Many small businesses do not have a marketing plan and are operating in a reactive way with their marketing activities. 

Proper planning is key so be sure to put pen to paper and identify your goals. It doesn't have to be complicated, but once you have your plan in place, you can take a better look at your business and how to make it stand out from the rest. 

Some items to have on your plan outline:
  • Who is your target market? Do you have one or many different audiences? Prioritize them.
  • Where do they get their information? Poll your customers and find out where they go on and offline to get business information.
  • Who are your competitors? What are their marketing activities? What sets you apart from them? Create a competitive analysis and track their activity online with Google Alerts.
  • What are your goals? Is it to renew previous customer business or attract new customers? Have a strategy for current/past customers as well as prospects.
  • What is your budget? What funds do you have available?
  • What resources do you have? Do you have marketing staff or do you need to outsource? 
  • How will you measure your marketing? Put some targets in place and be sure to follow up and do a review every few months.

These are just a few topics to have in your outline. Pricing, partners and product details may also need to be addressed. 

Once you have your plan on paper, it will be easier to focus on your marketing strategy and stay the course.

Image by smarnad from freedigitalphotos.net

Facebook's recent changes signify The End of Free Facebook Marketing, especially for small businesses. It is estimated that businesses will only be able to organically reach about 3-4% of its fan base. What does that mean for your small business?

First, take a look at your website. Does it need an update? Is it easy to read and navigate? Is your messaging clear? Are your contact information links and social media links present on the home page? 

If you have built a Facebook page, keep engaging with your customers. You may find that you will have to start spending a few dollars a day to boost your post visibility. WIth Facebook's detailed demographics, it is still cheaper than many other alternative.

Just remember, your website should be your central hub of your business online. Everything should point to it including your social media channels.

I recently wrote about retail promotion tips for the 2013 holiday season. If you are a small business, there are ways you can stand out from the competition this season.

Start promoting now. The holiday season is shorter this year and the retail outlook is lower than last year. Email newsletters that share what's new and spotlight promotions

Offer stand out promotions. Get creative. Make your repeat customers VIPs and give them the star treatment. Start a referral program. Find ways to stand out and draw in new customers.

Customer service is tops. Above all, make sure your customers experience a positive, helpful environment. Going above and beyond expectations will ensure they return.

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my favorite marketing blogs is Hubspot. They have a resourceful blog on lots of topics including small business marketing.

For small business owners, it can be hard to market their business when they are busy with sales, operations and other facets of their business.

Hubspot's Small Business Marketing Hub offers tips and tricks to give small businesses a head start on marketing programs that they have been thinking about. 

Spark some ideas!

Small Business Trends talks about Why You Should Be Focusing on Visual Content Marketing. They are spot on. Think about when something has really moved you emotionally - was it a commercial or a picture someone posted on Facebook? 

Usually an image or video presented with messaging has made a difference. We are human and are visual beings. Think about how you can add visual images and concepts to your story that you are telling. It is the best way to connect with your audience.

How have you used visual storytelling and how do you plan on improving it in your marketing messaging?

Have you checked your company website lately? Is it up to date with news and information? Here are some tips for a quick website audit.
  • Home page - is your message clear? Can someone tell what you sell and who you sell to in 3-5 seconds?
  • Is your contact information and social network information easy to locate?
  • Is your copy written in clear conversational language?
  • Remember short and sweet. Visitors do not want to scroll down a website and read a long passage.
  • Can you search on your website?
  • Are you hiring? Do you have recent news?
  • Don't use stock photos of business people. Use photos of real people like your employees and customers.
  • Are your meta tags filled out for your website? Title, description, keywords for each page.
Remember, your business website is your central hub for all of your online activity. Be sure it's worth visiting.

Something big is happening. In marketing, business and our culture. We are witnessing a time where technology is growing exponentially right before our eyes.

The internet has become our culture’s favorite hobby, surpassing television. Mobile devices and smartphones are giving consumers instant access to their friends, family, colleagues and even brands.

Checking in on social networks and location-based marketing services are becoming the norm. Updating statuses and sharing knowledge through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn has made the world a smaller place, connecting like-minded folks that may have only had a chance meeting in our previous world at a trade show or association meeting.

It is an exhilarating and anxious time to be a marketer. Buyers have changed the playing field and are now in control, finding the products and services that they want and need online at their fingertips through recommendations, ratings and search. Companies are scrambling to adapt to customer demand. If you aren’t paying attention to what is going on, your business is in danger of not being around to see what happens next.

This fundamental shift in communication is well-represented in this slideshare presentation from Hubspot. There is a transformation going on. Pay attention, take notes, talk to your customers, don’t be afraid to try new things and enjoy the ride!
I learned the interesting story of the creation of Disney’s Fast Pass while speaking with a customer service rep. for AT&T, of all things. He was an intern at Disney at the time. An engaging fellow, he proceeded to tell me that the Fast Pass came about because of a fire code.

The Indiana Jones ride in CA had a queue about a mile long. One day there was a fire drill and it took about 25 minutes to get the people out. That was not acceptable and the firefighters told Disney that they needed to shorten response times. When they asked “how?” a firefighter said “how about tickets that save people’s place in line?” And the rest is history.

Disney thought about monetizing Fast Pass but later decided the system was acceptable the way it was. A firefighter. An AT&T customer service rep. Creativity can be anywhere!

By the way, Disney gave credit to the firefighter. And the rep? He wrote the Backlot Tour script and is still credited on the script. That is the sign of a great company that recognizes creativity.

Always remember to say thank you. After Christmas, I had my daughter create a picture and I scanned it and made a thank you card with a picture of the girls as well as the crayon drawing. The family loved it and commented about it.

A few years ago I was working for an online ecommerce company and was struggling with getting some graphics created. A colleague stepped in to help me out and he created the graphic. I sent him a Hallmark ecard as a thank you. He later told me that no one had ever thanked him like that and he was so happy. I had thought about not sending one – thinking it might seem hokey to him, but after hearing that I was glad that I did.

In business, you can simply verbally thank an employee for a job well done, send an ecard to a vendor or partner or run a campaign and thank your customers. It is a simple thing that you can do for a cheap price and believe it or not, makes a world of difference!

Small businesses are learning that they should be in social media sites, but not sure why or how to do it. Here is a brief explanation of social media and its importance.