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Okay, I get it.  It sounds a little dramatic, right?  Well, if you’re a small business, finding ways to make people like you is dramatic.  Whether we’re talking about that all-important “like” button or just finding ways to get the word out and let people know that you have a viable, meaningful product or service is your life.  And let’s face it: life is dramatic.

As a Denverite, I put small businesses highest on my list.  I try to go to the little man first, then work my way up the food chain on a need-be basis.  One of the many great things about my fair city is that tons of my neighbors think just like me.  As a content writer in Denver, I often see the struggle of small businesses trying to make their way in the world while keeping up with the likes and the don’t likes and the shares and deletes.

In my opinion, this hamster wheel of a struggle is exactly why small businesses should partner with other small businesses and embrace their local nature, rather than closing their eyes and pretending like it doesn’t exist.

So let’s take this question back to where it all began.  Let’s head back to the playground at recess and get back to the basis of the very question, “Why don’t you like me?”

Picture this:  A little girl passes a little boy a tiny folded scrap of paper on her friend’s behalf.  On this scrap read the words:  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no”.

Why is it, that as children, we understood marketing in its simplest, barest form, but the older and more educated we become, the harder it becomes to ‘get it’?

Not following the analogy?  It’s really quite parallel if you look at some key marketing principles that small businesses (or any business) should take into consideration.

  • Networking.  So you’re not on a playground, but it doesn’t mean that some of the same principles don’t apply.  While the little girl in our scrap paper scenario networked with her playground playmate, your job as a small business owner is to find your own playground allies that will help you put your word out there.

Networking is a very vague description for a very huge world these days, so if you’re just starting out in the process, keep in mind that every step you take is a step towards your success.  Of course, you’ll need a Facebook page for your business.  As much as you may want to run from it, it’s here to stay, and it’s the single easiest way to get yourself in front of your potential suitors.  LinkedIn is another (often missed) opportunity.  First and foremost, you want to be able to market yourself and, of course, your business.  But one of the places that people often overlook are the groups on LinkedIn.  Here, you’ll find people that can give you advice and help you meet people that might need you (and help you meet people that you might need).  Unless you’re the stinky kid in class, somebody will want to play with you.  And if you are the stinky kid, then we’ve already discovered why people don’t like you!

  • Outsourcing. Our example girl, albeit shy, was smart with her decision to outsource.  She’s probably gorgeous and brilliant, but she lacked the skills to put herself in front of her potential suitor without a little help.  This translates well into the business world because everybody that’s great at what they do needs help doing everything else.  That’s what makes us great!  Hair stylists need plumbers and plumbers need dog walkers and dog walkers need content writers.  The circle continues indefinitely.  Concentrating on being the best at what you do comes alive when you’re willing to outsource what you’re not designed to do.

For small businesses that hear SEO this and SEO that, the idea of social media and online marketing can be insanely overwhelming.  Outsourcing the job of writing your web and email content can take a huge weight off of your shoulders and allow you to put your best face forward to your consumers.

  • A Clear Message.  Our little girl Jane, as I’ve now named her, may not have been so great at telling her potential suitor how she felt and getting her message out there, but with her networking skills and her ultimate decision to outsource those skills that she lacked, her message was clear.

Businesses with confusing messages are immediately turning away people that could otherwise love their products and services forever.  Keep in mind that so many people these days are checking their Facebook and email from their phones and tablets while they’re on the go.  Steer clear of flashy images (as in, the ones that require Flash downloads, in particular).  Remember that you have a quick second to grab someone’s attention, and then it’s lost forever if you didn’t nail it, so keep you message short and only offer as much information as necessary.  People are more likely to eat small bits over time than one giant bite in one sitting.  You’ll also want to make sure that people know who you are.  If you’re a salon that’s marketing car parts in the waiting area, this isn’t a clear message.  The same rules apply when you’re trying to get “likes” (or just get people to like you).

  • Key Words.  It was a simple message:  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no.”  Our little boy John (the name he’s now acquired) didn’t have to guess what she was asking.  He didn’t have to go through 17 different sticky notes and pieces of scrap paper to get to the actual message.

Small companies need to think big when it comes to key words.  Minimalize extra fluff and keep straight to the point.  If you’re a content writer in Denver, showcase the words “Denver content writer” (hint, hint) in your content.  If you’re a salon in Littleton, make sure you have the address on your site.  Google likes to find you, and if it can’t find you, it can’t send people your way.  If you specialize in aerial photography in Colorado, make sure you showcase those keywords in your content.

  • An Intentionally Targeted Audience.  Jane wanted John.  She knew that, and she went after him.  Granted, in our playground scenario, the world is very simple.  In the real world, it may be a little bit harder to discern, but it’s not impossible.  One thing that I tell my clients is to make a list.  Who are your current customers?  Why do they like you?  How did they find you?  What similar (but different) market is out there that would relate to your current customers?  When you do a little reverse engineering, you’ll discover a lot about your current target market, and you’ll be able to narrow down a strategy to broaden your focus.

  • A Call to Action.  As simple as it may sound, it’s not that obvious to your readers.  Yes, you know you want them to ‘like’ you or share your post or leave feedback on your Facebook page.  You’re fully aware that that’s what you want.  However, if you don’t tell your readers that that’s what you’re looking for with a clear call to action, the chances that you’ll see the results you’re looking for aren’t high.  “Do you like me?  Circle yes or no.”  There was a clear question and a very, very clear call to action.  It doesn’t take a ton of words to get the point across and direct your reader to perform next steps.

Not too long ago, I sent an SVP an email from a person that I worked very closely with at a partner company.  The email expressed a unique humor and described how this person had embraced the incredibly special culture at the SVP’s company.  I never heard back, and I assumed she was just really busy and had probably not read it.  Several weeks later I was in a meeting with her and several colleagues and superiors.  She asked me to tell them about the email.  When I expressed surprise that she had seen it she informed me that she reads each and every email she receives.  It didn’t have a call to action, so she deleted it when she was finished reading it.  It was an incredibly impactful lesson for me.

  • A Resolution.  It’s not likely that we’ll see little Jane ask little Johnny why he doesn’t like her if he circles ‘no’.  I get that.  However, as the owner of your own company, you do have the power to follow up on unanticipated results and you should follow up on unanticipated results.  Social media is where relationships will most likely begin (and can very quickly end).  As one of the most relationship-oriented people that you’ll ever meet (or at least read), I find it extremely difficult to understand how small business owners don’t take every advantage of getting to know their audience and potential customers.

A client of mine once got a terrible review on Yelp!  I suggested that they follow up with that person.  Can you offer a discount on something?  Can you offer to meet them personally next time they come in?  Can you apologize on the site for their experience and promise it won’t happen again?  They thought I was crazy.  “What’s done is done.”  What’s done is done is only true if you’re willing to throw in the towel.  While you most certainly don’t want to give away the store, a simple “I’m sorry for your experience” can bring an amazing amount of resolution to both the person that had the negative experience as well as those eyes that are watching for your reaction online.  People know that people are human.  Some people use the Internet to bitch and some have valid complaints.  Viewers of these comments generally know the difference, and when a small company is big enough to step up and own a fault, it can mean big rewards in the long run.

When the little guy teams up with his neighbors, he becomes a member of something greater than himself.  If you’re a small business owner that’s trying to navigate the worlds of social media, befriending your potential consumers, and still staying amazing at whatever you do, keep in mind that there are folks out there that would love to wear the jersey of Team Local.  You don’t have to be in this alone.  In fact, if you like me, circle yes by “liking” me and contact me if I can help you with your words!