Small business owners have the difficult challenge of not only managing their day to day operations to ensure their customers are satisfied, but also deciding how to best market and advertise their company to attract new customers. Before the Internet arrived, the choices were primarily limited to print media such as yellow pages, newspapers or local magazines. Perhaps we all yearn for a simpler time, but you can throw that notion out the window in our 24/7 new media tsunami.

Local businesses need to be highly efficient with their time and money to be successful in today’s challenging economic environment. Larger companies may have the luxury of hiring an advertising agency or employ full time marketing staff that are tasked with implementing a cost effective marketing plan. The typical local business does not have this option and often times the founder or owner is solely responsible for the marketing direction of the company. Owners face the daunting task of navigating through a constant barrage of marketing advice, new services and fancy jargon and trying to determine what makes sense for their company and budget.

All too often, local business owners end up trying out a variety of marketing services that are sold to them by companies using aggressive sales tactics. The local business owner may try out a service for a few months and if they do not see immediate results, they can become frustrated and stop using the service. When the next marketing company comes along touting their service is different and special, the small business owner may decide to try them for a while and the cycle continues.

This “hit or miss” mindset is not a winning formula for the small business owner, as effective Internet marketing plans encompass a few basic areas and can take time to yield results. Many marketing companies that sell services to local business owners typically focus on a specific marketing expertise or service (such as Pay Per Click, SEO, Email software, Directory, Leads, etc,) and either do not offer a full service option or such an option is too far out of reach of their budget.

As a result, it can be extremely difficult for a small business owner to make informed decisions and attempting to research all of this on their own would be too time consuming. A balanced marketing plan that includes a website that converts browsers to potential customers, a steady stream of targeted traffic to your website and web listings around the web and a methodology to consistently communicate and cultivate your existing customers and prospects. It should be easy, but the problem is the tools you need to pull this off are scattered around the web.

The one thing that every business owner should do, even if you do not have a website, is take control of your local business listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other directories and review websites. Local Business listings on the Internet can generate traffic and attract new customers. Business owners can claim and manage their listings on most major sites at no cost. Recent estimates suggest that only around 10% of local business owners have claimed their business listings on Google, so there is a significant opportunity for local business owners that are willing to invest a hour or so of their time.

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