Welcome!

API Journal Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Flint Brenton, Rishi Bhargava, Pat Romanski

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
IoT offers a value of almost $4 trillion to the manufacturing industry through platforms that can improve margins, optimize operations & drive high performance work teams. By using IoT technologies as a foundation, manufacturing customers are integrating worker safety with manufacturing systems, driving deep collaboration and utilizing analytics to exponentially increased per-unit margins. However, as Benoit Lheureux, the VP for Research at Gartner points out, “IoT project implementers often ...
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, will compare the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, e...
Complete Internet of Things (IoT) embedded device security is not just about the device but involves the entire product’s identity, data and control integrity, and services traversing the cloud. A device can no longer be looked at as an island; it is a part of a system. In fact, given the cross-domain interactions enabled by IoT it could be a part of many systems. Also, depending on where the device is deployed, for example, in the office building versus a factory floor or oil field, security ha...
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Bsquare has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For more than two decades, Bsquare has helped its customers extract business value from a broad array of physical assets by making them intelligent, connecting them, and using the data they generate to optimize business processes.
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
If you’re responsible for an application that depends on the data or functionality of various IoT endpoints – either sensors or devices – your brand reputation depends on the security, reliability, and compliance of its many integrated parts. If your application fails to deliver the expected business results, your customers and partners won't care if that failure stems from the code you developed or from a component that you integrated. What can you do to ensure that the endpoints work as expect...
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, provided tips on how to be successful in large scale machine learning...
If you had a chance to enter on the ground level of the largest e-commerce market in the world – would you? China is the world’s most populated country with the second largest economy and the world’s fastest growing market. It is estimated that by 2018 the Chinese market will be reaching over $30 billion in gaming revenue alone. Admittedly for a foreign company, doing business in China can be challenging. Often changing laws, administrative regulations and the often inscrutable Chinese Interne...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management solutions, helping companies worldwide activate their data to drive more value and business insight and to transform moder...
The many IoT deployments around the world are busy integrating smart devices and sensors into their enterprise IT infrastructures. Yet all of this technology – and there are an amazing number of choices – is of no use without the software to gather, communicate, and analyze the new data flows. Without software, there is no IT. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the protocols that communicate data and the emerging data analy...
Digital innovation is the next big wave of business transformation based on digital technologies of which IoT and Big Data are key components, For example: Business boundary innovation is a challenge to excavate third-party business value using IoT and BigData, like Nest Business structure innovation may propose re-building business structure from scratch, as Uber does in the taxicab industry The social model innovation is also a big challenge to the new social architecture with the design fr...
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at EMC, will introduce a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organizati...
IoT is fundamentally transforming the auto industry, turning the vehicle into a hub for connected services, including safety, infotainment and usage-based insurance. Auto manufacturers – and businesses across all verticals – have built an entire ecosystem around the Connected Car, creating new customer touch points and revenue streams. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Macario Namie, Head of IoT Strategy at Cisco Jasper, will share real-world examples of how IoT transforms the car from a static p...
There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. Big Data at Cloud Expo - to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - has announced its Call for Papers is open. Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is...