Every expert tells marketers that they must listen to customers. Fair enough. My problem is that too many of us misinterpret what customers are saying to us. I think we forget that customers are people too, and while some of them don't mind bluntly giving us a piece of their mind, most are at least trying to be civil and to protect our feelings. When we interpret what customers are saying, we need to keep that in mind.

My wife and I are in the midst of moving my mother-in-law from New York to New Jersey, and one of the things she needs help with is changing her car registration and driver's license. So, as you might expect, I headed to the Web to find out what to do. What I found from the New Jersey motor vehicle bureau has a lesson in it for many small business Web sites.

Are you a bargain hunter? I am. I'm always looking for the best deal, the cheapest price and the least expensive... whatever. If you're like me, that frugality carries over into just about all areas of your life, including searching for an SEO company. But one thing that bargain shoppers tend to find out the hard way is that sometimes the best deal isn't always the best deal. In fact, the bargain often turns out to cost you more in the long run.

But before I get into the details of SEO bargain hunting, let me first give you a real-life story of non-SEO bargain hunting that went right, only to turn into a disaster.

Someone once told me that all small companies try to look like big companies and all big companies to look more like small companies. I guess I once accepted that at face value, but I am starting to question it. My wife and I recently had an experience with our local car dealer that felt like a small company looking like a big company—it was a huge turn-off in multiple ways, and might serve as a cautionary tale for other small businesses.

I received an "interesting" e-mail the other day. It was an unsolicited offer, but it clearly wasn't spam. How do I know? Because it said right in the e-mail that it wasn't spam. I mean, how much more proof do you need?

I've worked with many large companies to incorporate video into their digital marketing, but I am not terribly proficient with a video camera myself. I'm hoping to add more video to my personal Web site over the next few months, but for now have only a handful of clips uploaded. So, while I'm not the most video-savvy person around, I do know one thing. I prefer the relatively unknown video service Vimeo over YouTube.

In customer service, it's the little things that matter most. A little eye contact here or a head nod there may seem insignificant, and largely are, but to a customer needing acknowledgment, these things are everything. There is nothing worse than needing help in a store and getting ignored by the very people who are supposed to be there to help.

I recently went to the motorcycle shop to set an appointment to bring my bike in. When I walked into the service department there was no one at the counter to help me.

When I was a kid I read a lot of books. Usually when I was grounded and had nothing else to do, but there were no shortage of books such as the Chronicles of Narnia or Little House on the Prairie type books for me to read. By the time I hit Jr. High or High School, however, I stopped reading altogether. Except, of course, that which was required in my classes.

As small business people, we often know what it's like to be on the receiving end of a helping hand. This is a brief profile of two small business owners who have been there and decided to try and give back by providing a platform for business to help business. BusinessHelpingBusiness is founded on the principle that businesses can help other businesses to survive and succeed by making needs known and favors available. This is an entirely grassroots movement intended to bring together large and small, global and local, and product and service businesses alike in cooperation rather than competition.

There's lots of talk these days about authenticity and transparency and lots of other feel-good ideas in marketing. I'm glad, but I am also skeptical, because I still see plenty of tricky "fine print" marketing. If your offer requires fine print, maybe something's wrong.



The Latest from Search Engine Guide

Mike Fleming

Take Your Online Business to New Heights with the Display Network - Intro

If you are only using the Search Network of Google AdWords to reach customers for your website, you are limiting your online advertising reach big time.  On the Search Network, your ads only show when people are looking for what you offer, which is typically in the later stages of the shopping funnel.  But, that's a very small sample compared to the number of targeted online users that could benefit from your products or services.  With the Display Network option in your AdWords account, you can reach a much larger group of internet users who could receive the benefits of doing business with your company, but may not be aware they have a need and/or may have never heard of you.



Stoney deGeyter

How to Make Your Content Trusted Content

I was talking with a client the other day about how to optimize their content. They kept saying, in a way of trying to understand what they need to do to improve their website, that what they need to do is to create a bunch of content and keep using their keywords over and over.

Uh... no.



Mike Moran

Is it time to reassess your linking strategy?

I wrote a post in this space over a year ago that advised small businesses on how to attract links to their Web sites. In that article, I offered the somewhat contrarian advice that spending lots of time begging sites to link to you might be time better spent building content that entices them to do the same thing, but without you having to ask.



Jennifer Laycock

Matching Tactics to Goals Enables a Stronger Social Media Plan

The past few days, I've been talking about the need to establish solid goals around which to build you social media efforts. We've looked at why you need to have goals, we've explored the three categories of goals to help set the foundation for your efforts and we've talked about breaking your primary goals into supportive goals.



Jennifer Laycock

Break Your Goals into Micro-Goals to Make Them Achievable

Here's the thing about goals. They're well intentioned and broad in focus and we wave them around as if we're really proud of these lofty ideas we hope to achieve. But unless we take the time to create a plan of action to reach them, they rarely amount to more than warm-fuzzy inducing line items.

















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