Welcome!

Cognitive Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Jason Bloomberg, Liz McMillan, Jyoti Bansal, Carmen Gonzalez

Blog Feed Post

How to market your small business online, really

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.


Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By David Strom

David Strom is an international authority on network and Internet technologies. He has written extensively on the topic for 20 years for a wide variety of print publications and websites, such as The New York Times, TechTarget.com, PC Week/eWeek, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, Communications Week, Windows Sources, c|net and news.com, Web Review, Tom's Hardware, EETimes, and many others.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The emerging Internet of Everything creates tremendous new opportunities for customer engagement and business model innovation. However, enterprises must overcome a number of critical challenges to bring these new solutions to market. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Martin, CTO/CIO at nfrastructure, outlined these key challenges and recommended approaches for overcoming them to achieve speed and agility in the design, development and implementation of Internet of Everything solutions with...
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, John Jelinek IV, a web developer at Linux Academy, will discuss why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex softw...
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, discussed the best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Technology vendors and analysts are eager to paint a rosy picture of how wonderful IoT is and why your deployment will be great with the use of their products and services. While it is easy to showcase successful IoT solutions, identifying IoT systems that missed the mark or failed can often provide more in the way of key lessons learned. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Peter Vanderminden, Principal Industry Analyst for IoT & Digital Supply Chain to Flatiron Strategies, will focus on how IoT depl...
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it m...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet and...
"Tintri was started in 2008 with the express purpose of building a storage appliance that is ideal for virtualized environments. We support a lot of different hypervisor platforms from VMware to OpenStack to Hyper-V," explained Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
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.
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...
The Internet of Things can drive efficiency for airlines and airports. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Sudip Majumder, senior director of development at Oracle, discussed the technical details of the connected airline baggage and related social media solutions. These IoT applications will enhance travelers' journey experience and drive efficiency for the airlines and the airports.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. 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 June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
"LinearHub provides smart video conferencing, which is the Roundee service, and we archive all the video conferences and we also provide the transcript," stated Sunghyuk Kim, CEO of LinearHub, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...