Small and Medium sized businesses are increasing globally. In Trinidad, they number in the range of 18,000 to 25,000 firms, contributing to 30% of our nation’s GDP. Despite this, US statistics state that over 50% of small businesses fail within the first year (1).
As a result, one of the major business growth challenges for SMEs is how to create greater visibility with limited funding. Here are my top four tips as a small business owner:
- Become a digital and social networker – You cannot exist in the 21st century without some digital presence. Even if you offer a service such as planning events or catering; building an online brand is critical in order to grow your business and reach more customers despite growing competition. For most firms this will mean creating a company website, utilizing the main social media platforms and in some instances incorporating the use of ecommerce. What’s great here is that there are online platforms that can create FREE websites, blogs and social media pages. As your business grows, you can pay monthly for advertising and your website will benefit from additional features and analytics. It is also important to create regular content for your social pages and website. This helps to create greater visibility by boosting your SEO. Regular content can actually help small businesses build real relationships with customers through live discussions. These are popular on social sites such as Twitter and Instagram. Once you become an avid social media user you can use your platforms to target your customers more specifically. Facebook for instance, allows you to be as precise with your chosen demographic as possible - territory, men vs women, age groupings etc. Not sure where to find the best free website, check out http://www.websitebuilderexpert.com/ . This website critiques the most popular website builders based on price, customer reviews and other key features.
- Move your business around – In 2016 you cannot expect to have success with only a brick and mortar facility. Gone are the days when we wait for customers to come to us….we need to go to them. There are a number of ways to reach customers now without breaking the budget. In Trinidad, many entrepreneurial firms partake in year ‘round markets, events and trade shows. Markets can set you back ( not really! ) anywhere between $300 to $500 TTD to participate. Here I am at THE EASTERN MARKET with a winning customer.
You can also gain more visibility with a pop up store. A pop up store is a temporary retail shop ( sometimes mobile) that is “ here today and gone tomorrow”. Similar to a market, this involves reaching out to your customers at strategic places, usually in malls, car parks, savannahs etc. Be sure to get the necessary approvals before you set up and be sure to google “ pop up store” for more tips and ideas.
3. Guerilla marketing – Guerilla Marketing by definition is low cost and hence best suited for small businesses. It is an advertising or marketing strategy that involves highly creative, innovative and unconventional tactics that are powerful in capturing the audience’s attention. Check out this guerilla marketing campaign in 2011 for KING KONG.
4. Develop a customer referral program….and reward customers- Acquiring referrals are one of the basic selling techniques used for both small and large businesses. It is quite common among insurance agents (though sometimes a nuisance :( ) and any one employed as a business development officer. The best part is that it cost nothing and can translate to more loyal customers than traditional advertising, once you are willing to do the ground work. You can employ direct referrals by offering existing customers discounts whenever they bring in new customers to your business. You can take this a step further by launching an online campaign that fulfills the same goal but would be able to reach more potential customers.
Similarly, community referrals are a good way to build your brand through the use of good ‘ole fashion Public Relations. There are many non profit organizations that need support and help. Find a cause that is meaningful to you, typically in your community and partner with them. Periodically, run promotions where the proceeds or part of the proceeds go towards the benefit of your community partner. This will go a long way in building your brand. Your partner benefits from whatever sales occur and they are certainly motivated to talk about and refer your organization to their constituents.
Marketing today is much easy and accessible to small businesses than it was 15 years ago. Moreover, I am impressed daily by the entrepreneurs I discover right here in Trinidad and Tobago. The key to business success is having a passion for what you do, keep working hard at it no matter the outcome and throw in a dash of research and creativity along the way!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Debbie-Ann Jollie is a Marketing Strategist and the principal Director of HashSpace Limited. She is a certified trainer with over 15 years experience in marketing management both in public and private organizations as well as through consulting.