I’ve written quite a bit about how bad a deal running Groupons is for many businesses, including the extremely lopsided merchant agreement and the potential for Groupon to damage businesses in the long term by destroying Yelp ratings. It occurred to me that I haven’t written about what small businesses should do.
It’s quite simple:
- Claim your Facebook business page.
- Sign up for Twitter.
- Get business cards printed up with your Facebook and Twitter IDs. Online, these can be had for under $20.
- Build relationships with your existing customers and get them to connect with you online.
- Update your status once or twice a day.
This is really the easiest way to get started in online marketing.
If you use Facebook for personal reasons, you can do it for your business. If you don’t have the time to update both Facebook and Twitter, you can just update Facebook and use a tool to publish it to Twitter. (or vice versa.) You can do this in less than a minute each day and you can do it from your cell phone. (Even if it’s not a smartphone!)
Some of the things I like about this approach:
- It’s really simple.
- It’s almost free. (Just the cost of your business cards.)
- You own the list that you build, unlike with daily deals where the provider owns the list.
- Unlike Groupon, there’s no potential for it to cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
- It doesn’t rely on deep discounting and doesn’t damage your price point long term.
It may seem intimidating to have a blank slate. Or you may be discouraged about having to tweet every day. Don’t sweat it; just start. You’ll get into the groove. And if you don’t tweet for a day or two, don’t worry about it. Here are some ideas for what to share with your subscribers:
- Any specials you may be running. These needn’t be deep discounts, it could just a special entree you’re running for the night (at full price).
- Pictures of your business and what you’re offering.
- Notices of special events, such as guest artists, musicians, etc.
- Interesting stories about your industry.
- In advance of holidays, tweet if you’ll be open. (If you’ll be closed, share that along with a holiday greeting.)
- For extra credit, put videos on YouTube and share those.
A few questions you may have:
Will this get me hundreds of new customers?
No. But most small businesses don’t need hundreds or thousands of new customers. In fact, that’s the worse thing for many businesses. The crush of demand created by Groupon and LivingSocial can wreak havoc on your staff and turn away your regular customers.
For many businesses, getting a few extra customers each day can make a big difference. That’s what this approach can do for you.
What about the dozens of other sites that offer local presences?
Like starting a new exercise regimen, it’s important to start with something you know you can manage so that you actually do it. Facebook and Twitter will provide the most bang for the effort.
Why don’t other people talk about this approach?
Because it doesn’t make them any money. Groupon’s biggest innovation was to take online advertising and make it less targeted and more expensive. That made it possible for them to pay sales people to tell businesses what a great deal Groupon is and why they should be honored to be selected to run one.
Think about the last time you were at a visitor’s center. Remember the glossy brochures? You could learn about guided rafting, hot air balloon rides, horseback riding tours, ziplining etc. But you probably didn’t see brochures for nearby hikes, beautiful beaches or waterfalls. That’s because those things are free.
Sometimes the best things in life are free — and for small businesses, Facebook and Twitter are the best things.