Monthly Archives :

June 2022

5 Ways to Level Up Your Small Business Marketing (and yes, it’s time)

150 150 Lauren Finamore

Written by: Christina Metcalf

If you’re interested in ways to reach more people, and you’re ready to start maximizing technology, it’s time to look at these business solutions:

 

List Building

You need an email list. It’s the best way to stay in touch with your customers, nurture them into a sale, and then remind them to come back. The other benefit to an email list is that it’s yours. You won’t lose access to it if you’re in Facebook jail or one of your social media platforms goes the way of MySpace (for those of you who are old enough to understand that reference).

Here are a few ways to build an email list.

Marketing Automation

Now that you have a list, it’s time to start talking about marketing automation. There are tons of marketing or e-mail automation tools out there from enterprise software to free apps. There’s an initial time investment to set the campaign up, but once the initial setup is done, you’ll have a wealth of options to help you grow your business and stay connected with your customers.

Learn more about marketing automation and how to get started.

Copy Tricks and Content Marketing

Copywriting is the art of persuasion in the briefest of characters. These days, most audiences are more won over by eye-catching images than long prose. But you still need compelling copy for website visitors of the human and search engine kind. If you don’t have a marketing person or you’re not freelancing it out to a professional, take a weekend to brief yourself on the basics of copywriting. You won’t be a copywriting pro in just a weekend but your efforts will show.

Here’s one idea that’s incredibly important to making sales. If you are giving your customers a choice between three levels of service, mark one as the “best value” or “most popular.” There are many customers who want to be told what to do, albeit subtly. Marking an option with this type of designation persuades them into choosing what others have.

Also, make sure all your pages have a call to action that fits the level of the relationship/page content. If the page is based around the visitor getting to know you, for instance, don’t immediately ask for the sale. It doesn’t fit what they’re trying to do. A pop-up for content on how to make an educated purchase decision for what you sell is a better fit.

Chatbots

People want answers on their schedule. A chatbot can help you stay in touch with your audience and potential customers when they have a question or concern, even when your business isn’t open.

Here are a few ways you could be using them.

Ask

I wanted to throw in an idea for the non-techies as well. Some of the other components mentioned here can be a bit overwhelming at first. This one is as basic as speech. Start a conversation with your customers, vendors, or a similar audience to your own who aren’t customers yet. Become more social. Listen to what people are talking about, what they need, what they like. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, talk to people when they come in. Run your branding by them. Go to a festival and host a pop-up booth. Sure, you may have some sales, but it’s also a way to get in front of a different audience and talk to people. Then use all that information to change how you communicate with others and market to them.

There are a lot of ways to increase sales these days. Much of the marketing technology has become less expensive and does more. But all these solutions do take time. Just as people say it takes money to make money; it also takes time. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be your time. If someone can do it more efficiently than you can, let them and concentrate your efforts on the things that only you can do for your small business.

The State of Small Business

150 150 Lauren Finamore

 

Written by: Christina Metcalf

The chamber is the Voice of Business and as the Voice of Business, there’s something we feel the need to express to everyone in this community. Inflation is being felt everywhere, from Fortune 500 companies to solopreneurs just starting out.

However, the difference between large-scale companies and smaller ones are their reserves. According to JP Morgan Chase, the average small business runs with only 27 days of operating expenses in reserves. Increases in utilities, goods and services, real estate, and gas costs; supply chain issues impacting delivery; and employee shortages have taken a toll on businesses, especially our smaller ones.

In this challenging time, while you are dealing with your own concerns over stretching your paycheck, we want to share some things you might not realize.

Small Business Pricing Stats (April 2022, Goldman Sachs)

  • 91% of small businesses said they have been negatively impacted by rising costs, supply chain, and workforce challenges, up from 86% in January 2022
  • 73% said increasing energy costs are negatively impacting their bottom lines
  • 56% believe the issues have gotten worse since the start of the year
  • 74% are currently hiring, 90% are finding it difficult to fill the positions
  • 88% have said inflationary pressures have increased in 2022
  • 67% have increased wages to keep/attract employees
  • 42% have lost employees to larger companies
  • 75% are seeing a rise in their operating costs, yet only 40% are raising prices

Let’s repeat that last one. Three quarters of small businesses are seeing a rise in their costs but less than half have raised prices. Costs are going up. These businesses have held out as long as they could. Soon those that haven’t already will raise their prices. It’s inevitable. Before you react to this, please consider…

Responding to Increased Prices

Businesses need our support, and they need our patience. This is a last resort for many small businesses because they are very close to their customers. They don’t want to pass on their costs. They know customers have their own pricing concerns and their paychecks are not going nearly as far as they used to.

You may see closures on days the businesses used to be open or experience limited hours to help with staff shortages. Be understanding of this. By limiting their hours, they are trying to remain in business and cover the employee shortage they’re facing.

Businesses may reduce the services they offer or the secondary costs. Bars, for instance, may cut back on bands to save money. Table your complaints. They’re doing the best they can right now to make enough profit and cut costs to stay in business.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 31% of small businesses are taking on debt to help keep costs low. So, they need your continued support and understanding.

This may seem like a bleak picture for small businesses, but we have had some wonderful success stories over the past year as well. There are new businesses growing. People are starting their own enterprises even through these tough times.

Business owners are resilient, hardworking, problem-solvers. People who go to work for themselves believe in the service or product they provide. As the saying goes entrepreneurs would “rather work 80 hours for themselves, than 40 for someone else.” We have faith in business owners and we’re doing our best to help by giving them the resources to work through these extraordinary challenges, but we need your help.

Bottom Line

Small businesses need you to:

  1. Show up. Keep patronizing them.
  2. Put up. Costs are increasing for everyone. They are not here to gouge you.
  3. Support them. If not through purchases than through reviews, word-of-mouth, or referring someone looking for work.
  4. Pass the message along. Remind others what businesses are going through. It’s stressful wondering how you’ll make payroll, pay your suppliers or your landlord.

We’ll get through this together, but it won’t happen by making small business owners and employees feel dumb or guilty for trying to do what’s necessary to stay open.

“Small Businessing” Ain’t Easy

150 150 Lauren Finamore

Written by: Christina Metcalf

There was a time when the biggest concern a business had was bringing in customers. These days, we know you’re worrying about a lot more. You’re wondering where you will find qualified employees. When you do find them on paper or through an application, you keep your fingers crossed that they will show up for their first day of work, or better yet, the interview. Once you hire them, you hope they’ll come back the next day and the next.

You worry about how you will sell items if you can’t get anything on the shelf. And you’re so very tired of hearing your suppliers talk about the supply chain. Two years ago, you didn’t even think about a supply chain in reference to anything more than toilet paper.

You worry about baby formula or people getting sick, your loved ones, your friends, your employees. You wonder if you should ask the person who’s been coughing the entire time they’ve been in your business to leave. Will they be offended or angry?

You worry that if you raise prices to try to make the smallest of profits to help pay for your gas to get to work or the groceries that keep getting more expensive while the quantities shrink that people will stop buying from you. Lag times and scheduling keep you up at night.

Or you’re challenged with too much need of your product or service and an inability to deliver. You hope that when you tell people it will be two to three weeks before you can meet their needs that your competitors are in the same boat.

You want to learn more, do more, and help more but your profits are dwindling almost as quickly as your “rainy day” money and investments are. Rents are going up and you worry your business’ lease will increase above what you can afford or you worry your landlord will sell your building. Home prices are going up but if you sell now, you won’t be able to find an affordable place to live.

It’s summer and you want to take vacation but there’s no one to run your business and even if there was, plane tickets and gas prices look more like car payments these days.

And you worry about safety.

No, this is not an easy time. But we see you small business owner. We are working to connect need with solutions. We’re talking to municipal, county, state, and federal leaders and voicing what you need most. We are brainstorming solutions for these unprecedented times.

We know you’re stressed and anxious, but we are here for you. Small businesses like yours are the backbone of our community and our country. You are not in this alone even though it can feel that way as a business owner.

While it’s important to have a support system, many small business owners struggle when they turn to friends and family for advice. Unless your family and friends are/were business owners themselves, they likely do not fully understand what you are facing.

At the chamber, we do.

While these are unprecedented times, we are working with all our resources to find solutions. We have experience in business and are bringing business owners together.

We can’t make your anxiety go away, or fix the supply chain over night, but we’re working on viable solutions and growth for all.

And because we understand what you’re going through, we’re sharing the following. Please feel free to use it (or edit it) however you see fit:

 

We’re Business Owners, Not Miracle Workers

Behind this business is a person and a family.

The employee you’re fed up with or questioning because prices are “too high” or service is slow, is someone’s mother, father, child, friend, or loved one.

We’re not a faceless conglomerate.

We are your neighbors and we’re doing the best we can working in times no one prepared us for.

And while we seem to have everything together, we’re working round the clock just to help keep appearing like they used to be. In reality, we’re getting by and doing what we can to keep our doors open. A lot of people depend on us–our employees, our landlord, our vendors, our suppliers, our own family.

We are providing you service with a smile today even if you’re not showing us your best self.

And we’ll do it again tomorrow and as often as you want to patronize us. We will be here as long as we can keep our business open.

We thank you for sticking with us while we navigate unprecedented times. And yes, some days we’re going to run out of things or we’ll be short-staffed. That may inconvenience you for an hour or two, but please don’t take it out on the person who’s working a double shift because a co-worker called out.

We love being part of this community, but we’re worried, too, just like you. We drive to work, we buy groceries, we must take off when people who depend on us are ill.

No small business owner or employee signed up for the challenges we’re facing now. But we’re making the best of it—like you are—and we sure could use your continued help and understanding.

Thank you for your support. We want to continue to serve you long into the future—or at least as long as it takes for the supply chain to get untangled.

 

How to Get Certified as a Woman-Owned Business

150 150 Lauren Finamore

Written by: Christina Metcalf

If you’re a woman who owns a business and you’d like to apply for federal contracts, getting officially certified as a woman-owned business is essential. The federal government’s goal is to award at least 5% of its contracts to women-owned small businesses each year. While the certification process may seem daunting, it’s not that difficult if you know the basic application rules and materials needed.

Two Kinds of Certifications

There are two types of women-owned certifications, Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and Women-owned Small Business (WOSB). WBE is a designation that many private sector businesses and organizations, and some state and local governments use. To be given this designation, you must apply through one of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) third-party certification partners.

WOSB is a designation used by federal government agencies. Under the WOSB designation, you may also be qualified to apply for an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) designation.

How to Apply for WOSB Certification

The certification process for these designations changed in 2020. While there is a lot of paperwork involved, the federal government has done a lot to streamline the process.

  1. Verify that you meet WOSB eligibility requirements, which are:
    • Be considered a small business by SBA size standards
    • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by women who are U.S. citizens
    • Have women manage day-to-day operations and make long-term decisions
  2. Gather the materials you will likely need to apply. These may include things like:
    • Company name and/or “Doing Business As” (DBA) name.
    • Owners’ names, addresses, and company website.
    • The company’s legal designation/structure. For LLCs, articles of organization and operating agreements.
    • Incorporation date.
    • A list of each proprietor, partner, shareholder, or member within the 12 months leading up to application filing.
    • Affiliate relationships.
    • Business and personal loans.
    • Birth certificate, current passport, or naturalization papers.
    • Driver’s licenses of all owners.
    • EIN (Federal Tax ID).
    • Resumes of all owners, directors, partners, officers, etc.
    • Current bank statements and financial institution signature cards.
    • Documentation on how the company was funded.
    • Financial statements for three years, including balance sheet, profit & loss statement.
    • Tax returns for the past three years.
    • Authority to conduct business in the state and certificate of good standing issued by Secretary of State.
    • Articles of incorporation and articles of amendments filed with the Secretary of State.
    • Bylaws and amendments.
    • Statement of information filed with Secretary of State listing officers, directors, managers, members, or general partners.
    • Partnership agreements.
    • Professional, industry, and/or business licenses.
    • Copy of lease or deed for business location, if applicable.
  3. Apply online through the self-certification tool and complete the process. This site also provides a wealth of resources to answer your questions.
  4. Upon receipt of the full application and paperwork, the SBA usually decides to grant or deny the designation within 90 days. Incomplete packages may require additional documentation before a decision can be made.

Once approved, you will need to maintain your designation with an annual recertification.

While there are about 13 million women-owned businesses in the US, only 4,800 are certified as WOSBs. With the increasing visibility into data and the government’s goal of providing funds for small and minority business, this is an ideal time to get certified.

 

4+ Tips for Attracting More Tourists to Your Business

150 150 Lauren Finamore

Written by: Christina Metcalf

It’s that time of year again and many of us are preparing for a return to normal when it comes to the seasonal onslaught of tourism. Even with high transportation costs, people are traveling and still—hopefully—buying. If you’d like to attract more tourists to your place of business, here’s how you can prepare.

How to Appeal to Tourists

Many tourists are looking for something unique in a business, something they don’t have in their hometowns. Here are a few ideas to make a big impact on them whether you are in retail, the restaurant and bar industry, attractions, or services.

Create an Experience

Again, tourists are looking for something different. If you want them to visit you need to offer them an experience. This could be a class, special tasting, photo op, or any other “special” time.

Whatever you decide on it needs to be marketed in a variety of outlets. Don’t forget your local chamber/visitors bureau. You might be surprised how many people stop in when they’re looking for recommendations.

Offer a Special

Create a deal or special with a short window of opportunity. Buy one, get one offers are a good idea or a free item/service with purchase. Your free service could even be a sampling of a much longer service to entice a future purchase. For instance, a mini head massage with every facial. You can even give them the ability to extend the service for additional money. Who can say no to a longer massage when they are already feeling the benefit?

Host Contests

Run fun contests just for travelers like a prize at the end of the day for people who have traveled the farthest or a small, free item for anyone who is visiting from over 1,500 miles away. (This is also a great way to build a mailing list if you ask them to give their address to be eligible. Just make sure you give them an opt-out option and be transparent that you are adding them.)

Be Travel-friendly

We all know the limitations of plane travel when it comes to carry-on liquids and such. And with the rates that airlines charge for checked bags, many people are hesitant to do that. If you want more tourists to buy from you, you should consider offering ways to get your goods home to them. Offering shipping options is also great for those who decide to send something to loved ones.

Speaking of…

Some tourists may love your business, but they simply aren’t ready to buy. Or they may love your business so much that they want to continue a relationship with you after they return home. Perhaps they’re even thinking about doing some holiday shopping with you but aren’t quite ready to do it on that visit. If you don’t offer a website or mailing list, you’re missing out. On my travels, I visited a handmade hat store. Her work was beautiful and reasonably priced. I wanted to buy my hat-collecting husband one for his birthday, but he was with me, and we were only in town for a few hours. I discretely asked her for a card and if she had a website. No, purchases could only be made in store. The customer/seller relationship evaporated at that time with no further chance for the sale.

If you want to draw more tourists in this summer, follow these tips. Just remember that the relationship doesn’t have to end when their trip does. If you’re smart about your offerings and have a mailing list, social media, and/or website to keep in touch, you can continue sales (and the relationship) well into the future.