The Small Business Marketing Evolution

small business marketing evolution

[Jim Cavale, COO of Iron Tribe Fitness]

You could easily liken small business marketing and digital marketing today to an old quote from Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain) about the weather in New England:

“If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes.”

And it will change.

For many small business owners, just as they familiarize themselves with one marketing strategy, another one comes along claiming to trump all others. Add to that Google’s ever-shifting (and mostly secret) algorithm changes and it becomes increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to stick to a marketing plan.

I caught up with several business owners at Infusionsoft’s annual Infusioncon Conference a few weeks ago to see how (or even if) they’ve refocused their marketing efforts in the past two years.

Bourn Creative

Jennifer and Brian Bourn run Bourn Creative, a company that helps other small businesses create websites and build their brands, so they have a thorough understanding of how marketing has shifted. Jennifer says that in the last two years, the “tools haven’t changed, but the way we have to use them” has. Previously, she adds, it was easier for businesses to gain market share, and business owners could get away just doing some self-promotion.

Today, with so much information about your business readily available to your customers (both current and potential), Jennifer advises business owners to focus on branding and building a reputation for their businesses.

For their own business the Bourns say they were “greatly rewarded” after Google changed its algorithms. “Never try to game the system,” they warn, and don’t think SEO is a “magic pill.” They advise business owners to do what’s worked for them in the past two years, “Create great content and optimize it for the end user. Always put the user first.” One of the best ways to do this is creating a blog. “Adding a blog to your website,” Jennifer says, “creates a new opportunity for customers to find you online.”

Another change the Bourns have experienced is the increased effectiveness of Twitter generating traffic to their website. To handle the load, they’ve turned to some third-party automation tools like HootSuite and Tweetbot to augment their real-time conversational tweets. There’s so much competition online these days Brian says so you have to more directly ask for the sale and make it easy for customers to click through and buy. As for Google, he says you can’t fight the changes it (and Facebook) makes so “you have to change and adapt.”

One of the biggest marketing shifts in the past two years has been towards mobile marketing. Brian says make sure your content looks great on mobile devices and that you incorporate responsive design. He suggests you start with a mobile website and not a separate app.

Iron Tribe Fitness

Another entrepreneur who has experienced the rapidly evolving marketing environment is Jim Cavale, the COO of Iron Tribe Fitness (pictured above), a franchiser of gyms. Iron Tribe, which won the Infusionsoft Ultimate Marketer award last year, was launched by Forrest Walden in 2010 with a single location and today boasts 41 franchises. The company is on track to reach 300 units by 2017. Cavale opened the second gym and then teamed with Walden to launch the franchise.

In the beginning Iron Tribe’s primarily used offline marketing, with about 88 percent of potential customers walking into the gym after seeing an ad. In an enormous shift, last year, Cavale says, 88 percent of its customers came from online leads. Email marketing is a more effective tool now for Iron Tribe, and Cavale attributes that to Infusionsoft’s system which automates a good portion of the process.

Cavale’s also noted that SEO is not giving Iron Tribe the return it once did. Today the company is much more active on social media. YouTube has proved very successful for Iron Tribe, as well as Google Local, which Cavale calls very “affordable.” A lot of potential customers check the reviews on Google Local before they come in. Each Iron Tribe has a Facebook “fan page” and all locations use Twitter for customer service and support. Cavale says they actually sold a franchise from a Twitter connection.


Marketing and technology evangelist Ramon Ray of and Infusionsoft says there’s been a marketing shift in the last 24 months to “more engaging and relevant content. Just having a product or service is not enough,” he adds, “business owners must feed the search engines.”

Ray is, of course, using technology to focus more on existing clients in order “to create rabid customers who can turn into evangelists.” And he’s doing more to automate his engagement with new customers, which allows him to reach more people in a shorter time frame.

These entrepreneurs are definitely taking advantage of the rapid pace marketing is evolving. They’re jumping into the fray armed with new strategies and tools to give them a competitive edge. And of course they’re keeping an eye out for the “next, new thing.” But as Ramon Ray says, right now the important thing is to focus “less on selling and more on relationship building.”


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

12 Reactions
  1. Thank you for bringing this home, Rieva. The majority of individuals & companies often come up short after wading through a thick maze of tips, ideas, systems, subscriptions, workshops, expensive programs and consultants. It can be extremely overwhelming, even if you do have decent systems in place. And clearly based on how dramatically things HAVE changed it takes a broad stroke global perspective and skilled brand and marketing engineer to assess the best methodologies, platforms and strategies that will custom suit each business or industries objectives.

    That is exactly why I created ‘Social SheFluence’ which guides anyone to reach out with an effective brand presence that fully engages meaningful social connections and powers lasting results. Let’s face it, “Good Design Looks Good but Sells Even Better”!

    ‘Social SheFluence’ conveys how to influence the viewer through non-interruptive conversation and touch points for two primary reasons: convey value and create conversions. In this multi media marketing evolution it is must be done in modular’s of being: Relevant – Found – Influential – Followed – Bought and Repeat.

    The goal of ‘Social SheFluence’ is to help any person become explicitly aware, able to select and initiate realistic and affordable plans that are most feasible for their short, interim and long range objectives. Would love to continue the conversation

    [Edited by Editor to remove links]

  2. “Focus less on selling and more on relationship building.” As the old saying goes its not what you know, its who you know. Many business entrepreneurs are returning the basics of relationship building. While many businesses may have all the services, if the management or sales staff are impersonal, then customer loyalty takes a back burner. Customers and prospects still want to feel valued, not that they are just a number. That personal touch, the integrity, the empathy, the solutions management for their situation, that customer experience will remain long after the initial sale is made.

    A connected customer is one who is informed. Informed customers are repeat customers. Repeat customers spend up to 60% more. Providing customers and prospects with valuable information, is the key. More keys, ideas and marketing strategies can be found on

  3. Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketing

    “It becomes increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to stick to a marketing plan.”

    I found this line really interesting as in the digital marketing landscape, you are constantly modifying your marketing plan. You need to track your analytics and see what marketing efforts are driving traffic to your site, and then adjust accordingly. This helps you better refine your focus and invest time and money in marketing efforts that are going to be the most beneficial for your business.

  4. In the never ending ebb and flow of today’s marketing current, one thing we must keep in mind is that If we build a strong foundation for our marketing, that foundation will to keep our heads above water. From there we can shift and incorporate new ideas and tools into our marketing arsenal, but the foundation, the foundation is everything.

  5. It’s interesting that the folks who are most excited about this article are in the marketing business. I’d like to see what actual business owners think about it. Personally, I started my business several months ago and have approached by many marketing strategists about what they can do for me (for a very hefty price). The feedback I get from our pet care community is that it is not worth the price. We’re literally neighborhood based service providers who rely largely on word of mouth, if we provide excellent care then our current clients advertise for us. Yelp, Google, SEO companies aren’t as relevant for a company that only needs a customer base of 20+ clients (unlike a restaurant that needs thousands of clients)… $350 a month for an online review sites paid advertising is just too high for the ROI.

    • Hi Christine, I can certainly appreciate your comment.

      One thing, though, is to reserve judgment as your business is still very new.

      I’ve learned that word of mouth is fantastic and should be treasured. But as a small business grows, you many need to reach out beyond the word of mouth circles and try other ways to attract new customers. A year or two from now, you may feel differently. I have nothing to gain by suggesting that, and I am not trying to push any particular site. I simply wanted to point out that as a business grows the perspective on such things changes. I know mine did.

      Thanks so much for sharing your viewpoint.

      – Anita