The world of the media has changed a lot over the last decade. Old media is on the way out. New media is on the way up. And in this blueprint I’m going to look at an opportunity to set yourself up in the media industry that has masses of potential… yet is reasonably straightforward; marketing for local business.
Why marketing for local business is taking off…
Advertising is changing fast. Many people don’t read printed newspapers and magazines, and the circulations of many of them are shrinking. It’s hard to get people to even open direct mail let alone read it. Many companies are cutting back on TV advertising, because it costs £££s but doesn’t reach high- spending customers.
But one thing that is growing fast is Internet advertising. And specifically social media. It’s new, exciting and attracting lots of attention. It’s cheap – and sometimes even free. And because of that it is proving VERY effective for all kinds of business. While old media hasn’t been abandoned completely… yet… most forward-thinking businesses are in, or want to be in, social media.
And that’s where you come in. Because there is massive, growing demand for social media help and support right now. But not much supply… most existing ad agencies don’t offer this kind of service to small, local businesses. In short, it’s a niche that is absolutely ripe to be exploited right now.
Now, you might think that you don’t know much, or anything, about Internet and social media marketing. Well, it just doesn’t matter! Because the fact is not many people do! Even if you don’t you can get in on the ground floor of what’s sure to be a giant industry and earn as you learn!
Good reasons to look at this opportunity right now
This is something of a classic Internet opportunity. A run-it-part-time-from-a-laptop type business. Something that you can work as and when you like. You won’t need any equipment (apart from a laptop/PC with Internet access), premises, staff or capital to invest.
You won’t need any qualifications or previous experience. Like I said, because this form of advertising is so new hardly anyone has any experience or qualifications in it anyway. It’s not a disadvantage to be new to it. In fact it’s a positive advantage.
You can start it with the aim of it just being a sideline money-maker handling a handful of clients. Or, long term, there’s no reason why you couldn’t build it into a big social media marketing consultancy.
Introducing Google Places
I should tell you right now that this blueprint is about providing social media help and support to local businesses. It’s based around Google Places. Now, Google Places is not the only form of social media marketing, as you might know… I’ll look at some of the others later.
But I have chosen Google Places to base this blueprint on because everybody has heard of Google. Everybody knows more or less what it is. Almost everybody who uses the Internet uses Google. So it will be very easy to sell your service. Google Places is also probably the most user- friendly social media tool there is, so it’s going to be the easiest service to get started with.
You can find full details of what Google Places is from the Google website itself (www.google.com/places). But I’ll just give you a basic grounding of what it is (assuming you don’t know).
Basically, Google Places is an enhanced local search service.
You see, Google know that most Internet searches are now for local businesses. (Why would anyone want to search all the restaurants in the world to find a place to eat that evening?)
Google also know that a lot of searches now are made on a mobile device, such as a mobile phone. They know that these devices aren’t great for reading normal websites. Also, most people, using these devices aren’t looking for pages and pages of information as normal websites have.
So Google Places allows people to search for local businesses and get a basic profile for them quickly and easily. It’s simple and very, very smart.
Not only that, but because Google Places is owned by Google (obviously!) they give Google Places listings precedence in search results over non- Google Places search results. (If you’ve ever tried to get your business listed in Google search results you’ll know how valuable this is.)
Even better, Google Places is free to use!
Now, if you’re already a regular Googler you’ve probably seen Google Places in your search results already. They’re the results that appear when you search for something local. The ones that are identified by red flag markers lettered from A to G and also marked on a map of the area to the right of the search results. Currently they are still fairly rare but they’re set to become the norm over the next year or two.
Here’s a very simple way to understand Google Places and how potentially world-changing it could be: Do you remember how, in the “old days” you might search for a local business using the Yellow Pages paper directory?
Well, Google Places is like a bigger, better version of Yellow Pages. And remember, Yellow Pages was BIG in its day. Every single business was in there. Google Places promises to be even bigger and better. (And unlike most other forms of media you have a chance to join in its success for free!)
Google Places is already massive in the USA where businesses small and large are clamouring to claim their “place”. We’re a little off the pace here in the UK but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be too long before Google Places is hot here. So the time to start is very much now.
Which businesses are likely to be interested in your service?
I think it is no exaggeration to say that every single business in existence is going to be interested in getting onto Google Places. Those who don’t will be missing out on a fantastic opportunity to bring more customers to their door. So there is going to be massive potential in offering a service that helps them do so.
But that’s not very helpful, is it? So how about we narrow it down a bit, so you can target potential customers better. I think the best businesses to offer this service to will be: • Local businesses, that rely on local customers. (This is why it is potentially so hot. The information superhighway has very much passed local businesses by in the past.)
• Businesses that rely on new, passing trade that need to be found by new customers on a regular basis.
• Businesses that are premises based. Although they can still use it, Google Places isn’t so great for home-based or virtual businesses.
• Small and medium-sized businesses. Large businesses might have a social media marketing manager or department to do this for them. Small businesses almost certainly won’t.
Here are just a few ideas for the kinds of businesses I think will be keen to get onto Google Places and so will LOVE this service: Pubs. Restaurants. Food takeaways. Gyms and spas. Taxi firms. Garages. Car rental. Tyre and exhaust centres. Travel agents. Music venues. Theatres and cinemas. Insurance brokers and financial advisors. Hair salons. Beauty salons. Convenience stores. Bars. Nightclubs. Hotels and guest houses. Fashion stores. Solicitors. Electrical and electronics stores. Opticians. Dentists. Chiropodists. Builders. Plumbers. Joiners. Electricians. Cleaning companies. Slimming clubs. Home improvement companies. Children’s play centres. Estate agents. Letting agents. Auction houses. Market stall holders. Event organisers. Local councils. Clubs. And that’s just for starters!
What I would do to get started is sit down and make a list of all local businesses within the area that you wish to cover. It could be a square mile in a city. In a rural area say 20 miles. Use local knowledge, Yellow Pages, the local papers and so on. And, yes, you can Google them too.
Tip. When you Google a business you will soon see if they are using Google Places. If not (and most likely they won’t be) they could make an ideal customer for this service.
Yes, businesses can do this themselves. But most businesses, small and medium in particular, will NOT. Most of them do not know how to do it and make it work. Most of them just do not have the time to exploit this powerful new advertising medium. But they will LOVE the extra business it can bring them.
Think of it this way: A restaurant could raise their own pigs or grow their own lettuce but they don’t. They pay others to do it… because they do not have time, or do not know how.
How to market your service and sign up customers
Don’t be worried about having to “sell” this service. Once you tell businesses about it they should be able to see the exciting possibilities. It shouldn’t be a hard sell.
I am absolutely convinced there is going to be TONS of demand for a service like this, especially to small businesses which are easier to sell to.
Once you’ve got your “hit list” of possible customers you need to go out and convince them to try your service. There are a few ways you can do this. They both have pros and cons:
• Send them an email. Easy and cheap – but remember emails are easily overlooked.
• Direct mail. Generally more effective than email – but does take more time to do and is more costly.
• Sales call. Can be very effective but cold sales calling isn’t for everybody.
To make things simple but more effective I suggest you use a combination of methods. Send out an email or sales letter to your hit list. A few days later call the owner or manager. Ask if they’ve received your letter and if they’re interested. Hopefully, they will already know what you’re talking about and so it will be much easier to do.
Free sales copy. To help you get started I’ve had one of my writers draft out some copy you could adapt and use as your sales email or letter. You can download a copy here: www.canonburypublishing.com/localbusiness
Tip sheet. Good reasons why YOU should be using Google Places
When you talk to potential customers you’ll want to explain how it all works (see later). But, as when selling anything, it’s always important to stress the BENEFITS they will gain when using Google Places, i.e. what’s in it for them.
Here are the main points I think you should make:
• Social media is the latest thing in advertising. Because it’s new it’s very effective.
• It’s very cheap compared to other methods of advertising. (Google Places itself is actually FREE.)
• It’s a great way to get ahead of competitors… Claim your space before your competitors claim it.
• Google Places users get an enhanced listing and priority treatment on Google.
• More customers will be able to find you more easily. Not only that but they are the types of customers that are difficult to reach by other methods and tend to be affluent, high spending customers too (younger, tech savvy people).
• It is an excellent, free way to engage with customers better. A chance to find out what your customers really want – and how to improve your business.
What to charge for your service
The interesting thing about this type of new media service is that there is no fixed scale of charges. And not much competition (yet) that you need to try and undercut. So, really, you can charge as much or as little as you want and as much as your customers are willing to pay.
Also, your customers do not have to pay any charges or subscriptions to Google. So they can afford to pay you more… and still get great value for money.
What I would suggest you do is charge a small initial set-up fee and then a regular maintenance fee. Here’s what’s clever about doing this: It’s very affordable for the customer to get started and so easy to sell the service. They won’t have to pay out much until they can see for themselves that it is working. Yet this method will bring in not just a one-off but a REGULAR income for you.
This is what I’d suggest for starters, although it’s a bit of a stab-in-the-dark because it’s so new: A £200 set-up fee and a £50-£100 monthly maintenance fee. (You might need to experiment with this a bit to see what works in your area.) Once you are up and running and working for bigger customers you will almost certainly be able to charge a lot more.
Here’s a good idea. Offer to work for free, for your first couple of customers, or perhaps for some local charities or clubs. This way you can practise your skills and get your service known. Ask these freebie customers if they will give you some testimonials to use in your marketing.
How to operate your service
Offering this service will not cost you (or your customer) a penny in Google fees.
If you haven’t done so already, I’d suggest you take a look at the Google Places official home page at www.google.com/places. This shows exactly how the service works. You might find it a little strange at first – Google tends to do things the way that suits them not necessarily the way that would best suit the customer – but given some practise you’ll find it’s by no means difficult even if you’re not technically minded.
I’ll briefly run through how Google Places works here. (Bear in mind this is a quick tour. You can get all the info you need from Google itself.)
Initial set up
To get started you will need to set up a Google Places account for your customer’s business. Do this in their name, but give your contact details so all correspondence goes through to you (with their permission, of course) so you can manage the account for them.
When that’s done go to Google Places at: www.google.com/places. Click on “Get your business listed on Google”.
Click on ‘List Your Business’. Give your country location and the businesses’ main telephone number.
If the business is already known to Google then you may find that (sneakily) they already have some information about it. If so, check to make sure it is correct. If not, you will need to enter in basic information about the business.
You will need to add the basics such as name, street address, website address, email, telephone number, opening hours, etc. You can also add other info like whether delivery is available, what credit/debit cards are taken, whether parking is available and so on.
Other important sections you need to fill in are:
Business description. This needs to be in 200 characters or less. Try and use it all if possible. Try to use all the keywords that someone searching for this type of product or service might search with. See later for how you can improve this as you go along.
Business categories. Google will automatically provide suggestions. But play around to make sure they are as relevant as possible to the type of business. Again, think what potential customers would look under. You are allowed five categories.
Multimedia content. Today’s Internet is all about pics and video. So, as a minimum you should add some pics of the business – up to 10 are allowed. A short video is a good idea too – you can add up to five. (You could charge extra for creating these.)
Finally, there is a verification process to follow. When this is accepted the business is up and running on Google Places.
Note that you do not have to create a complete listing from day one. You can come back and change it later. But the better and more interesting the entry the more successful it will be for your customer.
Regular maintenance and management
This is a very important part of this service.
Offering regular maintenance and management of your customer’s social media activities on Google Places adds great value for them. It also generates a residual income for you.
You can do this by using data from Google itself to improve and enhance your listing – as well as keep it up to date with any changes. I’d suggest you could do this once a month initially. Maybe more often, maybe less often depending on the business in question.
Google Places is maintained using the “Dashboard” section. It provides information on how Internet users are interacting with the listing. (By the way, you can only do this once the listing is verified and once there is enough data to be useful – usually at least two weeks after the listing goes live.)
To view the data click on “View Report”. You can then collect and analyse the following information:
Impressions. The number of times the business listing appeared as a result of a Google search or Google Maps search in a given period.
All sources. This shows the total number of clicks that were made within the Places listing.
Activity. The number of times people interacted with the listing and how. For example, the number of times they clicked through to the business website or requested driving directions to the business.
Searches that returned your business. The top Google search queries (on Google, Google Maps and Google Maps Mobile) for which the business listing appeared, along with the number of times.
Locations used in searches for your business. The top locations used in Google search queries for which the business listing appeared, along with the number of times.
Where driving directions requests come from. By postcode, if enough have been requested.
Now, you can use this information to improve performance of the Google Places listing and so get better results from your service on a month-by- month basis. As it’s all fairly new a bit of trial and error will be involved. But, for example, you could try different and varied business keyword descriptions and categories to see which work best.
Your target. Your eventual aim in creating a successful Google Places listing is to get and stay in what is called “The Seven Pack”. This means that the business will be one of the seven businesses identified by A-G when that type of business in that area is searched for on Google. (This may not make much sense right now but do some Googling for your selected business and it will!) Being part of The Seven Pack can bring high volumes of traffic and targeted customers right to your customer’s door.
As I said, all this might seem a bit strange initially. Because Google works in its own Google way. It is American after all – and they tend to approach things differently. But once you have a few listings up and running it should all become much clearer.
Other social media services you can offer
Another interesting thing about setting up a social media marketing service is that Google Places isn’t the only service you can offer your customers. There are several others. Once you are established with a customer you can offer them more social media services if you wish and, of course, charge additional fees for handling them.
Very briefly, here are some of the other social media advertising services you can offer:
You may know, but if you don’t, a blog is basically a diary on the Internet. Originally intended for personal use, businesses now use them to publish news, reviews, information and pics for customers and would-be customers. Most small-medium business don’t have the time or know-how to write blogs themselves. So this is a service you could offer: Provide a service setting up a blog and creating and posting two/three/four interesting posts to their blog each week.
You probably also know about Twitter. Twitter is a service that allows users to exchange short bursts of information – very much like texts – with each other. Again, lots of people use it socially but it can also be used by businesses. So you could offer a service creating and sending tweets (as Twitter messages are called) for them. First you’d need to set up a Twitter presence for your customers and find followers who want to receive their tweets. Then write and broadcast tweets for them on a regular basis – at least one a day is usually best.
For more information about Twitter: www.twitter.com
Facebook Places & Deals
Facebook Places is an application for mobile phones that enables Facebook users to alert their friends to their current location. In technical terms it’s a geolocation service. But in practical terms it means that people can tell their friends about what pub they’re in, or even about a sale bargain they’ve found in a shop.
Facebook Places Deals is a system that allows businesses to piggyback on that information by offering Facebook users who are in the area special offers. It’s already used by some big companies like Starbucks (who famously offered free coffee on launch day), Debenhams, Argos, Alton Towers, O2 and Mazda. But any business can join the system and offer users Facebook Deals. So you could offer a service signing customers up for Facebook, managing their account and creating offers to make to their customers on a regular basis.
For more information about Facebook: www.facebook.com
Foursquare is also a location-based social networking service for mobile phone users. Users search for and “check” in at venues using their phone. Each check in awards the user points and sometimes “badges”.
Businesses can use this information to attract new and existing customers by offering “Foursquare Specials” – e-coupons, prizes or discounts – which are presented to users when they check in at or near the venue. Cleverly, specials can be tailored to fit each customer, whether it’s a unique discount for first-time customers or rewards for a tenth visit or whatever.
Again, you could offer a help and support service signing your customers up for Foursquare and then creating offers to make to their customers on a regular basis.
For more information about Foursquare: foursquare.com/business/venues
You need to bear in mind that this opportunity is, to some extent, experimental. This isn’t a tried-and- tested business. It is the opportunity to get involved in something new, at a very early stage.
But from what I’ve learned about Google Places so far, and from my knowledge of social media marketing, I’m confident this is going to be big – VERY BIG – over the next few years.
It’s also a very inexpensive and fairly straightforward business to set up too. Ideal for part- time, home operation. And open to you if you don’t have any existing experience of social media marketing.
Because social media is so new it’s difficult to judge how things might develop in future, and what you might make from it. But let’s assume you made £1,400 a year from one customer (£200 set-up fee and 12 x £100 monthly management fees). You could have 20 customers and it would still be essentially a part-time business with few overheads. And of course once you become more expert you will probably be able to charge a lot more.
At the end of the day it’s something you can give a go and see how it goes with no risk. If I’m wrong and – despite every shred of evidence to the contrary – social media marketing doesn’t take off and doesn’t leave the traditional forms of advertising for dead it’ll cost you hardly anything to try.