Problems. We've all got 'em.
But, if you're a small business owner, you're probably stumbling upon new ones every day. We got five business experts to give us some advice on how to deal with five common problems facing small business owners.
Problem: Making your website sticky
Your website is often the first interaction you have with a potential customer. A great home page can jump-start a relationship or turn a prospect away forever.
The marketing automation company Act-On Software has compiled a list of landing page dos and don'ts for marketers looking to make the most out of their websites.
Design for a short attention span
The Web's a busy place, so make it easy for people to follow your message from the site where they found it to your landing page. Keep the message above the fold, use bulleted text and crisp, clean language. It's important that your offer be entirely on the page, with no scrolling required.
Don't send them away
It's a common mistake to link to other products or offers on a landing page. But additional links can dilute your messaging or distract from your call to action. Keep it simple and keep it focused. It's also harder to measure the impact of your offer, messages, and page design when there’s more than one focus on a page.
Make your offer compelling
Fulfill expectations and reinforce why the customer clicked on that link to begin with. Make sure your content and offer grab attention and provide value.
Don't ask too many questions
Landing pages are a great way to get more information about potential customers, but as with any new relationship, asking too many questions too quickly may seem like an invasion of privacy. If you're using a form or survey, ask only for essentials like name and email at first. If the relationship continues, trust will build and you can ask more questions. If you build forms with conditional logic, you can show or hide data fields based on what users select for another field on that form.
Test your ideas
Landing pages let marketers test concepts in ways that print ads and other traditional marketing can't do. Try at least basic A/B split testing to find out which offers, graphics, surveys, buttons, etc., work best.
Don't target everyone with your offer
Half the value of landing pages is that they let you serve self-selected prospects with very specific needs. Keep your offer focused to this target audience; don't try to make it fit everyone. Getting traffic from people who don’t fit your target demographic won’t increase conversions.
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Problem: Dealing with difficult customers
No matter how good you are at what you do or what business you're in, at some point, you will find yourself facing an irate customer. Customer service strategist John Tschohl says that when dealing with an irate customer, most employees want to turn and run – but this is actually a great opportunity to win a customer over for life if you know how to take control of the situation.
He says follow these steps to defuse any situation involving an irate customer:
- Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.
- Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.
- Put yourself in the customer's place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, "I understand that must be upsetting," or "I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way."
- Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner, and actively listen to the answers.
- Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.
- Solve the problem quickly and efficiently, or find someone who can.
Just as important as what you should do, there are four things you should not do:
- Don't directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry. Even if that customer is wrong, don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.
- Don't let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for, and finding, additional problems.
- Don't participate in fault-finding. Shifting blame doesn't help anyone.
- Don't let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to resolve the situation.
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Problem: Making meetings more interesting
Study after study shows that workers feel they spend too much time in meetings (on average five to six hours a week, according to Microsoft research), and most meetings are considered unproductive.
We deplore meetings because most are poorly run, organized around the wrong objectives, take too much time, and lack accountable outcomes. Typically, the attendees simply show up, giving little thought to their contributions ahead of time.
Leadership coach Kristi Hedges, who authored "Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others" (AMACOM, 2011), to improve your company meetings.
- Send out clear agendas ahead of time with decision points to be made. Ask everyone to come prepared.
- Use the time together to discuss real issues, instead of updating routine matters better suited for a weekly spreadsheet. People can email updates ahead of the meeting, which participants can read on their own time.
- Change up the format, and consider ways to make them lively versus routine. Every couple of months, ask for feedback for how to improve them. Never keep a set agenda longer than three months.
- Show that you value original thought. Sum up the meeting by asking others what they thought the best ideas from the meeting were. This rewards the authors of the ideas and inspires others.
End every meeting with personal accountabilities. What's said out loud gets done. Have each person say what they've signed up to do, and how progress will be measured.
If you’re not running the meeting, you can still do your part by coming prepared with your best ideas developed ahead of time. You can also suggest some of these enhancements to your meeting, and show your leadership chops in the process.
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Problem: Getting press attention for your business
Even if you run a small, local business, there's still plenty of opportunity to get your business mentioned in the media. John Sternal, co-founder of the website UnderstandingMarketing.com, provides do-it-yourself PR information for small business owners and gives five tips on how to start getting the PR ball rolling.
Just be yourself
Arguably the biggest myth in working with the media is that you must have personal contacts in order to get a story. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Reporters want a good story that will be highly interesting to their audience, no matter where the story idea originates.
Don't try to pitch your company
Your story pitch is not your chance to be promotional. The story idea you bring to a reporter will be about a new way of looking at an important issue, not a huge sale taking place.
Do the legwork
You will increase your chances of securing an interview if you also offer up another person to be interviewed that can add some depth to the story, like a customer or an industry analyst who follows a trend. This other person should not be affiliated with your company.
Always think of the bigger picture. Even if you're pitching a very local story, think of how it ties into a bigger national news story currently taking place. Small business owners think they have no chance of being on CNN, but the right pitch can get them in front of a national audience.
Understand that if and when the media calls back to do an interview, you must drop everything and work around their schedule. It's not about your convenience; it's about helping them make their deadline.
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Problem: Moving beyond traditional marketing
You know you need to get your company involved in the social and mobile marketing game, but you have no idea where to start. Jason Hennessey, chief executive officer of Everspark Interactive, an digital marketing agency, gives you five tips on getting started.
Focus on local and mobile
With an ever-increasing number of people using cellphones and tablets to access the Internet, SEO has had to adapt to a correspondingly growing local audience. Focusing on local keywords and mobile optimization will be one key to success in the coming year.
Get social, especially on Google+
It's always a good idea to expand your social reach for marketing and SEO purposes. Think about it – Google wants to create a good experience for the user. Isn't it evidence that users want to hear from a company, if that company is engaging and interactive with its customers and therefore popular on social media? If, last year, you knew this but didn't act on it, maybe it's time to take the proverbial leap of faith and get to work on social media monitoring and marketing. In this case, it's important to be a social climber!
Create high quality content… and keep creating it
Content is king is and should always be on your mind if you are an interactive marketer. As Google's search ranking update, Panda, continues to be run, content will continue to reign over the land of SEO, and if you aren't consistently creating fresh and unique content, you will be expelled from the kingdom. Create content that users will want to read and engage with, comment on and share with their friends and colleagues (while this is easier said than done, it's something to strive for. Spend some time getting to know your audience before beginning to write, and you might notice improvement).
Focus on link building
Link-building is as important as ever, but with the Panda update, higher quality links are paramount. Further, these links should be relevant to your site, and spammy links should be avoided at all costs. Further, rather than simply building links for your highest priority keywords, be sure to focus on branding as well. Further, make sure to go after quality over quantity when it comes to link-building.
Implement the rel=author markup
The authority of content has also been important, and will very likely continue to be this year. How do you prove the authority of your content? Well, you (or whoever writes content for your blog) use the rel=author markup (if Google approves you, that is). This necessitates having a Google+ profile, and linking it to an author page on your blog. With a clear headshot, someone who has the rel=author tag correctly set up will likely see his or her information show up in the SERPs when his or her blog posts come up in the results.
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