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Essential tips for small businesses on how to boost online customer engagement

January 29, 2018 | Small Business Loans
customer engagement

In recent years, the rise of social media has shifted the balance of power from marketers to the mighty customer.

Platforms like Yelp, Twitter and Instagram now serve as megaphones for both delighted and disappointed patrons – and their messages are being heard loud and clear. Any wise business owner should not only pay heed but also prepare accordingly, says Katty Ibarra, a small business advisor at South San Diego, Small Business Development Center.

katty ibarra

Katty Ibarra, a small business advisor at South San Diego, Small Business Development Center.

“Eighty percent (of customers) check online first before making the purchase,” said Ibarra, who also owns a marketing firm.

Ibarra recently shared some timeless and current methods on how to drive online customer engagement, with CDC Small Business Finance — a top small business lender and South San Diego SBDC partner.

Establish social media benchmarks

First things first, define your customer-engagement goals. This is crucial for companies building their online presence from scratch and those growing new accounts. Do you want to focus on simply accumulating more followers? Or do you want to drive more sales? Your priorities will direct you toward the right social media platforms, Ibarra said. And they’ll guide your communication to customers on what you do and what sets you apart from the competition, she added.

Build your online marketing budget…slowly

Many business owners will blow past this step, thinking they don’t have the money, Ibarra said. She recommends starting low, about $100 a month, and increasing the budget in small increments. Ibarra recently coached a local photographer with no online presence to go from zero to 60. The marketing strategy in a nutshell: Whip up a website; create accounts on Google, Instagram and Yelp; and build up followers with the aid of paid marketing. Ibarra also helped the business owner create an e-commerce element on the website, allowing customers to instantly purchase photo packages. After six months, the photographer has grown her revenues manifold to roughly $20,000 a month.

Reward your loyal fans

The best referral system is still word-of-mouth — either online or the old-fashioned way, Ibarra said. That’s why it’s so important to keep happy customers happy with incentives. This could be a discount on their next service, giveaway, or free consultation. Deals can vary by type of business. For class-centered companies like yoga studios, consider offering to waive the cost of a class for bringing in a friend, Ibarra said.

Closely track what clients are saying

Keep close tabs on your social media accounts and anything else being said about your business online. Make it a habit to search your company name and set up Google alerts with keywords related to your business. “Online reputation is very important,” Ibarra said. “People check your reputation and people will trust strangers’ (opinions.)”

Keep up with online trends

Ibarra is a fan of testing new tools to manage online tasks. A recent favorite: grum.co. It’s a tool that allows you to schedule Instagram posts from your desktop instead of from your Instagram mobile app. Once posts go live, you won’t be bothered with push notifications or reminders that you’d normally see if used the native app. “It’s a life-changer,” she said.

More on Ibarra: She has 18 years of experience as a cross-border marketing expert, helping major U.S. brands gain a foothold in the Mexico market – and vice versa. The experienced graphic designer’s specialties include websites, branding and email marketing. At South San Diego SBDC, she mentors small business owners.

More on South San Diego SBDC: Based in National City, the SBDC provides free business advising and low-cost classes to aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs. While SBDCs do not provide financing, they do help entrepreneurs develop basic strategies, from creating business plans to formulating projections. Once clients are deemed ready to pursue their business dreams, SBDCs often refer them to lenders such as CDC for start-up financing. CDCs can also refer potential clients to SBDCs for coaching to try to get them loan-ready.

CDC Small Business Finance offers several loan options for business owners who want to grow their operations and are planning for their long-term needs.

Tell our loan experts about your business, and they’ll work to match you with a financing plan that best suits you. Let’s talk! Reach us at loaninfo@cdcloans.com or (619) 243-8667.

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