Ripl was honored to participate last month in the annual conference for small businesses hosted in Washington, D.C. by the United States Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Small Business Summit 2017. Attended by 500+ small business owners and employees, this year's Summit programming focused on tax and regulatory policy of relevance to growing businesses and on competition and marketing in the digital era.
I was invited to speak on the Mobile Marketing for Growth panel presentation along with 3 others from the agency and media fields.
It was a lively panel discussion about the opportunities, pitfalls, and best practices for smaller businesses starting to use mobile methods for customer acquisition and engagement.
Most importantly, I came back to Seattle invigorated by what I observed and heard from so many ambitious business owners from all over the country.
I even got a great t-shirt in advance from "Dream Big" Small- Business-of-the-Year Award nominee 3 Daughters Brewing.
[Sidenote: As a father of 3 girls, I reached out before the Summit and had hoped to meet the founders in D.C., but unfortunately the hurricane which struck their area of St. Petersburg, Florida, a few days before the event caused them to miss it. However, a U.S. Chamber staff member told me about how they had opened the brewery as a temporary shelter during the storm - just another example of how small businesses serve as the backbone of community. I'll remember this year's Small Business Summit every time I wear my 3 Daughters shirt!]
I thought I'd write up a few insights to share with Ripl's 350,000+ active customers, having had a couple weeks to consider all that I heard while in D.C.
These observations and insights may not apply to all of you, but if some of you find these useful then it's worth sharing what I noticed while at the Summit. If you have reactions that you'd like to share, feel free to send us a note at 'firstname.lastname@example.org' or drop your thoughts in our Ripl Facebook Group Community.
Without further ado, a summary of my observations from Small Business Summit 2017:
1) Local retail and services businesses are very interested in mobile and social media marketing hacks
I was stopped in the hallways many times by attendees who wanted to know 'What really works', or some variant on that question.
It's clear that there are too many opinions out there about what small businesses should do, and not enough proven best practices.
- Here at Ripl we don't claim to have all the answers, but we do have insight into hundreds of thousands of successful business owners' activities. For what it's worth, my answer - both on the panel when the question came up and in the hallways - was:
- use videos on social media - they get better reach, attention, and engagement!
- have a mobile-optimized website for your business [if you use Squarespace or Wix, it works automatically - so consider migrating your domain/site to those platforms if you're running on a 10+ year old service]
- experiment with locally-targeted Facebook Ads.
2) Small business success and entrepreneurship is a BIG topic in Washington, D.C. right now
It may seem like all the news at the federal government level is about corporate tax reform, global regulatory policy and trade sanctions, etc. However, I can tell you that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - arguably the most important organization in D.C. for domestic economy matters, and the parent organization of all local Chambers of Commerce across the U.S. - is extremely focused on helping small businesses thrive and succeed. And that means bringing success stories to Capitol Hill is more important now than ever.
If you are a U.S.-based business, it's smart to get engaged - or at least familiar with - your local Chamber of Commerce (if you're not already). Let them know who you are, where you are located, what your growth plans are, and ask them how they can help you. You may be surprised what you learn if you haven't reached out before.
Write your local senators and congresspeople, and tell them your story. Why not post a Ripl-created video about your business and tag their Twitter or Facebook account ;-)? The more your elected representatives see social media success stories about businesses in their area, the more likely it is that they will put a face (YOUR face!) on the small business-related issues they debate in Washington, D.C.
3) Small business owners are eager to share tips, best practices, and the chance to celebrate each other.
There was palpable excitement among all of the Summit attendees about spending 2 days talking about the highs and lows of entrepreneurship with each other. Running a business can often be lonely and stressful. Expanding a network of people who've experienced it and can empathize with each other is really valuable. When I asked several people in attendance why they had chosen to spend the time, money, and effort to come the Washington for the Summit, most responded with some version of, 'I'm here to meet other people like me and learn from them.'
I was so inspired by the optimism and positive spirit of everyone I met. Small business owners seem to have a bottomless well of enthusiasm, making them eager to tell their story. It reminded me how powerful it can be to simply ask, 'Will you tell me the story about your business?'
I got the sense that most small business owners use A LOT of different personal, print and online resources to learn about things they want to improve. In addition, they are really wary of snake-oil salespeople and false promises about generic 'cure-alls' for their particular business challenges. Each business is unique, and they all know that there isn't a standard playbook about what will help them 'go from Good to Great'. Ironically, though, several of the small business owners I spoke to said they don't talk to their competitors or share ideas among similar businesses to theirs! Instead, best practices and idea-sharing seems to happen among more informal local and personal contacts with other types of businesses. My sense was that small business owners are really interested in using the Internet to find trusted communities and to discover resources + tools that others have proven out as truly useful.
4) Small business owners use their mobile devices more than mid- and large-sized business employees for Customer Relationship Management
3 different people approached me after our Mobile Marketing panel discussion and told me their personal stories of becoming almost wholly dependent on their smartphone for customer communications and business management
One business owner related her experience of struggling with all the different ways that her customers contact her, and how inefficient - but required - it sometimes is to be timely in responding to everyone on a 1:1 basis. She said that every day she gets phone calls/voice mails, text messages, lots of emails, social media messages, and recently even Facebook Messenger notes. She recalled the days when she only heard from her customers when her business was Open... and she said that while the 24/7 immediacy and connection with customers was good for her business, it was taxing to be 'Always Open' via her phone.
Tools, Tools, Tools! Any time a piece of small biz software or a clever app was mentioned in a panel talk, notepads and phones came out as a bunch of people scrambled to remember it. Anything that might either unlock customer acquisition or give people time back via their smartphone got an immediate 'ooh/ahh' type reaction.
On behalf of all of us here at Team Ripl, I hope that you've found this post to be a useful summary of my experience at one of the largest small business conferences in the U.S.!
If you have a small business success story to share with us, or just want to get in touch, every single team member reads every single email message we receive at 'email@example.com' (seriously!). You can always send us a note at our Twitter account, our Facebook Page, or via LinkedIn as well.
We love hearing from all of you! Your stories truly are the inspiration that drives us to keep innovating the Ripl marketing software for you.