Blog Feature

By: Jennifer Devitt on August 13th, 2012

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Is using a local small business good for your business?

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Yesterday I spent some time looking around online at our local businesses. Many local businesses in Crystal Lake are small to mid-sized businesses, and most family owned/operated. Most of these businesses stay afloat by getting business from local residents. Is that enough anymore in this economy? It may be for some, I am not sure. But it's something else I discovered in my searching that made me scratch my head.

While I was not surprised to find many firms still didn't have their own website, or if they did it is so outdated it is probably not getting much traffic or new business leads. But, that's an entirely different post. What surprised me, and probably shouldn't have is that a lot of these firms are still spending money to be listed in the Yellow Pages (online) and the Chamber of Commerce. I get the the Chamber is a community thing, with pride in the community a strong pull. But, if you are paying dues to be listed in an online business directory, shouldn't someone searching for your business find your website address just as easily as they can find your phone number and business name and not have to click on your listing? Sadly, I discovered that is not the case.

Another thing I discovered is that local firms tend to only use other local vendors. This may be getting these firms poor or outdated advice. I understand loyalty to vendors and community. But, if you are working with a local marketing or advertising agency to increase your business shouldn't that agency be up to speed on current trends? I understand keeping business local to grow your community, but that doesn't always mean that the best companies for you to work with are always local. In an effort to point out what to look for when working with firms to promote your business, here a few things that stood out.

What to look for in a marketing firm for small business:

1. When was their own site last updated? If the marketing firm hasn't updated their news or portfolio in 5+ years that should be a red flag. Does the site look ancient? If so how can they advise you on moving forward?

2. Their services offered page is lacking. If a marketing firm tells you they can redo your website or get your site mobile but their own services make no mention of their experience or have no portfolio to show for it, start asking questions. A marketing firm that just says "website development" but offers no languages, specifics or a portfolio, should be taken with caution. How can they advise you on something they really don't offer and in many cases don't understand.

3. What new marketing techniques have they employed with proven results? If their own site is outdated how much new business are they getting with it? If their own site doesn't have a mobile version or they have no clients with e-commerce sites and they tell you that you don't need it, is it because they don't understand it and are wary of it?

4.They offer seminars. Just because someone is giving seminars (usually free) on a topic doesn't make them an expert. If someone is having roundtables on location-based marketing but isn't using it themselves (note do they even have a smartphone?) do they have proven client stats to back up their "expertise"? Just because someone has thousands of Twitter followers doesn't make them a social media expert, look past the number! But wait, they have Pinterest and can tell me how to set it up or help with my Facebook page, surely they are an expert...NOT!!! Many small firms are using buzz words and so-called expertise (because they have an account) to have seminars and hear themselves talk. Do your research!

Marketing and advertising firms that focus strictly on print and/or mail are falling behind. If they say they offer branding but do not offer you web as well, how is that branding? Hiring a firm to redo your website that buries mentioning the web in a random paragraph on their own site means they don't understand that your website should be the hub of your business and branding campaign. Look at it this way, in this economy you are working hard, and the money you spend on marketing should be helping your business, not just other local business.

Are you a small local business looking to move your business forward in this economy? What do you look for in firms to help you in your efforts? Are you a small marketing or advertising firm specializing in working strictly in your community? If so, how are you keeping yourself and your services current to offer the best advice, not just small town advice?