5 Ideas For Marketing Your Small Business

So you’re running a small business. You did the planning, you’ve set up shop, customers have been coming in. It’s been challenging but fulfilling. And now you’ve gotten to a sort of stable pattern, and you’ve started thinking about what’s next. How do you grow the business? How do you reach more people, get more customers?

Marketing a small business is tough, because of the many constraints. You’re not going to be able to hand over a big budget to a glitzy agency and tell them to ‘make it rain’. You’re not going to have the luxury of coming up with an elaborate, multi-part plan – you’re going to have to keep things simple, and get them done fast.

Here’s a list of things you could and should be doing.

1. Make sure your social media accounts are active and your site is search-friendly

Everybody’s on social media now, including lots of grandmas, so you really have no excuse any more.

It doesn’t actually need to be stylish, clever or gorgeous – it just really needs to be user-friendly.

The Oatmeal has one of the funniest ways of putting this across:

What your customers would want from your website (say you’re a restaurant):

  • Menu
  • Specials and happy hour info (including social promotions such as Foursquare, Groupon and Twitter specials)
  • Address with a link to Google Maps
  • Online reservation system that actually works
  • Operating hours, parking and contact info
Source: The Oatmeal
Source: The Oatmeal

2. Incentivize your customers to share their purchases on social media

snap-a-pic

People pay attention to word-of-mouth from their friends and peers more than they do to any other form of marketing.

So one of the best ways to reach new customers is through the friends of your existing ones.

Give your customers a hashtag to use, and you’ll start being able to see when they post their purchases on social media.

2. Clarify your story – make it sticky and contagious

One of the most powerful things you can do for your business’s marketing efforts is to improve your story.

How do you do that? You start by finding out what your customers are already saying about your store. Literally ask them – what brought you here? What convinced you to give us a shot?

Once you understand this well, you want to work this into your messaging.

Your end goal would be to make your store more remarkable – literally.

3. Guerilla marketing – make a strong impression with a bold statement

Photo taken by Mimi Ritzen Crawford
Photo taken by Mimi Ritzen Crawford

Guerilla marketing is all about creating maximum impact for minimum cost.

One of the best examples of this of all time was Warby Parker’s hijacking of the New York Fashion Show – they invited the editors from the fashion show to a ‘secret event’ at a public library, where they had staffers staking out all the seats. Just before the editors showed up, the staffers exchanged seats with models.

What about if you’re just a little brick-and-mortar retailer along the sidewalk?

Well, you could always get creative with your signage:

funny-bar-sign-fat-people

4. Do some niche marketing for your target audience

A Lululemon store turns into a yoga studio.
A Lululemon store turns into a yoga studio.

Every good product solves a problem for somebody. Even if your business serves a diverse group of people (say, a donut shop), there’s bound to be some pattern – you might notice that most of your best customers come from the nearby offices at a certain time of the day, for example. Maybe you could host some sort of ‘networking event’? Talk to your customers, and look for patterns.

Here’s a fun example – some Lululemon stores turn their stores into yoga studios after hours. This gives potential customers a judgement-free place to explore the brand, and help them to create a positive association with it. If they end up learning yoga and making friends at the store, and they’re going to need some yoga apparel and paraphrenelia, Lululemon becomes the obvious choice.

5. Try a loyalty program

candybar-loyalty-program

Ever tried running a loyalty program? In the past, you had to do this with loyalty punch cards. This is often a tedious process – we’ve heard from our retailers that they spend too much money paying for the printing of the cards, and that customers get frustrated when they realize they’ve misplaced or forgotten their cards.

That’s why we made CandyBar – a modern loyalty program app for small businesses. No download necessary.

Test drive a free trial of Candybar.co  today!

Should You Use Groupon for Your Small Business?

Here are a collection of reads that we find helpful in thinking about the subject.

  1. Should I Use Groupon? Don’t Be Tempted By The Dark Side
  2. Quora: What do small business owners think of Groupon?
  3. Quora: Is Groupon a successful option for small businesses?
  4. Inc – 10 Pros and Cons of Using Groupon
  5. NY Times Business Blog – Doing the Math on a Groupon Deal
  6. /r/smallbusiness – GroupOn – Does it actually help businesses grow? – consensus seems to be that it only works for businesses that have a high markup, and that you really have to look at it as a generalized marketing expense.
  7. /r/smallbusiness – All my customers are from groupon

The general consensus seems to be that…

  • Groupon users are mostly bargain hunters who don’t look to signup
  • Some retailers have seen success with Groupon, but it seems like failures are far more common

So tread carefully!

You want to make sure you go into it with your eyes open, and not just end up giving away your products and services without getting anything in return.

Make sure you have a plan for getting more long-term value out of the customers that you get (since you’re effectively ‘paying extra’ for them).

11 Of The Best Cafes Around The World

By some estimates, there are over 15,000,000 cafes around the world.

Which are the best ones? We went to look them up.

Here are some of the most popular ones we’ve found.

1. La Caféothèque de Paris

Not just about atmosphere (which you can get everywhere in Paris, because it’s… Paris), La Caféothèque has an incredible collection of beans from all over the world.

2. Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires

Cafe Tortoni is Argentina’s oldest cafe, opened in 1858. The specialty is chocolate con churros, crunchy fried dough dipped into thick hot chocolate. And apparently they have live tango from time to time!

3. Cafe Central, Vienna

Cafe Central in Vienna is incredibly beautiful. It looks like a literal palace. It also has a lot of interesting history behind it, and it was frequented by all sorts of intellectuals throughout history – including Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Freud.

4. Sant’Eustachio il Caffe, Rome

A cosy, relaxed sort of atmosphere.

5. Winkel 43, Amsterdam

Apparently, they have the best apple pie in Amsterdam.

6. Kaffeine, London

Very modern.

7. Toma Cafe, Madrid

Toma Cafe Madrid
nakedmadrid.com

8. Caffe Vita, Seattle

It’s a cliché to describe Seattle as grungy, but that’s certainly what it looks like – in the best possible sense!

9. Analog Coffee, Calgary

Image: fratellocoffee.com
  • “Staff always friendly, decently priced, espresso and hand pour are good”
  • Excellent coffee and selection, friendly atmosphere and very cool atmosphere!”

10. The Coffee Academics, Hong Kong

Very warm and homey.

11.  LES, Moscow

Certainly interesting to see a coffeeshop with all the signage in Russian!

11 Of The Best Small Business Apps To Save You Time

If you’re running a small business in 2017 or later, you know that you need to get online. We covered some of the specifics in our post about small business marketing.

But there’s more that you can do to take advantage of online tools and resources to support your business.

Here are some of the best apps that can help you take your business to the next level, from real business owners in /r/smallbusiness:

1. For accounting: Quickbooks

Helps with accounting and managing money.

2. For bookings – Booker

Booker business app

3. To keep track of todo lists and general information – Trello

Trello business app

4. Also for tracking projects – Asana

Asana business app

5. Google Apps – for shared calendars and timesheets

6. QuoteWerks – make impressive-looking customized quotes and invoices

7. Dialpad – $20 a month for business lines to avoid mixing up work with your personal line

8. Mailchimp – for email newsletters and drip campaigns

9. Streak – CRM in your Gmail inbox

10. ShipStation

11. Candybar Loyalty (that’s us!)

candybar-loyalty-program

Ever tried running a loyalty program? In the past, you had to do this with loyalty punch cards. This is often a tedious process – we’ve heard from our retailers that they spend too much money paying for the printing of the cards, and that customers get frustrated when they realize they’ve misplaced or forgotten their cards.

That’s why we made CandyBar – a modern loyalty program app for small businesses. No download necessary.

Test drive a free trial of Candybar.co  today!

3 Things To Consider When Hiring Employees

Hiring and managing employees is one of the hairiest, most frustrating parts of being a small business owner. But it can also be one of the most fulfilling things, if you do it right. So let’s talk about it.

“Great employees are not born, they are developed in a business atmosphere where training is stressed, individuality is encouraged and personalities are respected. Word travels about the work environment in all sizes of stores. The key to recruiting quality employees is promoting and possessing a positive work environment no matter how large or small you are.” – Anne M. Obarski, customer service expert

1. Hire with purpose

Image: Reddit

You’re busy, but you cannot afford to be vague when it comes to hiring employees. You’re asking somebody to spend their time working for you – you want to make sure that it’s worthwhile for everybody involved.

Before you even hire someone, be clear about what exactly the job is. What are you going to be hiring people to do? What tasks need to get done? What are the specific demands of the job? What are the commitments and obligations? What are the expectations?

Hiring is something you never want to compromise on, if you can. In particular, you want to make sure that whoever you hire fits well in the culture of your company. An unskilled worker can be trained, but one with a poor attitude will be toxic for the rest of your working environment.

2. Make training a priority

Image: LinkedIn

Once you’ve hired somebody decent, you can kick back and let them run the show, right?

Of course not.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to find somebody who’s able to perfectly perform all of the tasks that you require of them. Anybody who’s so amazingly qualified for your role is probably looking for something bigger and better.

So you’re going to have to train them. You need to spend time and energy coaching your employees to get better at their jobs. As a minimum, you should have an ‘onboarding’ process where you walk them through everything they’ll have to do.

3. Keep your staff motivated

Image: Dilbert

Once you have employees, your business now becomes ‘a place to work’. And whatever your business goals are,  you’ll want your business to be a good place to work.

You can vary in terms of how obsessive and particular you want to be about this, but you want to be on the positive side of this. The moment your place becomes a bad place to work, the whole operation begins to get toxic. Your employees are less likely to treat your customers well.

You want to develop a practice of recognizing good work. Thank them when they do things right. Listen to their feedback.

Creating a great work environment is something to be proud about as an end in itself. And it has so many benefits. Employees will want to refer their friends to work at your store. They will treat your customers better.

Instagram For Small Businesses – 4 Things To Do!

Not every small business has the time and energy to put together an elaborate website.

But it’s 2017 – practically everybody has a mobile device now, and free wifi is almost everywhere.

So you should really take advantage of the free marketing resources available to you. Instagram is one of the best of these – it’s growing incredibly, recently shooting past 700 million users.

1. Setup an Instagram account of your own

Instagram themselves have a simple-yet comprehensive guide to this, and you’ll want to check it out and follow the steps: Instagram’s Guide To Getting Started (For Businesses)

2. Have a simple, clear hashtag for your customers to use

One of the best things about Instagram is that it allows people to collaboratively put together collections of images, just by using the same hashtag.

As a business owner, you want to encourage your customers to post images of your products on Instagram.

It becomes a quick and easy way for potential customers to see how happy your existing customers are with your product.

3. Post behind-the-scenes content that your customers will want to see!

You don’t need to be overly serious or “business-y” – focus on what your customers like, and what you like about your customers and your business.

Sharing a human side of things can go a long way. Starbucks, for example, share stories about its baristas and partners – humanizing the brand, helping to make it warm and approachable.

4. Keep posting and learning about what works and what doesn’t

Instagram’s business blog is a pretty good read.

Another simple and really effective way to learn about how to approach Instagram as a business is to follow other businesses that are doing it well.

Sprout Social has a blogpost with a nice list of businesses worth following.

Pay attention to what sort of content they post that gets the best engagement from their fans.

Conclusion: Instagram is just another way of connecting with your customers

You don’t need to be forced or artificial, or overly polished.

Just take pictures of what you care about, what your business cares about, and use the captions to speak directly to your customers.

A little warmth goes a long way!

Omnichannel Marketing For Small Businesses – 4 Things To Note

What is omnichannel retailing?

According to the top answers about the topic on Quora, omni-channel is the next evolution of multi-channel. Kind of like how social media is the next evolution of social networking.

Omni-channel is about having multiple channels that are consistent, coherent and user-centric.

A study of 46,000 shoppers shared on Harvard Business Review proves that omnichannel works.

Retail sales through digital channels has been increasing (by a whopping 23% in 2015). Consumers are increasingly doing their research before making purchases, and this research is increasingly happening online.

What does this mean for small business owners and marketers?

1. Even if you’re only selling your products and services offline, you have to think about having digital channels.

“The early days of ecommerce were about getting stuff online. Now it’s building brands. We’re seeing things like pop-up stores to capture specific markets, or concept flagship stores merging into the offline. There’s a move from plain ecommerce to brand building.” – Michiel Kotting, Accel VC

People are going to look for your business on Google, Facebook and Instagram before heading down to your retail venue.

2. It’s better to get the basics right across the major channels, rather than spend tonnes of resources over-optimizing a single channel.

If somebody offers to build an elaborate website for your little shop for  thousands of dollars, run away!

3. Don’t overextend yourself though – it does make sense to still have one primary channel.

You want to go to where your customers are.

If you’re selling food, you’re going to do well on Facebook and Instagram. If you’re selling fashion, Instagram and Pinterest will likely be your mainstays. If you’re a roving food truck, Twitter can come in handy.

Talk to your customers!

4. Focus on providing support, not frills.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, customers aren’t looking to be wow’d by flash and large volumes of text – they just want the essential information they’ll need to make a decision about whether or not to patronize your business.

So focus on getting reviews from your customers. Share your menu, your opening hours, and all of the details that your customers want.

Conclusion:

“As consumers become increasingly channel agnostic, retailers need to ensure content seamlessly follows consumers on their cross-channel journey – providing the right information and incentives to maximize the purchase decision-making process at each and every point.” – Crsten Thoma, Hybris COO

Of course, at the end of the day, your business fundamentals are what matters most.

You don’t need an elaborate Instagram strategy, but it makes sense to have a hashtag so that your customers can tag themselves enjoying your product.

You don’t need to post on Facebook everyday. but it makes sense to post your opening hours and some basic information on a Facebook page. (And login to that page on your phone so that you can reply to any customers who might message you!)

5 Avoidable Mistakes That Ruin Small Businesses

One of the best ways to learn how to do something well…

… is to understand how it goes wrong.

This is why chess Grandmasters actually tend to spend more time analyzing games than playing them.

So, what are the mistakes people typically make in small business, and what can we learn from them?

why-businesses-fail-cb-insights
Image: CBinsights.com

1. No market need – doesn’t matter if it’s great if nobody wants it

market-need
Image: Matthew Henry

This is the #1 reason why startups fail, and it’s a rather painful one. It’s also very avoidable.

Entrepreneurs are fundamentally optimistic people who believe that they can succeed where others have failed. This is a useful trait to have when building a business. But it can also be a liability if you’re not careful.

The challenge is to ground your optimism in reality.

Lesson: Do your market research before your take the leap. Before you put down the payment for rent, make sure that ordinary people are eager and willing to pay for the product that you’re selling.

2. Mismanaging finances: running out of money = death

Image: Matthew Henry
Image: Matthew Henry

Kongō Gumi, a Japanese construction company, was once the oldest business of all time, dating back to the year 578. It had a good run for over 1,400 years, but ultimately failed because… it ran out of money.

Finances are the lifeblood of every business, both big and small. If you have money, you’re still in the game and you can play another round. If you don’t, you’re out.

Lesson: Never let yourself get sloppy about money. You want to make sure that you’re always able to make payroll for your team.

3. Lack of marketing – a great product that nobody knows or cares about

Sometimes professional craftsmen start up small businesses because they know they’re really good at making what they make – whether it’s a great meal or a beautiful product.

But when opening day comes, hardly anybody knows about the store. There’s barely any walk-in traffic. Nobody knows about the business, and so it flounders.

gopro-vs-contour
GoPro on the left, Contour on the right. (Image: TheCamCritic)

Have you ever heard of Contour? It was a strong competitor of GoPro’s, even getting better reviews from serious enthusiasts.

But by Marc Barros’s own admission (Contour’s founder), Contour lost because GoPro had superior marketing.

Lesson: No matter how good you are, you want to make sure that you’re telling people about your business. Build up some hype before you even launch your business. Talk to the press. Talk to influencers.

4. An underwhelming customer experience – if your customers aren’t happy, your bottom line won’t be either

Lots of things have been digitized and automated, making it easier than ever to run many different parts of a small business out of your phone.

But if there’s one thing that’s still unchanged for thousands of years, it’s the fundamental nature of customer service.

complaint-babylonian-copper
Some of the oldest written records we have are basically bad Yelp reviews from 4,000 years ago.

The absolute best of the best might be able to get away with being gruff and unpleasant towards their customers (think Seinfeld’s No Soup For You!), but normal people are going to have to make good service a part of their business offering.

Nobody really thinks that Starbucks serves incredible coffee. They go there because they have an expectation of a reliable threshold of service and consistency.

Lesson: Happy customers keep your business alive. Unhappy customers can ruin it. Make sure you keep your customers happy. Talk to them.

5. Lack of focus – you have to do one thing better than everyone else, or you’ll likely lose

Image: Matthew Henry
Image: Matthew Henry

This is one of those things that can sound silly when you read about it…

… and yet it’s really easy to have it happen to you.

When you’re running a business, you’re always going to have dozens if not hundreds of things to worry about all at once.

You have to worry about suppliers, about rent, about quality control, about hiring, about what your competitors are doing.

There’s just so much to do. Your todo list is pretty much infinite.

Despite all of this, the most important thing that you can do… is focus on your most important thing.

Focus is how startups manage to take down much larger, much better-funded incumbents.

Lesson: No matter how many things there are on your plate, take the time to figure out what your most important priorities are, and then work on the top priorities.

5 Of The Best Small Business Blogs You Should Read (Updated 2017!)

Here’s a list of some of our favorite blogs that would be of interest to small business owners:

1. Social Triggers

social-triggers-blog

Business, especially small business, is all about the human touch. Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers blog is a great place to read about how that plays out.  Good examples and case studies.

2. Seth Godin’s blog

seth-godin-blog

Seth Godin runs one of the longest running and most popular marketing blogs online. He’s been writing for over a decade now, and constantly presents thoughts that are interesting and challenging. Lots of thought experiments, sometimes outright philosophical.

3. For Entrepreneurs

for-entrepreneurs-david-skok-blog

For Entrepreneurs has a bit of a tech startup focus, but the clarity of thinking about marketing and business thinking is useful to any business owner operating at any scale.

4. Duct Tape Marketing

duct-tape-marketing-blog

Duct Tape Marketing is a solid marketing blog with a focus on small business needs.

5. Noobpreneur.com

noobpreneur-blog

The funnily-named Noobpreneur.com is a modern version of “Small Business For Dummies”. It can be refreshingly candid and has lots of entry-level information that’s quite easily accessible.

What are your favorite small business blogs?

Let us know, and if we like them, we’ll include them!

Welcome to the CandyBar blog!

CandyBar is a customer engagement solution for brick-and-mortar retail stores, by the team at ReferralCandy.

(Check out the latest features we’ve been coming up with to help you delight your customers!)

The CandyBar Blog writes about…

1: Understanding how customers experience retail stores.

We’ll explore things that have happened in the news that have made consumers love or hate the retail experience.

We’ll talk about what makes great stores great, the mistakes bad stores make, and how stores navigate the omnichannel retail experience in the mobile age.

We’ll go through examples of the best retail stores, how to make your customers happy, things that make customers want to come back.

2: Specific marketing tools and systems that retail stores can use.

Loyalty programs. Referrals. Analytics. Google Analytics for your foot traffic. SMS marketing to your customers as an SME retail store owner.

How do these things work, who uses them? How do you think about discounts and giveaways? How do you compete with online retailers? How do you define customer loyalty? What are the best small business blogs you should read?

3: Breakdowns of successful customer engagement tools and systems.

Why should you run a digital loyalty program?

What are the most important loyalty program statistics?

What are the most successful retail loyalty programs? What makes them tick, what are the variables and trade-offs you’ll have to consider?

What are some examples of loyalty punch cards?

We’re looking forward to exploring all of the above and more! We want to help SME retailers take their businesses to the next level and create better experiences for their customers. Stay tuned.