SMB Digital Marketing: The SMBs Speak!

Amidst all the talk at SMB Digital about marketing solutions for SMBs, we also had a chance to hear from several leading edge SMBs themselves.

Several Yelp customers agreed to talk at the conference on Day 1, where they were joined by Yelp‘s head of outreach Darnell Holloway. The session complemented a discussion by Ben & Jerry’s franchise committee head Hunter Rose and consultant Robyn Rose.

Ann Webb, a skin care clinic owner,said she has relied extensively on Yelp, Living Social and Craig’s List to build her business. Yelp doubled my business in my first year, she said. Living Social helped her sell 400 deals recently and they’ve had frequent deals. While Groupon now comes calling, Living Social took a chance on her early on and has earned her loyalty, she says.

Webb hasn’t yet figured out how to leverage online sales for her skin care products, however. Just one or two sales come from Amazon and other ecommerce sites, she noted, and it is an area she’d like to focus on more.

While Yelp is often criticized as being a place for hecklers, Webb says it isn’t a problem for her business because it just makes her refocus on customers. After a one star review early on, she let go of three employees that weren’t living up to her standards. “We have a very aggressive stance about quality control” on Yelp, she says. “We have a system on how we deal with it.” Having Yelp out there reminds her that she has to keep to the high standards “on a daily basis.”

Wade Lombard of Square Cow Movers said his marketing relies heavily on Yelp, Angie’s List and SEO. The latter accounted for 90 percent of his marketing budget. Print advertising doesn’t really enter the picture in Austin. “Anything printed by a machine is laughabl” in Austin, he says. The exception is advertising oriented towards elderly customers in Sun City, a retirement community, where he advertises in a print directory. Houston, with different demographics, however, is “a totally different ballgame.”

Lombard said he initially bought from Yelp because he liked the saleswomen, who wasn’t patronizing to him. He liked being approached by someone who worked hard to connect with him, because “when I sell a move, I need to connect too.”

Like Webb, Lombard also feels that he has conquered the heckler problem on Yelp. In his case, he does it by sending out customer surveys immediately after jobs are completed. The review system ranges from a Cow Bell on the high end to a Cow Patty on the low end. I have found that people just want to be heard with either Yelp or Angie’s List. “The customer community isn’t just made up of people you go to church with. It is about everybody,” he said.

Matt Hagebusch, who runs a four van carpet cleaning business, said he mostly advertises on Yelp, Angie’s List and SEO. “Angie’s List wore me down,” he said. SEO is hit or miss and it really helps to be an educated customer. “I’ve experienced a lot of bad SEO companies out there”, he said. “I’m pretty jaded with that. Whenever an SEO company found out that I didn’t know what SEO was exactly, I was overcharged.”

At this point, Hagebusch does a lot of research on ROI for advertising. A lot of SMBs spend heavily on advertising and provide cut rate services, but he’d rather focus on word of mouth tools and be a high end operation, he says. In fact, “Yelp has become my boss. It keeps me honest. When I get a new review, I pull out my phone and make sure we are given an outstanding rating.”

Hagebusch gives Yelp a lot of credit for his business success. “Without Yelp, I would be a one man operation, cleaning carpets all day,” he says.

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