5 Ways to Market Your Business for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and the time is now to make sure you get the most of your marketing efforts to help secure sales success in the coming months. Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to help get you started.

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Social Media Contests

If your small business has a social media presence, contests on Facebook and Twitter are often a popular way highlight your brand and engage with customers, reminding them that your product or service is available – and a potentially great gift idea. With a few rules, a clever hashtag and incentive such as a prize or discount on your offerings, you can drum up excitement about – and draw people in to – your business.

Extra Appeal for Your Loyal Customers

Take this time to make your loyal customers feel extra special – it may come back to you by way of additional business and referrals. Without breaking the bank, you can provide special offers, sneak previews, free shipping or secret sales.

Special Events or Open Houses

Make your small business stand out by hosting an open house or special event at your store or restaurant. Use it to showcase holiday season gifts, menus and merchandise so customers can get a glimpse of your seasonal goods in advance. Pair the browsing with light refreshments – a mug of hot cocoa or a glass of cider – to get people in the holiday spirit. On their way out, give a special offer or coupon that invites customers back to make their purchases at a discount.

Holiday Help

This is a great idea from Illana Bercovitz at Small Business Trends: use social media to offer helpful tips during a stressful holiday season. Consider your industry, product or service and related advice you could offer to make customers’ lives easier. “Everyone appreciates useful advice and your customers will thank you for pushing content that makes their holidays slightly less stressful,” Bercovitz says. Use an original hashtag to maintain brand awareness across platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Email

Although it’s often considered overused, email remains inexpensive and easy to implement when it comes to maintaining contact with existing customers. That’s a key to remember – to be effective, email marketing should be used with folks you have already done business with or who have expressed an interest in your business and have requested email from you (otherwise known as permission marketing).

Keep these tips in mind if you plan to use email to support your holiday marketing efforts:

  • Keep the e-mail short and sweet. Link directly to the content of interest so you make the process as easy as possible for your customers.
  • Clearly state the email’s intent in the subject line. For example, “A Special Offer Just for You. Thanks for Your Business in 2013.”
  • Be festive in your design. Appeal to the sights of the season with a special design for the holidays.
  • Follow online marketing rules. Don’t forget that online marketing is regulated, so whatever tactics you employ be sure to follow government guidelines that apply to list management, SPAM and other guidelines.

For more great holiday marketing insight, check out this recent post from guest blogger Rieva Lesonsky, “Start Now to Plan Your Holiday Retail Marketing Campaign.


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About the Author:

Katie MurrayContributor and Moderator
I am an author and moderator for the the SBA.gov Community. I’ll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at SBA.gov!
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From The Chair’s Corner: A Legacy of Leadership

A Legacy of Leadership

I am both honored and excited to enter into my term as Chair of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. For me, this is a legacy moment in many respects. I look forward to following in not only the legacy of leadership that the Chamber has demonstrated through its many years in Sarasota, but also the legacy of leadership that my firm, Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen, has demonstrated over our more than 90 years in Sarasota. It is with great pride that I follow in the footsteps of a name partner in my firm, George A. Dietz, a past Chair of the Chamber, to carry on the rich history of the Chamber in a community with an equally rich history.

 

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Chair| Charlie Bailey | Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen

 

As we look toward the year ahead, we do so with a focus on strengthening our connections – both within the community and with our membership. Your story is our story – the story of the Chamber is the story of its members. As an organization, ensuring robust layers of connection amongst our membership and bringing their businesses’ stories to life is our greatest priority. It is with that understanding that we enter this year with a tireless commitment to engage members both new and long-standing. We are setting our sights on being the voice of business in the community and focusing on the headline issues facing Sarasota. As an example, in partnership with Gulf Coast Community Foundation and SRQ Media, we are hosting Grid Un-Locked, a six-week program series featuring expert-led workshops which explore the facts, plans, and future of transportation in Sarasota.

We also are pleased to officially welcome Visit Sarasota County as they relocate Sarasota County’s Official Visitor Center to the Chamber of Commerce building on Fruitville Road. We are confident that this partnership will benefit both organizations, our community, and visitors to our beloved area.

We are proud to be an organization for those who are as focused on doing business as they are on where they do business. Your Chamber is here to support, promote, and connect its membership and the greater Sarasota area. We want your experience to be professionally and personally rewarding. As Chair, I can certainly say my experience has been nothing less, and I am committed to making sure yours is as well. I encourage you to stay connected with me throughout this year and I look forward to continuing to write the story of business in our community.

Charlie Bailey

Chair of the Board

Member Tip: Is Your Unique Value Proposition Doing Its Job?

Your business needs a unique value proposition (UVP) to differentiate you from your competition and to get you more customers. If you don’t have one, or you have one that’s not working, the foundation of your marketing is shaky at best.

The problem with creating a UVP begins with the name itself. It’s smothered in marketing garbage lingo. It turns people off. No potential customer will ever ask you “What’s Your Unique Value Proposition?” before making a purchase, but they will ask you what makes you different and that’s what you have to concentrate on when defining this concept for your business.

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What Makes Your Business Different?

Most companies are quick to say what differentiates them from their competition. Usually, it’s service or quality. For the most effective UVP, it must be two things – valued by your ideal customer and hard to replicate by your competition. While most customers value good service, every one of your competitors probably believes they (too) are providing excellent customer service, so it’s not a strong differentiator in the market unless you bolster it with specifics that can’t be imitated.

How to Stand Out

Regardless of what you call it, a unique value proposition is all about standing out. If you’re lucky you do something no one else does. But in today’s crowded global markets, it’s harder to find something that no one else is doing. Instead, you need to discover, and market, how you’re doing it differently.

Explore Your Business Model

The fortunate will take one look at their business model and immediately recognize a differentiator, such as their giving 10% of proceeds to a childhood cancer charity or providing college scholarships for employees. As in these examples, you can see it’s not always your product or service that differentiates you. Sometimes it’s how you conduct your business or your company culture that stands out.

Examine the Needs of Your Ideal Customer

If you have a buyer persona or an idea of who your ideal customer is, ask yourself what that person needs? If you’re not sure, listen to what your loyal customers are saying about you in reviews or testimonials. What makes an impact in their lives? Read reviews of your competition. What are the key themes that keep surfacing?

Define the Impossible

Ideally what makes you stand out is something your competition will have difficulty duplicating. Using the themes you identified in what your ideal customer likes or values, you’ll construct a promise your business can make that would be hard for others to replicate. “The best service” is not a differentiator unless you pair it with specifics like “best same-day service” or “service with a smile or your meal is free.” Take for instance Dawn Dishwashing Soap. Marketers had a hard time finding the right niche for the product. It cleaned well but so did its competitors. Nothing seemed to work in differentiating it until they did a commercial showing how it was used in oil slicks to clean birds. Suddenly the dish detergent is known for taking “grease out of your way” was also saving the environment.

Even if your competition eventually offers the same thing you do, if you can bring it to market and become known for it first, you will have a successful differentiator.

Make Your Process Unique

Sometimes what makes your business unique is actually a flaw in other’s eyes until you define it as something intriguing or fun for your customer. For instance, Dum Dum lollipops by Spangler Candy Company produces a mystery flavor. At first glance, this appears to be a fun marketing stunt but it is really an efficient operations tactic. The mystery flavor is the combination of two flavors of lollipops. Instead of taking the time to strip the production machines between flavors and make a solid switch, the company decided to leave the machines running between flavors and thus the mystery flavor, a combination of the two. This saved huge amounts of time and resources but appeared to be a product marketing decision. Sometimes the efficiency with which you bring your product to market is your differentiator.

Differentiating yourself from your competition is essential to helping potential customers select you over other businesses in your town and across the globe. An effective difference lies in marketing something your prospective customers’ value and calling attention to something your competition can’t easily replicate (or hasn’t thought of).  If you don’t know or establish what makes you different, there’s no way for a buyer to know.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and Event Manager Blog. She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

Member Tip: SEO TIPS FOR THOSE WHO DON’T TALK GEEK

Understanding every aspect of search engine optimization (SEO) is not unlike trying to have a conversation about the mysteries of the universe with a 3-year-old. Sometimes what is being said makes no logical sense whatsoever and then you catch these rare glimpses of unbelievable genius that you think you’re hallucinating. But with SEO and with a 3-year-old, just when you think you understand how it all works, they want to play a different game.

For that reason, we’ll skip over the details of how to rank well and boil them down to this: you must create content that is found, enjoyed, and shared by your audience. This article will focus on how to understand what your audience is looking to you for.

SEO Should Never Trump the Audience

Content strategists will tell you that you must become a thought leader in your area. As simple as this sounds, it confuses a lot of business people. Your SEO strategist will ask what your keywords are for your business and extrapolate long-tail keywords from them (most use analytic software or Google to do this). They will then tell you what people are searching for from a keyword perspective.

The next logical step is to pass off those keywords to your content creator. But often this is where the disconnect occurs. One of the most common mistakes I see businesses make is confusing the keywords of the audience they serve with keywords people would use to find their business. For instance, if you are a lawyer specializing in patents for pharmaceutical companies, you need to ask yourself what people would search on to find you. Some of these terms and questions might be:

  • Patent attorney
  • Corporate patent attorney
  • Patents for pharmaceuticals
  • Patents for drugs
  • Help to obtain a drug patent
  • How can my company get a patent?

Before selecting any of these, you’d want to check out the search numbers involved on Google or some other keyword tool. What you wouldn’t want to place for was words like:

  • Pharmaceutical company
  • Big pharma
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Or any other word that would return company results.
  • Do you see the difference? It’s subtle but a common mistake.

Businesses often try to place for what their ideal customer or client does and not what they do. It’s a very fine line.

Becoming a Thought Leader (on what?)

You want to establish yourself as a thought leader in the industry you serve, not a thought leader in your ideal client’s industry. For instance, if you were a healthcare recruiter who only worked in healthcare, your content would focus on things like:

  • How you find and place the best people in healthcare
  • Why a healthcare-specific recruiter is better than a general recruiter
  • Best interview questions for a healthcare company
  • What questions to expect in an interview for a healthcare company

Since you serve two groups of people – those hiring and those wanting to get hired – you would want to create content for both. These topics are things people who would be in the market for your services probably search on. Creating content around them would set you up as an expert in the field of healthcare recruiting.

Niche marketing is very important to SEO because often the smaller the search (in terms of the number of people doing it), the cheaper the keywords. Plus narrower searches often yield better results as people are further along in the sales process or need assistance and are willing to pay for it.

What doesn’t work is creating content in your client’s niche. In this example, you are an expert in the recruiting field, not an expert in something like hospital administration. You may place people in those positions but you don’t want to place for their words. You want to place for words like healthcare recruiting and hospital jobs, not hospital administration (unless it’s hospital administration jobs).

Keywords Are Just Questions

The easiest way to think about keywords is to think about what people would type in to find you. This might be very straightforward (short-tail keywords) like “mechanic in Clearwater” or it could be more convoluted (long-tail keywords) like “what do I do when my car makes a weird sound?”

Make a list of terms people would use to search for you and what you do. Now add to that list with all the problems you solve for in the form of questions. Remember you want to appeal to your ideal audience, but you should be creating content that makes you an expert in your industry, not your client’s.

Solve Problems for Bonus SEO

While you’re creating content that sets you up as an industry thought leader, don’t forget to solve customers’ problems with your content. This is particularly successful in achieving shares. For instance, a caterer may create a how-to video on chopping veggies or meat the correct way. Don’t worry if you create content that helps your audience do some of what you do by themselves. If they see you as a good resource, they will return and at some point, need your help. When they do, they’ll seek you out.

In order to have good-ranking content, it must be found, enjoyed, and shared. Google bases a lot of its search rankings off of human interaction with your content. You can achieve good organic results by setting yourself up as a thought leader in your industry (not that of your ideal client’s), solving your client’s problems, and giving them helpful resources to meet their needs (in your area of expertise).


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. Christina is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and Event Manager Blog. She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

MEMBER TIP: EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

THE KEY TO EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT IS YOU

Would you trust the care of your most beloved loved one to someone who didn’t like you very much? If you have disengaged employees you might be doing just that.

It is impossible for a disengaged employee to provide excellent customer service. It doesn’t matter how skilled the employee is, if they think of your business as the mere source of income, you/they won’t be wowing your customers.

Worse than that, those suffering from disengagement should be quarantined by the CDC as it is a highly infectious disease. One disengaged employee can make all of your employees reevaluate their level of happiness within your business. For this reason, employee engagement is one of the most important investments you can make in your company. The good news is, a lot of that is up to you.

Employee-Engagement

Act Decisively

If you have employees who are showing signs of being disengaged, don’t let it fester hoping it will go away. It won’t. It will spread. Before you even begin working on your company culture, tackle this problem head on. Talk with the individuals involved. See if you can’t come to an understanding of how you can both work on turning it around.

The one thing you don’t want is happy employees seeing disengaged employees sitting around doing the minimum with a lousy attitude and getting paid for it. Employees are not robots. No matter how many times you tell others to ignore your Eeyore in the corner, the bad feelings are bound to disrupt the working environment.

Some disengaged employees are too far gone. While you should give them the opportunity to turn it around, know that this is not always possible. In those cases, you need to help that employee begin the journey in finding what will light their fire.

Decide Who You Are and Communicate It

This idea is much easier if you start your business with a mission and you clearly convey it to everyone you hire. Your mission doesn’t have to be something as grand as ending world hunger. A mission can be as simple as being “Smithville’s favorite family ice cream shop.” Everything you do should focus on your business mission.

The importance of sharing your mission with your employees is that it becomes the basis for all decision making. If employees know and understand your mission, they can use it as a referral point asking themselves at each decision, “Is this in line with our mission?”

Hire for Fit

Next, you need to hire in accordance with your mission and culture that you want to create. Skills can be taught easily, shaping one’s attitude to fit the culture is a lot more difficult. Keep in mind: each new hire either brings you closer to attaining the culture you want or takes you further away from your goal.  Don’t hire someone just to plug a hole in your payroll.

Give Them the Resources They Need and Get Out of the Way

Have you ever seen a poll about qualities you want in a manager? If so, maybe you’ve noticed the one thing that is never mentioned is “micromanaging.” No one wants to be spied on, told their way is wrong incessantly, or limited in their growth potential.

If you hire well and communicate expectations, goals and your mission, assuming your employees have the resources they need to succeed, they will begin to feel the company’s success is their success. To that end, use inclusive language like “we” when communicating where you want the business to go and how you’ll get there.

However, when giving specific direction or assignments forgo the “we.” No one knows who’s doing what when you talk in generic terms about specific roles like “We will check the Facebook page each morning.”

Check in Often

Giving employees the resources to perform their jobs isn’t your only role. You need to provide feedback often. You’ll find Millennials, in particular, are interested in guidance on their performance. It needn’t be a formal review process. Just a weekly or monthly check-in on how you think things are going but it should be a two-way conversation and not a monologue.

When someone exceeds your expectations, call attention to it immediately. Give examples of why this is ideal behavior. Don’t wait for an annual review to call it to everyone’s attention. It will get lost or forgotten by then.

Create a culture where peers can also give constructive feedback, especially praising one another. Receiving peer recognition helps in team building and building a cohesive team increases employee loyalty.

If you want your business to be successful, you need to have a team that can help you attain your goals. Investing in your employees and increasing their engagement level allows you to exceed your customers’ expectations and become a company that everyone wants to work for.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and the Event Manager Blog. She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

Image via Graphic Stock

8th Siesta Key Crystal Classic Returns November 10th-13th!

This November 10th-13th, the world’s preeminent master sand sculptors will be competing in the Siesta Key Crystal Classic. Now in its 8th year, this popular visual and cultural arts festival have hosted over 250,000 attendees on our #1 beach!

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Over the course of approximately 4 days, 12 teams of two master sand sculptors, who hail from all over the world, create 8 – 10′ high, 3-dimensional sand sculptures out of the whitest, finest sand in the world. They compete for prize money and an award at the largest sand sculpting doubles competition in the United States.

This Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival also features a Vendor Village on the sand Friday through Monday, live entertainment daily and until 9 pm Friday & Saturday, sculpting lessons, an amateur contest, The Learning Curve – Arts & Science lab, Quick Sand competitions and demonstrations all taking place on the #1 beach on Siesta Key. Awards & prize money are given on Sunday, 11/12/17 at 3 pm.

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Information regarding the 2017 event schedule, ticket options, and parking passes can be found on the website: www.siestakeycrystalclassic.com.

Member Tip Monday: How Do I Improve My Organic Search Listing As A Small Business?

Search engine optimization is like weather forecasting without models and data. You open up your window and look around. You make plans and try things and look for patterns.

There are people who are happy to give you tips, and there are best practices, but ultimately it’s something that’s always evolving as algorithms are anything but constant. However, optimizing your content and site to place well is essential to minimizing your marketing spend on getting found. Here are a few tips to make your small business competitive on a local level.

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Is It Harder for Small Businesses to Place Organically?

Google’s algorithm is aimed at showcasing “valuable” sites first. Since Google is not an expert in every field it looks for indicators of a quality site. These things include:

  • Decent load times (no one wants to wait even 2 minutes for content to load)
  • mobile friendly (according to Google, 82% of smart phone users use their device to find local businesses)
  • good content (as evidenced by shares, interactions, and links)
  • good outbound links (your site is not an island. Google expects you to link out to quality websites as well)

In non-organic search, large businesses have a distinct advantage over small businesses – money. From an organic listing standpoint, that advantage dwindles. What they do have over small are exposure and notoriety. People often think first of larger businesses and may share their content more readily because it comes to mind first.

Luckily, the advantage ends there. A small business can produce content that gets recognized and shared with the same ease (or difficulty, as the case may be) as a larger company. Yes, a larger company may have a larger audience and larger staff, but creating blog content and sharing it on social media requires the same effort from both groups.

Improving Local Search

The first thing you want to concentrate on if you have a physical business location is building out your business profile on Google and other directories. Ensuring you’re listed in local search is free and doesn’t require anything more than your time.

At a minimum, claim and build out your business listing on

When you visit these directories you may find your business is already listed. Verify the details and claim it, if applicable. Be sure to fill in anything that isn’t complete, including your business hours. Information from these sites feeds local search so don’t leave fields incomplete.

Next, check out other listings such as your local chamber, YellowPages, SuperPages, and industry-specific business listings such as TripAdvisor (if you offer food, entertainment, or lodging).

Here’s where things get a little tricky. There are data aggregators that pull information about businesses and feed them to other large companies (TripAdvisor included in that). Look at your business listing. Is the information about your business correct? If not, it can be cumbersome to change. Even if you go directly to TripAdvisor for instance, they may change it on their site, but that doesn’t fix a hundred others. In this case, Moz offers a yearly service where they will push out corrected information for you to the four main aggregators of business data.

Improve and Seek Out Reviews

There have been books written on this topic on how to create a referral mindset among your customers. But simply put, you need to make sure you focus on delighting your customers and making it easy for them to tell others about you. You must also ask them to do it. There’s a lot more detail in the implementation of these ideas but that’s how you’ll improve reviews on the most basic level.

Take the time to respond to reviews, good and bad. The good ones make you shine and the bad ones give you the opportunity to improve your offerings.

Think About SEO When Creating Content

You are writing for two distinct groups – search engines and people. People need good quality content (from their perspective) that addresses issues they care about, gives them the information they need, and entertains them. The content needn’t do all three at the same time but it should do one.

From an SEO perspective, you want your content to give your audience what they want because they’ll be more likely to share if you do. You also want to do everything you can to personalize it to your industry and local audience. Have you ever read a novel that is so rich in the setting and life it describes, that you feel like you’ve been there? On the other hand, have you read something that was so flat, that you didn’t even recognize it as a place you’ve been many times?

Place can be a character and you want people reading your website content to have a sense of the place you service. You can do this by mentioning surrounding areas, local events, and using insider language in your copy. These little things help customers identify with your site and tell Google that you are a local industry authority. You’re not a bot or a keyword stuffer.

A Final Word About Placing Well in Local Search

Finally, be smart about the keywords you want to rank for. There are some that are impossible. For instance, if you’re a local travel agency, ranking for “travel” will be Herculean task mainly because the first page is dominated by heavy hitters like Travelocity, Expedia, and CNN. Instead, focus on being a big fish in a small pond. Look to optimize your content by answering questions your ideal customer wants to know (or things they’d key into search, like the title of this article). Look for local opportunities like “best travel deals to Orlando from <your town>.” It’s a mouthful, but creating copy around long-tail keywords will help you achieve better local placement for free.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers, and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and the Event Manager Blog. She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.

*Post seen on Montgomery Chamber of Commerce website.