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

It's hard running a small business. How do you carve out time to market your business when you are busy running it? 

Here are some great public relations tips from Media Leaders to generate publicity. Some of my favorite tips include:
  • Have a story to tell.
  • Build a short list of highly targeted media.
  • Keep your pitch short and sweet. Leave them wanting more.
  • Partner up with a technology company and show how you solved a customer's problem.
  • Track your inbound links and those of your competitors and see what works and what needs work.
What tips have worked for your business?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / 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!

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.

Small Business Saturday is an initiative by American Express and local businesses to build awareness of the power of buying local and supporting our community. 

How is your business involved in your community? Find out how to get involved in this initiative and promote your business. 

Does size matter when it comes to followers? According to a recent SMB social media study from Vocus and Duct Tape Marketing, it does not.

Two in three SMBs favor quality over quantity. 40% prefer very active, engaged followers and only one in four small to mid-size businesses think the number of followers is more important than level of engagement.

The main challenge that SMBs face is the perception that social media is free. Like any other marketing initiative, social media takes time and resources. 

The study shows that SMBs are active in social media, they see its value, and they measure progress through connected business outcomes.

From the study:
  • 77% of SMBs say that social media accounts for 25% or more of their total marketing effort
  • 87% of SMBs say social media has been somewhat helpful or helped a great deal
  • The top two measurement metrics are 1) traffic (76%) and 2) # of new customers
"Path to influence.  One of the most fascinating findings of the study was the divergent views of online influence. For example, 40% of SMBs prefer a smaller but highly engaged audience, while 27% would prefer a huge following with little engagement. What’s important to note is the 27% that prefer a large following are also more likely to report social media has been very helpful to their efforts." 

Make sure to use the same profile picture across your social media profiles. That way people recognize you between LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other networks. 

Consistency is key and helps build your profile as an expert in your field.
Small businesses often have more work than resources and less budget for marketing and PR. Here are some PR tips for small businesses to build on. 

Think local and build a media list in your area. Check Patch and get to know your local journalist. Become a resource. Be sure to publicize any local events and charitable activities. 

Network. Join your local industry organization and get involved. Offer to speak or sponsor an event. 

Offer helpful advice to customers and prospects. Start blogging. Write an FAQ page and answer customers' top questions. Make sure the blog is included on your web site. Wordpress is an easy to use system.

Go social. Set up a free LinkedIn company page. Add products and services. Link your blog to the page. Add a Facebook Page and start a Twitter feed for the company. 

Listen, Monitor and Engage. Check Social Mention and set up Gmail alerts for industry keywords including your company. 

Find out what people are saying in your industry, about competitors, about you! Respond and resonate with people and join in the conversation. 

What other PR tips would you like to see?