Small Business Marketing in 2017

Changing Times

“The times they are a-changin’” (-Bob Dylan, 1963). One of the most famous lines in rock history is as true today as it was over 50 years ago. Even more so, if that’s possible. This holds true for every element of our society, and especially in small business marketing. Change is exciting. And changing times create opportunities.

Look what marketing was like thirty years ago. The small business had to pay for a spot in the local Yellow Pages. They ran regular ads in the local newspaper. They put ads on the local radio station. They sent flyers to potential customers in their local markets. Most small businesses were somewhat confined to their local markets.

Expanded Market Area

The web has allowed a range of businesses to expand their market areas. Thirty years ago my family was in the building supply business in a small town. We would have customers that wanted specialty products, like custom designed arch windows. The fact that we knew where to find carpentry shops that would create these items gave us a competitive advantage. Our builder client didn’t know where he could get the work done. So he ordered it from us. Now, the builder who needs the window can search for carpentry shops and find them on the web. Then he can make the purchase and cut out the middle man. Today, this happens across a wide range of goods and services.

The Local Information Shift

As time passes fewer people are using the Yellow Pages. Local newspapers are losing subscribers. Local radio stations must create a local element to retain existing listeners. When the members of our communities are looking for goods and services, most go to the same place, the web. Many of these newspapers, radio stations and other mediums have tried to make their place on the web with websites and social media. The effort is failing to attract followers and advertisers. When the public is looking for goods and services it goes to the search engines instead, even in their search for local goods and services.

Continued Transformation

Web Changes

Ten years ago PC sales were hitting records. More and more people wanted a home computer so they could have access to the web. Millions of businesses were designing websites for those devices to provide information and to influence their share of the market. Today, PC sales are declining while the public has found less expensive and more convenient products in mobile devices.

This is a bar chart showing the decline in PC sales.
PC sales are in decline (Statista.com).

The traditional website has had to be redesigned to fit these devices. The “mobile first” strategy is taking hold. It will be considered the norm very soon.

Another element that websites must accommodate today is the offering of interactive capabilities. Al Agrawal, a contributor at Forbes.com, gives some valuable advice: “Think of ways to get readers to actively participate instead of passively consume. Interactive content can include assessments (such as the classic Cosmo Quiz setup), polls, surveys, infographics, brackets and contests” (17 Marketing Trends to Watch Out For In 2017 – Forbes) Participation is a way to connect in a proactive manner.

Change is Constant

Don’t expect the changes in small business marketing to slow down any time soon. Our capabilities in information handling continue to increase. Moore’s law certainly appears to be holding true today. That is, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law). This allows us to put more information into the market place through a growing range of mediums.

Be a Leader

Small businesses that don’t change will fall behind. This has been the case for centuries. Keeping up shouldn’t intimidate you. Through vendors, trade associations, trade journals and research of your competitors you can stay aware of the latest changes. Trade contacts should help you make educated decisions concerning the changes you decide to make. And those changes will make you a leader in your market.

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The Ecommerce Website

Selling Products Online

Many small businesses dream about taking their products to the world through ecommerce. If you have a unique product then this can create exciting possibilities. If you have a product that is carried by many other businesses, then you will need to find a way create more value than your competitors. Otherwise you will be competing solely on price.

The “To Do” List

There are several bases that need to be covered to get your site off the ground and selling products online. As with any website you need to purchase a domain name and point it to the server where you will have your website.

Set Up Secure Hosting

The hosting for your business’s website needs to be on a secure server. This insures that credit card information and other personal data of your clients are not compromised. Your hosting service will provide instructions for setting up a secure server.

Choose a Shopping Cart

There is a wide range of shopping cart services available. One of the best ways to choose a cart is to set up a demo account for several and go through the process of setting up your products on them. This will give you a good feel for the shortfalls of those carts and help you make a better decision in choosing. This will require some time, but it is well worth it.

These are logos of ecommerce shopping cart services.
There are many ecommerce shopping carts available.

Different carts work well for some products and not well for others. If your items have a lot of size options, color options and other variables, then you need to make sure the cart will work with all of the options you need for your market.

Enter Your Products

The most time consuming part of building an ecommerce website is often entering the products into the database for the shopping cart. Most shopping cart services have this down to a very simple process. Even so, if you have several products, each with many options, then the number of SKUs can jump quickly. Creating these in a shopping cart can require some time.

Collecting Money

There are two primary ways to collect money for your online sales. First, you connect your secure website to your bank account. Your transactions will process from the website. Second, you need to set up PayPal to give site visitors another option for payment. Clients that do not know you or your business may be reluctant to turn over credit card information to your site. If you don’t accept PayPal, then it could cost you significant sales. Make sure the shopping cart you choose accepts PayPal.

Connecting to Your Bank

Your shopping cart needs to be set up to transfer funds from your customer’s credit or debit cards to your bank account. To get this set up you need to get instructions from the company providing your shopping cart. It will require you to get some information from your bank that directs the payments to the right account.

Review Your Ecommerce Site Regularly

Your shopping cart needs to be reviewed regularly. When you have a change in a product, like the colors available for a shirt, you need to update it promptly. You don’t want to be contacting customers and telling them that you don’t have the item they just purchased. This will cost you repeat business and will likely keep other people away from your site.

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Affordable Websites

Small Businesses Need Affordable Websites

Too many small businesses got burned on their websites years ago. They were led to believe that a simple site would require a costly investment, an investment so high that many decided to go without. Those that took the risk got burned. Over time the costs of sites have gone down. Part of that is due to more competition, part is due to improved technology and a lot is due to the improved awareness of business management.

These photos are of businesses that use websites.
Different businesses have different website needs.

What Does A Website Cost?

This is the primary question we are asked when potential clients contact us. But before we can give them a number, we need some details. A website that has a single page with a few images and several paragraphs of text can run as little as $300. A site that sells 100,000 products online, posts regular blogs and manages social media can cost millions to build and requires the hiring of several employees to maintain it. Give us details and we can give you an estimate on the cost of a website.

What Do You Need?

The first thing you need to do is determine what kind of website best meets your needs. To do this you need to answer some basic questions. And the primary one is “What is the purpose of the website?”

Determining the Purpose of Your Website

The possible functions of websites for small businesses are great.  Different businesses have different motives for creating a website. Some use it as a tool to communicate with clients and/or employees. Others use it to promote their business. And some creates sites to do both. The sites required by most small business fall in three primary categories. Those categories are information, marketing and ecommerce.

Different websites have different functions.
Business website categories include information, marketing and ecommerce.

An Information Website

Some businesses simply want to use a website to get information to their clients. For example, a window treatment business may want to post PDF files that give the customers instruction on installing products. Creating such a site requires some effort on the way the website works and the process for posting content. Something like this could be done at low cost in a blog format.

A Marketing Website

If you are promoting goods and services on your site then one of the best places to start in determining what you need is other websites in your market. It is ideal to have the best site in your market. But, some businesses cannot afford to make that investment. Even so, it is a good idea for a business to create a site that is compatible with others in its market.

An Ecommerce Website

Selling products online normally requires the most significant investment. If it is managed properly in the right market, then it can also provide the greatest rewards. Creating such a site requires the design of a marketing website, the installation of a shopping cart and the process of posting products on the site. Deciding to create an ecommerce site should be reviewed carefully before putting significant resources at risk.

Starting Small Can Be a Good Option

For a business that has no history with a website, a relatively safe possibility is to start with a small website. From a single page site to one with several pages, a custom website can be created without putting too many resources at risk. And as you see the need you can always grow the site over time.

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