Like everyone else adjusting to COVID-19 quarantine measures, small business owners have to take on several jobs to help their companies adapt and thrive in the "new normal." Even beyond all the requirements for accessing economic aid offered by federal and state governments, they also have to oversee every aspect of operation from customer service and marketing to project management and payroll, pivoting each department in whatever direction best accommodates these new conditions for business.
One thing hasn’t changed, though: Marketing remains one of the most important and demanding duties for small business owners. If you're running your own company, with employees or not, you have to constantly change up your marketing tactics to stay fresh in customers' minds — especially now, with the ground shifting under everyone’s feet. This can get expensive if you try to use only traditional methods of advertising, such as buying commercial air time or billboard ads. Instead, using online media to your advantage lowers your costs and gives you a DIY marketing plan that won't ruin your budget. These 5 tips are just a few examples of what you can do in today’s shifting marketing climate.
It’s likely that with IRL operations largely shut down and nearly all commerce moving online, it’s more important than ever to refine and enhance your online presence — specifically your SEO game.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, determines the prevalence of anyone’s online presence. Search engines work by sending crawlers (essentially, little ‘bots) across the web to find keywords matching the terms in a search query. The more often your website’s keywords match anyone’s Google search, for instance, the better your site will rank, and the sooner it will appear as a result in future searches. About 95 percent of clicks (people clicking on a search result link to get to a website) in search results take place on the first page, which means you want your website to show up on that first page.
When you implement SEO strategies, what you're doing is optimizing your website to attract these crawlers, positioning keywords, and configuring the text so that your site stands out. Then the crawlers grab your URL and place it higher up in the search results. Visibility drives traffic, so either learn SEO on your own — there are plenty of free tutorials out there — or hire a web SEO company to fine-tune your site.
One of the easier ways to drive SEO results and customer views is to host a blog that is updated regularly. Whether you write every entry or you invite guest posts or outsourced writing, that updated text will help keep your site fresh and relevant in the view of those search engine crawlers.
Solid SEO strategy requires fresh, new text, not just old entries with a few new words. You can't make many changes to product descriptions every month, so a blog is one of the easiest ways to add new content on an ongoing basis.
One solid ranking strategy at the moment, as the keywords "coronavirus" and "COVID-19" surpass most other search terms, is to create blog posts detailing the steps your company is taking to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, both on behalf of customer and community safety, and with an eye toward how you’re continuing to serve customers.
The entire world has moved inside and gone online to find each other, and marketing strategies are shifting to match those moves. Social media is a more essential marketing tool now than ever — and video has blown up from "the most effective marketing technique" to "the way we all communicate now."
Businesses must have a social media presence, especially as people increasingly use social media to connect with — or complain about problems with — services and products. But you also have to have the right social media accounts, tailored to your target market. In other words:
If you can't hire a social media person to handle the accounts and don't want to be tied daily to your Twitter feed, you can use a cloud-based storage account to schedule automatic postings.
It’s also important that your methods match what your customers want. While we’re all hungry for video conferencing capabilities right now to keep us connected with family, friends, and colleagues, you can’t just assume that translates into a newfound love, for example, of autoplay videos. While featuring videos on your website or linking to videos in social media posts is fine, know that if your customers prefer text, then the majority of your content should be text. And if you do include videos, caption them, or add a transcript for those who are watching at work.
Material products can work hand-in-hand with virtual presence, even during times when the world has to stay socially distant. Branded promotional products are affordable and can be extremely effective for keeping your business in the public eye. And they don’t have to immediately go in the junk drawer, if you choose useful items to bear your logo, like reusable water bottles and tote bags, or pop sockets for cellphones.
Consider this tactic, too: Even if you can’t hand something to them in person, potential and current clients and colleagues still might appreciate having something to remind them of your company. Send them a handwritten note of thanks and mutual support, and include a small branded gift, and your recipients will be more likely to remember your business when the world re-emerges from quarantine.
Even under the best of circumstances, small businesses usually operate with thin margins, and sole proprietors often can have especially tiny budgets to work with. Now, with more than 22 million Americans unemployed and an expected equivalent of 195 million jobs lost worldwide, it's absolutely essential that you keep track of your finances, watching where your expenses and income go and saving as much as you can against the future economic fallout of this crisis.
You also need to watch your credit score. It may be easy to put all those advertising costs on a credit card, but if the amount means you're using more than 30 percent of your credit line, you could see your credit score dip, which makes it harder to get more credit in the future. And you’ll want some cushion in your ability to borrow as things remain uncertain well into the future.
Running a small business is a lot under normal conditions, and it can seem overwhelming during a global pandemic. But many small businesses are finding success by temporarily pivoting their operations — and permanently investing in the kind of personal connections that helped establish them in the first place. Keep your company’s online presence in mind and leverage it to build and retain a dedicated customer base. There are plenty of techniques that can help keep your operations viable and your marketing sharp. By keeping them in mind and relying on your community, you can make it through this.
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