The SMB Owners ‘Hurry Up & To Do’ List


Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt behind the curve. If you weren’t on Twitter in 2007 or blogging in 2000 and came in feeling like you were already playing catch up. Or maybe you entered SEO in 2006 while the “first gen” was already rolling around in their blog spam earnings, working in their pajamas and just mounting their high horses (we love you, really). It was intimidating, right? Of course it was. While it seems counter intuitive, sometimes it’s scarier to enter a crowd than to walk into an empty room. And at some point, in some context, we’ve all felt it. Unfortunately, there’s little comfort in that.

New readers may not know that when I’m not hanging out at Outspoken Media, I’m acting as the Social Media Editor for SmallBizTrends. That’s where I go to chat directly with small business owners and get a taste of what’s on their mind. Often I’m finding that many small business owners feel like they’re behind in the Web race. They were late to the game and now they’re struggling to catch up. Where should they start? What’s most important and what can they wait on?

Here’s my 6-point ‘hurry up & To Do’ list for small business owners to help SMBs come from behind and WIN on the Web.

Create your own existence

Don’t worry; we’re not going to start a psychology debate. [We did that last week.] However, this is the ground level where every business must start on the Web: Can people find you? Do you have a Web site? Is it easy to get a hold of your brand on social media? If the answer is no, you have some work to do. That may mean completing any of the following:

  • Claim your domain name: If you’re one of those small businesses using Facebook as your Web site, stop it. Your small business is important and needs a Web site. Luckily, KnowEm now lets you check domain availability to see what’s available for your business. Here are some useful tips for picking a kickass domain name], however, don’t do it just yet!
  • Claim your social media presence: Before you buy a domain name, check your brand’s availability in social media (you can use KnowEm for that, as well. I’m not even dropping an affiliate link.) to allow you to sync your domain name and social media moniker, if possible. Consistent branding is important in creating trust and using the same name across all channels will help reassure customers that you’re the same person. Once claimed, start creating your social media plan to outline metrics and a strategy for engagement.
  • Submit your site to the appropriate places: Once your site exists, you need to submit it to all of the local directories to help users to find it. If you’re not sure where to list it, our post on launching your SMB Web site contains all the major ones that we recommend focusing on. Though it didn’t exist when that post was written, you should also be sure to create a Google Places listing as this listing will only become more important as Google gets more territorial. If you’re not sure which listings you’ve claimed and which you still need to, can help you.

Create sharable content

When should you start? Right now.

If you’re starting from scratch, put a placeholder page up while you work on the rest of your site content to let people know that you’re here, you’re moving in, and that this will soon be a trusted place for information about your brand. If you’ve already got the initial site content down (home page, About page, contact us page, services pages), then it’s time to work on creating shareable content assets. What types of content should you focus on?

  • Evergreen resources & How Tos
  • Informative blog/newsletter articles
  • Industry-specific guides
  • Instructional videos
  • eBooks
  • Off-page digital assets like videos that users can embed, podcasts, images, etc. [The folks at Top Rank have a great post on digital asset optimization that I highly recommend.]

At a recent Social Media Breakfast event speaker Stephen Masiclat remarked that the content we share represents our clothes on the Web. You don’t want to leave people naked.

Pay attention to SEO

As you’re writing your content, you want to make sure you’re pay attention to basic SEO principles. SEO can be somewhat terrifying to small business owners. In fact, it’s terrifying to even large businesses, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if you don’t have the resources to hire a team of SEO consultants or pay for a full SEO audit, you can still benefit from basic on-page SEO practices. That means being careful about taking advantage of (and using keywords within) your Title tag, Meta description, Meta keywords, headers, body content and internal anchor text. It means making sure your site is easily spiderable, that you’re not intentionally placing roadblocks in a search spider’s way, and that your racking up local citations. These are all very low resource commitments that, together, will help pack a big SEO punch.

Start engaging

You didn’t create those social media accounts just so that they’d collect dust. Even if your site isn’t totally public-ready, start putting your nose out there in social media. Or, at least your ear. Start following your customers, your competitors (perhaps follow these guys via a private Twitter list) and the people in your niche to hear what they’re talking about. Spend some time learning the social hierarchy and deciphering who sits where in the lunch room. Once you have an idea, open your mouth and start talking. As Scott Stratten often says, if you believe that business is built on relationships, then making building them your business. Answer people’s questions, be helpful, and share who YOU are (not what your business is). Don’t overload yourself, just start out on one or two sites to get your feet wet and help you get comfortable with social conversations. Build out a social listening station to help you always keep an ear in the conversation.

Look toward building social links

Links are important. You know this. And as a small business, paying specific attention to social links can help you earn special credibility in the eyes of both users and the search engines. That means creating content that is designed to be shared, bookmarked and passed along through social channels. It means being aware of the bloggers in your niche and focusing on social PR to keep you on their radar (and mentioned on their blog). It means using sites like Quarkbase to figure out your social popularity and see how often you’re getting blog references, tweeted, bookmarked, etc. You also want to check your competitors’ social popularity to see how you match up. By identifying the outlets that are friendly to your site, you can help target your content more toward their liking. You’ll also find what types of pieces do well and where your holes are.

Get analytics in place

This isn’t listed last because it’s least important, nor because this is where it should sit in your To Do list. It’s listed here because, by now, you probably see there’s going to be quite a bit for you to measure and keep track of. And you’re going to need a way to do that. Setting up Google Analytics will help you tie actions to behavior and give you the insight you need to create a stronger site and, ultimately, a stronger business.

If I was a small business owner fighting to “catch up”, these are the areas I’d first focus on. How about you? What would your own Hurry Up & To Do list look like?

Your Comments

  • netmeg

    One of the biggest hurdles I see clients run into is how to come up with sharable content. How do you know that something’s going to be sharable?

    One method I like to use is to look through the analytics and/or logs of the website for the past few months, and see what users are already sharing. Look for referrals from email programs that aren’t driven by your own email campaigns. Look for hits from Yahoo Mail, MSN/Live/Hotmail (whatever they’re calling themselves) Comcast, Gmail – whenever you see these, you know people are already passing your content on. It could be an indicator of what to try next.

    • Lisa Barone

      I love the idea of going through your analytics to see what people are already sharing. That’s also why I like using Quarkbase to see what’s already ‘hot’ with my community, but email is another thing to definitely take a look at. That’s how the average person still opts to share content.

      I think as SMB owners, we often have more ‘sharable content’ resting in our brain than larger corporations. We know what we do better than anyone, we have direct contact with customer so we know what’s tripping them up, we know what tools would be most helpful to us. The ideas are there, you just have to pull them out.

  • Halvorsen

    Another important place to start is by looking at what the competition is doing. I always start there first to find out what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing well. From there, you can get a good idea of what it will take to get ahead of the competition.

    And as far as the shareable content goes, set up a Google Reader feed and find all the other blogs and sites in your industry. Once you have a stream of content coming in, you can pick and choose what you want to write about. Sometimes the best content can come from a rebuttal or a follow up post.

    No matter how you look at it, if you’re a SMB and don’t have an online presence, it’s definitely time to wake up.

  • Jason at Internet Exposure

    I’ll third that sharable content is one of the biggest challenges. A good example of the ‘evergreen content’ that Lisa alluded to is to write up articles answering the most common questions people ask when they call on the phone.

    For every person who calls there’s someone who searches for the answer instead – this makes it great for bringing in traffic from the search engines.

    If you provide a great answer it’s also a sharable resource – people familiar with the product or service will share it with others asking the same question (think forums, Q & A sites, sending a link to a friend who’s asking you for more info).

    A similar idea that is to take note of concepts or processes that you find yourself explaining over and over again and turn them into really approachable articles that you can proactively share. This works great for add-on services or upsells.

  • Chris Miller

    Buy typo domains, and stick to .com if possible (unless you plan on getting uber SEO about it and gaining most of your business directly from SEO). Keep in mind plurals and double letters can get confusing, so make it easy to find. For example, if your brand is Mike’s Key Factory, say it out loud a couple times in conversation. I bet you’ll hear “wait, what was it? Mikey’s Key Factory? My Key Factory? Key or Keys? With an S? And that’s .com right? No, it’s .tv? so

    Of course a domain name which avoids the phonetics issue all together is best ;)

  • Trish

    Great information. I know I still struggle a bit with getting the word out. Your tips are great, and I appreciate the thought that you put into helping out the little guy

  • Keri Morgret

    I would actually put analytics higher. There’s a difference between getting it in place and actually doing anything with it. If you get it in place early, you can see the benefits of the other things you have done and judge how effective they were. You put that in later, you can’t as easily measure your results.

  • Peter

    great post…..specially for newbies….thanks Lisa….