How Small Business Owners Can Position Themselves to Increase Online Sales – Melinda Emerson, Quintessence Group

Many businesses are now operating online and in today’s digital marketplace it is critical to capture your audience quickly. On today’s show, we’re discussing online sales and some of the marketing avenues available at your fingertips. We’re pleased to welcome Melinda Emerson, also known as the Small Biz Lady. Emerson is also the Founder and President of Quintessence Group, a small business growth strategist, and best-selling author.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us once again on the Atlanta Small Business Show. We’ve got a special guest for you today, Miss Melinda Emerson. You know her. She is the business lady out there. She is just an incredible human being and helps business owners all over North America. So thank you so much for joining us once again on the show, Melinda.

Melinda Emerson:
Oh, I’m so happy to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. So our viewers and subscribers get so much out of your visit here. We’re excited that you took the time out of your schedule to join us. Let’s jump right in. What are some of the challenges that small business owners are facing today? Especially, we came through a very difficult year in 2020. It seems as though things are picking up steam now, and things are kind of getting back to normal. Somebody said there’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, we’re still in the tunnel, so let’s not forget that. But what’s your take on it, and what do you think the small business owners are thinking right now?

Melinda Emerson:
Well, I think that there’s some people, depending on your industry, you’re still like in the dark. You work in the hospitality industry, you work in entertainment, you work in venues connected to entertainment stuff, you were messed up. And some of the restaurants, I’m up here in the North, our restaurants are not back at a hundred percent. They’re at maybe 50% capacity. So they’re still struggling.

Melinda Emerson:
I really think that some of the things that were put in place to help small business owners didn’t help enough small business owners, particularly minority and women business owners. I was really dismayed by how many major corporations got PPP money and how many really large, well-funded nonprofits, private schools, Catholic charities, like big, big, well-funded nonprofits, got a bunch of money, and the littlest guys out here. And the other thing that upsets me is that 95% of all small business owners are under a million in revenue, and a vast majority of them are solopreneurs working out of the back bedroom in their house.

Melinda Emerson:
So why would they create a loan product that benefited people with employees, when 80% of the people have no employees? So the only thing that saved those people was unemployment, which was also a debacle and messed up, and a lot of people didn’t get unemployment for three or four months, either. So I mean, this thing was hard, and I think it’s still hard. There’s people still recovering, who couldn’t pay their bills, couldn’t pay their mortgages, couldn’t pay their credit cards. And some companies were really nice and helped people, and some weren’t. Some people gave one month of forbearance, that was it. So I think there’s people still trying to kind of claw their way out of that.

Melinda Emerson:
Now, some corporations have been fantastic and have created their own grant programs, from Verizon, to PayPal, to Comcast. There are charities, the Association of Enterprise Opportunity, that partnered with corporations and doled out 10,000, $5,000 grants to businesses that desperately needed it. And I was so grateful. American Express partnered with IFundWomen and gave 50 businesses $25,000. That stuff was helpful, but that was still a small number of people that got those resources, and the demand is still really high.

Melinda Emerson:
So I think that there’s more that needs to be done. I think that people still need money. People still need help. I think we need to look at credit scoring. I think credit scoring needs to be, I really believe that we need to come up with an alternative way to decide who is worthy of credit, because there’s nobody that didn’t come through this thing that’s a small business that didn’t have their credit affected by what happened. And so I think we need to think about alternative ways to support small businesses going forward, especially Black owned businesses, where we know, the numbers show that 30 to 50% of them were gone by May of last year. A year ago, 50% of them were already gone, not operating.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. As you know, so many small business owners, and both in the minority and other sectors, you’re hanging on for dear life with every day that you open up your shop or you open up your website or your company or whatever the case might be. You need that day’s or that week’s receipts in order to pay that week’s bills. And so to have this tsunami hit us like it did in March and April, and then have, in many cases, as you just pointed out, no financial relief there, it just pushes you right over the edge, right? It’s very unfortunate.

Melinda Emerson:
It does. It does, because people, they had already pushed all the chips in the middle, like they had a lien against their house for whatever SBA loan they had. But there’s some things that are being fixed. I think the Biden-Harris administration is paying a little bit more of attention to this, although they still released the second version of the PPP line. And I was like, okay, are we rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic with that? Like, why are we doing that?

Melinda Emerson:
But in other ways, there are some other things that they’re doing now that are rolling out that I think long term will help people. But I just think we’re still in a rough situation. But the good news is a lot of people have done their digital pivot. No matter what you sell, you’ve got to be selling online. And I think that there are some smaller businesses that struggled. Maybe they didn’t have an up-to-date website. Maybe they didn’t understand that we live in a mobile first world. They didn’t have their website mobile optimized, that kind of stuff. And people are still shifting to that and really understanding that, but I think more and more people are doing that. And I’m excited about that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Oh, there’s no question. I mean, look at all the, I know here in Atlanta, there’s so many restaurant owners that did pivot and said, okay, let’s do what we’ve got to do, and let’s do more online business and work with Uber Eats and all of those other providers, because people were not going out, but they were still wanting to eat and they wanted restaurant food and what have you. So they pivoted quickly. And a lot of them stayed, not just stayed in business, but actually thrived.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
A friend of mine owns a restaurant. And he’s got a hundred seats in his restaurant, but those were shut down. They quickly pivoted, and man, their business went through the roof because they went down that road of really pushing more online and to-go orders, obviously. So there have been those bright spots out there, right?

Melinda Emerson:
Oh definitely. I definitely know people who were already operating online who had their best year ever in 2020.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Melinda Emerson:
So I have a colleague that has a non-fiction publishing company. Boom. And apparently everybody wanted to write a book over the pandemic. There are other businesses that I know did very well, but they were already positioned, and so they were able to invest in some ads and really win. But you really have to be savvy now. It’s not just I’ll put up a website or a blog and hope people find me. It’s way more sophisticated than that.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
It is. Let’s drill down a little bit. What’s the first thing small business owners need to do and to know about when selling and marketing online?

Melinda Emerson:
Well, they’ve got to have a great website. Your website is your number one sales tool. So you really do have to make sure that all the links work, you’ve got a simple navigation, and most importantly, that you have content that solve your target customer’s problem. If you’ve got that, you can win.

Melinda Emerson:
The second thing you’ve got to have is good lead magnets. So what are you offering for free to get that all important email address? Are you offering a free ebook? Do you have a mini course or a webinar, something, a podcast interview? What are you offering for free? And by the way, it’d better be your best stuff that you’re offering. Don’t give away mediocre content and think somebody is going to come back and buy from you. Not happening.

Melinda Emerson:
Then you’ve got to have an email marketing system. You’ve got to have an email system that builds your brand and builds trust and builds the relationship. And then you get to the point, after you nurture that relationship and you build some trust, make them an offer. And then make it urgent. Give them an incentive. Make it limited time, you know, buy one, get the second one 50% off, whatever. Give them an incentive. They’ll evaluate it and they’ll become a paying customer. I mean, it sounds simple, but it’s not. You really have to do a lot nowadays, because customers have so many choices.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s exactly right. And what you’re saying is, and what it sounds like, and is true, you’ve got to give, give, give, give, give before you expect to get any, right?

Melinda Emerson:
Oh, absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I think small business owners sometimes have a have a hard time with that, understanding that, and say, “Well, what’s in it for me? If I give this, what am I going to get in return?” Or they’ll put a blog together and go, “See, I didn’t get any business off that.” It doesn’t work that way, right?

Melinda Emerson:
No. You have to have at least seven touches, as high as 21 quality interactions, to turn an online connection into commerce. I mean, you’ve got to put the work in, Jack. Nobody is looking for you. So you have to build that brand, build that credibility, and you’ve got to meet them in multiple touchpoints. So you can’t just be emailing them. You’ve got to be touching them still on social media. You’ve got to be participating in a live chat, or invite them to a private Facebook page where they can get more time with you. All of those things are really important, especially if you’re selling services.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, there’s no question about it. Talk to me about social marketing because that social marketing and being on, you know, when I say social marketing, but being in the social world and being on all the social platforms, that’s absolutely free. And it’s something that so many small businesses, so many small business owners, many I know, that don’t play in that space. They say, “Well, I don’t do Facebook. I don’t do Twitter. I really don’t do LinkedIn.” And meanwhile, they’ll tell you on the next sentence how they really need business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And you’re like, do you understand how this works? It’s like saying I don’t have time to put my open sign out there, but I can’t understand why I don’t have anybody walking in my store. That’s how crazy it is. But talk to us about the importance of small business owners being in this space in a very big way today in 2021.

Melinda Emerson:
Social media is great, and there’s lots of social media sites, but it’s free, but you pay with your time. And as a small business owner, your time is the most valuable thing you have. So what you want to do in social media is be strategic. Focus on just one or two social media sites. If you’re a Facebook person, do that, be that boss on Facebook. If you’re a LinkedIn guy, do LinkedIn, kill LinkedIn. If you’re Twitter, if you’re TikTok, whatever you’re doing, just do that, and be fabulous and be the dominator on that one platform.

Melinda Emerson:
Then you’ve got to figure out your content strategy. Are you doing videos? Are you doing blogs? Are you doing a podcast? What are you doing? And then you’ve got to be consistent with it. You can’t do one blog a month, thinking that’s going to move the world. You’ve got to be doing blogs two to three times a week so that you have something to share in social media. But don’t forget to engage personally. People want to see your personality. Did you like that dress that J.Lo wore or not? Tell me. You know, all that stuff is important. So you’ve got to show your personality. You’ve got to build your credibility. You’ve got to ask for a recommendation.

Melinda Emerson:
One of the things that people miss out on LinkedIn is asking people for recommendations. Recommendations are gold. Let me tell you why. When people call me, I don’t have any conversations about whether or not I can solve their problem. We talk about availability and price. You know why? Because I got 61 recommendations on LinkedIn. Go look it up. So when other people speak about you and how you deliver, you don’t have to speak about it yourself. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re leveraging all that stuff, using a visual strategy. You can’t just post a link. You’ve got to post a piece of art with it, because everybody’s visual these days. No one wants to read. So put something visual out there, too.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So before I let you go, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity from this, as well. We talked a little bit about the downside and the PPP and how some companies unfortunately may not make it through this, but it’s hard to keep a good entrepreneur down. I already know a few of my people that said, “Hey, I lost my business through COVID, and it just shut down and I couldn’t keep it going, but I’ve got a whole nother idea and I’m ready to go with it.” And we see so much of that. Talk to us about that, about getting back on the horse and going forward.

Melinda Emerson:
Yes. The world is still waiting on a better mouse trap, so if you’ve got one, [inaudible 00:13:21] will beat a path to your door, no matter where your door is. So it’s definitely, if you see a gap in the marketplace somewhere, go for it. But you know what? We’re all going to be smarter after PPP. We’re all going to make sure that we have our paperwork together, that we’re paying [inaudible 00:13:39] with a payroll service so that we have a paper trail on what we’re paying ourselves. We’re going to get those taxes done. We’re going to keep them up to date. We’re not going to get caught the next time. We’re not going to get caught with this anymore. We’re going to do business in a businesslike manner, and we’re going to win, because small businesses serve their customers better every day.

Melinda Emerson:
And so we know what we do. And I appreciate so many people this holiday shopping small, shopping in their local community, looking for Black owned businesses to do business with, looking for women owned businesses. I love that. Keep going, keep doing it. I love Amazon too, but look for a local business to do business with because you’re saving your own community when you do business with a small business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
No question about it. Fix your Business: A 90 Day Plan to Get Back Your Life and Reduce Chaos in Your Business. The one and only Melinda Emerson, we want to thank you so much for joining us here on the Atlanta Small Business Show. It is always a pleasure catching up. We love the enthusiasm because you’re a huge supporter of small business owners and entrepreneurs, and we need you every now and then to remind us of how to get back on that horse and stick to the basics and get back out there.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And as you just said, keep all your business and all of your paperwork in line so this doesn’t happen again to you if you were a victim in the last go around. It doesn’t mean it has to happen. The past does not equal the future, right?

Melinda Emerson:
Yes. Your current destination doesn’t have anything to do with where you’re going. Don’t worry about it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s exactly right. If you don’t have the book, get the book, because I’m telling you, as an entrepreneur myself, this could have helped me and saved me literally thousands of dollars, because I made so many of these mistakes that she points out not to make in the book. It’s a complete handbook. So thank you so much, Melinda. Really appreciate it, and love to have you back as a follow-up to see how things are moving along.

Melinda Emerson:
Well, hopefully the next time I can actually come to Atlanta in person.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’d be great. That would be awesome. I want you sitting right there at our desk. It would be great.

Melinda Emerson:
All right, my friend. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thanks so much. Okay, thanks.


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