A dear friend of mine who owns a fast food restaurant asked to discuss a few ideas to grow his business. Like every small business, he saw quite a precipitous decline at the start of COVID. And, while businesses are starting to come back, the channels through which customers were acquired prior to COVID, the volume, and the share of wallet have all changed.
When we think about resources and time to invest, no one really has much — especially small business owners. Therefore, it’s super important that, what little small business owners have, they invest in winning and scalable ventures.
Here are three ideas every single small business owner should embrace.
One: Spend on Google Search Engine Marketing or Paid Search
I’m not talking about the organic search where Google crawls your website and displays a link within search results. These are paid ads on the top and bottom of the search results page. When someone searches for a related product or service, depending on how much you are willing to bid/pay, your ad is ranked at the top of the page.
It offers the opportunity to grab the attention of a targeted set of customers who are searching digitally. More importantly, you likely would not have attracted this customer by other channels — so this is truly incremental sales.
Sign up on Google’s ad platform, and invest a few hundred dollars to start setting up a few simple campaigns. Google will make recommendations on search terms to bid for based on your business or product. Search terms are made out of keywords and these could be the names of your products, a genre, a location, even the name of the business. A combination of these become campaigns.
For example, “Organic beef burgers in Uptown” could be your campaign. You could even set it up to be an exact match. You could set up multiple campaigns and at each campaign level, set spend limits and bid amounts, zip radius limits, and day and time restrictions.
Each campaign will need an add banner to reinforce the product or value proposition, provide a destination URL or phone number, and upon a click, take the customer to exactly what they searched for.
Campaigns Are Your Friend
Let’s say that for campaign A you set a daily limit of $50, and the max you’re willing to pay for a prospect searching for those words is $1. It’s possible that 15 to 20 customers could come to you through this channel — some percent of them end up purchasing, this is also known as conversion. Just start small, and experiment. Get into it for 10 minutes every day. As you get more comfortable, increase the number of campaigns, the daily limit, the amount you’re willing to bid, and you’ll get a feel for the most valuable campaigns.
You’ll know if a campaign works or not based on how well it’s converting. Meaning, you show ads and prospects click on them, they come on to your website, and buy something.
Competencies such as paid search advertising do not come naturally to everyone. You may have to do some research, read some articles, make changes on your website, even pay someone to teach you a few things. However, you won’t learn until you actually start doing it. Be curious. Also, don’t be afraid of digital text, embrace it. Every transaction is going digital, so these things are important.
Two: Convert, Convert, Convert
You spent money to bring that customer to your website. So, be sure to create a pleasant experience with attractive images of the right product or mix of products, or they will leave. This is called a bounce.
Another area to work on is connecting the action the customer took on your website to the originating campaign on Google so that you know that your campaign worked.
A campaign ID or web tracking key allows Google to display conversion metrics for each campaign. That way you have insights on which campaign converts better than others. Then you can stop spending on non-converting campaigns. Campaigns should run at least for a week so you get seven days worth of data.
Some campaigns may work better on a Saturday than Monday. That’s why you need to look at performance every day, and tweak campaigns every week. Say you’re willing to spend $100 a day. If your experiment is successful, you could generate a few thousand dollars in sales in a two-week period — if you’re willing to eat the upfront expense.
Search engine marketing lets you run an experiment in a day. But you likely will need more than one day’s worth of information to create a winning marketing solution.
Three: Embrace Partnerships
My friend initially thought that introducing new items on his menu would make a difference in sales. But would adding two items to eight really bring in more customers? It takes time to develop a new item, to test it, make it replicable, then train your staff to make it. Would it be worthwhile, I asked? His answer was a thoughtful, no.
Then he shared his idea to partner with a company selling complementary products. He would stock and display those products on his website with inventory pre-buys. But what if they didn’t sell? What if his sales mix shifted to less profitable partner items?
I had lots of questions, so we did a riff on this idea. What if he partnered with a complementary business? A true partnership where each company displays a set of the other’s items? If a restaurant offers fast savory foods, why not partner with a frozen yogurt shop? You’re not revenue sharing, you’re simply complementing each business to get a portion of a customer’s limited wallet share.
My friend and I came up with several good ideas to facilitate his business, and I realized that for small businesses like his, it’s definitely worth investing in digital skills that are guaranteed to be useful from a business development perspective. A small business owner will need some digital savvy, but what’s more important is a desire to learn, to take small, well-reasoned risks, and to seek out help from friends or relatives when needed.
A business breakthrough might be closer than you think.
Anand Rao is the senior vice president of marketing and eCommerce for AutoNation.