COVID-19 prompted a huge demand for marketing resources to help small businesses get their products and services to customers. And now, as businesses work to rebound and recover from the effects of the pandemic, digital marketing is the key to their success.
But knowing how to be competitive online isn’t easy, especially for businesses that haven’t previously considered the internet an essential part of their business plan. That’s why the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and Impact Washington teamed up to create a technical assistance program to help local businesses enhance their digital marketing presence and, ultimately, boost leads and sales.
The Marketing for Success eCommerce class, held virtually over four weeks in June, was offered free of charge to five Pierce County business owners and led by Curt Anderson, co-founder of B2Btail. Anderson ran a highly successful eCommerce business for nearly two decades before shifting his focus to helping other entrepreneurs tackle eCommerce strategies. The in-depth course offered presentations by industry experts, group sessions and one-on-one consultations that drilled down on specific topics and exercises, from identifying customer personas to nailing the perfect mission statement—all through a manufacturing lens.
“What hit retail, restaurants and more 20 years ago is just now hitting manufacturing,” Anderson said. “Manufacturers never expected the internet to be so important. Now, it’s more important than ever.”
To join the exploding eCommerce market, small-business owners typically have two choices: do the work themselves or have someone else to do it for them. “We try to find that sweet spot,” Anderson said. “Our intention is to help teach these entrepreneurs how to fish. We work alongside them and provide the tools, resources and advice they need to ease into the eCommerce world.”
“Being part of the digital marketing course was really eye-opening, especially when it came to our customers,” said Markiss Cooper, owner of iHAUL, an on-demand, third-party logistics company in Tacoma that specializes in last-mile white glove delivery. “I’d always thought our client was the mom-and-pop store. It’s really the distributors or manufacturers.”
By identifying his key customer, Cooper could end the stressful rat race of trying to be everything to everyone. After completing a class exercise to identify his three ideal clients, Cooper acted immediately. He’s already landed jobs with two of them, one of whom said iHAUL was already on his radar before Cooper reached out.
Cooper had also struggled with clearly communicating the services iHAUL provides. “Our tagline was ‘Big or small, we’ll haul it all’. I realized that just wasn’t true,” he said. With Anderson’s help, Cooper came up with something better: Delivering peace of mind, one white glove delivery at a time. “It seems like a small thing, but it covers exactly what we do,” he said.
For Cooper, who co-founded iHAUL with his wife, Ashley, those seemingly small things picked up during the class added up. “It was lifechanging for us,” he said. “I appreciate the EDB and Impact Washington for putting this together. It’s one more thing that makes us realize people value what we do and want to see us succeed.”
Jeremiah Meacham’s Puyallup-based company, K9inebubbles, is unique. So unique, in fact, that during the digital marketing class he realized his business doesn’t have a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. (The six-digit code is the standard used by federal statistical agencies to classify individual businesses by industry.) His warm-water dog baths are considered both a pet product and a plumbing product. That made connecting with customers a challenge.
“We were trying to reach out to everyone we thought would use our product,” Meacham said.
He and Anderson dove into his company’s website and social media presence to determine what was being communicated—and to whom. “We weren’t even close to doing what we needed to do to reach our customer,” he said. “The class helped me realize we need to zero in on dog owners first. Now we know who our customer is and how to talk to them.”
To enhance his digital footprint, Meacham labeled pictures and blogs on his website and included keywords across platforms to optimize Google search results. He’s also leveraged the power of LinkedIn to communicate with other businesses that could resell his product. And he’s continuing to work with Impact Washington and an eCommerce management group to take his digital marketing efforts to another level. That includes exploring more distribution channels and creating a strategic business plan.
“The program exposed me to so much more than what I was aware of,” he said. “Now I’m trying to make the best of all the resources.”
Starting with the basics
Taking part in the digital marketing cohort during peak construction season was no easy task for Arti O’Brien, president of Advanced Government Services, Inc., provider of traffic control services and safety products. She didn’t have the bandwidth to make big changes or ponder large-scale strategies. But the small-group format of the class and Anderson’s personalized approach enabled her to focus on modest steps that could still boost her digital marketing presence.
“Curt reached out to me ahead of the class to talk about my expectations,” O’Brien said. “He took the time to get to know me and understand my business and what I was looking for.”
O’Brien’s background is in sales and marketing, but the Internet digital space has changed significantly in recent years. And with COVID in the mix, it’s more dynamic than ever. The class helped bring her up to speed and get her thinking about what she can do now and in the future.
“The class really brought to light the ‘soft things’ no one tells you about,” she said. “I think of them as the bedside manner of the internet.”
When she has more time, O’Brien plans to start with some digital marketing fundamentals, like tagging images on the company website to enhance Google searches, tweaking language across platforms and incorporating videos to make a more powerful impact. “I feel like I have the tools now to think outside the box,” she said.
The Marketing for Success business cohort was open to companies physically located in Pierce County that provide services or products outside the county. Additional participants included Scott Reader, managing director of Rainier Woodworking, a Tacoma manufacturer of fine-crafted cabinetry and millwork, and Anthony Veliz, owner of Lakewood-based Veltex Services, provider of commercial and residential cleaning services.