Advice from smart small businesses in my tiny town

Advice from smart small businesses in my tiny town
April 25, 2023 Beth Nyland
Geneseo, Illinois at Christmastime. Photo by Jim Nyland Photography.

Photo Credit: Jim Nyland Photography

About a year ago, I relocated to a small Midwestern farm town called Geneseo, Illinois. It’s a picturesque little community full of Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets. Straight out of a Hallmark movie, you know? You really should come and visit us sometime.

When my husband suggested we ditch the Chicago suburbs and move to Geneseo, I thought I knew what to expect. I grew up here. It’s my hometown. And for the most part, this place feels familiar, like the community where I was born and raised.

With one notable exception …

My tiny town has an incredibly vibrant small business scene. 

Maybe it’s always been this way and Little-Girl-Beth was too clueless to notice. Well, Grown-Up-Beth is paying attention, and I am stoked to be in the midst of some creative entrepreneurs who are remarkable storytellers.

Last week I had a front-row seat to hear how three of these small businesses manage their online marketing. The three panelists:

… drew a good crowd of fellow entrepreneurs hungry for pizza (it was a lunch-and-learn) and advice on creating, growing, and maintaining an online presence. How do you get attention? How do you attract and engage customers? How do you make yourself known?

April, Cory, and Elizabeth offered practical tips and described what’s worked (and not worked) for them on a range of online platforms—not just social media, but websites, email, Google search, you name it.

I found myself nodding along as they spoke. Never mind that most of my clients work in massive corporations. The advice these marketers offered for small businesses is consistent with the counsel Jill and I share with large ones.

The wisdom of good storytelling transcends business models. 

Here are 6 solid suggestions from smart storytellers in my small town:

1. Focus your efforts.

You don’t have to use every online channel. Choose platforms because they actually work for you, not just because everyone else is using them. Are your target customers endlessly scrolling TikTok, or are they checking LinkedIn because a headline caught their eye in a weekly digest email?  Go where your target audience pays attention, and then …

2. Speak their language.

Both verbally and visually. Verbally, this means choosing plainspoken words your audience can understand in an instant. No insider jargon or convoluted corporate-speak. Keep it simple. Visually, it means producing content in your audience’s favored format. While some crowds have the patience for a long-form article, others get antsy when your video passes the 20-second mark.

3. Answer questions.

People want to be educated. When you share your know-how, you earn the coveted title of “trusted advisor.” Yes, this does mean you need to give away some of your expertise. Don’t be stingy or secretive. If you hide all your intelligence, how will anyone know they need you? In the words of Supertramp, give a little bit.

4. Show your process.

What seems mundane to you may not be everyday for your audience. That’s why behind-the-scenes photos and videos are so interesting. Show us where your materials come from, how you organize your supplies, what it takes to create or package your goods, who works in the back room, maybe even what you do while procrastinating on a project.

5. Be consistent.

Algorithms tend to punish absences. Publishing a steady flow of content helps you stay visible. Some marketers swear by a content calendar, planning their output weeks or months in advance. Others simply set a pace (3 posts a week, 2 videos a month, 12 newsletters a year) and stick to it. Worried you’ll run out of things to say or share? Keep a file where you can save questions, conversations, and aha moments from your everyday work. When it’s time to produce content, open the file and be inspired. And finally …

6. Repurpose everything.

Never use something only once. An old marketing adage is that a person needs to encounter your message 7 times before they’ll notice or take action. I’m not sure this is based in science, but I do know I spent weeks trying to ignore these throw pillows.

I bet I paused on images for those damn pillows 6 or 7 times before I finally made the purchase. So, don’t be afraid to repeat and reinforce your messages.

Speaking of repurposing, here’s a video clip from that time when Jill and I joined Marion Abrams on her podcast, Grounded Content. I’m recycling this short video clip many months after the fact, because it’s just too perfect. Plus, it makes me laugh every time I watch it. Laugh along with me, and then go take some positive steps to tell your business story.

Which of these smart suggestions belongs in your storytelling strategy?

Join the conversation on LinkedIn. We may not all have similar businesses, and we certainly don’t all live in the same small town, but we can still get a supportive conversation going. If you’re struggling to tell your business story (online or otherwise), speak up. Jill and I are happy to help, and I bet others will share their encouragement and experiences as well.

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