Who Is Looking Out For Small Business In The Social World?
Who Is Looking Out For Small Business In The Social World?
by

Citibank surveyed small businesses recently and found that the number that use social media to help market their offerings jumped from 19 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2011. That’s a nice jump for a segment of the business world woefully behind the digital curve. Network Solutions and the University of Maryland research shows only 44 percent of small businesses even have websites, so the upward trend is good news for those of us providing services like social media training, social media consulting and even digital marketing advice.

But, as I’ve asked before, how big is the gap and what can we do to make it smaller? If a small business owner who doesn’t feel comfortable with technology wants to have a WordPress blog? Will they take hours to learn the nuts and bolts of hosting, FTP, design and code to make it work? If not, can they afford a few thousand dollars investment they’d likely need to hire a digital shop to do it for them? What if that small business wants to monitor the social web for industry mentions? Sure, there are free services out there, but nothing with robust functionality falls into a price range below $50 or so a month. While that’s not a great deal of money, $50 a month to a $150,000 a year business is more of an investment than you think when there’s no corresponding revenue directly tied to it.

Who will answer digital marketing questions small business owners have? “Experts” on LinkedIn? Twitter? Sure, some will, but do small business owners not already online and plugged in know to find them there?

The opportunity awaits those of us willing to focus on someone other than enterprise clients. I’m trying to do my part to help answer social media questions and be a sort-of on-call consultant at Exploring Social Media, but I worry that the basics, the tools and the professional services we offer are priced out of range for the new businesses coming into our marketplace. I want social media marketing to be accessible. For them, much of it won’t be.

Unless we do something about it. Thoughts?

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  •  I think there are a few companies out there that are doing exactly what you are asking for and that is providing a great service for a great price.  Many of them follow the freemium business model and Roost, the company I work, is one such company.  We help companies with social marketing, but there are lots of companies offering great services for free including YouSendIt in the file transfer space, Evernote in Knowledge Management, Outright in online accounting, Expensify for expense reports and receipt tracking and many others.  All of the companies listed I would argue offer robust capabilities.  If they were any more powerful, most small businesses probably wouldn’t use them.

    You mention WordPress, but only talk about the software version.  You can host your blogs without any technical knowledge at WordPress.com.  This is a great solution for many businesses.  In fact, many small businesses should look into software as a service to avoid many of the pitfalls of installing your own software.

    I get your main point though and more companies need to step up and help small businesses.  I do feel like the tide is turning.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Chris. Great point on WordPress.com. I guess once you
      dive into the self-hosted, you don’t look back. Good reminder.

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  • You’ve touched on a real which-came-first problem. If owners of a small businesses don’t know about or understand the benefits of social media, what will motivate them to spend the money to get training or a consultant? I think part of the answer is that the how-to sections of social media platforms are very good. The other part of the answer is that many consultants, such as you and I, are reaching out to small business owners with free introductory courses, materials, and FAQs. And yet another help may be initiatives such as the Kauffman Foundations FastTrac training program for entrepreneurs; the Startup America Partnership; American Express’s Big Break. As more corporations mentor small businesses, the small businesses will see the light and the value of that consultant or that training.

  • There are quite a lot of solutions out there to start at a small scale for free (or almost). That’s obviously more complicated if you want to host your own web engine, but is that really necessary before reaching a critical stage of business development?

    A suggestion: get to the young generation. Instead of getting them to babysit, hire a student to setup your stuff. The young generation is terribly savvy with those things. You can even hire them to babysit AND setup your website/blog :-)

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  • Natalie

    I’ve worked for several Fortune 100 companies, and in January I launched a food and nutrition consulting start-up.

    Here are the problems that small businesses face:

    1) Lack of time – small biz owners wear too many ‘hats.’

    2) Difficult to find expert resources – it took me TWO MONTHS to find and vet web developers who were responsive, knowledgeable, and charged a fair price.

    3) Constant technology updates – in the short time since I’ve launched, Twitter has changed, FB has changed, and Google search has changed.

    So here’s the challenge to any one who wants to help small businesses (and I believe that there are many of us who would welcome trusted, results-oriented help for a fair price)

    -Experiment with at least 5-10 small clients to understand their social media needs and challenges.

    -Take this ‘experiment’ and encapsulate it in an easy-to-use program that’s downloadable, and constantly updated. Each day, email out one doable task.

    -Include access to a group of trusted resources who service small businesses.

    -Give small businesses the option to ‘buy’ consulting time as part of the downloadable program.

    If anyone likes this idea, I’m willing to be part of the “experiment.”

    Please contact me at http://www.AmbrolioFoods.com

    • Great ideas, Natalie. Thanks for sharing the client perspective. I like the
      one doable task idea.

    • Christopher_bradley

      Hi Natalie, could you share the “web developers who were responsive, knowledgeable, and charged a fair price.”

      thanks for your insights :)

  • Natalie

    I’ve worked for several Fortune 100 companies, and in January I launched a food and nutrition consulting start-up.

    Here are the problems that small businesses face:

    1) Lack of time – small biz owners wear too many ‘hats.’

    2) Difficult to find expert resources – it took me TWO MONTHS to find and vet web developers who were responsive, knowledgeable, and charged a fair price.

    3) Constant technology updates – in the short time since I’ve launched, Twitter has changed, FB has changed, and Google search has changed.

    So here’s the challenge to any one who wants to help small businesses (and I believe that there are many of us who would welcome trusted, results-oriented help for a fair price)

    -Experiment with at least 5-10 small clients to understand their social media needs and challenges.

    -Take this ‘experiment’ and encapsulate it in an easy-to-use program that’s downloadable, and constantly updated. Each day, email out one doable task.

    -Include access to a group of trusted resources who service small businesses.

    -Give small businesses the option to ‘buy’ consulting time as part of the downloadable program.

    If anyone likes this idea, I’m willing to be part of the “experiment.”

    Please contact me at http://www.AmbrolioFoods.com

  • @jasonfalls:twitter, nice post. I’ve struggled a ton with this very issue. I feel like to some degree solutions like Hubspot are filling this gap. But you look at any issue around marketing, and 90 percent of small businesses tell you they’d like to spend more on it, but can’t. I think the same will happen online. A certain niche that sees the potential in online for their businesses will devote the money to hire someone or learn it themselves. But many will just do the bare minimum to get by.

    • You know what’s funny, though Patrick? Even HubSpot’s pricing for CMS and etc., is well into the hundreds of dollars per month. Is it worth it? I say hell yeah, but for a business that is just starting on the web, much less the social web … they’re not going to spend that.

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  • David G H Phillips

    Jason, I am right now seeking funding to provide a $30 monitoring and evaluation service. The beta site is here http://www.glerts.com/beta. It is specifically designed for the small business and will offer most of the services needed for a small organisation. We too are trying.

    • Good luck with the project David. Let us know when you’ve got something to look at.

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  • Small companies prefer to opt for low price services for the reason that they still have no profit to go with the high cost services. You have to communicate well with them market the benefits not the feature. Immediately after all, customers desires positive aspects they can get from your service not the functions.

  • Podcastbrainstormer

    I am just getting started with my new business catering to this specific group of business owners. In my surveying of owners so far, they all realize the benefit, but don’t like the cost. I’m starting them off with a low priced WordPress site, with graduated price add-on packages as their site develops. This way, they don’t have that high price barrier to entry in the field, and most businesses don’t need a lot of bells and whistles anyway.
    Explaining in very straightforward language has been must also…you don’t need to prove how smart you are; they’re already coming to you because of your expertise.

  • Small business owners have to work hard to get things going. Often it is a ways into the first year before one is able to outsource or even hire a consultant to help with the marketing tasks. Many marketing professionals were never trained on social media. Oftentimes small businesses don’t see the need for social media to be integrated into their business, not realizing it is oftentimes much easier to obtain more business through proper social media monitoring and engagement. Small business owners need an option such as we offer with socialmediamagic.com. We have webinars that give small business owners the ability to have the proper skills to run their own social media campaigns. I hope to network with many of you in the near future!

    John Souza
    SocialMediaMagic.Com

  • Kirsten Weiss

    I know so many small business owners who believe they should be actively using social media, but just don’t have the time to figure it out. There is definitely room for niche players catering to small businesses, if they can get the business model sorted out.

  • We at Deluxe provide small businesses digital and social marketing advice and education at http://deluxesmallbizblog.com/ as well as entrepreneur networking at http://www.partnerup.com/ and live events around small business digital marketing at http://www.entrepreneur.com/events/bizsuccess/

    It’s so important that small businesses have the ability to access as much marketing education as possible in order to grow their businesses. We love the fact that so many people are reaching out to an underserved population.

  • As a SB marketing consultant, social media is tricky. One one hand, owners are motivated; they don’t want to be left behind because they know that “everyone’s doing it.” On the other hand, there are real challenges: most are very busy, many have difficulty understanding SM and the benefits, some are not “computer” people, and then there’s investment costs and that pesky ROI issue.

    I think there is benefit in starting small and doing a few things. The key is: do those few things well. That way, there are lower investment costs (both time and money) and the client learns how to wade into the social media water. Learn to blow bubbles before swimming right?

    If a website or WordPress hub is too much, I’ll suggest creating a Blogger outpost to centralize things. Once that’s established, link it to a few appropriate SM outposts that are easy to manage, create relevant content for. I tell my clients that eventually, they’ll have to “fly this bird” for themselves. After all, they know their customers best.

    Most small business owners are sharp – they recognize that balancing the social media equation involves, among others, two important factors: time and money. If social media endeavors are to be fruitful, they’ll need at least one of them.

    Thanks for the small business social media scribble. Good to know you’re looking out.

  • Jeremy Powers

    “Who is looking out for small business in the social world?” The same people who look out for them in the tax world, receivables world, and well… the real world: Small business owners look out for themselves.

    What is scary is that soon there will be more small businesses marketing on platforms they cannot control, social media, than on websites they own and control.

  • Everything you mention is one of the reasons I choose to specialize in working with small businesses and startups. Not only can they often not afford the consultants or the tools currently available, most of them can not afford the time to price/skill shop. I have heard often of the frustrating circle they engage in, only to make the choice to not take the leap into an online presence. Until enough of us step up and focus on that market, too many small business owners with great products and services will be left in the dust by their just slightly larger competition who can afford the bells and whistles that get attention.
    It is possible to put together a solid social media/digital marketing program for a small business on a budget they can afford. It just takes a lot of creativity and flexiblity.