Small business owners must make the most of their online presence—especially now during the pandemic—in order to stay competitive, stay relevant, and stay afloat. The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson, joins this edition of Expert Insights to explain exactly how to do that. Whether you’re just starting out online or looking for new tools to optimize your strategy, she has a plan for you. Melinda discusses tactics for getting online, creating an attractive website, and compelling ways to drive traffic to your site. She delves into tips for utilizing social media, cultivating mailing lists, and becoming part of the online conversation as a means to sell. Don’t miss this edition of Expert Insights.
CT Expert Insights: Creating and Capitalizing on Your Online Presence, with Melinda Emerson
Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest this week on Expert Insights is Melinda Emerson, also known as The Small Biz Lady. She is president of the Quintessence Group and is author of numerous books. The most recent is Fix Your Business: A 90 Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business. And fixing the business is a big job for a lot of business owners right now and in the weeks and months to come. But today we want to get Melinda's insights on one of the key lessons of the Coronavirus crisis for business owners. And that's that being active online is not a luxury, it is absolutely essential. So we'll be talking about how to create that online presence and make the most of it. And so Melinda, thanks so much for being with us.
Melinda Emerson: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Greg.
GC: Well, maintaining a presence online and on social media really has been essential for a while now if we’re honest but now, of course, it's becoming obvious to just about everyone. Before we get to some nuts and bolts about how to make that upgrade happen for you, I think it's important to stress that online commerce is not just exceedingly vital right now during the quarantine, but it's also how a lot more business is going to be done from now on. Customer habits are going to change most likely, and that's something people have to adapt to. So what kind of a shift to online shopping and other online business activity do you already see happening and expect to see down the road?
ME: Well, let me just put it to you this way, Greg. Right now in America, 50 cents of every dollar being spent is being spent with Amazon. So when you think about a statistic like that, it is all about online shopping. And why is that? Well, you know, everybody's working remotely. Everybody's streaming everything, right? And then people are spending more time on social media than ever. So if you are not leveraging social media marketing to reach customers, engage with customers, reengage with customers, you are missing the boat, and I feel like I've been talking about this for 10 years. Have we been talking about this for 10 years, Greg?
GC: I think pretty close.
ME: But I also think it starts with your own website. You have got to make sure your website is your number one sales tool. It is your welcome mat into your business. And you got to make sure that you're saying a great big “Hello” when people land on your URL. So if you have limited resources right now, focus on your website. And the reason why I say that is because we can talk about social media all day, but the whole point of social media is to drive traffic somewhere—that is back to your website. So if your website is not quite ready for company, you need to focus there. Now once you get it ready, once you have your lead magnets in place and you're ready to roll, then it's time to start leveraging social media.
The third thing you've got to think about is email because once you drive that traffic from social back to your website, you want people to give you their email address. Why is this so important? Well, you got to build a sales funnel so that you can nurture relationships. Occasionally somebody lands on your website ready to buy but nine out of 10 people are not going to be doing that. So how are you going to get them to consider you along their buyer journey? It’s going to be through valuable content that you send them through email once you get them in your sales funnel. How do you get them in your sales funnel? Your lead magnet.
What is a great lead magnet? I'm so glad you asked me, Greg. A lead magnet is something like a free e-book or free videos mini video series you've created. If you got a book released two chapters of your book. If you've got a newsletter, invite people to sign up for your newsletter. These are all great things you can use to attract people to give you their email address. And once you have an email list, you have the power to sell.
GC: Melinda, let's spend just a little bit of time on the very basics before we get back into some of the deeper stuff because I'm sure there's a lot of business owners out there who would say: “look, I agree with everything you just said. I know nothing on how to build this.” So if you're technologically clueless, but hey, otherwise, you're good with customers, you know how to market, you got a good product or service, but you don't know where to start with this stuff. What do you tell them?
ME: Well, if you are just getting rolling in business or if you've got a website that's over three years old, you got to build a new website. And there are some templates out there, you've got Wix, you got Squarespace. There's also another product called Thrive out there that I suggest people look at because they'll build your website for you. They'll also build some really cool click to calls and you know, different follow up tools that are built into the website. So you really need to— if you don't know what to do, go, go use a templated site, or use a service that will build your site and provide you some additional sales support as well. And those three will be plenty.
GC: Most businesses have some online presence and many are even very active, but with people now much more reluctant to show up in person at your business, how do you take those online efforts to the next level and in a hurry so they don't just supplement what you've been doing already, but actually become the centerpiece?
ME: Well, I think, first of all, you want to be easy to do business with so you've got to figure out, how can I create a contact list transaction? You know, are you taking credit cards, wire transfers, Apple Pay, Apple Swipe, you know, Google Pay, all that kind of stuff, you want to make sure you're set up to take any form of payment. You also want to make sure that you have a way to promote what you're selling and that it should change periodically. Shouldn't be the same thing day in and day out.
So you want to make sure you're offering coupons, deals, bundles. I mean, when you think about this, you really have to make sure that people know what your offers are, how they can get them, you know, send them an email, offer them a 20% discount for whatever reason - it's Wednesday. Yeah, I mean, you just want to make sure that you are keeping in touch with people and letting them know what you offer with great pictures of your products or services, or you got great pictures of people using your product or services. That gets people really, really interested.
GC: So Melinda, when you talk about engagement, I think the most important thing, which you said before and I'm guessing you would agree is the most important, is first of all providing content of value, whether it's an excerpt of a book or a video providing some sort of educational value. In terms of the email list and other ways to get people's attention and then offer them something of value that way too. I'm sure you've seen that in the last couple of months since the quarantine essentially started here, a lot of people have reached out to customers in their database and said, “we're thinking about you we know this is an uncertain time” and it's almost like you're overwhelmed by these and everybody's emails kind of start with the same verbiage. So, I know this point in time is not going to last forever, but how do you cut through the clutter and all those voices? What makes your message stand out?
ME: The number one thing you want to do is be honest and authentic. If you're scared, say that. You know, this is not the time to fake it till you make it. And all those of obnoxious emails- I got anyone I've ever given my email to address to in my life- sent me one of those “Oh, we're with you at COVID.” Nobody cares about that. All people care about is how you can help save them time, or money. And that's it.
So you really have to make sure that your marketing message is about something that people care about, as opposed to something you think you're legally obligated to communicate, right? Because nobody cares about this stuff. It's like the people that read all the agreement terms. No, nobody reads that they just check the box so they can keep it moving.
I mean, listen, you want to make sure that you know the value that you provide your customers, you need to make sure that your marketing message, effectively communicates your value. And at this time, it is important to acknowledge that things are uncertain. It's important to acknowledge that you may not know everything, you might be scared too, but that you want to still be there and be able to service your clients. That's what you need to communicate. Not all this other fluff stuff and you know, I mean all of those emails. I just got to the point where I was unsubscribing and deleting every one of those, you will never be able to sell me anything else because I'm like, enough. Because those letters will come off as sincere anyway.
GC: Goal not achieved when you're unsubscribing, as opposed to seeing what the deals might be. One of your main jobs is consulting with other businesses. And so what are you hearing from other business owners about where they think they stand in terms of their online presence? Are they feverishly trying to ramp up? Do they feel like most of them are in a pretty good spot? Are some starting from scratch? What are you hearing?
ME: Well, you know, before COVID even happened, 45% of people, small business owners, did not have a website. So those people are scrambling. I mean, those people are trying to figure out what to do.
And then the other people that have had some online presence are trying to figure out how to be more relevant. You know, the problem now is, if you don't have a real value proposition, you're in trouble. You know, no one's looking for me too business. If you want to get in a pricing war, listen, there are companies much bigger than you that can drive you out of business and lower the price. So that's not the conversation you want to be having with your customers. You want to be providing value to a specific niche target audience.
I was talking with a small business owner earlier today, who runs a travel agent. And she said “Small Biz Lady, I run a travel agency. How in the world am I going to, you know, position my business to survive this?” I said, look, in order for you to survive this, you better keep talking to your specific customers. Who is it? Do you specialize in honeymoons, girlfriends’ trips, bachelorette parties, family reunions? Whatever it is, you got to keep developing content, talking to your people, your tribe, your community, you have to stay in touch and stay visible to your people. If you do, when things come back, they'll come back to you.
But right now, you know, people are trying to figure out how to feed their children. You know, people are trying not just, how to buy from you. So you have to be empathetic. But you still have to provide great value. Because we all know that trouble doesn't last always, so things will turn back around and you want to be their option when they do. Because out of this recession, there's going to be winners, and there's going to be losers. And you want to make sure that you're on the winning team.
GC: Last topic and circling back to social media here, Melinda. As you mentioned before the purpose of social media is to drive people to your website and hopefully buy some things and certainly sign up for the email list. What are the effective ways—and it kind of goes to the email pitches as well—the effective ways to engage on social media and the obnoxious ways to engage?
ME: Okay, so I always believe when it comes to social media, you got to give to get. Your first conversation can't be “buy this from me.” It has to be, “hey, have you thought about this? Are you struggling with this? Here's a resource that I found that could be helpful.” You have to build trust online. You know, when you build trust with somebody in person, it takes one to three interactions. When you build trust with somebody online, it's at least 10 interactions. I've seen as high as 27 interactions.
So you got to show up. You got to show up consistently. And you got to add value every time you do. And that's when you get to the point where you become part of the community. Once you've become part of the community, then you can turn that relationship into commerce. And that's the name of the game. But if you're just going to connect to people on LinkedIn, and then two seconds later, send them your pitch, forget it. That's a great way to get unconnected too. So you want to be a friend first. You want to be out there friend-raising, and then you can turn that into fundraising.
GC: There you go. Well, a lot of different steps here. First of all, get online. Secondly, beef it up into an easily usable and attractive website that people are going to want to visit and then figure out the best and compelling ways to drive people there. And giving them something of value is the way to do it. I think that's a decent summation of what we talked about today.
ME: I think I should take you on the road with me, Greg. I think you got it.
GC: Melinda, always great to talk with you. Thanks for your time and best wishes to you as we go through this as well.
ME: Thanks so much, Greg. Happy to be here.
GC: Melinda Emerson is The Small Biz Lady. She is President of the Quintessence Group and is author of numerous books. The most recent is fi Fix Your Business: A 90 Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights.