How To Overcome Crossroads in Business

Business is full of challenges. Whether it is staffing, payroll, competition…there are many challenges that you as a business owner deals with on your quest for success. These challenges seem more intense when you have family-run business.


Two of the most common challenges that many family-runned businesses face is the growing e-commerce competition like Amazon and Wayfair and how to convert social media followers into customers. How do you accomplish these seemingly impossible tasks? My first tip: Take it one problem at a time.

E-commerce Competition

For the past few years, we have been hearing that Ecommerce will destroy brick and mortar stores. Some evidence of that in Canada with some companies like Sears and Toys R Us to name a couple. However, not every business or industry will be impacted to the same extent by Ecommerce.

Let’s take a look at the garden centre and landscaping business. Many family-run garden centers are experiencing huge levels of competition yet some are thriving in this troubling time. How do these few succeed where others don’t.

Recently, I was invited by a family friend to one of his business meetings. He is part of a group of 12 family-run garden centers from across Ontario that pool their buying power in order to stay competitive. In recent years, they have tried to shift the focus of the group to a more corporate organization and treat each store like a franchise. Especially, as many of them have the same types of products and services with few differences. With a more corporate setting, they would be able to have consistent branding across all their channels. I was invited to give some suggestions regarding their social media marketing and  new website.

When asked how to compete with Amazon and Wayfair, I suggested don’t. The reason being…they deal in bulk. Their whole business model is buy low and sell high. They build sales not relationships or experiences. As small business owners, you have the capability to build those relationships and experiences that customers want. Customers who shop online want convenience and yes that will impact your business a bit however, the majority of your customers especially in the garden center business would want that local expertise.

  • Leverage your expertise.
  • Leverage your ability to create an amazing customer experience.
  • Leverage your creativity.

Large corporations market the same over and over like a cookie cutter. Small organizations with their smaller budgets and staff have to be creative and find different ways to market to their target market and attract new customers at the same time.

5 Ways to Leverage a small marketing budget

  1. Start a Blog: The easiest way to market on a budget is to turn to blogging. In fact, this is also one of the free marketing options you have available to you. Set up a blog on your website and begin posting content on a regular basis. Make sure that you are posting long form content for a specific audience. Google wants you to drill down into the various niches in order to focus on smaller audiences. This is a better target than trying to hit as many people as possible because you’re increasing your chances of making a conversion.
  2. Use Social Networking Ads: Platforms like the Facebook Power Editor have proven their worth as viable advertising platforms. What makes them so good is the fact that you can get started for as little as $5 per day. But it’s time to get in now because the prices are only going up. To make this work, you’re going to have to commit to extensive split testing. The key to success on social media is A/B testing because that’s what will help you discover what people are going to respond to. Just make sure that you’re not starting with a huge budget because Facebook is extremely good at eating up money.
  3. Dabble in PPC: Paid search marketing is often instantly dismissed by marketers because they believe that it doesn’t serve any purpose for those on smaller budgets. Like with social media advertising, it’s easy with PPC to spend a lot of money in a short space of time. And like with social media advertising, you also have the need to split test. PPC has a strong learning curve, so this is something that you shouldn’t just jump in with. Take care to make sure that you really understand what you’re doing at this stage.
  4. Build an Email List: Email marketing remains one of the strongest forms of marketing in the world today. It’s the easiest way to get in direct touch with your target audience. Start building up your email list as early as possible and supply exclusive content to your target audience. Go out of your way to provide a five-star customer experience. In the beginning, it’s hard to see how you’re going to get a good ROI, but if you work at it you’ll soon find that these are the people who will become your brand ambassadors. Those brand ambassadors can become the most valuable customers of all.
  5. Work with Influencers: Influencers are the big names in your industry. They may be prominent bloggers or they could be straight up celebrities. Whatever they are, you should take care to leverage them. This is the most affordable way of digital marketing on a budget because it will usually cost you no more than time. Once you get the right influencer, the possibilities are endless because you’re tapping into their target audience. You’re also boosting your brand through association.Don’t underestimate the value of your brand reputation. It can enable people to find you in the first place. Take care in choosing your influencers. How will you make sure that your digital marketing campaign succeeds today?

How Do You Convert Followers to Customers?

The second issue, I was asked at my friend’s business meeting was how to convert followers to customers? A valid question. Especially, as the majority of these owners don’t understand how social media works or why a proper website is important.


The garden center business is a very competitive industry. In order to stand out and compete online, you need a website that portrays your expertise. A bland website will not convert customers, it will most likely drive them away. When reviewing your current website or if you’re building a new one, follow these four tips:

  • Ease of Use: The number one thing a website needs to be is easy to use. Customers are on your page for 5 seconds or less. If they cannot easily find the information they are looking for, then they will go somewhere else.
  • Loading Speed: If you do nothing else to improve your web pages, you should make them load as fast as possible. Internet connections may have gotten faster and faster over the year, but no matter how fast the average connection is for your readers, there is always more data, more content, more images, more everything for them to download.  You also need to consider mobile visitors who may not have such wonderful connection speeds at the moment that they are visiting your page!The thing about speed is that people only notice it when it’s absent. So creating fast web pages often feels unappreciated, but if you follow the tips in the articles linked below, your pages won’t be slow, and so your readers will stay longer.
  • Think Local and Write Global: Websites are global and great websites recognize that. You should make sure that things like currencies, measurements, dates, and times are clear so that all your readers will know exactly what you mean. You should also work to make your content “evergreen”. This means that, as much as possible, content should be timeless. Avoid phrases like “last month” in your text, because that immediately dates an article.
  • Spell Everything Correctly: Very few people are tolerant of spelling errors, especially on a professional website. You can write a completely error-free topic for years, and then have one simple “teh” instead of “the” and you will get irate emails from some customers, and many will give up in disgust without contacting you at all. It may seem unfair, but people judge websites by the quality of the writing, and spelling and grammar errors are an obvious indicator of quality for many people. They may feel that if you are not careful enough to spellcheck your site, the services you provide will also be haphazard and mistake-prone.

One of the questions raised was,

“Why should we have a corporate site with each store having its own page?”

A great question. The anwser. It ensures consistancy across all stores. Without consistancy with the products and services they all sell, they could potentially see sales decrease. In addition, it helps with building their corporate brand.

Now lets talk about social media. These businesses all have Facebook, Twitter and do weekly E-Blasts. Only a few have Instagram or Pinterest. There constant struggle is conversion. How to get those followers into their stores? It’s a questions many businesses face. Check out these 10 Tips:

  1. A Little Research Goes A Long Way! :As your followers grow, set aside time to find out who they are, and what they care about.  What do they do for a living? What do they like? What worries them?  What are their needs? Do they personify your ideal client? This tip is important for two reasons.  First, you can personalize your connection with your follower.  Comment on something they’ve written. A comment that takes you 30 seconds to write may last a lifetime in the mind of the customer. Second, if you don’t have a clear picture of your ideal client, you can begin to formulate one.  Or, if you do have a clear picture of your ideal client, then you can monitor how well you are attracting them and most importantly, how you can serve their needs.
  1. Initiate Personalized Contact: Everyone loves to feel special.  Follow up and send your new follower a personalized message that includes a simple, low-commitment, call to action. Start the message by mentioning something about your follower that interests you.  Make it specific, and make it about them, not you! For example, if your niche is “finding true love”, DON’T say, “I’m so excited to hear that you are on your own journey to find the ‘one’.” There is nothing personal about this kind of message. Do say, “I see that we both live in Florida!  What do you love about it?  Is it important that your soul mate loves the State of Florida, too?” Then you can go on to invite your new follower to complete a call to action. Remember to keep the call to action simple and low-commitment based. Just as women run from men who propose on a first date, so do followers who get sold during an initial introduction.
  1. Stay Connected Through Giving: It can be tempting to promote your business at every turn, especially when your social media numbers grow. But, you can’t stop interacting, engaging and providing great content! Sprinkle your product and special offer announcements in between more interactive posts. For example, I’ve seen restaurant fan pages ask fans to post  recipes, share favorite food photos or even their bizarre food cravings. Other pages wish fans happy birthday, congratulate newlyweds, post pictures with followers and encourage good feedback. Introduce your products and special offers thoughtfully and sparingly.
  1. Find a Balance: It can be overwhelming to think about…when do I promote, provide content, add a personal post, ask questions and engage? The key is balance.  If you are constantly promoting your product, or asking questions, or sending your followers to blog posts, your followers will get bored!  Or, worse yet…frustrated. However, if you keep switching it up, balancing all forms of connection, then your followers will be more willing to come back and interact more.  They will be curious to see what you’re sharing each day. Remember, curious minds are engaged minds.
  1. Utilize The Power of Promotion: Promote an aspect of your business by creating a social media giveaway that will excite your fans.  This is an important tool because it creates business clarity for your followers, meaning that they better understand what you do and offer.  It also generates greater engagement on your social media pages. For example you can say, ”What is your favorite productivity tip? One respondent will be gifted with a 20 minute session with me on how to laser focus.” On twitter, you can give followers a #hashtag to use when they answer.  This allows them to see what others are saying, and provides a bit of competition. Adding a #hashtag also creates the opportunity for your question to go viral.  Twitter tracks and shares most popular #hashtags.  If yours gets that much traction, you could get followers and respondents from all over the world.  Can you say massive exposure?
  1. Are You Loyal? :Loyal fans and followers = loyal customers.  However, in order for a follower to become a loyal follower, you, as the business owner, must go first. How can you show loyalty? Consistency, frequency and concern will show your loyalty.  To do this, post content consistently: whether this means posting on specific days each week, or a specific number of times each day. Your followers will come to expect your messages.

It is okay to take time off, but be sure to share that with your followers.  For example, let them know you will be away on vacation, that you will miss them and that you can’t wait to share pictures when you return.  Or, let them know that you will connect sporadically while you are away. This shows you respect their time and connection.

Likewise, to show concern, let them know that their opinions matter to you. Respond when they leave a comment.  Prove your concern to them over and over again, just as you do in your daily interactions with local friends.

  1. Generate Exclusive Deals For Followers: Make them feel special. Excusive deals for followers will keep them coming back, again and again. These deals don’t have to be complicated, rather keep them simple and fun. For example, “20% off all our hosting packages if you buy today – Exclusive for our LinkedIn followers. Email us and mention you saw this post.” You can even start a deal of the week.  This will keep followers coming back and checking in.
  1. Invite Them To Something Fun and Personalized! :Treat your followers with a little VIP attention.  For instance, invite all of your Google+ followers to a live hangout where you will be answering their questions on your field of expertise. Let them know that this is just for Google+ followers and will be capped after a certain number of people join the hangout. You can do the same thing on Twitter using hashtags, or on Facebook using your fan page.  Be sure to let them know when you will be on hand to answer their questions. You can even choose to let followers pre-submit questions via direct message (DM) if they can’t make the appointed time/date.  While this is a great bonus for them, it also helps you to smoothly start the event because you don’t have to wait for someone to jump in with a question. Instead, the first 5-10minutes can be dedicated to answering DM questions.
  1.  It’s All About THEM! Promote Your Followers: This is a great way to give back, gain credibility and solidify a relationship.  Once a solid relationship is built, followers become customers. Pick a day of the week on twitter or utilize #followfriday and promote a follower.  This does NOT mean @mention 10 different followers in one tweet.  There is nothing personal or promotional about that. Rather, pick one or a few followers that you engage with on Twitter and share why you find their connection valuable. On Facebook, they even have an app for this.  You can add “fan of the week” app to your fan page.  For details, check out:

If you choose to do this, I suggest taking it a step further, and be the first to add a comment which explains why they are the fan of the week and how connecting with them might be beneficial to the rest of your followers.

  1. Let Your Customers and Clients Say It! Testimonials are HUGE! :Take note of the positive things customers and clients say about you, your business and products.  One way to do this is to ask.  For instance, at the end of a coaching call ask, “What is your biggest takeaway from our call, today.” Then ask, “Do you mind if I share your takeaway on Facebook and Twitter?” Sharing testimonials further reminds followers about the products and services you offer.  However, more than that, it proves that others have found your servies or products to be valuable.


Stay Tuned For more on converting social media followers to paying customers!


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