|By David Strom||
|November 7, 2012 12:19 PM EST||
If you run a small business and aren’t an expert in online technologies, you will end up in one of three situations:
- you will quickly learn how to do some of the more important aspects of online marketing yourself,
- you will pay a lot of money to people who are experts in taking your money and little else, or
- you will ignore the online world and continue to wallow in your Luddite-ness while others are building their businesses.
Here is my guide on how to avoid the latter two end states and get smarter about online marketing.
I have been spending time with a friend of mine who owns her own retail interior design business. Earlier this year, she decided to grow her business using online marketing. Over the past several months, she has acquired new customers and found her niche. But it hasn’t been easy. She has had to attack the online world on several fronts, and develop an expertise in Google AdWords, Houzz.com, HomeAdvisor.com, and Angie’s List. She needed to beef up a simple WordPress-based website, and learn how to screen consultants offering her a variety of deals, some pricey, some ineffective, and some that were just plain scams.
Let’s start with the website. Any retail business today needs a solid website that shows their product, contains recommendations from satisfied customers, and makes it easy for a potential customer to research the firm and understand what products and services are offered and at what price points. I told my friend to look around the Web and find a couple of local sites that she liked and then call the business owners and find out who developed the sites. With one restaurant, the site was beautiful but it was $40,000. Another consultant wanted $4,000. Nice but still a bit pricey, and this consultant wanted to build a site from the ground up in Drupal, which I had my doubts that my friend could maintain over time. She ended up with a third consultant who used a nice WordPress template. That was attractive because she already had some familiarity with WordPress and could make the changes herself. Total spend so far: $1,000.
To populate the website, she needed photos of her work. She found a budding photographer who could do appropriately lit interior shots at low cost, and would send her digital images along with watermarks to distribute online. Another $1000.
Then she heard about Houzz.com, a wonderful social media site. Designers post their pictures of their rooms and objects in them; the public indicates their preferences. Clients post their reviews of both. In the past, my friend has had to carry around a looseleaf notebook filled with clips from shelter magazines for her clients to indicate a preference. Now she can do it digitally.
But Houzz, and other specialty communities like it have another function. By writing comments on these discussion forums, she is sharing her knowledge with the people most likely to hire her. It doesn’t cost her anything to participate in these forums, other than her time, and she is reaching a ready-made audience of thousands of customers. As a result, she has gotten new clients and her work has been featured in regional design magazines.
The next step was expanding her reach to other places that people would look at when hiring a designer. Here sites such as HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List come into play. There are a variety of rules and regulations for each site, and how you get recommendations posted on each. Part of the trick here is again finding the right specialty sites that have the best fit in your particular market segment.
The next step was understanding and using Google AdWords to create a series of paid search ads that would direct visitors to her website. This is an entire world unto itself, and required spending some money and experimenting with various ad campaigns, keyword selection, and geo-targeting her ads. A good place to read about this world is in a series of posts by small business owner Paul Downs about his furniture making business on the NY Times Boss blog.
Downs writes, “Basic ad group maintenance requires checking how many e-mail inquiries we get, whether the click-through rates are comparable to the overall campaign, which keywords generate the most traffic, and whether the ads are being triggered by searches that are relevant.” He adjusts his keywords constantly to tune his AdWords spending, even creating negative keywords to prevent wasting money. Part of the challenge here is in understanding what you are paying for, too. Google “tells you what level of spending — the maximum recommended amount — it would take to buy the rest of the clicks. What it leaves out is that the additional clicks you buy may not be of sufficient quality to result in additional sales.”
Part of Downs’ marketing pipeline is taking the inquiries from his paid search campaigns and qualifying them. He has two salesmen that use a ten-question survey to ask what kind of furniture they want to purchase. He then produces a classy proposal that is easy to understand and can be passed up the decision food chain to the ultimate decision-maker, without tying up a lot of his time in the process.
The challenge of AdWords is in the amount of data you have to look at to understand what you are doing, where you are spending your money, and how to improve your campaigns. “Beyond the most important number (monthly sales), I look at Web site traffic; the number of inquiries coming in each day, week, and month; the number of proposals written; and how much each salesman contributes to these totals.”
Downs’ business was humming along until earlier this year, when he introduced a new and lower-cost product. After months of seeing his total sales volume drop, he realized that he was wasting his Google AdWords spending on clicks from non-profits and schools, foregoing clicks on bosses and less-price sensitive potential buyers. “By all of its own metrics, the AdWords campaign was a home run. I had received lots of impressions and bought lots of clicks. The only problem was that these apparently were the wrong clicks…. My AdWords spending was going to the wrong people.”
Downs spends several hundred dollars a month on his campaigns, my designer friend has a similar budget but varies it based on her availability and how many new clients she is taking on: she doesn’t want to grow too fast. She also runs short-lived campaigns because she has found that her clients are only shopping online at certain times. This way improves her ad placement (the more you spend, the higher your ad ranks on the results).
As you can see, setting all this up is time consuming, and does involve some cash outlay. You can certainly spend more and get an “SEO expert” and you can certainly spend almost no money and get something that doesn’t really deliver. The trick is finding that middle ground where you are comfortable and yet can continue to sustain or grow your business at the rate that you want.
Still to come: writing a regular blog that will feature her clients and some of her thoughts on design, and spending more time developing a following on Houzz et al. And probably an email newsletter too. It is an on-going process. None of these things cost a lot of dough, though: just time.
Part of what is going on here is balancing each of the different online tools to create what Downs calls your own business narrative: “Every day I tell myself a story about what is going on with my business, and I draft future chapters that help me decide what to do next.” The trick is making sure you don’t go too far afield and you can explain the results that you see from the various reports.
"We have a tagline - "Power in the API Economy." What that means is everything that is built in applications and connected applications is done through APIs," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at Akana, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 1, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 819
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Jul. 1, 2015 03:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,059
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
Jul. 1, 2015 02:21 PM EDT Reads: 596
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Jul. 1, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,246
To many people, IoT is a buzzword whose value is not understood. Many people think IoT is all about wearables and home automation. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed some incredible game-changing use cases and how they are transforming industries like agriculture, manufacturing, health care, and smart cities. He will discuss cool technologies like smart dust, robotics, smart labels, and much more. Prepare to be blown away with a glimpse of the future.
Jul. 1, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 794
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.
Jul. 1, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 2,137
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, discussed how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust IoT ...
Jul. 1, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 1,948
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context wi...
Jul. 1, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 938
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...
Jun. 29, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,704
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Jun. 29, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,192
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Jun. 29, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 2,544
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
Jun. 28, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,245
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
Jun. 27, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,263
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fillin...
Jun. 26, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,254
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
Jun. 26, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,131
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
Jun. 25, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,040
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
Jun. 25, 2015 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,194
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "Second Containers & Microservices Conference" will take place November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA, and the “Third Containers & Microservices Conference” will take place June 7-9, 2016, at Javits Center in New York City. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
Jun. 22, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,838
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "First Containers & Microservices Conference" will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. The “Second Containers & Microservices Conference” will take place November 3-5, 2015, at Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
Jun. 20, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 3,909
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
Jun. 15, 2015 08:45 PM EDT Reads: 4,160