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2013 was the year in which a variety of new marketing tools were introduced that made it easier for small businesses to reach and convert consumers in the many places where they are increasingly searching.
But many businesses need to make the necessary investments to adapt to the ever evolving environment.
As you polish your marketing plan for 2014, take a look at these 7 actionable points that will help you build a better marketing strategy that will put your customers first.

1. Create a Realistic Marketing Budget
Most small business owners cite customer attraction and retention as two of their top concerns, but they don’t budget a realistic budget to achieve this.
There is a commonly held statistic that 1 in 4 small business owners report that they don’t spend any money on marketing, while 56% spend less than $500 a month. That means that only about a quarter of business owners spend more than $500 per month on marketing.

There’s no doubt that any business that maintains their status quo of limited marketing in today’s morphing environment will only damage their bottom line — both in the short run and long term. Make smart scalable investments now so your business is positioned to attract consumers now and in the future.
Return-on-investment is not the only factor by which you measure your marketing efforts. Customer familiarity and loyalty as well as word-of-moth referrals should be on your radar. So be sure to give your business the flexibility to try out new marketing opportunities and ideas to see if they stick.

2. Optimise Your Website For The Mobile Viewer
A recent Google/Nielsen study found that 59% of consumers visit a business’ website when conducting a mobile search. However, the vast majority of small business owners — 9 out of 10 — said their websites aren’t optimized for mobile. This is a gaping hole in a small business’ ability to provide mobile consumers with a proper website experience The result? Lost business.This is the year to bring your business website into the mobile era. Here’s a few steps to get the ball rolling:

Conduct A Mobile Audit: Determine what types of mobile consumers are visiting your website, and what they’re generally looking for when they’re there. You can leverage Google Analytics to find out your buyers’ personas.

Create A Mobile-Specific Website: Build a mobile-specific website that is a lite version of your desktop website. Your mobile site should showcase the key topics that mobile users are generally looking for when they visit your site, so it’s easier to find them.

Ensure Mobile Customers Can Navigate Your Site Easily: Make it clear what they can accomplish with call-to-action messaging. Use bold text, buttons and other eye-catching graphics to call attention to those actions they can quickly and easily complete on your site.

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3. Nurture A Responsive Social Media Presence
Businesses in a broad spectrum of categories are successfully building social media channels to generate loyalty and engagement with their customers and potential customers. In fact, Facebook recently announced that 24 million small businesses maintain active pages on their site.

Take the following into account when you are building your presence:
Decide Which Social Media Channels Work Best For Your Business: Besides the usual suspects, there are specialized social media sites that provide their own benefits. Pinterest, for example, enables businesses to share visually appealing offerings like clothing, furniture, art and landscaping with a like-minded audience. And sites like YouTube enable small businesses such as a DJ to post videos of their latest parties, or a local bakery to share how they make their favorite bread.

Establish An Editorial Calendar To Stay On Target: It’s imperative that you remain engaged and not let your social media presence idle. Develop an editorial calendar in advance so you can map out content and coordinate your efforts that includes a mix of visual and textual content.

Respond Promptly To Consumer Questions: Social media is an extension of your digital presence so be available to respond to questions, comments and enquiries quickly.

Share Your Successes!: Once your channels are established, share your information offline through advertisements, your business’ website, flyers, etc.

4. Leverage Automated Scheduling & E-Commerce Tools
Only 39% of small business owners rely on automated appointment booking and scheduling technology, according to a recent survey.

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In 2014, reevaluate the benefits of some new tools:
Yelp, along with local vertical websites such as OpenTable,Seamless and GrubHub introduced new features that make it easier for consumers to seamlessly purchase products or schedule appointments at businesses from wherever they are. And they are expanding to also include everything from doctor appointments to home repairs services.
Sites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy continue to improve their offerings for digital storefronts so consumers can easily shop from businesses via their desktop, smartphone or tablet.

These are just a few tools that increase efficiency and provide great platforms for increased visibility in online search.

5. Build A Complete & Accurate Listings Presence
Small businesses need to appear on a wide array of business listing websites Sites like , Yellowbook.com Googles, Bing, SuperPages.com, Yelp and Bing to name a few, should be leveraged by your business right away. Be sure that your business’ listing is accurate and complete because it will determine whether consumers reviewing your listing can move forward with contacting you and making a purchase.

Make time in 2014 to get your business’ listings properly listed with correct information:

Check Up On Your Listings: Use services such as Localeze, Axiom, SinglePlatform, Yext and Universal Business Listing to confirm that your business is listed — and accurately —since they are the primary listings providers for local websites and apps.

Complete Each Listing Fully: Add as much information, especially hours of operation, contact information and directions (if Google Maps is not an option).Include business photos, menus or offerings and the like.

6. Manage Your Negative Online Reviews
Consumers place high trust in the accuracy of online reviews. In fact, a recent Nielsen online study of 29,000 consumers across 58 countries found that about 70% of consumers trust online reviews – making them the third-most trusted form of advertising. Another recent study from Harvard Business School showed that a one-star improvement in a Yelp business listing can deliver a noticeable increase in a restaurant’s revenue.
So it’s important for you to develop procedures for locating and responding to online reviews. Spend time mapping out or improving your response plan for online reviews – especially those that place their business in a negative light.

Consider the following in developing your plan:
Prevention of the Review Is The Best Defense: Try to stop the problem before it starts by establishing an environment where your customers are kept satisfied and their issues are handled professionally and swiftly. So be sure they can reach your business directly and that you have policies in place.

Keep An Eye On Review Sites Weekly: Schedule time each week to check the leading review websites.

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Be Positive: Be sure that your response messages are professional and provide ways to remedy the problem. Always try to contact the negative reviewer directly first to see if you can remedy the problem.

Decide When To Respond Publicly: Set standards for what situations you will respond to publicly. Initially, you could ask the customer to take down their negative review. If they don’t, then you could respond to the review publicly by explaining exactly what your business is doing to address the problem.

Ask Happy Customers To Leave Positive Reviews: Encouraging satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on those review sites that matter to you. You can do this by sending the customer an email that asks them to leave feedback on a specific review website.

7. UseResults Reporting To Inform Your Strategy

Measuring your success with your social media activities is critical. Establishing key metrics and automated ways to gather those measurements should be in place before you even begin your social media adventure. Knowing what your baseline is the only way to what successes you have and what changes you need to make along the way.