Whether we’re talking about the SoLoMo revolution, how consumers find local information or how to avoid bad reviews, one thing is clear – it’s getting more difficult to be a small business owner. Luckily, there are resources out there to help. In my opinion, among the greatest opportunities for SMBs are the Local University events that take place around the country and provide tactical, sales-free advice.
To learn a little bit more about the events, I recently conducted a short email interview with local search expert Mike Blumenthal to talk to him about why SMBs need to develop a Web presence, how they can compete in local search, and why an event like Local University may be just their ticket to attracting new customers.
You’ll find my interview with Mike below.
Mike, can you tell SmallBizTrends readers a little bit about the Local University events that are held throughout the country? What is the goal of these shows and what does a typical agenda look like?
A number of folks in the local search space (David Mihm, Mary Bowling, Matt McGee and I) wanted to create a training session that would travel to cities not typically served by the current search conference circuit. We wanted to provide training that was readily affordable for small businesses and to offer them a comprehensive view of local search marketing that wasn’t predicated on selling them something.
Most big search marketing events are either too far away or too expensive and do not attract small business owners. We felt that SMBs were the ones that most needed to hear about the online opportunities in local search, so we are taking the event to them.
The course provides an overview of the full gamut of local online marketing options. We will be covering the basics of website optimization, social marketing, local search and analytics. We offer tactical advice as to what to do and how to do it. There is information as to how to do it yourself or hire a professional. We provide SMBs with a framework for when to take each step and we show them free or very cheap tools that will make their jobs easier.
That’s awesome! One of the next Local University events will be held in Western New York, where Google has stepped in to not only make an appearance, but to offer 25 free seminar tickets to local college students. Do you think their presence is a testament to how important it is for SMBs to educate themselves about local search?
We are really excited to have Google both presenting and helping to sponsor the event. Google clearly recognizes the need for small business education and they are actively starting to reach out to small businesses with their own seminar series. Getlisted targets a slightly different audience and content, and having Google’s help in reaching these SMBs is a real asset. It really demonstrates Google’s commitment to the market segment and the need for education.
Their sponsorship has allowed us to provide other “scholarships” to area college students in related fields. This is the first time we are able to do so and we are hoping that exposing students to these ideas earlier in their education will change how they look at the online opportunities and online marketing.
There’s so much for a small business owner to be concerned with these days – from best practices in SEO to social media to mobile. How does attending an event like Local University help them stay on top of everything and compete? Is it possible for a SMB to do everything they need to in order to be competitive?
Clearly there are many elements to online marketing and it is not possible for an SMB to do “everything” in that arena. But our goal at Getlisted is to help them understand the context of online marketing, help them assess where they stand in that matrix of choices, and help them understand which ones are a good fit for their business.
Most significantly we help them understand that what is important is taking the next step in marketing their business online, not trying to take every step. If they have a website, then perhaps they need to look at SEO and local search. If they have their local search elements in place, perhaps they need to look at a review management process. If that is under control, perhaps they are ready to move onto blogging or social media.
Getlisted tries to provide an overview of best practices so that the SMB can decide what has to be done to get to the next level in this brave new world of online marketing. Our goal is to educate, inform and provide an understandable framework for each business to develop their own plan for success.
What would you say to a small business owner who thinks he or she doesn’t need the Web or that it’s not worth their time to develop a presence online?
If small business doesn’t need new customers and they are currently doing no marketing then maybe a website isn’t needed. To all the rest I would say: Get over it.
Besides your business name and phone number, your website is a key building block of trust and prominence in local online marketing. If a small business wants to be found by new customers and if they want to convey their message in a controlled and long-term way, then it is past time for them to build a website.
For SMBs just now beginning to develop their online presence – what’s most important? Where should they start to help market their business online?
You have to walk before you can run. From a strategic viewpoint, understanding what your business does and who your customer is is the first step. You need to make sure you have consistency in your presence: one name, one phone number and a consistent image.
Before you get involved with Facebook or Twitter, build a great website based on a simple content management system on your own domain. Be sure that it actually answers your customers’ questions. Realize that Facebook, like MySpace, can go the way of the Edsel in very short order, but your website can stay with you forever.
If your website uses an easy-to-use content management system like WordPress, it will allow you to quickly and easily keep the site up to date and fresh. From there the likely next step before “going social” is doing what is necessary to make your business prominent in Google Places and the blended Google results. There are very few online marketing options that can put more customers in your reach more quickly and inexpensively.
How can readers find out more about the Western New York Local University event or future events that may be happening in their area? Is there a way to request that Local University visit their home town?
They can learn about the Western New York event at Getlisted.org/wny.
We are always looking for towns that want us to come. Everyone should feel free to get in touch with us to express their interest.
We have learned that we are most successful in locales where a strong local marketing firm partners with the local Chambers to promote the event. Because the event is a non-selling event, we have found that the local marketing firms provides the SMBs in attendance access to professional advice once we have left, and partnering with the Chambers clearly communicates the message that the event is purely educational. It’s been a great combination.
Fantastic, Mike! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with the SmallBizTrends community!