Today's small and mid-sized businesses are technically sophisticated and often times do their homework before making important decisions for their business. Yes, many small businesses have a smaller amount of decision-makers and often the business owner, President, or CEO makes the decisions but they will also seek out advice from their technology partners, by doing research online, and by gathering feedback from colleagues, staff, and trusted friends and family.
What does this all mean to you as a business serving end-customers and consumers, or even businesses (B2B, B2C)? This means we in the industry must treat these vital decision-makers as valuable members of the supply chain. As we think through our own sales and marketing processes, we must not treat these business buyers as consumers or just assume they purchase as a traditional consumer does. They are extremely valuable and many of them will come to the table or call you with already have performing a great amount of homework on you, your services/products/solutions, and may need you to clarify a few things or answer a handful of final questions before they make a final decision.
Technology is a vital tool for small businesses, but buyers do not want you to treat them as a consumer. They will also place their value on you as a business on the way you go the extra mile to better understand their business, their industry, their market challenges, etc. This means it is important for you to set up your marketing campaigns, your website experience, and your marketing outreach (social, digital, and print) in a manner that speaks their language, supports their business challenges, and helps them solve problems and improve their outcomes. We have to continue to keep learning from our customers to improve our messaging and communications to them. The value of small businesses (from home-based businesses to those with 100+ employees) will be realized when we as an industry begin treating them like businesses, help them grow and flourish, and enable their businesses to operate in a digital-virtual-mobile global market.
Here we are small businesses! Some of us have closed doors unfortunately, and many of us have reinvented our operations, the way we sell, the channels that we sell through, and have shifted or adapted to the current business climate. In my honest opinion, we will NEVER go back to the way we were operating pre-COVID. That being said, we as small businesses must continue to leverage tools, platforms, and new applications to boost our performance, communications, and better meet customer demands and experiences.
There is no "NEW NORMAL," there is only the way we are doing business now. Congratulations if you have hung in there and are finding ways to survive. We recently completed some deep SMB research and have uncovered a number of ways businesses are surviving, here are just 5 that might be helpful for you as you cling on to ways to sustain and keep your doors open.
Take advantage of PPP, SBA super low interest loans, and Small Business Administration resources - I say this with caution, as you have to read the small print and put accounting and bookkeeping protocols in place...especially if you want PPP forgiveness. What is the difference between PPP and EIDL? PPP is the payroll protection program and is specifically geared towards paying contractors and payroll, including yourself if you are a sole proprietor or an independent contractor or a one-man/woman shop. When the first round of PPP loans came out, they did not include the Gig Workers and independent contractors and there were holes all in the specifics but the SBA worked hard to rectify this, simplify the process for SOHO or ICs, and include many of the small businesses that were previously excluded. On the SBA Small Business Loans EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loans), the interest is 3.75% and is geared towards small businesses that experienced a significant drop in revenue from 2019 to 2020. There are calculators and resources everywhere, and if you want to learn from other small businesses who have taken the advances, monies, loans, then be sure to search FaceBook (here is one I am on) and join one of the private groups as that is where I learn a ton about the best resources and a ton of questions coming in from other small businesses.
Refresh, Update, and Transform your Web & Marketing Tools to be more Interactive and Customer-centered - Your social media, website, newsletters, google pages, and other landing sites are the source your customers are using to order/transact, buy, learn, research, and communicate with you as they lean towards virtual relationships and decrease their visits to your offices, stores, headquarters, etc. Be sure to invest in those resources that are now the priority manner in which they do business with you. If you need support in a refresh or need to set up your social media sites, and even your Google Company pages, be sure to contact vMarque or fill out an inquiry form. Your website may have went from a static information site 18 months ago, to now being an interactive lead generation platform for buying, selling, collaboration and much more. Be sure to explore our small business packages to see how we can support your modernization to meet today's changing business world.
Adopt virtual and digital tools to automate your small business processes and operations - the lists are long but we are beginning to put some pieces together for you to search small business tools to support your virtual and mobile operations. Be sure to do your homework, research the options, and select the best option that fits your budget and business. Prioritize your needs first, and then take it one step at a time. You may start out adopting 2 to 3 mobile applications or signing up for a small number of subscriptions to add automation to your website...just keep in mind that it might be overwhelming so if you become a customer of vMarque, we provide recommendations for your business as you work with us on your marketing, branding, and web updates. Explore the list we are preparing to help you decide...
Cost Containment and Expense Management, Hire a great Book Keeper who is CPA certified or consult with your Accounting Firm - Most small businesses have seen a 50% or more drop in annual revenues from 2019 to 2020. This is creating a number of challenges for small business owners as they are in the one hand having to layoff but on the other hand are doing their best to meet PPP requirements to keep employees employed. This is driving small business owners and managers to reflect on their overall expenses and costs. We are all having to make major sacrifices as we prioritize what costs to cut, what services to live without and what expenses need to be better managed. This is always a good practice but now we are being forced to closely monitor our accounts payable more than ever. Work closely with your book keeper, CPA, accounting firm if you can and if you do not have one you are working with, you may want to consider this as you work on staying open and sustaining your small business. I recently hired a book keeper on UpWork, a virtual contractor hiring and matching site that I have used in my business for more than a decade. On a side note: you will need a good book keeper to help you with tracking your PPP and EIDL expenses to support with the forgiveness paperwork for the PPP loan and to meet compliance requirements for the EIDL loan.
Leverage state and local small business resources. AND move fast - do not forget about your local SBA offices and state/city resources that might be available for your industry, your small business. Each industry will have a number of FREE resources, advisory, services, and tools from your state and local small business offices. Some might be specific to black owned businesses, woman owned businesses, and other affiliations. Explore resources in local organizations and non-profits as well. You might find some very surprising resources you never knew existed.
What comes after a recession or even disruptive pandemic is people thinking clearly and rationally about their future and what they want in life. This Covid-19 pandemic is no different. We have had so much time with our closest family members, have worked from home and homeschooled, and many of us have lost jobs or income or our small businesses had to close the doors. This time to think gives rise to new ideas, innovation, creativity, charity, and entrepreneurialism.
That being said, some good things do come from global pandemics....and that is we will see a host of BRAND NEW businesses and people venturing out to start their own small business or side business. As part of that, let's talk about the importance of your brand, as we share a few tips, ideas, and thought leadership about brand strategy.
Seven ReMARQUEable Brand Thoughts:
Number 4 is an important one, as there will always be a dissatisfied customer or client or patient. Following up, making things right, having clear remediation or service techniques is also part of your brand strategy. A person with a bad experience will tell upwards of 10 people, but will a person with a satisfactory experience tell 10 people....NO. There are ways to mitigate, correct, and adapt. From a branding strategy perspective, it is important to find ways to share those good customer experiences with the larger audience. Some things may include:
Is business a bit slow? Are you feeling a bit stagnant due to the economy and changing business environment? Maybe it is time to consider kicking your business into high gear through improved marketing, a brand refresh, and an updated or modern logo/graphics and marketing portfolio. Every 2 to 4 years you should consider adjusting or refreshing your branding, logo, website layout, and other marketing channels. Every week, twice a month, or monthly you should be making changes to your website, adding blogs/press information, sharing new projects and client wins, and championing your small business.
Here are a few recommendations on things to help with that brand refresh:
Learn more at https://www.vmarque.com/services.html
According to recent research conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 69% of the most successful B2B marketers have a well-documented content marketing strategy. What’s interesting is that only 16% of those that they classify as ‘least successful’ do. So it’s no wonder that the best organizations are focused on creating this strategy, and the ‘content strategist’ is a hot, new role in many companies today.
We hear the word ‘content’ a lot in the context of marketing, branding, and lead generation. Content refers to all the material a brand publishes, on any media - whether as a document, or a video, or a social post - with the objective of communicating with target audiences. Content communicates what the brand does and who it is.
So what is content strategy? It’s not something complex that a strategy consultant will deliver to you, in leather-bound books and fancy presentations. Content strategy is something that you develop, and it’s a well thought out approach, which answers the questions - why create content, what you will create, and how you will create, publish and promote it.
Why content should be at the heart of your B2B marketing strategy
Content is the ‘engine’ that drives b2b brand building and lead generation. It also drives marketing channels such as email campaigns, SEO, and Google Ads; all these depend on effective content.
Good content helps the brand to take the position of a ‘trusted advisor’, because the reality is that in many B2B purchases, decision-makers don't want to initiate the conversation with vendors. They are far more comfortable speaking with trusted advisors who will share knowledge with them. Content enables you to take that position.
Content for each stage of the buyer journey
The B2B buyer journey can be long and fairly complex. As buyers move from the awareness stage to consideration to decision-making - what are their information needs at each stage? How do they seek to fulfill these needs? A good content strategy ensures that you serve the right content to them at each stage.
We are used to modeling the buyer journey as being linear or viewing it through the funnel. In reality, it tends to be quite zigzag these days. A B2B buyer takes about 7 actions before closing a deal. The digital journey today spans voice search, interactions with chatbots, mobile apps, social media, and more. Each of these is a touchpoint where your brand has an opportunity to interact with the buyer. It's extremely important for you to serve the right content and maximize the impact of your brand at each touchpoint.
Content for lead generation
Content enables lead generation, as potential buyers seek information and find your content, and engage with your brand, which is also called inbound marketing.
The best kind of content answers a specific query. You should think about the typical queries that prospective buyers will have during their buyer journey. When they find content of value to them, they may be motivated to perform specific actions such as subscribe to your newsletter or fill a form to download an ebook.
Let's take an example, say you provide executive coaching services. In your conversations with clients and potential clients, you know that a common question in their minds is, ‘do I need an executive coach or do I need a mentor?’ You could publish a good article as a blog post on your website with a title such as ‘how to tell whether you need an executive coach or a mentor’.
You could insert a call-to-action such as ‘speak to an expert to discuss whether you need a coach or a mentor’. And this call-to-action could be placed close to or even in between the blog post. Readers who like what they read will be motivated to click on your CTA button and can become a sales lead for you.
Content is also used to generate leads by making it ‘gated’, meaning that it can be accessed only after the visitor has provided contact details.
Content for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Content drives SEO as Google values websites that have original content that best fulfills search queries of visitors. It’s not about keyword density anymore, the content should deliver a great experience and fulfill the need that the visitor had when entering a search query in Google.
Original, relevant, and valuable content on your website will attract visitors as well as increase the time that they spend there, and Google will reward you with better page ranking.
Tangible benefits from Content Strategy
What are the top five benefits that content marketing has delivered to organizations? Research shows that they are brand awareness creation, audience education, building credibility and trust, demand and lead generation, and lead nurturing. In order to achieve these and many more important marketing objectives, you need a well-defined content strategy.
As I worked for my B2B clients to help craft the content strategy, I noticed there wasn’t any one course to learn everything about B2B content strategy, so I’ve created a course and published it on Udemy. I invite you to take a look at it and I’m confident that you will find it will of tremendous value. It’s the Content Strategy and Planning in B2B Marketing course.
Written by Suhasini Kirloskar
Today's business is virtual, mobile, and digital. Whether we were excited about this or not, it is now the accepted model as we venture into working from home and mitigating risk to being inside environments where we have to touch anything. We want to be contactless and touchless for safety reasons, but we also need to find ways to make our business lives easier. In comes digital tools and mobile apps.
Digital tools are devices and software to help us improve our services, operations, and client interactions. Mobile tools or apps allow businesses to offer services, transactions, shopping, and client interactions through the use of simple mobile apps that can be integrated into small business websites or downloaded for free for clients to do business with you. Retailers and Fast Food retailers and food providers have embraced this, but other industries such as healthcare, professional services, and business service companies have been less inclined to adopt for whatever reasons.
Below are some of the tools you might consider for your business:
As we look for ways to continue doing business, we are also exploring ways to improve basic manual processes. Many digital tools, software, and mobile apps can be integrated or added to your website and linked back to your company email and other back-office systems like sales, finance, accounting, and marketing. If you are exploring tools for your business to operate in a virtual environment, contact us today and we can support you in onboarding, set up and integration across your small business.
Over the weekend we kicked it into high gear to support a good friend and fellow woman small business entrepreneur who is launching a new retail boutique based in Canton, TX.
Our Steps (sometimes we move in warp speed)
We are excited to continue to support Brandi Weaver and her many businesses, including her gym, her cleaning business, and now her new and budding retail boutique. Stay tuned for more details!
Who else is bothered by the term "New Normal"? It is one of those terms being used throughout the business world to describe the way things are today, and the fact that businesses will need to adapt, adjust, accept, and plain just do the best with the way business is changing today. I personally embrace it and in fact is one of the main reasons I started vMarque. This is a massive opportunity for those companies stuck in the static, analog world to embrace the world of digital, mobile, and virtual.
With this new found acceptance, also comes a re-evaluation of the way we do business, share information, provide customer and client experiences, and serve customers or deliver products. One very small thing you can do today as a business owner, executive, employee is to invest in a modern and digital business card. These digital business cards can be saved as jpegs, pngs, and even PDF files. They can be shared and used in the following ways:
The idea is to start small, but this is a very simple way to be personable with your customers, as you may not be able to see them face-to-face for the foreseeable future. Even if you do see them F2F, you may want to also use the digital business card and send to them on LinkedIn after you connect with them or after your visit. There are a host of ways to stay connected to your clients, business partners and network and the use of a modern, fresh business card is a must as we embrace digital.
Let us create a one-sided or two-sided business card for you today! Contact us today.
Written by Stephanie Atkinson
So if you are still in business, well done! It hasn't been easy for many small businesses during 2020. New experiences, work operations, and virtual services are now accepted by most, and will continue to change the way small businesses operate and serve customers, clients, and patients. The good news is you are who your brand is...are you being heard, do your clients see and hear you on an ongoing basis? During these slow times, it might be a good idea to explore ways to elevate your brand or rebrand your company.
Here are a few questions to consider as you think through your branding strategy:
Do you, your name, your products, your services resonate?
Your brand may be your personal brand, your company name, the products and services you offer, your unique characteristics or the things that differentiate or make you stand out compared to the competition. It is important to understand the market you serve, the locations you serve, and the target customer you are seeking. Is your market for retailers, consumers, the supply chain, B2B or other businesses, the general population? Also, you need to decide on the location you serve: global, a city, nationwide, etc. In order to resonate you also need to vastly understand the customers you are seeking to serve. Do you know their habits, likes, dislikes? Are you listening, researching, asking? Your brand should answer these questions through your logo, your company name, your tagline, and other channels you use for your business including website, social media, ad campaigns, business collateral, etc.
Does your brand identify who you are and your core messaging?
As you think about your brand identity, you want to make sure it speaks to the customer through your messaging, creative content, and all text content you are placing on your marketing channels, platforms, paper and digital.
What do you want to be known for and does it work?
If you feel your brand can be confusing or customers may see your brand or identity associated with other things negative or positive, then you may need to reconsider your brand. Sometimes we may choose a brand or company name, but it may mean something negative in another culture or language. Also, you may find your brand is no longer meaning the same thing as it used to because the market is changing...and this may be even more the case as we move to digital, mobile, and virtual. Your physical services and products now may be shifting to a virtual world and new customer experiences. Make sure your brand or sub-brands identify with who you are now and where you are going.
Are you starting out new? Getting started...
If you are a new company, startup, or just getting started, it would be good to go through a branding strategy with a marketing expert, firm, or colleague. It may be important to look at the above key questions and start answering questions and sketching out your overall branding, identity, and product/solution/services strategy and goals. If you are thinking through this, as you begin to work with a web designer, graphic designer, logo designer, etc; you will be able to more effectively communicate your objectives and share your vision. If you are just not sure where to get started, then let the vMarque walk you through a vision and strategy session to put together a vision board and create an output that will amaze and be ReMARQUEable.
Are you in need of a brand refresh? We got you!
We all go through the highs and lows of running a business, and as we do that, we will find we outgrow some things and we will continue to reinvent our company and services/products. A brand refresh goes along with growth and change in your business, and may just be the answer to bringing new energy and life into your staff, products, etc. If you are considering a brand refresh and need some help along the way, contact the vMarque team today. We would love to rock your new brand!
Be ReMARQUEable Virtually.™