Avoid the strong-arm: 3 tips for smarter small business marketing

I’ve been hearing some disturbing stories about Yelp‘s aggressive (and sometimes intidimdating) sales tactics to purchase paid advertising – and recently got to experience it on the phone firsthand on behalf of a local nail salon owner friend. I’m still gathering info about this to approach a WSJ reporter who could investigate these claims further and fairly get Yelp’s side of the story. (PS, if you have a story to share, please email me) Makes me not want to use them anymore, and I used to love them.

One small business owner I know claimed that when she turned the ad sales rep down, he said, “Well, this will destroy your business, you know.” Another story I heard was that someone had signed a year long contract with them – and claims it was the worst mistake he ever made and wished he could get out of the contract.

But since this is all circumstantial, and this is a blog of my own perspectives and opinions (and not an investigative journalism outfit), I wanted to instead share three must-do tips to avoid being strong-armed into making poor marketing choices:

  1. Know your audience: Sounds obvious, but be crystal clear on your target ideal customers. Not just “women” but what age, income? Where are they and what do they do for a living? What do they care about? What are their hobbies and interests? Build this character profile and you stand a much better chance of asking the right questions of advertisers to ensure you’re not wasting your money. (Tweet this!) For example, if your business appeals more to high-income working moms in urban areas, you can avoid spending money on advertising to stay-at-home moms or young teen women, let’s say.
  2. Ask about the ROI:  Ask for references, proof points or statistics. If they say their website traffic is “really good” ask to see a breakdown of unique visitors and where they are coming from.  If they say their other advertisers are seeing great results, ask for case studies or if they will let you speak to at least 3 of them as a reference check. Ask if there is any guarantee on performance or credit given if things underperform – do they provide performance statistics for you? Don’t be afraid to ask an advertiser to prove their claims. (Tweet this!) And make sure if you invest that you do so for a test period and track your sales and visits accordingly. Recently, I placed an ad with HARO and they have not responded to requests to provide click through data on the ad. Lesson learned: I should have done a better job of tracking that myself!
  3. Talk to others: Don’t be afraid to reach out to other local small businesses or others in your field and ask about what they are hearing regarding the outlet. Collaborate with others and don’t pretend you know all the answers. (Tweet this!) This will save your butt and avoid mistakes. For example, if you are part of the local SBA, merchants association or a networking group (even one online), ask others if they’ve invested in what you are considering and what their success has been. One small business owner I talked to shared that a business which could have been perceived as competitive shared his negative Yelp advertising experience with other similar businesses in the area, just to help them avoid the same mistakes. There’s enough to go around, and wee’re all in this together so ask about and share these lessons.

Now, I want to hear from you: Have any other hard-earned tips? And do you have a negative experience to share about Yelp or some other similar outlet? If so, please leave a Comment below (or shoot me an email at maria@red-slice.com if you prefer).

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