This is How the Internet Can Get Your Small Business Off the Ground

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Nowadays, everybody knows that a good social media presence is critical to any company, big or small. But what’s not-so-common knowledge is how to really use that social media to your advantage. So you’ve made yourself a twitter account or snapped a few Instagrams – how do you start turning these online followers and “likes” into real-life customers and revenue?

After doing some research, I came across a few small businesses that made social media work for their business in a big way! Want to know their secret? They made their online presence cater to the needs of their local customers! Take a look at these companies that pounded the pavement and involved their businesses in the everyday lives of the people in their communities.

Buttermilk Inc.

Buttermilk started as a food truck business trying to “share their love of decadent breakfast dishes with Los Angeles residents and visitors.” Food trucks, which are treasured culinary hotspots for LA locals, are exactly the kind of business model that can get eccentric companies like Buttermilk the buzz they need.

Then the company started developing its Red Velvet Pancake mix as a product to sell on the web, setting up an online store and some accounts on Instagram and Facebook. That’s when the rest of the world started paying attention!

How They Did It:

  •      They bundled their products with recipes and YouTube cooking tutorials on their web store. Not only does this offer customers extra bonuses for shopping online, but they build a personal relationship with the customer!
  •      Its Twitter account uses hashtags and trending topics to keep its online conversations relevant. That may sound like a no-brainer, but keeping with the times can be tough – especially online! That’s why a lot of people choose to hire an intern to run their companies’ social media accounts.
  •      It hosts Instagram contests, encouraging customers to interact with the brand instead of just treating them like a passive audience. Let your audience show you their creativity! You might be surprised at the kind inspiration your products give them!

Now selling products nationally, Buttermilk Inc.’s food trucks are off the road, but the company has retained its sense of community involvement online.That’s the trademark of a business that knows how to get its brand image out there in the digital age!

Paper or Plastik

But that doesn’t mean you need two axles and a set of wheels to get involved in your area – your business should be a place where customers want to come to you! Paper or Plastik, a café in one of LA’s underrated “mid-city” neighborhoods, does exactly that by making itself a place for art, comedy, and community expression.

If you look at the chalkboard outside the café’s West Pico location, you’ll see a list of all its upcoming events: it hosts a Friday night film club, monthly shows from a local comedy troupe, and dance performances in the building’s adjacent studio, just to name a few. Night after night, Paper or Plastik brings in plenty of customers who come for the art, but stay for the coffee!

How They Did It:

  •      The company’s Twitter account reminds customers of what events are being hosted before they happen. That way, online customers have a new reason to swing by every time they check their Twitter feed!
  •      Their Instagram and Tumblr feeds display photos of each performance, celebrating its performers and its customers for taking part. This makes customers feel like they’re a part of the action even when they’re spectating, inviting them to get involved in a community unique to their business!
  •      Each one of their social media accounts are linked with one another – that means that any post, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram, is automatically linked to on each one of those accounts! This way, each user, no matter how many of those sites they use, don’t miss a single one of the company’s updates.

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Social Media is for Being Social!

But the heart and soul of these businesses didn’t start on social media – it started with an idea to help them get closer to their customers, not just sell something to them. As the corporations that people rely on become bigger and bigger, there’s always going to be a demand for a smaller brands that really care about their audience. Social media is about developing intimate relationships with your customers, not making you look more “professional.”

The Internet helps you broadcast that brand to the rest of the world, but before that strategy can work, you need to broadcast your business to the rest of your community. What is it your customers need, and what’s the best way to offer it to them? Before you ask your customers to help you by spreading the word about your business, ask yourself how can you help them.

 

It’s Not All About You: 5 Ways to Make Your Brand Fit Your Situation

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When it comes to small businesses, I’ve found that it gets hard to separate the owner from the company. If you own a small business,  that business is more than just your job – sometimes it feels like it’s who you really are!

Your business is also there to service the needs of the people around you, whether it’s your customers or the other businesses you work with. After asking some small businesses owners in my area, I’ve learned some tips that can help your small business succeed by zeroing on what your customers want to buy, not what you want to sell.

1. Play Off of Your Competitor

The first thing that I think every business owner should figure out is what you can offer your customers that other companies can’t. If there’s room for your brand in your particular field, there’s got to be something you’ve got that nobody else does, something you can guarantee you won’t find anywhere else. Before you start forging your own brand, it can’t hurt to take a look at the ones your customers already know.

  • Always think about quality vs. convenience. If the other guy offers quality goods at high prices, your community might need someone who can offer them that product in a quicker, simpler way.
  • If there are already established brands in your area, show your customers what they’re missing! You’ve got to offer the kind of care and service that the big companies won’t give if you want to stay competitive.
  • Your company should be unique. You shouldn’t try to foster a brand that you can’t live up to, or one that doesn’t fit your business, but it never hurts to carve yourself out a niche in your market.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to be Dangerous

Depending on what you’re selling, appealing to the widest possible audience isn’t always the best strategy. If you’re competing with local names that everybody recognizes, you might want to think about the customers that aren’t loyal to anyone in particular yet. It might be the people looking for somebody to lead them out of the pack.

And leaders don’t follow the big dogs: they blaze their own trail and let their loyal customer feel like they’re doing the same. Here are some ways I’ve discovered that being dangerous can pay off big time!

  • Being dangerous means selling something that isn’t for everyone. While this means you won’t get the biggest group of customers, it means you’ll get a dedicated following, which is exactly what you want as a small business.
  • As a dangerous brand, you get to thumb your nose a little at the big guys. While it seems like the people who use that company would get offended, these campaigns often convince those customers to find their own individuality through your company.
  • This produces strong brand loyalty. When customers define themselves through your product, you can bet they’ll keep coming back for a long time afterwards.

3. Control your Image

Getting your company’s image out there requires cooperation and, sometimes, compromise. But the last thing you should have to compromise is your brand – I believe that this is your company’s strongest weapon in the fight for customers, and that it’s up to you to keep it consistent with your vision.

Although running a business, gaining customers, and managing to turn a profit might seem like too much to handle at times, I’ve discovered a few things that might help you achieve your branding goals without spreading you funds too thin:

  • Remember your brand: if it’s all about quality service, skimp on quickness or convenience without compromising what your company is known for.
  • If you run a small business in a small community, your advertising should rely on word of mouth more than anything else. Quality service might draw more customers than an expensive ad campaign in small settings like yours.
  • Nobody’s perfect, and everyone knows running a business means making some sacrifices. Just be sure you don’t sacrifice the things that make your customers loyal to you, or they’ll be heading elsewhere.

4. Know When to Change your Campaign

You know that feeling everyone gets when a joke’s gotten old, but somebody keeps repeating it? Doesn’t that feeling sound a lot like the one that customers get when they’re seeing a brand strategy that just isn’t working anymore?

After a while, being stuck too long in one brand strategy not only doesn’t help: it might start to rub your customers the wrong way! It sounds like it’s tough to know when a strategy is helping and when it’s hurting, but I’ve learned some things that are helpful to keep in mind when you’re thinking about going in a new direction:

  • Changing up your whole strategy can be intimidating, so it can’t hurt to start small. Show some customer in your community new leaflets you were thinking about distributing so you can gauge their reaction before you take out a big ad in the paper.
  • Know your customers; if they’re younger and more hip, for instance, keeping your brand fresh might be more effective than sticking with what works.
  • Changing your strategy doesn’t have to mean changing your brand. As anyone will tell you, consistency is the name of the game in branding, but the way you communicate that brand should be flexible!

5. Be Consistent

As important as it may be to stay flexible, you can never stray too far from your brand message. Effective branding is giving your customer base a good, solid image of what your company is all about. If you come out with a campaign that’s selling the total opposite company of the one you’ve been selling in the past, potential customers won’t be excited – they’ll be confused.

Worse, your already loyal customers will feel betrayed. If your shift in tone is too sudden or not convincing, you’ll give your customers the feeling that your brand is getting “gimmicky.” Here are some handy tips for keeping your customers in the loop when it comes to branding:

  • Don’t move on from one strategy if your customers aren’t ready to. No company should have to be stuck, and everyone should keep their brand moving forward, but your customers should feel included in your transformation, not jolted by it.
  • Ask yourself, “are we updating our brand, or simply changing it?” If it’s the latter, think about how important your brand identity has been to your business. It might be time to reconsider.
  • If your strategy works, stick to it. There’s no sense in fixing something that isn’t broken, so don’t let your own desire to do something new get in the way of what your customers have come to rely on.

 

But like any good business strategy, these tips are just an outline for success – it’s up to you to put them together and start changing the way people see your business! Branding yourself as a small business without a slick PR team can be intimidating, so we’re here to help you orient your business to a quickly-changing economy.

In the end, only you can orient your business to your situation: as an entrepreneur, you should be able to see which tips would be most useful to you, just like you’re able to see what kinds of products and services would be most useful to the people in your community. When you’ve tried our ideas for yourself, come back and let us know how they worked!