In early September, I had the pleasure and honor of being a panelist at the 31st annual Women’s Business Development Center’s Conference, held just outside of Chicago. The WBDC is an impressive organization, a nationally recognized leader in the field of women’s economic development, whose mission is to support and accelerate business development and growth, targeting women and serving other underserved communities and veterans.
The WBDC and its members’ leadership were on full display during a day chock full of learning, connecting, and of course, celebrating each other’s successes. The energy of the attendees was palpable from the moment I walked into the conference space. Passion practically reverberated off the walls, and everyone I talked to was eager to learn more about how to make their burgeoning ventures successful.
I joined three other impressive marketing professionals; Matthew Doubleday of Wintrust, Amanda Brinkman of Deluxe and Lisa Emerick, Former Associate Publisher at Crain’s Chicago for two separate workshops on Marketing for Growth. Attendees of the workshops spanned a wide range of business levels and marketing knowledge, and over a few hours, we discussed everything from how the business card is still relevant (yes, it is!) to how to test a Google Adwords campaign.
Throughout the lively discussion, a few themes kept popping up; ideas that resonated with everyone in the audience regardless of their marketing expertise or years in business. If you’re just starting your business, and interested in leveraging marketing for growth, here are a few important takeaways:
Your Website is (Almost) Everything
Your online presence is key to building a successful business, and your website is at the heart. You need to have a “rocking responsive website,” as my fellow panelist Lisa Emerick said. Why? Your website is the very first thing that a potential client or customer is going to look at if they’re going to hire you. Period. And it better be responsive or, in other words, work well on mobile devices. Invest in a strong website from the get go and keep it consistent with your brand across your social media profiles, collateral and anything else you can think of – it matters!
Need Help? Utilize Digital Resources
Getting started with a website, or a logo, can seem overwhelming. The good news is that in the digital era, there are so many services at your fingertips (or smartphone). All of the panelists stressed the sheer multitude of online tools ready to help you, from Squarespace for website building, Moo.com for business cards or Deluxe.com for all the assets a small business might need. The list goes on, but digital help is just a few taps away.
Know Your Audience
I like to apply this mantra to many things in life, but it’s crucial in marketing. Knowing whom your trying to reach is the only way you’re going to reach them successfully. For example, is your audience active on Facebook? If so, you want to invest more time and energy there. Maybe your business is more B2B focused and email marketing is the best way to connect with them. Test some email campaigns to find out. No matter what the strategy, gain understanding of who your audience is, their behavior and what types of messages connect with them on an emotional level.
Use your time wisely
As busy professionals, this is one we can all relate to, right? So much to do and just not enough hours to do it is a recurring challenge, especially for small business owners who are pulled in a million different directions. As a result, prioritization is the name of the game.
If you have two hours per day to dedicate to marketing, use it for what’s most important. In other words, if you are up and running, but don’t have a website, pour your energy into that, instead of a Twitter profile. If you’re knee deep in writing email copy, but don’t have a clean database of customers, you’ll want to focus on the latter. And if you need help deciding what’s most important, which is inevitable, ask for help! Consider local community groups like the WBDC, connect with fellow business leaders on social media or hire someone to help.
Embrace the Challenge
If you’re a small business owner, you’re accustomed to challenges. You wouldn’t be going down this path if you weren’t. If marketing seems like it’s overwhelming to take on, rest assured you’re not alone, and be confident that you will figure out what’s best for your unique business. And know that eventually, marketing always pays off.
Whatever marketing path you take, come back to your core if you lose your way: what need am I solving for people? How is my service or product making an emotional connection with buyers? Keep that at the forefront, along with a few guiding principles, and you’re well on your way.