An Open Letter to Small Business Owners
I work with small businesses every single day. Your businesses are your passion projects. You’ve bet on yourself and quit the 9-5 paradigm in favor of pursuing your dream and that is a laudable move. You took the risk when so many others wouldn’t. I get the privilege of seeing how much time, energy and money goes into building these small businesses every time I work with you. Most of you have families who have supported your dreams despite the nay-sayers, but this letter is not for them. I am writing to you, small business owners, you who have built your businesses from the ground up running on nothing but caffeine and a dream to be self-sufficient. All too often, I see those who have totally built their businesses on social media, relying exclusively on such and that’s who I am writing to.
Yesterday, there was a worldwide outage of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, but I am sure you already know that. If you have built your businesses using these free platforms, then you were likely asking “Is Facebook really unavailable?” or “Why does Insta say that the server is ‘down’ and how is that possible?” Some of you have amassed thousands and millions of followers on these platforms. It’s where you spend almost all your time and energy promoting your business. It’s where your ever more valuable leads come from. It’s where you’ve built your business from the ground up, and that is where I caution you.
I speak to small businesses all the time who have no online footprint other than their social media accounts because that’s what has worked thus far. Every time I speak to one of these business owners, I caution them and remind them that your social media accounts are not your own. You do not own the content you have so carefully curated to draw new customers and to retain repeat customers. You have spent hours into thinking out those posts and planning social media promotions, but when it comes down to it, your followers are not yours. They belong to the owners of those platforms, just as your own account does. At any time for any reason, you could lose them. As we saw yesterday, there are many who’s entire footprint is exclusively on those platforms, and without those platforms, these businesses do not exist. Customers cannot find you, and if customers cannot find you, they will find your competitors. It’s why so many small businesses opt to show their wares on places like Etsy and Poshmark, but those platforms leave us with the same conundrum.
So, what can you do about it? It sounds like a big task but doesn’t have to be - make sure you have a regular website, and a way to communicate with your audience. A website that you own, you update and you curate gives you the ultimate control. Finding a way to communicate with your audience can be as simple as creating an email list, and most DIY website platforms now come with this feature integrated. Why are these necessary? Well, as we all saw yesterday, social media is volatile. It’s at the mercy of those who own and run it. Now, don’t get me wrong, the whole internet is volatile, but having your own website means having full control over your content. You’ve paid for that domain and website, the hosting site can’t just remove it without cause like Facebook can. Now, why an email list? Well, those people who have opted into your list have given their consent to see your product. Ultimately, it boils down to control again. You own your email list. Those subscribers have told you they want to see your products and services, and while those sites may go down for maintenance, ultimate control over that list belongs to you. Knowing how much time and energy you’ve put into building your own business, you would want to do everything you can to protect it. “But it’s so much more work.” or “I can do everything I need for social from my phone, so it saves time.” or even, “I don’t have the time or energy to learn another thing; I am overworked trying to maintain this business as it is!” I hear these things all the time, and you are not wrong. Learning the skills, designing and creating a website is a lot of work. It’s certainly easier to make use of the platforms you are familiar with as a consumer, but that cannot be your only strategy. Social media is a powerful tool, and you absolutely should be making use of it. But, since you do have limited time and energy as a business owner, it’s important to note that you don’t need to be on every platform all the time. All you really need is to be where you customers are. So, what now? Here are 3 tips for how you can improve your digital footprint:
Have a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you should have a page that will pop up when someone searches google for your business. You can make use of many DIY website platforms. Most of them have guided step-by-step setup so that you can get all those basic elements into your website the first time. If you can build a business from nothing, then you can do this too!
Have a communication plan and use it. Even if it’s as simple as determining which platforms you should use to market your business, having a plan means you are thinking about the future. Your communication plan should incorporate many different platforms, including social media, but don’t let social be your only plan. There are tons of free resources online for how to make a basic communication plan, so use that “can-do” attitude and do it!
Be flexible. Having a plan is great but sticking to it so rigidly that you are unable to adapt when markets or seasons change isn’t good either. The act of making a pan will force you to think about the future, but when wild things happen (You know…like a global pandemic or something crazy) you can more easily adapt with a plan. I know that sounds contradictory but think with me for a beat. If you have a plan in place, when something goes awry, it’s easier to change that plan than it is to come up with a whole new one while also being under duress from the unexpected.
Small Business Owners, you are living your dreams. My intent in writing to you was not to scare you or make you feel inadequate. My hope is that you’ll take a 5-minute break and consider how you market yourself. You’ve done too much hard work to let this part of your business slack. So, do what you always do - grab a cup of coffee, and get to it. You can do this too.
Best of Luck,
If you're looking for more information and want to chat through some ideas, shoot me an email. I'd love to work with you.