October 22, 2014

7 Ways to Make Your Small Business Stand Out Online

Fighting for mindshare in a crowded market? I know, it can sometimes feel impossible, right? Not that it’s a new struggle! You’ve been fighting against your local competitors for years, trying to convince customers that your business can better serve them and that you meet their needs better than that other guy. But then the Web and social media came along and now it feels harder than ever. Because you’re up against everyone, everywhere. Even if you’re not competing on product, you’re competing on attention. To stand out, you need to be more present than all the like competitors out there.

stand outAnd you can do it.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’d like to increase your presence in your market, below are SEVEN tips to help your small business stand out on the Web.

1. Be an Educational Hub

In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a content marketing revolution. And that’s something you need to be a part of. Regardless of what industry you serve, setting yourself up to be THE educational hub on the topic is going to help you win favor and reputation in your space. For example, in my corner of the world, Search Engine Land is the hub for everything Internet marketing-related. That means when I’m looking for information, I go there. When I need a source for a story, I go there. When I need expert opinion, I go there.

See the power? Setting yourself up as that hub by focusing on creating resource guides, putting out consistent authoritative content, and being seen participating in subject matter webinars/conferences/interviews will help you to establish trust and visibility. Two things vital to your success online.

2. Be a Resource

Sure, you’re going to establish yourself as a resource by the educational content you provide on your Web site, but don’t stop there. Make time to be on Twitter participating in chats, fields questions on LinkedIn, respond to comments on other blogs, guest post on niche sites, etc. By providing content and being seen on sites outside of just your own, you establish yourself as a subject-matter expert. While we can all understand the desire to hoard all your knowledge on your own site, let it go. You’ll be rewarded in the form of referrals, new traffic, and business karma.

3. Be a Promoter

Learn to be a better promoter. Not of yourself, but of other people. Seek out the awesome work that other people are doing and then share it with your audience. You look smarter by sharing other people’s smart work, and you win some goodwill with the person you’re highlighting. We remember people who promoted us when we need it. Find ways to promote other people on your blog, in your company newsletter, in social media, at events, etc. It will help you get far more attention than just talking about yourself. [Let other people do that!]

4. Be Social

Yeah, yeah, you already know you’re supposed to be on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, but don’t just be there, really use them. Use these channels to do market research on your industry, use them to interact and ask questions, and use them to make yourself part of your customers’ every day lives and their routine. This is very often the difference between the local café I frequent and the one I just know about – it’s that the owner has taken the time to chat with me on Twitter or they let me know what’s fresh out of the oven on Facebook. These things matter. They especially matter in business where everything is based on relationships.

There’s a great cafe in my hometown called Francesca’s Cafe. I go there in part because the food is delicious and cost effective, but I also go because the owner, Francesca, tweets me when she has a fresh stock of pumpkin syrup for my lattes or when blueberry muffins have come out of the oven. These little bits of humanization are powerful and things customers latch onto and remember.

5. Be an Email Ninja

There are few relationships more intimate than the relationships you have with the people in your email inbox. That’s sacred space. You don’t give that to just anyone. You give it to the brands and the companies and the people that you want to keep in touch with. That you want to hear about it and remain aware of their happenings. If you’re not building an email list, maybe check out a company like Infusionsoft and see if it’s not something you think would help your business create those all-important relationships.  Its one thing to talk to your customers on Twitter. It’s another to be the first email they see when they’re sipping their morning coffee.  It’s a whole new level of relationship.

6. Be Specific About Who You Are

Standing out in a sea of competition means giving people something to remember. To do that, be specific about who you are.

  • Maybe you’re a local print shop that only uses recycled inks or papers. Or you use a process that others don’t.
  • You’re a caterer who only uses locally-grown meat and vegetables. Or you’re the most expensive guy in town because of how elaborate your events are.

Who you are in business, create your marketing story and work that into your marketing strategy. Where businesses get lost is when they’re unable to define themselves and what’s different about the way they do business. Know what’s different about you and then talk about it. Talk about it a lot.

7. Be What’s Missing

…okay, so we’re not all sure what’s different about us or who we are in the niche. If you’re looking for a place to start, identify what’s missing. Map out your competition and look at their price points, their offerings, how they (appear) to do what they do, and find the holes. Is there a segment of the population they’re ignoring? Is there a process they’re not doing? Is there room for you to identify yourself as being an alternative to the norm? Keep your eyes open for opportunities that your competitors are missing.

Those are just a handful of ways I’d encourage a small business to make themselves stand out online. What other techniques do you use? What’s worked in helping you find your audience?


Stand Out Photo via Shutterstock

31 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

31 Reactions

  1. # 6 reminds of the book “Start With Why”. The book claims that all successful marketing tells people first why the company was in business instead of what they were selling. I think that is good advice. Thanks for the post.

  2. The most important part of #6 is telling a compelling story. All small businesses have one. Whether it’s your story of leaving corporate America to control your own destiny or accidentally falling into your business through circumstance and a large helping of plain old luck. Tell the story online just like you would tell it to someone at a networking event or sitting on the front porch. Make it personable. People want to do business with people, not faceless corporations.

  3. Great post, Lisa.
    Being social/personable in an authentic way if definitely an advantage small business owners have over bigger companies. I loved the example of Francesca tweeting you (I’ll have to check them out next time I’m in Troy!)

  4. Barbara Roe-Luns

    Thanks for the tips. I’m just starting out and need all the expert advice I can get.

  5. Good stuff Lisa. Thanks for the quality content. I think I like #3 best…be a promoter – of OTHERS! The last thing we all need is another guy telling us about himself and his awesome widgets.

  6. This is a great piece. I love your first point about the educational hub. I couldn’t agree more – educating others is not only good for business its good for society because we can fill the gaps that formal educational systems can’t or won’t do.

  7. Hi. We just went to an event by Business Wire where Mashable and Horn Group reps were there talking about best practice in social media. Some of these ideas re: branding with social–promoting while being authentically authentic were mentioned. This is a great article with great tips!

    Thanks,

    Patricia

  8. Great post which consolidates all the things we know we should be doing and more. The only thing I would add is “be here now” The web is a here and now media, people have a short attention span and therefore being available and/or quick to respond is crucial

  9. Good points…Agreed. It is important that you present yourself as an authority or leader in your niche. People in general need helpful information or a guideline of the things they got to do. You can take advantage of that by being #1 an educational hub and #2 a resource.

  10. This is a great post! In today’s webworld it is so important to set ourselves apart. Focus on being THE spot on the web for valuable authoritative information.

  11. Great post! Each and every point should not be taken lightly. We created a business in a competitor crowded environment as an online shop and #7 was our driving force. It is really tough though to fight your way up the ranks and we can surely use some of your tips. We incorporate all of the points you have made to a certain level but digging deep is what counts.

  12. Love these tips! It’s easy for small business to get wrapped up in always promoting themselves. Instead they should provide content that informs, provides, and renews their audience.

  13. Straight to the point tips! Fantastic job! Here are some things I thought of when I went through your article:

    – Promote (Promoter)
    – Personable (Be Social)
    – Practicing Expert (Educational Hub)
    – Partner (Email Ninja)
    – Particularity (Marketing Story)

    I tend to think in patterns which is why I chose the “P” pattern to frame my thoughts on the corresponding points you wrote about. I think it’s quite fitting since another great word that would fit into my framework is “PROFIT” :)

  14. As an artist (well, a creativ’ist!), I found some of the tips you shared quite useful (so thanks), particularly points 4 and 5. Though I have LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, I don’t utilise them as much as I should. My mailing list is also under layers and layers of dust. Not good. But turn-aroundable though. :-)

    Thanks again for the tips. :-)

  15. Nice article! And, #7 – Be What’s Missing, is often overlooked. Having a unique proposition and keeping eyes open for what may be missing is a great piece of advice. Thanks for sharing the insight and ideas, Lisa! Look forward to sharing with clients.

  16. Thank you so much for the great advice, its so hard to stand out from the crowd in small business, you’ve given me some fantastic idea’s.

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