9 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Jump into Content Marketing


question marks painted on a asphalt road surface signifying seo questionsContent marketing is a powerful marketing tool. Content marketing is as easy as spitting out piece after piece of content. Content marketing starts by diving into a regular schedule of content, images, graphics…

Not so fast.

Successful content marketing requires planning and a solid strategy. Effective content marketing requires asking questions so the ‘jump’ is a graceful dive—not a belly flop.

Strategy Questions

Who is the target audience we are writing for?

The tone of your content, types of content, and topics you choose ride on this question. Determine what group your efforts are targeted at; break it down into gender, general age group, interests, etc.

What is the goal?

Don’t dive into content marketing with a general “we just want more sales” approach. Decide on a goal for your content, such as increasing sales leads, building awareness, or retaining existing customer base. Remember as you create content, that no matter what your goal, not all your content should be a screaming advertisement; subtle content with the right call-to-actions can be just as effective and beneficial.

What schedule should I follow?

Once you have determined your target audience and goal, it’s time to put together a strategic schedule that follows your business sales cycle. For example, if you’re an event venue who wants to generate sales leads, your content calendar should follow the sales cycle. Craft content aimed at company managers who book holiday parties before the holiday season and wedding planning tips before wedding planning season.

Who is in charge of meeting the deadlines?

A successful content marketing calendar is broken down into regular, manageable deadlines. Assign every piece of content to a party that can meet those deadlines. The creator of the content does not need to be in-house; if producing content exceeds the capabilities of your company, consider outsourcing the effort to experts who can meet the deadlines.

How can we promote and use the content?

Content should not be produced in a vacuum. Blog posts should be shared via e-mail, images included in your social media strategy, videos posted in your online library. Have a plan for every piece of content created, the deadline for production, and schedule for promotion.

How can we measure results?

Evaluation is one of the most commonly overlooked steps of content marketing. Decide what analytics should be collected and analyzed periodically to decide the status of your current efforts, and what improvements can be made in the future.

Content Planning Questions

What questions do we frequently hear from customers?

The most effective content topics come from your target audience. Compile a list of frequently asked questions on a regular basis, and insert those questions strategically into your content calendar. These topics are relevant to the customer and answer questions, creating an instant connection that can convert readers into potential customers.

What topics do our customers search for?

If you want relevant topics that earn points with customers and search engines, put yourself in the readers’ shoes and use marketing tools that give you insight into online users’ search activity. Optimized content is a valuable tool for businesses that want to be found in search engines. For local businesses, go a step beyond to differentiate your business by including content and topics related to local users’ interests and community.

What images are needed?

Images are not an online luxury; all types of media are necessary for content marketing success. As you map out your content marketing strategy, brainstorm ways to strategically collect the necessary images needed to make your content marketing a success (if you outsource, that brainstorming is up to the marketing agency).

Content Marketing: The What & Types of Effective Business Content

hands working on laptop producing content for marketingLet’s not beat around the bush. Companies allocate their marketing funds based on one key question: what marketing tactic gets the best bang for the buck? The answer is where they allocate dollars and time.

With so little of both, most managers and owners are hesitant to put their marketing budget funds into the next “big thing.” A few years ago, producing content for your blog was the next big thing.

It still is.

Producing content is still one of the top ways to put your business website in front of local customers and give them all the information they’re looking for. But like everything else in life and technology, content marketing has evolved. It’s changed. And it’s still one of the most effective marketing tactics for small and large businesses.

State of Content Marketing

The simplest definition of content marketing is exactly what is inferred from the terms: content used to market a business. In its infancy, the tactic usually involved writing a blog post aimed at search engines. Frankly, many of those posts created were often so narrowly authored for that purpose that they provided little value to the reader. Other posts were short and aimed solely at selling to the reader. They were a walking advertisement. The amount of low value content published was staggering. The worst posts were unreadable to the average reader.

High quality content marketing is produced for two audiences: potential and current customers and search engines. Well-produced content builds trust (one of many ways to build trust online), provides answers and entertainment to visitors, and engages your target audience. For search engines, fresh and updated content gets a website extra credit in terms of search engine rankings.

Content types

Modern content marketing is more than just solely writing blog posts. Modern content marketing follows a plan and includes a variety of different types of content designed to reach and engage followers, including:

  • Blog posts. Blog posts—high quality, well-written, optimized posts—are still a major player in content marketing. Blog posts should provide value to the reader (ask this question before writing). A well-written blog post should be shared through e-mail, on social media, and in other marketing pieces. A successful blog includes valuable content (with quality images) produced on a regular basis. If you can’t keep up with a regular schedule, consider outsourcing the effort for optimal results.
  • Graphics. The type of graphic produced for content marketing depends on the purpose of the image. Images are a significant part of any content marketing effort. Memes and infographics can also get you credit on social media and in e-mails.
  • Video. There is a reason there are so many videos on YouTube, and more videos are uploaded every hour and day. Video is one of the top forms of media that online users view and share. Not all video needs to be professionally produced; videos created on tablets and phones can be just as effective. For additional views, share live video of events on social media.
  • E-books, docs, and whitepapers. Longform content can be a valuable offering to online viewers, and an effective way to build an e-mail list. For long-term value, produce checklists and books with content that lasts beyond short-term trends.

Content marketing is an effective marketing tactic that needs to be a regular effort. For that reason, the task should be assigned to a dependable staff member or outsourced to an experienced marketing agency.

10 Ways to Ask Customers for Online Reviews

customer filling in online review, leaving star review for businessOnline reviews have become a hot online commodity in today’s modern world. Customers research your business. They see those reviews. And statistics have shown that online reviews play a significant role in a customer’s purchasing decision. Every business wants positive online reviews. How do you get online reviews?

Before you start blindly reaching out for reviews, be aware that asking for online reviews comes with a risk—and additional work. Negative reviews come with positive reviews. All online reviews come with their own process: asking for reviews, monitoring reviews, and responding to reviews. All of these steps can be integrated into already existing operational procedures and should be included in the training of every employee who interacts with customers.

Asking for reviews

Because every business is different, it’s up to every business owner and manager to choose and implement the tactics that work for their company. As you determine what tactic is right for your business, know that there is value in pre-screening customers before you make the ask. Put simply, a positive review is more likely to come from a customer who has positive feelings about the work your company has done for them. Obviously, pre-screening does not mean your company is exempt from negative reviews. Negative reviews can come at any time (and from anyone)—no matter how and who you ask. Here are some ways to ask customers for online reviews:

  1. Put a sign by the register asking for reviews (with or without an incentive)
  2. Ask “Can you help us by reviewing us on _______________?”
  3. Ask “Were you happy with your service/product? We get a bonus for positive online reviews and would be grateful if you left a review on ______________.”
  4. Send out an e-mail to customers (with their permission-here are solid ways to build an e-mail list)
  5. Pass out flyers with instructions for review
  6. Include instructions for online reviews with packages that are sent out
  7. Have salesmen ask satisfied customers on phone to leave reviews, follow up with e-mail
  8. Include request for review on e-mailed receipts
  9. Offer a discount for next purchase with a review of the product
  10. Ask for review when corresponding with customer in social media messages

Monitoring for reviews

Awareness of reviews is a significant part of the review process; it can also be a challenge with so many online review sites. Once you’ve put your business out there with solid profiles on all the review sites, make the monitoring process efficient by contacting a company with an automated process that makes you aware of reviews posted about your business.

Responding to reviews

There is a general rule: respond to every review, both negative and positive. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though these are far and few in between. If the review is negative, always remember not to take the review personally. Remind yourself of this as you use these tips to respond to negative reviews:

  • Identify the customer’s problem. Read through the customer’s complaint completely, and identify the source of their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask them to private message you with more information about their problem.
  • Respond promptly. Customers expect businesses to respond with online customer service within an hour. Don’t delay and add fuel to an angry customer’s negativity.
  • Don’t ask a customer to call you or take other steps to contact you. Communicate with them on their chosen medium and don’t make it difficult for them.
  • Show sympathy. Saying your sorry they have a problem does not show weakness.
  • Apologize if you were in the wrong. Try to sandwich the negativity with “Thank you so much for your feedback. We apologize for the delay by our technician. We will use your feedback to make sure that this error does not happen again.”
  • Showcase your customer service skills. Be incredibly polite. This is your chance to show them that you care enough to resolve the issue.
  • Read through your response before you send it to ensure that your response is appropriate. If needed, ask another manager to review the response.
  • Don’t respond to every customer with a canned (copy and pasted) response. You want your customer to feel like you care, not like they are one of a million customers.

If you are using an automated monitoring process, you can often respond and resolve the review before it becomes public. Don’t hesitate to take the time to protect your online reputation via reviews; the effort is well worth the investment, both for you and your customers.

Marketing that Can Be Done in an Hour (or Less)

company manager with an hour for marketing businessGot a few minutes to spare? Use the time and these ideas to market your business and improve your bottom line. But like all great ideas, they come with a disclaimer: marketing your business is more than just a one-time effort.

Effective marketing needs to be continually fueled and maintained. But we won’t waste any more of your time with a lecture; time is precious, especially when your business to-do list keeps growing. We can give you a list of marketing tactics that take an hour to get started AND a continual effort to keep getting results.

Optimizing your website

Get started: Build or update your website with optimized content. Add optimized headlines, images and videos with optimized alt tags, and content that search engines and your audience appreciate; don’t “over-optimize” and make it unattractive to your audience—all that does is increase your website bounce rate and decrease conversions. If all of these terms sound like a foreign language, contact an optimization company that gets results for other businesses—and can provide solid data to demonstrate results. Optimization can be especially valuable for companies that want to reach local customers in local communities around a headquarters or retail location.

Keep it going: Add optimized content to your website through a blog. Regularly produce content, videos, and images that follow your sales calendar. Remember just because you’re following your sales calendar doesn’t mean you need to produce content that is entirely about selling your business. Write about topics that provide value to your current and potential customers. Use this list of content marketing ideas for inspiration. Don’t forget that your content is being produced to convert your customers; include links back to your website, search-optimized pages, and social media channels so your customers have an easy way to buy and ask questions. Publish your content on a regular basis (or assign the task to a content marketing agency or staff member). Fresh content is a major factor in how your website performs on search engines; use the content on social media and in future e-mails as well.

Social media

Get started: Don’t jump onto any random social media site (or even just choose your favorite). Take a few minutes to decide who your target audience is and research social media sites to decide what site (or sites) is right for your business (use this graphic with key statistics about the top social media sites to start). Don’t get in over your head. Regular social media posting is a must to get results; don’t choose too many social media sites that you don’t have time to maintain. Once you’ve made your final decision about the right social media site and number of sites you have time for, use this article to set up a social media profile for your business.

Keep it going: Make a concerted effort to take photos and videos that your audience responds to. In addition to sharing your content, don’t be afraid to share interesting articles and videos, notices of upcoming events (i.e. grand openings, tradeshows, open houses, etc.), pictures of your employees providing service (with their permission), and interesting things you see on the job.  Keep everything you share somewhat professional; you don’t want to give your business a black eye by making one of these social media marketing mistakes. Respond immediately to any questions that come in through social media. If you don’t have time to post every day, use social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to automatically schedule posts at times when your audience is online.

Send out e-mails

Get started: Start building an email list of customers and potential customers, with their permission. Ask for e-mail addresses at every opportunity: during in-person contacts, on your website and blog, and on social media (other ideas for building an e-mail list here). Use an e-mail service (i.e. Constant Contact or Mail Chimp) to create an e-mail template that has the same look as other marketing materials. Include content and discounts that your audience wants to read. Make your customers want to open the e-mail by creating an attention-grabbing headline.

Keep it going: Send out e-mails on a regular basis; don’t send out too many e-mails so you annoy your customers and they unsubscribe. To save on time, use content produced for your blog and automatically schedule the e-mails so you don’t have to be available to hit the send button. Include links to your social media profiles, website, and blog for future engagement opportunities. If you find yourself squeezed for time, contact a marketing company and provide them with information for the e-mail so you don’t miss an opportunity.

To maintain your marketing momentum, create a written marketing plan that can help you efficiently and strategically execute these marketing tactics. Write down your goal and target audience, and keep it in mind as you draft a marketing plan that follows your business sales cycle. For example, if you are a caterer, look back at your sales for the past year to dictate your marketing plan for next year.  Your sales team or customer service representatives would be an excellent source for this information; after all, they are interacting with your potential and existing customers on a regular basis.  An example would look like:

December-March Booking weddings (because of high engagement rate)

April-June Booking company picnics

July-August Booking weddings

September-November Booking holiday parties

This calendar is very simplified, but you can see how your sales cycle would drive your marketing plan.  Next, list the specific tactics you plan to use (i.e. once a month customer email, weekly blog post, daily social media post, etc.), deadline, and party responsible to execute the tactic. Be flexible with your plan and honest about your time demands. When time gets tight, don’t hesitate to bring in the experts and reallocate your hour (every week or month) to give them direction (i.e. images, customer questions, etc.) and get the results.

BIG Things Small Businesses Overlook on Social Media

business manager managing company social media profileFacebook. Twitter. Instagram. Linkedin. Pinterest.

Social media sites are full of failed business profiles that are abandoned, full of negativity, or just full of junk. It’s impossible to know the reason behind every single botched social media attempt, but there are a lot of businesses out there—primarily small companies—who jump in to social media without thinking about these important parts of social media.

Answering messages

Most companies start a social media presence with a clear sales goal. There are ways to achieve this on social media with testimonials, images of products or services delivered, creative posts. However, many companies overlook the most direct approach: answering messages from potential customers.

Remember, customers (and potential customers) reach out to businesses with questions through whatever means is convenient for them—even if it’s not always the company’s preferred method. Select an employee or manager (carefully) who is trained to handle customer service inquiries. Connect an e-mail to company social media profiles so the employee receives notifications of new messages. If there is not a suitable employee or a manager that has time, contact a marketing company that can manage the social media profile (including responding to messages after contacting the business).

Respond to them as soon as possible. If that’s not possible, and the social media network has the capability, leave an auto-respond message that indicates when a response is coming (such as during business hours). Make it a top priority to respond promptly (within a few hours) BEFORE the customer moves on to the competition.

Negative comments and reviews

As much as company managers look forward to the sunshine of social media, there is a down side to marketing on social media. Social media is a two-way conversation; negative comments and reviews, unfortunately, are part of the process. Dealing with unhappy customers is also a key reason to choose the employee who responds on social media carefully (or why to put social media messages in the hands of marketing pros).

When a customer does post a negative comment or review, the general rule is to respond. The response should include a sincere sorry (even if it’s just for what they’re going through) and an offer—if possible—to resolve the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer to private message if more information is needed. There are a few exceptions to the ‘always respond’ rule, such as if the comment or review is an act of revenge (i.e. from a former employee, angry friend or family member). On Facebook, the option to review a business can be turned off if the negativity becomes overwhelming. This shouldn’t be the first choice, however, as there is value in maintaining a social media profile with positive testimonials.

Amount of time it takes

Successful companies on social media make it look easy; from an outside standpoint, managing multiple social media profiles—and getting results from them—can appear simple. The truth is not so simple. The first step is choosing the right social media sites with the company’s target audience. From there, a solid social media presence requires quality images, videos, hash tags (when appropriate), responses…all posted at the right time (when followers are online) on a regular basis. A successful social media presence requires a plan that follows the company’s sales cycle (here’s how to craft a complete online marketing plan). In short, a successful social media presence requires time.

If the answer is in-house, a company manager should take care to choose the right employee who can maintain a regular posting schedule. If there is no one on staff who has the time or expertise, outsource the effort to an experienced marketing company.

(Other) Ways to Promote Your Biz BESIDES Social Media

customer looking at business websiteSocial media has taken marketing by storm. It dominates the headlines. You can’t go anywhere without hearing terms like a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram…

It can get overwhelming. Or annoying. Or maybe you’re dominating social media and looking for more. Or you’re panicking because of the latest Facebook algorithm announcement.

To be sure, social media is a valuable part of a business marketing plan, but it’s not the only tool—and it definitely shouldn’t be the only tactic you use to market your business.

Website Optimization

It’s not enough to simply have a website. Your website needs to be full of content and media (video and images) optimized for potential customers and search engines. Statistics don’t lie; more than 90% of online users start their search for information on search engines.

The need for an optimized website is a necessity more now than ever. When building a new website, write content (both headlines and text) that contains relevant terms and topics users typically search for (or ask the pros who specialize in website optimization). Don’t over do it. Content that sounds like a computerized robot created it can be a real turn off to potential customers.

For local businesses, take a step further to attract local customers. Utilize local optimization services to get your websites on page one of searches by customers within 10, 20, or 50 miles of your location. Contact a company that provides services and the data that clearly demonstrates results.

Don’t stop there. The top search engines factor in relevant, fresh content in their ranking decision. Create new content on a regular basis (use these content ideas so you can come up with new topics your customers want to read) that is part of a marketing plan with goals and tactics.

Email Marketing

Sending e-mails to customers is a marketing tactic with one of the highest return-on-investments—if executed properly, starting with e-mail collection. Do not send e-mails to customers without their consent. Instead, collect e-mails on your blog, by asking over the phone or online, or by making an in-person request after servicing the customer.

All e-mails sent should deliver value to your customers, such as information or exclusive discounts. Utilize the same tone as used on your website, in content, or on post cards. Capture your reader’s attention with creative subject lines that make them want to read.

Direct Mail

Postcards and letters may seem like a marketing tactic of the past; the truth of the matter is that, when used as a part of a targeted marketing strategy, mail still is effective in this modern era. Connect this offline tactic to your online marketing tools by using the same tone in the written content and including clear call-to-actions. Request your customers visit your website or social media sites for more information, or ask for their e-mail address for future communications.


There are three kinds of events that can be advantageous for businesses: events run by the business, marketing events, and community events. There are a lot of options: in-house sales, tradeshows, conferences, seminars, community fundraisers, product launches, community classes. The kind of event(s) appropriate for your business (and the most effective) reach your target audience and are in line with your company’s marketing goals. When you decide on an event, formulate and execute a comprehensive marketing plan leading up to the day—and after—of the event.

How can I spread the word about my business (without breaking the bank)?

man roaring into a megaphone trying to spread the word about businessPhone books. Newspaper ads. Mailings. Those tools may have worked in the past, but this is the world of smart phones. Tablets. Laptops.

It’s also a world where a company can feel overwhelmed by the time, terminology (optimization what?), and budget needed to conquer the modern age. How are you supposed to effectively get results—without blowing your budget? (Especially when you don’t have the time?)

Just like anything else in business, the first step is to identify what you want from your marketing. Do you want to drive customers to your website? To your door? Do you want more submissions off your website? Once you’ve decided on a specific goal, set a deadline when you will evaluate your results.

Optimize your website.

If you want to drive traffic to your website, make it optimal for your target audience (and the search engines that drive them there). Optimize any content on the site for search engines with relevant phrases and topics. One note of caution: make sure that everything you write and include is readable for your audience. Include images, both photos and video (preferred by search engines) on your website. When you include images, make sure you add an alt tag that describes the item with relevant keywords.

The plan: If you feel like we’re speaking another language, talk to an optimization firm about optimizing your website and using optimization technology to reach customers within 10, 20, or 50 mile range of any location. Contact a reputable firm that can provide you data-based results reports about the ranking and amount of website traffic resulting from the technology.

Use social media.

Note the operative term here: use. If you want to reap the benefits of social media, you need to do more than just start up a social media profile and sporadically post to your profile. It’s free to sign up, and there are major benefits to creating and maintaining social media profiles.

Social media profiles gives your audience a convenient place to screen your company reviews and send messages (here’s how promptly you need to respond to those inquiries). It gives your company a way to connect and engage with customers and potential customers. To reap all those benefits, you need to invest one thing: time.

The plan: Choose a social media site that is utilized by your customers (for audience demographic information and social media options, use this chart). Don’t over extend yourself by setting up a site on every social media site out there; instead focus your efforts for optimal results. Schedule a set of regular, engaging posts that fit with your marketing goal. Experiment with times and days to determine when is the best time for your followers. If you don’t have time, outsource your social media efforts to a marketing company that offers an affordable plan. Send them graphics and information for future social media results.

Send regular e-mails.

E-mail marketing has one of the best return-on-investment track records in marketing, if you execute it correctly. Today’s e-mails aren’t the blasts of the past. They’re carefully planned and carried out legally and utilizing some of the best modern practices.

The plan: Collect e-mails from your customers legally (tips on how to build your e-mail list here). Don’t steal e-mails or ask for e-mails on a false pretense. Coordinate your e-mails so they use the same messaging as some of your other channels (social media, content marketing, etc.) but give your e-mails more of a personal feel to achieve results. Legally, you always need to provide a means for your e-mail recipients to opt out of receiving e-mails.

Start writing content.

Companies that add content to their website (such as via a blog) benefit in a variety of different ways: 1) fresh, quality content is crucial for an optimized website that ranks in search engines; 2) offers customers 24/7 answers to their questions; and 3) gives them content to add to their social media calendar.

The plan: Create a calendar with regularly scheduled content. Assign the content to a staff member (or contact a company that can create relevant content). Make sure you add the content to your social media calendar and as the subject of future e-mails for a coordinated, efficient marketing plan.

Seek positive reviews.

Reviews may not be a company’s favorite way of getting the word out about their company (partially because reviews are out of their control), but it is a major factor in consumers’ decisions to contact and use a company. Fact is, 88% factor online reviews into their purchasing decision (Source: Search Engine Land). It would be foolish not to add asking for reviews (and responding to negative reviews) as a significant part of a company’s marketing plan.

The plan: Create a company-wide plan for asking for reviews. Ask satisfied customers to leave a review of your company. Give out cards with information on where to leave a review or add a link to your next e-mail. Monitor review sites for negative reviews, and respond with excellent customer service to try and resolve negative reviews. If you don’t have the resources to monitor all the sites, contact a marketing company that has an automated service that can alert you to any mentions (positive or negative) about your company.

Tips for Allocating Your Marketing Budget Dollars in 2018 (Wisely)

businessman working on drafting marketing budgetA marketing budget is a precious thing; after all, you don’t spend those dollars on marketing tactics without expecting a return on your investment.

When it comes to online marketing investments, it can feel like you are chasing after a runaway train that’s always moving one bend ahead of the station. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of online marketing tips that have a proven track record of getting results (and still gets results) while not busting that precious marketing budget.

Put your efforts into a stellar website.

Mediocre websites are a thing of the past. Put simply, yesterday’s websites won’t get you results today. Today’s websites need to be structurally stronger, faster, and more customer-centric IF you want to convert your visitors to customers. A strong website is the foundation for all your future marketing activities, so don’t be shy about upping the efforts into your website (tips on how to improve your website here) or building a better website for the future (with these website musts).

The race for top search engine results are real.

If you want to get a good ROI from your marketing, use numbers to dictate your future decisions. Studies and statistics have shown that business websites at the top of organic search engine results page get a significant amount of clicks and visits. For 2018, invest in website optimization tactics (sound ones, not shady marketing) that get your website to the top of the list without busting the bank on paid ads. If you’re a local business, take that optimization a step further; search for optimization technology that can get your website in front of local visitors within a 30- or 50-mile radius of your business (the people you want to reach!).

Start a conversation with your customers.

Online conversations with your customer have a strong ROI, but you have to give your customers options. Today’s consumers are used to getting the information they need when they want it; you need to deliver that to them at their door step. Know who your customers are, and invest in channels they use. For a younger demographic, talk to them on the social media apps they are already on (use this social media demographic infographic here). The sky is the limit; be strategic about utilizing e-mail marketing and social media so you don’t get in over your head (your customers do notice).

Be responsive.

Customer service is alive and kicking, but with a new urgency. Studies have shown that today’s customers expect a response within an hour or two. Don’t wait for them to reach you. Be proactive. Designate a staff member you trust to answer your questions, and train them to give prompt answers that don’t leave your customer unimpressed with your company’s customer service. Impress them. Earn their loyalty and use these tips to deliver the same fantastic customer service online and in-person.

Embrace mobile marketing.

If you thought smartphones and tablets were a fad, you were wrong. Fact is, mobile devices are a part of modern American life. Mobile marketing is not optional anymore. For now and in the foreseeable future, embrace it. Keep mobile users in mind in every piece of online marketing you produce: website, videos, blog posts, and every other marketing investment you make in the future.

Provide Excellent Customer Service Without Uttering a Word

Customer female operator in headset giving online customer serviceCustomer service is a powerful thing. It can make or break a business.

Think about it.

The last time you had a problem, what made the problem better? What made everything okay? Who earned your trust and loyalty? It was the business that solved your problem.

And as easy as it would be to just talk to the customer and fix their problem, this is the modern world. People are busy, and they want help with their problem at a time that works for them. They want you to fix their problem, and they’re not always able (or willing) to pick up the phone.

This is a modern trend that we see more and more today—and expect to see more of. People want to find information on their terms when they want it.

The good news: while your business might not have a fleet of customer service representatives that can answer questions 24/7, you can still use modern technology to answer questions, provide customer service, and, ultimately, earn their loyalty.

Be ready.

Don’t leave customer service to chance—as in, chance encounters with no preparation. Prepare you and your staff for any customer inquiries that come in. Train your staff to answer e-mails, social media messages, and in-person interactions so every customer is satisfied.

If there is a significant amount of online and phone customer inquiries, keep a log of the calls and messages to ensure that every customer is followed up with. Make sure you designate certain parties to be in charge of each kind of interaction (i.e. e-mail, social media messages, etc.)

Make sure you’re aware of every social media message.

You’re not going to have a satisfied customer unless you respond—and respond promptly; a study found that almost 42% expect a response within an hour of posting on a company’s social media. Make sure that your social media settings are set so that you are notified of every message that comes in (or make an arrangement with your marketing firm so you are alerted ASAP). Respond to the messages as soon as they come in, even if it’s just to ask for more information.

To be clear, you don’t have to be online 24/7; this would be difficult for most companies, especially smaller businesses with less resources. Be very clear about your company hours, and respond promptly within those hours, or as soon as possible the next morning.

Make your responses count.

When messages come in, create a smooth system so you can respond quickly—without having to go through an arduous process of management approval before posting. Managers and owners, make sure you choose a staff member to deliver the customer service you trust; just because your intern is online all the time, doesn’t make them an ideal candidate for handling delicate customer inquiries. If you’re not available, or don’t have the staff on hand to deliver prompt customer service, don’t be afraid to outsource your efforts; a company with experience can deliver the customer service your customers expect—without you having to invest in the training.

Give them an answer (before they ask).

Don’t make your customers wait for a response; many customers would rather find the answer themselves. Give it to them via content marketing, and establish yourself as an expert in the process. Write posts on your blog that answer common questions, and share them on your social media sites. Customers can find your post two different ways: via search engine listings or social media (or a combination of both!).

If you optimize your posts, your blog posts can show up in search engines when customers let their fingers ask the questions. Make sure you write a highly relevant headline, and continue your efforts in your blog post. Include topics that are related to the question in the post. Share your posts in your e-mails and on your social media sites.

Make sure you share these blog posts regularly; customers who follow the social media site see these posts when you post them—and so can anyone who checks the site when researching your company. Make sure your social media sites are easily accessible on your website. Your social media sites can also come up in organic search results when your customers search online.

Handle negative inquiries with care.

Angry inquiries are an unfortunate part of customer service. If a negative inquiry does come in, make sure your designated staff member is trained to deal with negative comments and messages (other tips for dealing with angry customers here). Authorize the staff member to honor any special requests (i.e. discounts, extra trips, etc.) if needed so they can respond promptly with an answer—an answer that builds trust and loyalty.

Marketing that Doesn’t Take Much Effort

businessman with clock who has no time for marketingAny business owner or manager can give you an endless list of tasks they have to tackle every day (sometimes every hour). Marketing the business is just another to-do item on the list, often getting pushed to the bottom of the list. That’s why we’ve compiled a list perfect for you, the business owner who needs effective marketing tools but has a million things to do (and little time).

Marketing that works (with little time)

Website SEO

Optimizing a website may not be the most glamorous marketing task; you won’t see your website on a billboard or the news. However, the results and return-on-investment can be just as effective—and with very little effort.

Optimization is the process of crafting an ideal website for search engines, which gets your website to the top of the search engine listings. If you’re a brick and mortar business, search engine optimization technology can be used to increase your website’s local reach. Put simply, local optimization puts your website in listings of users within 10, 20, and 50 miles of your location.

Optimization takes very little effort on your part. Business owners and managers only need to provide information on their services and products and what sets their business apart. A quality optimization firm can do the rest (and be wary if they don’t ask for information specific to your business), and show you proof of their results.

Social Media

Social media may be free to sign up and post, but standing out from the crowd—and getting results—takes time and effort. If you want to drive sales, you need to put time in selecting the right social media sites, taking and selecting images (social media posts are far more effective with images), posting on a regular basis, scheduling for the future, and crafting a plan for the future.

If you don’t have time to take on an effective social media campaign for your business, contact a marketing firm about an affordable social media marketing plan. To make the plan effective, put aside a small amount of time to send testimonials and images to the marketing firm that give your followers a unique insight into your business, services, and products.

Email Marketing

There are several different reports on the effectiveness of email marketing, with some putting them as high as 400%. Email marketing is the process of building an email list (with the consent of your customers, here’s good ways to build an email list) and sending emails on a consistent basis with news and sales offers.

Email marketing can be as time-consuming as you choose. Option one is to create your own emails with relevant content and calls-to-action (make sure you send them from a dedicated server so you’re not blacklisted-more info on setting up quality email marketing here). The second option is to contact a marketing firm that can create and send out quality emails on a regular basis—emails your customers want to receive and keep them coming back.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of those “why would I need that?” marketing tools, but content marketing can be an effective way (both return-on-investment and time-wise) to increase the reach of your website and as a foundation for a social media and email marketing campaign. Relevant content posted on a regular basis is a sound part of a website optimization campaign to get your website at the top of local search results (along with local SEO). Quality content can also be used in e-mails and on social media to drive traffic back to your quality website (with these must haves of a valuable website).

Like other marketing tools, quality content marketing pieces can be produced by a marketing firm (tips on how to choose the right content marketing firm here). Be wary of content marketing firms that write one-size-fits-all pieces that are not specific to your business. Instead, choose a marketing firm that answers questions provided by your customers.

What you need to contribute

No matter what marketing tool you choose, or what combination of tools, you, or one of your staff members, need to contribute to make marketing efforts successful. You need to provide information specific to your business that your marketing firm that they can use to market your business (i.e. sales, testimonials, questions from customers).

Images are another valuable part of marketing. Pictures of your staff (with their consent), images of products or services delivered, or “insider” glimpses that intrigue and make your customers want to stay in touch with your business.

You can back up their loyalty by providing prompt and excellent customer service (details for stellar online customer service here). Once a message comes in, follow up with the customer and provide the customer service that your marketing firm has been highlighting online.