In anticipation of Small Business Saturday we reached out to business owners and small business advocates for interviews, including Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. Hasi-Kelchner has served as trusted legal advisor to influential Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, M.B.A., J.D.decision makers ranging from startups to the S&P 500, and the White House for many years. She enjoys helping small business owners see business issues hiding in plain view, hosts the popular Internet radio show and podcast Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and runs Business M.O., LLC, a leadership development consulting firm. 

Q. What are some of the benefits of being “small” that a business owner can leverage to beat out the “big” guys?

A. Small business owners are nimble decision makers who don’t have to wait days or weeks for a “corner office” to make a decision. That has tremendous advantages, especially since easy access to affordable technology has leveled the playing field with the “big boys” allowing businesses of all size to be in touch with customers and prospects. Being nimble also makes it easier for small business owners to piggyback on trending social media topics.

Q. Is there a common place where you see many small business owners go wrong when they start to market online?

A. Some folks have active Facebook accounts and think online marketing is more of the same. In the process they ignore marketing fundamentals. Marketing is marketing. Online resources are merely another channel.

Pay attention to the return on invest (ROI) of your time. Do your market research and be systematic about what online media you use. Just because company X has great success on Facebook doesn’t mean you will. Perhaps your ideal prospect is on LinkedIn or Pinterest. It’s easy to spread yourself too thin because you think you need to be everywhere.

Q. We all know those emails or websites that “look” like spam, but what are some strategies you’ve see business owners do to demonstrate their credibility?

A. Email “spam” is essentially an unwanted sales pitch, or a mass message, often intended to defraud you – like that Nigerian prince who doesn’t know what to do with his money and somehow picked YOU out of millions of people to transfer it into a “safe” bank account.

People buy from people. What that means for you is that it is critical to establish and maintain relationships so people trust what you have to say and actually want your content. Trust is an essential ingredient and is supported by your ability to provide value.

Providing value in an email starts with the sender’s name and the subject line. So if you’re following up with someone you just met, mention the relationship in the subject line.

“Great to meet you.” “Enjoyed our chat.” Oh, and don’t send it from an “info” email address or an address no one can reply to. How impersonal is that?

Only add names to email lists, the ones you send newsletters, etc. to, when you have permission. Don’t assume getting a business card equals permission. Nothing destroys email credibility faster than someone who abuses an email relationship.

Websites are a similar story. Does your website provide valuable information? Does it solve a problem? How does it look? Is your website content aligned with the search terms and links that drive traffic to it? If not, people will feel misled, like they do on a dating site where the selfie is from 30 pounds ago.

Q. With so many places for business owners to turn for online advice, how do you recommend they cut through the noise in order to make an impact?

A. You cut through the noise by creating a “dog whistle” only your customer can hear and one that’s so compelling it drowns out your competitor’s message. Basically, it’s about having the right message in the right place at the time.

It sounds simple, but it’s not because there are so many moving parts (right message, right customer, highly distinguishable from competitor) and each element has its own subset of moving parts. It also assumes you know who your customers and prospects really are.

Take your message, for example. You need to communicate in a persuasive and compelling way. That includes what you say and how you say it. Words matter and good copywriting is more art than science.

Walt Disney once said “we think in images.” That means the visual presentation of your message is important too. Those visuals are as simple as the text fonts, other graphic design elements: color, contrast, form, shape and texture. More sophisticated graphics include photographs and video.

Then there’s the challenge of getting your message in front of the right customer, someone who make a buying decision. What do they read, watch, or see? Who influences them? Do they have gatekeepers who filters the information they receive? How do you get your message in front of them?

And finally, how do you make your message more magnetic than the other guy’s?

Even if you’re terrific at jumping through all those hoops, your prospect might still not buy. The timing could be off. Their “need” or sense of urgency is missing. That’s why repeating and reinforcing your message is critical.

Cutting through the noise is a continuous and cumulative process, not an event.

Q. Can people expect to get results from purely organic campaigns these days or is it pretty much required that they have an ad budget for a campaign?

A. It all depends on what you mean by “results.” Organic campaigns can definitely work and free social media platforms can help. But if you’re starting at ground zero it will take time to build a quality list. That begs the question of whether you can stay afloat long enough until your list starts generating the right traffic and conversions.

Ad budgets accelerate the process. But, we’ve all heard the saying that “50% of advertising works, we just don’t know which 50%.” That means you need to be ruthless about how you spend you allocate your budget.

Q. Online-to-offline: Any examples of companies doing a great job driving traffic to their physical store through online campaigns?

A. Online shopping provides tremendous convenience, but there is no substitute for the in-store experience of seeing, touching and feeling merchandise up close and personal. Some retailers who have successfully merged the two experiences are stores like Macy’s and Best Buy. They allow you to “shop” on-line and reserve an item at a physical brick and mortar location so you can go check it out before you buy. It’s a smart way to cut down on returns and give customers more of what they want.

Q. What tool/strategy do you think will make the biggest impact in 2017?

A. Technology will no doubt continue to make advances, providing tools that provide more capabilities and convenience. What will make the biggest impact for you are those tools that enhance and improve your ability to communicate and deliver value to your prospect or customer.

Q. Who are some of the influencers who have made a large impact on how you think about online marketing?

A. I enjoy the work of John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing and Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World.

For more Small Business Saturday resources, visit our guide.