Small Business Success Stories: What We’ve Learned So Far
A baker, a guitar teacher, a florist, and a real estate agent: Those are the four small business owners I’ve profiled in this space recently. Before I continue with more online marketing success stories, this seems like a smart time to step back and see what we’ve learned to date. Listening to the experiences of others can be a great learning tool, especially when those small business owners have gone down paths you’ve been hesitant to try, or maybe didn’t even know existed.
The four small business owners you’ve read about have very different stories and backgrounds, but as the interviews revealed, those stories provide some common advice for any small business trying to succeed online.
Five things we’ve learned so far
1.) You can turn the Web into your primary source of customers/leads. In the first interview of this series, Jesse Heap of Pink Cake Box, a specialty bakery in northern New Jersey, told me that “the majority of our customers originate through the web.” That sentiment was echoed by St. Paul real estate agent Teresa Boardman in the most recent interview. “I don’t think I have any offline leads,” Teresa said. “I get some referrals, but the rest is from my online activities.” She added that the quality of her online leads is “very high.” This is something all small businesses can strive for with online marketing: the acquisition of targeted customers and leads.
2.) Ongoing education makes a big difference to your online success. You don’t have to become an SEO expert, but you should devote consistent time to learning the latest trends and tactics in online marketing. Guitar teacher John Tuggle, profiled in the second interview, told me that “learning marketing has been the best thing I’ve ever learned how to do. I see tons of talent go to waste because of the lack of how to get the word out about yourself.”
3.) Local search marketing matters. A lot. In the third interview, florist Cathy Hillen-Rulloda of Avante Gardens talked a lot about local search, especially the impact of reviews published on local sites and directories. She explained how her business invites customers to write reviews: “Each customer receives an email order summary and a separate delivery confirmation. The delivery confirmation email asks our shoppers to let us know about how they feel about our services, and invites them to rate us on Yahoo Local, CitySearch or InsiderPages. While most send emails, a few have gone on to write reviews.”
4.) Emphasizing the visual elements of your business is good marketing. Pink Cake Box uses Flickr to share photos of the specialty cakes they create. Avante Gardens and Teresa Boardman post photos on their blogs. John Tuggle creates guitar lesson videos and uploads them to YouTube. In each case, these visuals have helped attract new prospects and customers. For Pink Cake Box, the photos led to a feature on CNN; for John Tuggle, the videos led to a “recommended instructor” designation from Gibson Guitars.
5.) Differentiation is everything. All four interviews touched on this theme:
- Jesse Heap/Pink Cake Box: “We realized that, in order to differentiate ourselves, we had to use our blog to promote our cakes and offer customers and cake enthusiasts a constant stream of new cake, contests, and videos.”
- John Tuggle: “I researched the competition and found some interesting ideas on how to teach some concepts. There were some good and there was a lot of bad. I felt that I had something to say in this area that wasn’t being said.”
- Cathy Hillen-Rulloda: “Most every flower shop now has a Web site, but a significant number of florists (I estimate approximately 12,000-14,000 in the U.S.) have boilerplate templates…. We moved from one of those template hosts (with our own unique product content) to our own site and increased online ordering by 45% the first year.”
- Teresa Boardman: “It’s great for me, the way other agents handle their online presence — it helps me distinguish myself in an overcrowded market place.”
That might be the most important takeaway of all from these interviews: You have to know what makes you different and better than your competition, and be able to explain it to customers.
Look for more small business success stories in future Small is Beautiful columns. As always, if you are or know of a small business with a great online marketing success story to share, please contact me via Small Business Search Marketing.
Matt McGee is Director of Strategic Search at KeyRelevance, Inc., and blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.