"There's just not enough hours in the day."

It's a sentiment we can all sympathize with. If you're a small or medium-sized business owner, though, this statement rings especially true. How can you be expected to test and implement all of the online marketing opportunities out there, when just operating your business is a full-time job - with plenty of overtime?

Not enough hours in the day.

Fortunately, there is good news. As it turns out, your customers are willing to do a lot of this work for you. They just need a push in the right direction. Here are four strategies for giving them that push they need.

Ask them to help. This one seems obvious, but most people aren't doing it. If you have a page on Yelp, for example, post a little sign by the register advertising that fact, and asking for reviews. Or post a sign that advertises your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Your customers are busy, too, so it's likely they don't have time to sit down and search Facebook for all of their favorite businesses. But if you tell them where to go, they might become a fan, perhaps right on the spot from their smartphone.

Give something away. By now, hopefully you have a healthy following on some of the social sites mentioned above. Now, you need to justify the fact that they're following you. A great way to do that is with a contest of giveaway. Whether it's a free iPod or a free sandwich, nothing gets people talking like getting something for nothing. Perhaps you can give a free item to everyone who tweets in a given time period. Or ask a daily trivia question for a prize. Or hold a photo contest on Facebook. Contests are a near-surefire way to get your followers talking about you and convincing their friends to follow you as well.

Make your regulars feel special. If you're lucky, you have a loyal subset of your customers whom you consider to be your "regulars." Depending on your business, maybe you see them once a month, or three times a week. Either way, you know one very important thing about these people: they must like your business a lot. Otherwise, they wouldn't be there so often. As opposed to one-time customers, these "regulars" think you're pretty special. So make them feel special.

How you do this may be as low-tech as greeting them by name when you see them. Or it may mean doing something special for your social media supporters. For example, Starbucks recently announced that mayors on Foursquare would receive discounts at their local store. Though the offer was only for a limited time, I'm sure it made a lot of Starbucks regulars feel special, and a lot of occasional customers start "checking-in" more often.

Be great. This tip is the easiest to explain, and the hardest to implement. Word of mouth starts with an exceptional experience (good or bad). If you offer your customers exceptionally good experiences, they'll want to talk about you. Thirty years ago, this meant they told their friends and family about you. Today, this means they'll tell the world about you on Facebook, Twitter, in Google Local Reviews, in their personal blogs, and just about anywhere else where people will listen. Why? Because -

  • People like to share their experiences.
  • People like to demonstrate knowledge and/or authority (for example, knowing the best pizza place in town).
  • People want their favorite businesses to stay in business

For these reasons and many more, people will talk about you if you give them a reason to. While I wouldn't recommend a completely hands-off approach to social media, if you're short of time (which you probably are), having a team of evangelists out there, working for you, can be a great thing. The truth is, most of your good customers want to help, they just might not know what to do, or what they're capable of. They just need a push in the right direction.

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