There are loads of empty buildings in the small quaint town I moved to not too long ago.
When i started exercising my digital marketing muscle, I got curious about the marketing efforts of small businesses in rural areas. How much importance do they place on online marketing?
With semi-ulterior motives, I started a Facebook group for local entrepreneurs, creatives and makers. There is no better way to collect information in a town where you know more cats than neighbors.
Armed with enough members, I dove right in and posted the question, "What challenges do rural business owners face?".
One response included a link to a survey where rural business owners revealed marketing as a main challenge, namely frustration with lacking results.
So I digitally stalked the surrounding businesses and noticed several of them weren't taking advantage of free and basic marketing tools. Ones that would effectively skyrocket their online presence and help them grow their business.
Here's a list of the top five free and basic marketing tools to help rural businesses skyrocket their online presence.
1. DO YOUR CUSTOMER RESEARCH
Your ultimate goal is to get your customers to know, like, and trust you. Understanding your customers will equip you with the knowledge you need to create engaging content that drives customers to your website.
The more you know about them, the more you can design products, services, and content strategies that will resonate with them.
And not waste time and money with dead end trial and errors.
The key is to really dial in on exactly what it is they want and need so you can offer solutions with your business.
Here are some ways to research your target market.
CREATE A BUYER PERSONA
One of the best ways to research your market is to create a buyer persona or customer avatar.
There are endless resources and websites that offer detailed instructions and printable worksheets on making this happen. However, I'm a fan of Hubspot's Buyer Persona Template.
It's easy to follow and provides valuable insight on how to adjust your marketing strategies to align with their desires.
SCOPE OUT THE COMPETITION
Don’t hesitate to admire and be inspired by the competition.
Head to their Facebook page or scan their local business page reviews.
What kind of feedback are they getting from customers? Gripes? Groans? Praises? Criticism?
Take a few notes on what's working and not working for them. Are there any gaps in the market that your business could fill?
There's almost always a way to improve on what competitors in your industry are producing.
INTERACT WITH EXISTING CUSTOMERS
Pose a question on Facebook or your website asking your existing customers what you'd like to know about them.
Go general or specific but always keep it classy and not too invasive.
People are all too happy to help businesses improve their services with honest feedback. Ask a targeted question and watch the responses pour in.
2. UPDATE YOUR LOCAL SEARCH LISTING
So once upon a time, you talked to a rep from Yellowpages.com and told her how to spell the name of your business and confirmed your phone number…
If that’s the extent of your online business listing effort, you're barely a blip on the consumer radar.
According to a Google survey, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information.
The same research proves that your search ranking directly affects your in-store traffic.
Websites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Google+ Local are utilized as trusted sources to provide pertinent business information and customer reviews.
Guess how much it is to list your business?
So you'd think taking advantage of this easy and costless way to advertise your business would be a no-brainer.
Make sure you're sitting down for this one...
Over half of small business owners fail to update or claim their online listings.
Rural businesses aren't exempt from being affected. Quite the contrary.
Because you don't have the advantage of mass exposure that urban businesses have,
even more emphasis should be placed on strategies that can gain you any exposure.
Meaning, you've gotta work extra hard. Which, you're no stranger to.
Do the work to ensure you're seen online. No matter how tedious. Or you can always hire a pro to handle it for you.
You may not think it'll make much of an impact but you've gotta kick that mentality.
Consumers won't only bring their business to you — they appreciate the effort.
Here are 50 Online Local Business Directories to get you started.
Go through a checklist to see if your basics are accurately covered:
See an oops you need to fix/update?
Directories make the process as easy as one or two simple emails.
There are online services available that update your information across several websites but be advised — most charge a hefty fee.
3. INVEST IN TWEAKS AND EXTRAS TO STAND OUT
The dreaded “small details”. So minor. So tedious. So procrastinatable.
But yet, they make all the difference in your traffic flow.
With all the noise in the marketplace, every little edge counts. Attention to detail and going that extra mile is what'll stand you apart from the rest.
USE PHOTOS TO HUMANIZE YOUR BUSINESS
Unless you’ve been hiding out in your y2k shelter still awaiting earth's impending doom,
you know visual content is a must to engage visitors.
This rings true always,
If a local business site offers a photo upload option, use it. Take advantage of it.
Take pictures of clients enjoying your service or product (pending permission).
Post pics on your Facebook business page and make it personable and relevant with lighthearted captions.
If you have a business blog, incorporate photos in your next post for a visual storytelling effect.
“Painting a good picture” using pictures is an easy way to take charge of your business’s online reputation. Customers don't want to see a faceless business.
They want to see a story. They want to see you. So be you.
READ AND RESPOND TO CUSTOMER REVIEWS
The power of shared experience is undeniable and undoubtedly influential. Where people talk, others listen.
Look at reviews as your digital customer comment cards.
Use it to interact and engage with your customers. To be gracious when praised and attentive when critiqued.
How you handle yourself in reaction to unflattering reviews is public information. Even when you flat out avoid responding.
So handle everything with a humbled grace. Address concerns. Apologize when necessary. Right the wrongs. Defend without seeming defensive.
Those qualities go a long way, especially in small towns.
4. Be Transparent by Listing Your Prices
If you’re a business with non-negotiable prices attached to goods and services that don’t fluctuate much, be informative with them. Why? When there is absolutely no information to be found regarding your prices or even a general range of what to expect:
• You leave room for speculation as to why that is
• Incorrect assumptions are made that they can’t afford you
• Doors are opened to allow those opinions to dictate the thoughts of others your prices would otherwise appeal to
Be straight-up with consumers.
Transparency also serves as an effective filtering process by attracting the customers best suited for what your business offers. Displaying your price and services can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Find the option that best suits your time and tastes.
As long as it answers questions, customers will find you a breath of fresh air.
5. Avoid Procrastination
The excuse of high expense or over complexity is N/A.
If it's too overwhelming, break it down and set a goal of accomplishing one of these tasks per week.
If your excuse is lack of time or creativity, delegate someone to help you manage your online presence.
Tackle all of these basics. Don't let them tackle you.
Stay current. Make sure you're doing your part to optimize the effectiveness of your online marketing by keeping consumers informed and up-to-date.
Use that visual content, interact with your customers online and deliver transparency.
You never know who you'll hit home with.
Once you start filling some gaps in your foundation,
you'll eliminate factors that could have been interfering with your desired results.
What are some other online marketing methods and tools you've found to help boost your online presence?