We’re nearing the end of 2013 and the start of a new year, which is traditionally the time that we begin to look ahead to what changes we might make to improve our lives and our businesses. This is the time of year when bloggers will be sharing their various year end lists of the best and worst of 2013 (and you’ll see some of that here in a few weeks).
You’ll also be seeing a whole host of predictions for 2014, with trends and predictions that you’ll need to be looking for as you move forward. At this point I’m pretty sure I won’t do any of those sorts of posts, mostly because I’m really bad at predicting things. I mean, I’m the guy that swore MySpace could never be beaten by anyone.
That said, I do have some advice to help you move forward with your small business or nonprofit in the upcoming year. Think of these as goals or action items you can work on to make your marketing efforts more effective, even though some of them aren’t purely marketing tips, per se, but more along the lines of tweaking your business model and changing your internal culture.
If you’re only going to choose one thing from this list, this should be it. Up your customer service game. Think about it: the majority of your new customers probably come to you via word of mouth. Word of mouth comes from your existing customers. If you can find ways to provide a better experience for them, you’ll have more people saying more good things about you, more often. You can’t put a price on that kind of marketing. This especially ties in well with social media, where people are likely to say both good and bad things about you. Don’t give them anything bad to say, but instead astound them with how well you serve them.
I had a meeting last week with a long time friend about working together more closely on projects. It’s a partnership that I’ve wanted to explore for a long time, but its just now that the timing seems right. Your strategic partnerships can take on a variety of forms. You can partner with other businesses and as you partner, talk about each other on social channels. One of my clients uses products from a few other local businesses, and all of these businesses are great about sharing one another’s promotions and campaigns, particularly on social channels like Facebook. Look to build one or two of these partnerships in the new year. They might actually already exist, but you can become more proactive in promoting one another’s efforts.
You can also forge strong partnerships with nonprofits and build their cause into your business model. You can use your online and offline presence to promote the nonprofit, while also creating events that help build both awareness and support for the organization. I see a lot of local businesses doing this, and both the business and the nonprofit benefit from the relationship. Choose a nonprofit that is close to your heart, and the task will be that much easier.
If you’re not already blogging, consider adding a blog to your website and making it a part of your marketing and customer outreach program. A regularly maintained and updated blog featuring great content is one of the best things you can do to build your reputation, provide great information for your customers, and help you with search engine optimization (SEO).
Start slow. Commit to blogging once every week or two and see how it goes. But commit to blogging for the entire year. With the help of guest posts from partners (see above) and employees, the task can be very manageable, and will help your business stand out.
Pick one social channel and give it all you’ve got. The biggest reason businesses and organizations fail with their use of social media is that they “dabble.” They try a little here, try a little there, and sometimes determine that it doesn’t “work.” Other times, businesses will spread themselves so thing and jump on every channel that comes down the road. Neither of these options will work.
If you fall into one of those two categories, or you’ve been resisting social media, now would be a good time to find the right channel and go all in. Don’t just try it or test it out. Use it. Do it. With intent and strategy. Prepare for the long haul, not just the short term.
And if you’ve already done this with one channel, why not add a second, if it makes sense. Don’t just pick any channel, but do your research and find the one that makes the most sense for you and your customers.
Smartphone adoption continues to increase, and more of us are using our smartphones to access the web. We are searching and looking for information about businesses. This means that you need to be thinking about how people are experiencing your business and your website on smaller, mobile screens. Is your site optimized for mobile? Do you have a responsive theme? Are customers interacting with you via mobile, or are they frustrated by the experience?
Now’s a great time to check your analytics (you can do that, right??) and find out how many mobile users are visiting your site, and how they are using it. Take a look at your online presence through the eyes of a mobile users and see if you can create a better experience for them. Take a look at how your brick and mortar business is set up and explore opportunities for smartphone users.
Also, understand how your customers are using smartphones and mobile computing to access the internet, and how they might be talking about you online. Which brings us full circle to that first item of customer experience and service. The two go hand in hand.
Those are my suggestions for five areas you can look at to improve your marketing efforts for the upcoming year.
Are you willing to try some of these? What other areas do you plan to focus on?