One of the toughest battles for small business owners comes down to one big thing: VISIBILITY.
You could be running the best business of its kind in your town – or the best business in a category across the Internet – but if no one finds you or knows about you, you’ll never achieve your goal of MASSIVE success.
Now standing out online is really a process. You can’t just hit a button or hire a consultant and have it all happen for you overnight. And even once you’ve achieved a high degree of visibility, you need to maintain it, or your competitors could overpower you.
Many of you might know me as the Contest Guy here at Alignable, and I love that, because I’ve met so many of you through our annual contest – and I just love what the contest does for everyone. But I’m also the Head of Communications here, driving a lot of content, press coverage, SEO, social media and more. Prior to Alignable, I introduced the world to a little company named Wayfair, and before that I spent many years promoting start-ups and huge companies including Harley-Davidson, Kraft, Miller, and Wendy’s.
So, what you see here is what I would candidly tell a friend who came to me asking how she can make her business more visible online. I’m boiling this down to five ways, though I could probably come up with 100, if pressed. But you need to start somewhere, right? So here goes…
There are a variety of places where you can go to build your own site or have someone else do it. One place I’d start is right here on Alignable. I just conducted a search for Website Design using our Search Bar and came up with 3,800+ experts. Here’s the link if you want a shortcut to check them out.
Fisherman, a new Alignable partner, is another great company that can help you build or update your site. Not only are the Fisherman folks great website designers, they’re also Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts. So, they’ll ensure you have all of the bells and whistles necessary to drive online visits and visibility (which is REALLY important).
Here’s a link to a webinar we recently hosted with Fisherman’s CEO Ameet Kallarackal that goes through many website basics.
Some aspects of SEO are simple, but many are complex and frequently change due to Google updates, so it’s best to work with someone who’s truly plugged into all of the nuances of SEO.
One big tip that Ameet offers is to go to Google My Business and make sure your business is registered there. Google is the primary search engine and if you’re part of Google My Business, that’s a big step in the right direction. Take a look at Ameet’s SEO presentation here for some more valuable insights.
One final aspect you need to keep in mind, as you work to develop your first site (or next one), really has a lot to do with your company’s branding. Are the colors right for your business? How about the font? And does the name stand out, while also serving some sort of functional clue regarding the nature of your business? You want to make sure you are comfortable with the branding and messaging around your business, but you also need to be sure it resonates with your key target audiences.
So, before you go LIVE with your website, you might want to show it to some friends or past/current clients you trust and see if it resonates with them. And if it doesn’t, ask them how they would change it. At a big company, this would be called market research, but it serves the same purpose for your smaller firm. You want to be sure what you’re saying and how you’re presenting your brand is appealing to your target audiences. It’s a no-brainer that a lot of smart people forget in the craziness to improve or launch a site.
One of the easiest ways to establish or enhance your visibility online is through an active social media presence. It can also be used to drive direct traffic and sales, especially for consumer businesses like retailers (Ice Cream Shops, Beauty Salons, Art Stores, etc.), cafes, restaurants, and the like.
You want to build up your following in social media, so that customers see the exciting new promotions you’re offering and they have a great, online destination where they can interact with your brand. That unspoken partnership between your biggest fans and your brand can really come out on social media – and can set you apart from your competition.
You also want to make sure that your social media manager (whether that’s you, your 20-year-old daughter, or a professional expert) conveys the right personality for your brand in how they communicate and post. Excitement with a lot of visuals is always a good default strategy, as you’re trying to get your brand personality down. People respond best to upbeat posts about great services they can get or products they can buy – or just something fun coming from your brand to them.
You could even have little quizzes on social media about your products, people working at your shop, favorite customers’ birthdays – have fun with it right off the bat and you’ll generate the right following. And go ahead and encourage people to share your posts, too, using tags calling them out in a nice way. You might get new followers, as well as new customers that way, too. The more people share your social content, the better.
Finally, on Facebook, to make any headway there, you really need to spend just a little money to boost some of your best, interest-inspiring, traffic-driving posts to get a larger audience and to make the most of that platform. Set aside $200/month for that (it’ll be worth it).
To garner more insights on social media, you should join Alignable’s Social Media Support Group, or other Alignable marketing groups, where you can ask experts questions, share advice & attend cool networking events.
And also search for social media experts near you. I just conducted a quick North American search and came up with 79,200+ social media experts. Here’s a shortcut to that search if you want it for you to check it out. You can add filters to it in the left-hand column, too, to find your most highly recommended local social media vendors.
Email marketing is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to get the word out about your company, driving visibility and sales. You can likely handle your email marketing yourself using Mailchimp or a similar service, in the beginning. But as your list and influence grows, you might want to tap an Email Marketing Pro to help on a part-time basis. Here’s a shortcut to a list of 15,100+ email marketers on Alignable.
Beyond sending customers deals or other emails encouraging traffic or sales, it’s always nice to send something purely informative that’s non-commercial, like a monthly or quarterly newsletter. (Hey, no one likes “being sold” all the time, right?).
Your emailed newsletter can be fun and include personal (but not too personal) news about your business, your staff or select customers, any traffic-driving events you have planned, new media coverage you’ve secured, or hot topics you’ve just featured in your blog (more on that below).
You could even feature a “Customer of the Month” based on a stellar review or testimonial they’ve just posted. Make it a public “thank you” about them, as a more humble way to express your appreciation (and shhh!, show off a great review).
At the end of the newsletter, be sure to include a link to a poll (that you can create yourself using an app like Alchemer or Survey Monkey) asking a few meaningful questions that can measure your customers’/clients’ feelings about a topic that’s important to them and/or your industry or town. (HINT: You also give them a place to voice their opinion, showing how much you listen to them and want them to express themselves).
Depending on how much time you put into this element, you might be able to turn the poll results into content for your blog.
So, I’ve been hinting at your blog for a few paragraphs now. There’s a big reason for that.
Your blog is one of the best weapons you have in your visibility arsenal.
But you need to post a short, but interesting (or even thought-provoking) article there at least once per week, even if you have a very small business. It should be educational and should represent some sort of expertise you have.
Additionally, you should tackle some (non-political) issue that you believe matters to your clients or customers, where you can demonstrate passion for your work and offer easy solutions – whether or not they all relate to your profession.
To be both the person pointing out a problem and the one who can help solve it puts you in a great spot – and it shows you really do care about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for (your clients/customers).
Posting links to these stories in your social media, along with great visuals from the blog, is key to driving visibility, SEO, and your social following, not to mention your blog readership.
And, if you have time, subscribing to Medium and posting all of your content there, backlinked to your blog, will also help with visibility and SEO, as Medium has a very high Google ranking and a massive audience.
This final method to increase your visibility has unlimited potential and is near and dear to this PR pro’s heart. So how do you maximize your Alignable MOJO? It’s easy.
Alignable’s Local Business Person Of The Year Contest has driven all kinds of positive exposure both on our network and in the online world for literally thousands of winners over the past four years.
Not only do the winners each receive badges on their profiles they can share widely on social media, they also each receive detailed media kits. These kits have been “gold” for winners, as they include easy-to-personalize press release templates, that winners can use to promote their wins locally, while I’m promoting them regionally and nationally.
Several winners have received national and local media recognition over the years in outlets including MSN.com, Yahoo News, The Toronto Star, Yahoo Finance, Patch.com, The Daily Herald, iHeartRadio, and many more. (Yes, all because they won our contest).
Many have used the contest as “networking on steroids” during the nomination and voting phases, and afterward, thanking others for their support and writing a lot of recommendations.
Along the way, contest winners report that the recognition and networking that happens due to the contests has helped many to get referrals and new business (beyond the awesome exposure they can receive).
Extra Credit for Massive Visibility: Become a Media Star Like Char
It’s no coincidence that a lot of contest winners also become Alignable Alliance Ambassadors, as these are people who go above and beyond to help others in their business community.
Becoming an Ambassador lifts your visibility level even higher than winning a contest. Joining that program, puts ambassadors front and center in their communities, as they hold both in-person and online events, inviting Alignable members all over town. The events increase online (and community-wide) exposure and sometimes are even listed in their local Patch.
But there’s another reason why being an Ambassador can do wonders to help you stand out online. And it’s been a secret up until now.
Ambassadors are the first people I contact when major media outlets ask me for small business owners to interview. And that happens quite often due to research reports on small businesses that I’m sending out twice each month.
Ambassadors have been interviewed by The New York Times, The Associated Press and CNN to name just a few major media outlets.
And just a few weeks ago, one Ambassador was featured in a hard-news story released by the AP, the largest news wire in the entire world. Char Ferguson and her business were featured in thousands of major outlets, including The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, MSN.com, Yahoo News and just about news site you can imagine..
Creating a Google search with the headline of the AP article and Char’s name, the raw data shows 665,000 mentions!
Beyond the mentions of her business and her quotes, Char’s photo appeared in dozens of outlets, including MSN.com, The Dallas Morning News, The Miami Herald, and many more. Here is one of those shots:
Just this week. ABC’s Nightline interviewed Char based on her appearance in the AP placement. And I just arranged an interview for her on a different topic with The New York Times.
So, there are many obvious – and hidden ways – to boost your visibility. But perhaps, the one that’s the most fun falls under the Alignable Marketing/PR Bucket – the contest, media interviews based on our polls, and signing up to be an Alliance Ambassador.
There are many other ways to boost your visibility (and business) online, but if you are able to at least try these options and have some patience with each of them, you will most definitely generate more attention online and drive more referrals and sales, too!
Just look at our lovely Alignable Superstar Char!
To apply to become an Alignable Alliance Ambassador, go here.
To hear the latest updates on our next Local Business Person Of The Year Contest, join this group and look out for posts in December and January.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to add comments and questions below.