weeds. These are bad employees, worse customers, and other things that can kill your business.
  • Things change. Embrace the change. You can get by without that “necessary” component of your business. Be prepared for the worst and deal with it in reality.
  • Be persistent. Gardening is a little-bit-every-day thing. Never give up on it. If you do, your garden will die (and so will your fruit). Your business is just like a garden. Be persistent.

When you consider that prospecting for new clients is more like gardening than war, you’ll spend some time nurturing your prospects and treating them like a harvest.

When it comes to using online marketing tools, it seems that small business owners still haven’t put a lot of value on social media. That’s interesting because those same small business owners do put a lot of value on word of mouth advertising. They say it’s important.

The reason I find this puzzling is because social media is the new word of mouth. But I understand how some people might not see that.

If you consider that Facebook is the most trafficked website online and that it’s the new social club (without the drinks), then you might get a glimpse into why it might be useful to do some business networking through there. But don’t just take my word for it. Ask the people who are using it.

Then there’s LinkedIn. People asking questions and answering them. Introducing each other to connections. That sort of thing.

A lot of referrals take place through social media. Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Google+. Even Quora. But if you talk to small business owners, you wouldn’t know it.

I’d recommend picking a social media website – any one will do – spend 15 minutes a day for two months just figuring it out, meeting new people, interacting in small ways, and see where it leads you. What would it hurt?

When building your small business website, the one you’re going to use for promoting your local service business, should you include affiliate links and promote products that aren’t yours?

There are two ways to think about this question. The first way is to consider those affiliate links exit holes. Anything that causes the site visitor to leave your website is an exit hole and it means you lose a sale. Does the commission you’ll make on that affiliate product make up for the income you’re going to lose by not acquiring that customer? If not, then you shouldn’t use the affiliate link.

Another way to look at this is that you’re going to lose some of your site visitors anyway. Not everyone is going to buy your product or use your service. They may not be in the market for your service right now or they might not be the right target for your service. Either way, you’re not going to make the sale anyway so why not offer them something else instead?

Both of these points are valid. You’ll have to decide which way of thinking appeals to you and decide to use affiliate product links based on your own goals and desires.

If you do decide to use affiliate links on your small business service site, do so with these things in mind:

  • Use them sparingly.
  • Don’t make the affiliate products the main focus on your site – that should be your services.
  • Place affiliate links where they won’t draw undue attention to themselves, but will be attractive and get clicked on by people who aren’t interested in your service today.
  • Think about your web design first. If affiliate links and widgets won’t look good with your website, then don’t use them.