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Small Businesses Enlarge Their Game

The Small Business Administration defines a small business as being independently owned, for profit, and not dominant in its field. Yet, small and medium businesses (SMBs) play a dominant role in the United States economy. There are 27 million of them that account for up to 80% of new jobs created in a given month, according to the SBA.

Less than a third of SMBs are still in business seven years after opening their doors, according to small business services provider Intuit; that could be due in part to their less-than-dominant use of data-based marketing techniques. But things are looking up for SMBs, some of which are gaining more and better access to big-company style analytics.

Fuel for profit

SMBs have little time and often less money to mount sophisticated advertising effectiveness studies.  Two years ago, a search marketing firm called ClickFuel paid heed to this and altered its business model to sell analytics dashboards to local media and ad agencies who employ it as a client service. Today, some 300,000 small business owners are making more scientific appraisals of their marketing activities, according to ClickFuel CEO Steve Pogorzelski.

“SMB owners are becoming more knowledgeable and more demanding. They want to be able to substantiate the investments they’ve made,” he says. That’s where ClickFuel’s newspaper, TV station, and ad agency partners come in.

Offered free or for a small service fee by ClickFuel’s partners, its dashboards are being used by plumbers, pizzerias, and beauty parlors to conduct detailed business analyses on their tablets or laptops. An “Insight Box” gives them messages such as “You now have 28 new leads” or “Your print ads are reaching a larger audience.” Campaigns are broken down individually with metrics including leads generated and click-through rate. More detailed breakdowns provide numbers of actual leads generated by campaign type, as well as the cost per lead. CPL and new lead totals in page headers quickly alert busy SMBs whether tweaking of their media plans are in order.

“Putting data like this in the hands of small business owners makes them feel more optimistic about and more in control of their spending patterns,” Pogorzelski says.

Fundamentals, Digitized

Once upon a time in small-business America, marketing meant remembering once a year to renew your ad in the Yellow Pages. Now savvy SMBs want to enhance those directly listings with online elements. So today’s Yellow Pages, known as YP, not only distributes 150 million directories each year, but is also offering lead generation reporting to advertisers on website listings and its mobile app. Local businesses still use local listings, but online enhancements like search ads and Facebook posts demand more care and attention.

“It’s multimedia now. There’s a huge online and mobile component,” says Ken Ray, CMO of YP. “People expect always-on information, but it’s still about fundamentals: Customers looking for a local business and small businesses for whom the most important thing is attracting new customers.”

Small businesses that use YP’s digital marketing options can, at extra cost, sign up for the company’s Online Presence Manager. A web review aggregator scans social media and sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor for mentions and reviews of businesses and serves up a graph showing owners whether they’re trending negatively or positively. They can also check what customers are saying about their competition and receive monthly email reports.

YP recently added a voice-of-the-customer service. Advertisers can track specific ads using dedicated phone numbers. To give SMBs a flavor of customer feedback,the first minute of calls are recorded and made available to business owners.

“Not only do most small business owners not have the funds for expensive reporting, they don’t have the time to deal with it,” says Ray. “This is about trying to help small business owners in ways that work for them.”

Crowdsourcing for the Crowd

Hardly uncommon is the small business owner who has her nephew, Kenny, the computer wiz, design her website for her and then leaves it untouched for the next seven years. But new tools and services provide more options for SMBs. For example, crowdsourcing startup Pluralis offers a service that allows SMBs to host a competition to gain the expertise of professional web designers.

Pluralis signed up more than 1,000 graphic designers and conversion rate optimizers willing to take part in contests offering cash prizes for the best landing page renovations. Small businesses (minimum of 5,000 monthly unique users) pay Pluralis a registration fee of $50 to $100 and offer prize money of $500 to $5,000 to the designer of the best-performing page. Business owners can specify goals, such as a 20% lift in conversions.

“We hope to be a disruptive force in the SMB space,” says Pluralis CEO Brock Kaye.

After page designs are submitted, contest sponsors winnow down the field to a half dozen or so finalists. They can even send designs back to entrants for tweaks, after which each page goes live in an A-B test. Pages that see negative lift are automatically eliminated, and the submission with the highest lift gets the prize. The SMB sponsor gets ownership of the page.

“The key difference between this and an optimizing firm is that they will give you an expert who gives you one subjective answer,” Kaye says. “Here you have several top optimizers competing against each other to give you the best page.”

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