Small Business Success: Trust me, it’s not me, it’s really you

With the rise of social media marketing in the past few years, advertising is much, much different from how it was back when I was a small-business owner. The big buzz words now are “customer engagement.” So when I say, “It’s not me, it’s you,” I mean that my marketing campaign needs to concentrate on you, the customer, not me, the business owner. We business owners have to grab your attention and get you to spread the word for us far and wide. This is one viral situation that you should desire.

Gone are the days when we should be trying out incentives like, “We’ve been in business for over 50 years,” or, “Lowest prices in town.” Those may sound good to me, the business owner, but for you, the customer, what do those things actually promise? What prospective buyers want to hear is, “How is my purchase of your product or service going to improve my life?” You want to hear about things like convenience, service, less hassle, that give you something that is going to make you want you to tell your friends, family and casual acquaintances all about the shopping experience we provided you.

Search engine optimization used to be all about the keywords product and place. But Google now directs searchers to what the customer is seeking in content, and that’s what we need to remember when we are wording our websites, Facebook posts and blogs. For example, here at the Small Business Development Center we used to typically use keywords in our print, radio, TV and Web advertising that would list items like “business planning,” “market research,” ”financial analysis,” and so on. But that’s not answering the question that our clients are asking. It’s more like, “I want to start a small business and I don’t know where to begin” or “how do I write a business plan?” These questions lead you right to our website or to us directly.

That, in a nutshell, is what our marketing needs to be to grab your attention. So, Mike Lieberman at suggests, “It’s all about the questions. Start collecting them. What questions do prospects ask during the awareness stage of their buying process? What questions do they ask during the consideration phase of their process, and what questions do they ask during the decision phase? Once you know these, then you should start creating the content and reworking your search strategy to match these questions.”

And after all, I think that is why we business owners love having our own business. It’s not about the big paycheck for most of us. It’s certainly not about being our own boss, because our customers really lead the way. It’s definitely not that we can take time off whenever we want. At the end of the day, it’s because we have found some way to fulfill a need or desire for a product or service that is improving someone’s life.

I am pleased to introduce Kiah Sugrue, our new business advisor at the Small Business Development Center, to the business community. She comes to the center from Citizens Bank of Cape Vincent, where she was in charge of loan operations. Her role with the bank was providing one-on-one financial counseling to clients as well as researching and analyzing each client’s financial situation. She is experienced in financing and mortgage lending. She brings a significant amount of financial knowledge and understanding center.

Kiah graduated from SUNY Potsdam with a bachelor’s degree in business administration after having earned an associate degree in business administration from Jefferson Community College. She has always lived in Northern New York and her family has an extensive background developing small businesses. Kiah looks forward to fostering continued growth throughout the region through the development and support of small businesses.


Sarah O'Connell

Sarah O’Connell

Sarah O’Connell is a certified business adviser with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.