Q&A with the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Keleigh tells us she had a great time with the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning. They must be nice people ’cause she’s never that cheery at 7 AM in this office.  Actually, that’s not fair.  She’s never IN this office at 7 AM.

She wants us to tell you the Chamber has regular Monday morning meetings with presentations to help local businesses.  Call the Chamber office for more information: 360-942-5419.   Below is a sampling from yesterday’s meeting, where she gave a Q&A, along with regional radio and newspaper folks on the topic of “Marketing your business in the downturned economy”.  Enjoy!

. . . . .

. . . . .

Q. How important is a website is to your overall business marketing plan?

Every business needs an online presence.  Not having one in 2009 is like not having a phone number or a business card; it makes you look like you’re not seriously in business.

How much of your resources should be directed toward your website depends on your industry.  For lodging businesses, it’s a no-brainer: throw as much money as you can toward online marketing because that’s where lodging decisions are made.  A gas station, on the other hand, isn’t going to get a huge return on investment unless they’re also hocking a unique product or service that can stand out in the online marketplace.

The easiest way to answer this question for your own business is to do an online search for your competitors.  If they look good online, you’d be wise to look fabulous.

Q. Isn’t marketing online expensive?

It can be, but done smart, online advertising of your business can be one of the least expensive ways to get the word out.  Things like sending broadcast email to your customers, participating in social networks like FaceBook and posting updates to your own site’s blog, can be very effective and cost little more than your (incredibly precious) time.

Like so many services, the cash cost comes down to how much you are willing to learn and do for yourself and how much you decide to farm out to a professional.  We like to meet our clients where they want to be met; some truly want and need full-service results from us while others prefer to use us as their guides and educators.

Q. How do businesses get people signed up so they communicate electronically with the customers they want to reach?

There are hundreds of answers to this question so let’s start with what you shouldn’t do.  You shouldn’t sign up for some free or cheap web hosting service with built-in templates that make you look self-published (great for personal, bad for business sites) or force you to have advertising on your pages.

It’s wise, unless you’ve really spent a lot of time on the internet and feel a bit geeky yourself, to have a consultation with a web professional.  We can help you look at your marketing plan and determine what kind of a web presence is going to best support your goals.  If you visit with a web developer that wants to sell you a “solution” that was designed before you walked in the door, walk the other way.  With the possible exception of Real Estate, most of these cost more than small business owners need to spend, have features you don’t need and aren’t as customizable or flexible as they should be for your long-term needs.

Save the DIY website for your family and friends, your hobbies and the like.  You’ll save money, time and headaches in the long run if you let a professional help you build a strong foundation for your business website.

Q. Should we consider advertising services like Google’s AdWords where you can reach more of your target market at an affordable pay per click rate?

Probably.  Here, we want to look at what search terms you are targeting, how competitive they are, and how much a click costs.  We have a few clients paying $1 and more per click for competitive terms and, because their conversion to sales is good, the return on that investment is strong.  For most small business owners, we recommend starting out with a monthly budget of $50 or so, paying for clicks on 5-6 search terms that are less competitive but drive targeted traffic.  This lets you get your feet wet with this type of advertising without spending a lot of money until you know how it works for you.

Getting help determining those terms is important.  Our firm favors doing research on our clients’ behalf to determine terms and setting up the pay per click account for them.  Then we teach the client how to manage the account, so as to stay in complete control of his or her own budget.

What’s important to note here is that this is part of a suite of strategies for marketing a website.  None of them stand alone as a solution to your online marketing goals.

Q. How do you become more searchable on the web cheaply?

Read.  www.searchenginewatch.com is a great place to start.  Pay attention to what’s referred to as ‘white hat’ strategies as these will do the most good for you, over time, with the least effort on your part.

If you do nothing else, set up an account at Google’s Webmaster Tools.  Do everything they suggest.  After all,  Google is king right now and following their directions is going to get you a good rank that will trickle down to the other search engines.  Start a tour of the tools here:

Q. How can you maintain your own website?

This is one of the many reasons we favor a blog-based website.  Even if you don’t want to blog, using blogging software to build your site makes it super-easy to maintain. Our office prefers WordPress, an open source (free) software, installed on hosting you pay to use.  The interface looks a lot like Word and we’ve found it very user-friendly, even for those a bit technophobic.

If your site is html-based, Adobe makes a product called Contribute that does a similar job.  We’ve been recommending this software for a number of years with a lot of happy clients as a result.  Download a free, 30-day trial at www.adobe.com/products/contribute.  If you like it, plan on $200.

Q. Should we also jump on the blogging bandwagon to reach that younger segment?

Again, it depends on your marketing goals and how your online presence supports those goals.  Here are a few facts to help you sort it out for your business:

  • More than half of the US population age 18-44 is online.
  • Four of 10 Americans read blogs; perhaps more significant to this conversation is that 1/3 of those click on ads on the same page.
  • Women spend more time with blogs than do men.  Women also tend to be the travel and shopping decision makers.
  • 78% of 12-17 year olds spend their online time, yes even while at MySpace, playing games; 50% of 18-32 year olds do the same (but more likely on FaceBook).
  • 18-32 year olds dominate social networking.  The fastest growing segment in social networking is 33-48 year old women.  The second fastest growing segment is 49-63 (men and women).
  • 18-32 and 33-48 year olds may or may not shop online but they like to research products there before purchasing.  These two groups are also most likely to book travel online with the latter reporting in at 65%.
  • Less than 1/5 of those over 33 years old are participating in social networking intentionally but they are doing so without realizing that’s what they’re doing.
  • The under 33 set is most likely to shop, bank and look for health info online (as opposed to in brick and mortar establishments).
  • 67% of the 33-48 year old segment does their banking online.
  • 74% of Internet users over the age of 64 use email.  This group is also spending a lot of their online time researching health information.

So what does this mean for your business?  First, define your target market, and next find out what they are doing online.  From there, it’s fairly simple to stay on track to make your online presence match the needs and habits of your target audience.

For example, if your target includes Baby Boomers, you want to strongly consider a broadcast email campaign.  If you want to attract young families, you might blog and have a presence in social networks.  If you want the teens and young twenties, consider gaming as a part of your site. Whatever you do, re-evaluate your plan annually.  The Internet, and its followers, are changing quickly.

Q. Should we enter the Twitter world or are we all too old for this?

I have to be upfront: I am not a tweeter and cannot conceive of when I might become one.  I have not read a compelling argument to enter the Twittersphere, save perhaps:

  1. Political campaigning
  2. Keeping track of those 12-32 year olds, celebrities or tweeters you feel nosy about.
  3. You are desperate to be the first to know about a sale at your favorite retailer.
  4. Maybe if you want to try to offload some inventory and advertise such a sale this way.

I believe, and this is completely biased, that it is more important to know people connected in the Twittersphere than it is to be one of them.  I have an acquaintance with, as I type, 111, 871 followers on Twitter.  When I have something truly deserving that audience, I send an email to her and she tweets.  I did it just the other day because I needed a wide variety of extras for a photo shoot in Long Beach.  She delivered, to be sure, and all ages, I might add.  I’m careful not to outwear my welcome in her twitterverse, which takes a lot less effort on my part than developing followers of my own.
That said, you can follow me at Twitter if you really want.  I don’t tweet but I did set up an account so nobody else would be twitter.com/beachdogcom.  Miraculously, I have 35 followers.  I think I may know 4 of them.  The rest are just trying to create a network of followed and follower relationships.

Q. What do you charge for your services?

We work on both project and an hourly bases. Projects tend to be custom in scope and involve a greater amount of time to complete.  These are bid individually so our clients are always 100% in control of costs.

Our hourly rate is the best fit for smaller bits of work, typically completed in a few minutes to a few hours.  We bill in 15-minute increments at a rate of $60-$75 based on the needed turnaround time and will estimate time needed, upon request.

Because we are a full-service marketing firm, we are able to bundle services and save costs to our clients.  For example, if we know, when designing your website, that you need marketing consultation, training, a new logo, rack card, business cards, rubber stamps and envelopes in relative short order, we can save ourselves art time in the development process–which saves our clients’ money.