Word of Mouth, Customer CommunicationWelcome to 2015! One of my favorite things about January is the end of all the prediction posts and polls. With that said, it was interesting to see how many people and polls predicted that the top two needs for small and local business owners were increasing word of mouth and improving customer communication.

To kick off the year, here are 3 things you should think about if these two needs are indeed at the top of your list:

  1. There are two major types of customers you should be thinking about – your current customers and your future customers. They both need time and attention. Clearly, you can only rely on your current customers to assist with word of mouth. Customer communication can be done with both current and prospective customers, but most small business owners will likely put a premium on their current customers for that one too. Since current customers are the majority of the effort here, take a look at the tools and tactics you are using – what percentage of them are for new customers acquisition vs. engaging your existing customers? Increasing word of mouth and improving customer communication doesn’t come for free – you need to work at it and be consistent with programs that promote it. Sadly, most small business owners say this is important, but when they take a good look at where they are spending their time and money, it’s not on this area!
  2. Let’s switch over to those prospective customers – where are you finding them? If Step 1 is working for you, then a good portion are coming from referrals. The rest are likely coming from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Advertising. Do you know what percent come from each? Many small business owners do not track how new customers find them. This data is invaluable to your business and allows you to make better decisions about where to spend your Marketing time and money. As an example, I discussed with friends on New Years Eve the value of the coupon clipper magazines that we all get monthly. Personally, I look through them and keep the coupons from existing businesses I already know! I don’t use it for discovery. Most of the others agreed – in fact, we discussed how many people don’t even look at these types of ads anymore, but even the ones that do tend to focus on getting coupons with existing known businesses. So, how is this really working well for the small business owner? If you aren’t capturing new business, and you could reach your existing customers much cheaper (for example, via email), what are you spending this money for?For SEO, it’s more challenging because many small business owners don’t understand it or are afraid of it. If you are going to hire an SEO Specialist, make sure they tell you that it will take months of consistent effort to see reliable results. Anybody that tells you they can generate “quick” results cannot guarantee that!
  3. How are you measuring your marketing effectiveness? We are a data-driven economy – the best decisions are made with data. I find too many small business owners that rely on “gut feel” to make Marketing decisions. If you do nothing else in 2015, commit yourself to being more data driven – put simple processes in place that allow you to determine where your new (and repeat) business comes from. If you don’t know how to track your efforts, drop me a note and I will help you get started at no cost. I can guarantee that you don’t know your most effective strategies if you are not measuring them!

Marketing for small businesses is confusing, there are lots of options. But it isn’t hard. The key is to focus on a few key areas and agree to persistent and consistent strategies that can be measured and managed. Please remember that building a business takes time and effort – the best business owners will tell you they did it one brick at a time. There are no quick fixes and nothing online that will magically fix something that isn’t working offline.