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2019

Online shopping just keeps growing. Last year, U.S. consumers spent over $513 billion on the Internet, an increase of more than 14 percent compared to 2017, according to figures released in March from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Almost one retail sale in ten now takes place online.

 

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Those changing consumer habits are a challenge for small businesses and not just because every seller has to build an ecommerce store. Do-it-yourself website building kits now make designing a retail site the work of no more than a few hours.

 

The challenge for small businesses is that, while more than half a trillion dollars may be changing hands online every year, some 40 percent of those sales take place on just one site.

 

Amazon dominates online retail. The $867 billion company is more than a store. It’s a complete retail center serving over 150 million unique visitors each month. Its own sales make up much of that retail space but through its Amazon Marketplace feature, Amazon also hosts the online outlets of around six million other sellers. They’re said to make up more than double the value of Amazon’s own sales.

 

Essentially, Amazon is the world’s biggest shopping mall.

 

The good news is that any retailer can take space in that mall. For professional sellers, there’s a monthly subscription fee of $39.99, as well as referral fees that are typically between 8 and 15 percent of the sales price (although they can reach as high as 45 percent.) Retailers can fulfill orders themselves or they can ship stock to one of Amazon’s warehouses and let the company do the fulfillment work for them. (I use Amazon to fulfil orders of my Kaching buttons.)

 

The challenge of online retail isn’t building the website. It’s finding customers and building enough trust to make them comfortable entering their credit card details.

That’s what Amazon’s fees buy. When someone searches for your goods at Amazon.com, your products will appear in their search results. They’ll appear at a place where customers are used to shopping. It’s likely that the customer won’t even notice that they’re buying from a third-party retailer instead of from Amazon itself.

 

For online sellers, Amazon doesn’t have to be a competitor. It can also be a partner, helping you to sell your products to the massive audience that it’s already created.

But it’s not quite that simple. Amazon’s benefits come at a cost, and those costs are more than financial.

 

First, the competition is tight. You won’t be the only seller in your space pitching your goods through Amazon Marketplace. To stand out, you’ll need to keep adjusting your prices to keep them competitive. You’ll also need to pick up positive reviews, and, while you can pay for a higher spot in the search results, that expenditure comes on top of your referral fees.

 

Second, you’ll be at the whim of Amazon’s bureaucracy, including a judicial system that has been described as “Kafkaesque.” Amazon is quick to suspend sellers while its appeal process can be difficult and unresponsive. That’s made the marketplace a battleground for dirty dealers whose tricks have included buying fake reviews for competitors, setting competitors’ products alight then telling Amazon they exploded, and reclassifying rivals’ products in the wrong categories. There’s an entire industry of experts and consultants helping businesses with their appeals. Amazon Marketplace can feel more like a Wild West town ruled by a despotic sheriff than the Mall of America.

 

But above all, selling on Amazon Marketplace gives your customers fewer reasons to come to your own website where you have complete control. There are no competitors on your own site. The customer loyalty you win is entirely your own, and you don’t have to deal with Amazon’s strange appeals process.

 

Amazon Marketplace is too big to ignore. But its size and power make it unlikely to be a reliable environment for small sellers. Use it if you believe it will bring you extra sales but make sure that it’s not the only way you reach customers.

 

Read next: The Secret to Competing with Amazon by Steve Strauss

 

 

About Joel Comm

 

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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.

 

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.

 

Web: https://joelcomm.com/ or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Joel Comm to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Joel Comm is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Joel Comm. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

In a previous article, I discussed how product-based businesses can sell on Instagram. For service-based businesses, the rules and opportunities to sell on Instagram are a little different. 

 

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Regardless of what you are trying to sell on Instragram, here’s what you need to know and some key steps you can take.

 

Add your contact details on your Business Profile

 

When you switch to a business profile, you not only access profile analytics, you are also able to add your contact information. When you add contact information, a Contact button appears near the top of your profile. When people click that button, they'll see options like Get Directions, Call and Email, depending on the contact information you provide. If you add your location, you’ll have a clickable business address, which is ideal if you have a physical office or store.

 

Your interactive contact information provides the community with a way to reach you and take the next step, whether that is to ask a question, find out more information or book an appointment. You can also promote a call to action at the end of your Instagram post captions.

 

Make strategic use of the link in your bio

 

You get one clickable link in your Instagram bio, so it’s important to make the most of it. You can either use it to lead visitors to a specific call to action, such as a lead magnet or sales page.  Alternatively, you can use a third-party app to include multiple calls to action.

 

Examples include:

 

Later provides one link you add to your Instagram bio that opens a new page with your posts. Your audience can then click on each post to go directly to a specific landing page. This feature is only offered on paid business plans for Later.com.

 

Linktree is a free alternative that allows you to add multiple CTA links from one link shared in your Instagram bio. The paid plan has additional features, too. I personally use this one and really like it.

 

An alternative idea for small businesses looking to market services is to set up a dedicated page on your website just for Instagram visitors, e.g. domain.com/Instagram. Here you could share your main offers or exclusive bonuses for those visiting via Instagram. This is a great way to let your Instagram community know how much you value them. Platform-exclusive content and bonuses also incentivize your community to stay engaged.

 

It’s a good idea to reiterate your call to action in your bio description too. This will prompt new visitors, in particular, to take action especially if it’s in exchange for value, e.g. a lead magnet.

 

Showcase your services in action

 

The best way to let your community know why they should buy your services isn’t to tell them. It’s to show them. Create a content strategy that inspires and educates your audience on the services you provide.

 

Use your post captions to tell stories and connect with your audience. Relate to how they feel and use your services as the bridge that guides them from where they are now to where they want to be.

 

Ask for reviews from your past clients. Showcase these in your Instagram posts and Stories. Share before/after photos, results, testimonials and case studies throughout your profile and in your Instagram stories.

 

This generates social proof and creates excitement around the solution you provide. When you see someone else just like you experiencing great benefits, you want those same benefits for yourself.

 

While service providers can’t create shoppable posts, they can add a small pricing overlay graphic using a tool like Picmonkey or Canva. Used in conjunction with a well-crafted call to action at the end of your caption and the link in your bio provides a very effective way to promote your services.

 

Publish Stories regularly

 

As Mark Zuckerberg has said, ‘Stories are the future!’

 

Think of Instagram Stories as an on-the-go vlogging (video blogging) platform. Stories are your opportunity to connect with your audience via video and images to help them really get to know you. This is important because we all know that people do business with other people they know, like and trust.

 

There are so many ways you can use the Stories format to sell your services:

 

    • Share insight into what goes on behind the scenes, so people can see all the work that goes into creating and providing your services.
    • Host a Q&A through the Stories questions sticker feature and answer any objections that might be standing between your audience buying and not buying your services.
    • Conduct market research through the Polls sticker feature to understand how to best serve your audience.
    • Share tips and how to’s that leverage your credibility as an expert in your field.
    • Provide exclusive offers and discounts that create buzz and a sense of urgency to buy now so your audience doesn’t lose out.
    • Go Live on Instagram and start a conversation. You can even invite members of your community to join you live on camera via their smartphone, too. Going live and including your audience helps create a deep, meaningful and transparent relationship with your audience members. Live broadcasts build loyalty that will not only create customers, but it will create brand advocates. When you invest in others, they will invest in you and they’ll tell their friends to do the same.

 

          Related: 5 Ideas to Use Instagram Stories to Drive Small Business Growth

 

If you have over 10,000 followers on Instagram, you’ll have the option to add links to your Stories via the ‘swipe up’ feature, as indicated by the little link icon on your Stories. Being able to include links with a call to action helps to lead your viewers outside Instagram to an offer/sales page.

 

If you have less than 10,000 followers, you can still include the swipe up feature that goes to a video on IGTV. IGTV is Instagram’s dedicated vertical video app where you can publish longer video content.

 

Unlike the main Instagram app, any links in your caption or comments on IGTV are active. So, using your Stories, you can drive people from there to consume slightly longer video content and from there to an offer page on your website.

 

Use hashtags and locations

 

Make sure you incorporate hashtags, locations, and the tagging feature into your posts to make it easier for people to find you when searching for your area of expertise. Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6 percent more engagement than those without, while posts with a location get 79 percent more engagement.

 

You can include as many as 30 hashtags in each post. Instead of just describing your post with hashtags, think of the specific hashtags your customer might type into the search bar.

 

For example, if you are a carpenter, you wouldn’t just add #carpentry to your post. You’re more likely to benefit from adding hashtags such as #interiordesign, #decoratingtips, #movinghouse, and #newhome with a particular location tag. Why? Because women looking for inspiration on how to decorate their new home are more likely to find your post with these types of hashtags.

 

Along with searching in the Instagram mobile app, also try a tool such as Hashtagify.me to discover more relevant hashtags for your posts. Remember to also include a few hashtags in your Stories!

 

Place Instagram ads

 

Instagram allows you to create 4 main ad types:

 

    • Photo ads
    • Video ads
    • Carousel ads
    • Story ads

 

Once you’ve chosen the type of ad that will give you the result you’re looking for there are a variety of calls to action from which to choose. With the right content and the right targeting, Instagram ads are a fantastic way to drive traffic to your website, a lead page or a sales page at a relatively low cost. 

 

Access Instagram ads via Facebook Ads Manager, or just tap the ‘Promote’ button on an existing post on your Instagram profile.

 

To promote a Story directly from the Instagram app, tap the 3 dots in the lower right of the Story, then tap Promote.

 

Related:

The Best Performing Facebook Ad Formats for Small Business

Instagram and Facebook Story Ads: How to Make Stories Work for your Small Business

 

While Instagram primarily started out as a photo sharing app focused on community, it’s safe to say that social commerce is now at the forefront of Instagram’s product development. We will continue to see the platform grow and change to support event better methods of helping businesses find and sell to their customers, and small businesses should prepare for that future now.”

 

About Mari Smith

 

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Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing and social media. She is a Forbes’ Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Forbes recently described Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” She is a recognized Facebook Partner; Facebook headhunted and hired Mari to lead the Boost Your Business series of live events across the US. Mari is an in-demand speaker, and travels the world to keynote and train at major events.

 

Her digital marketing agency provides professional speaking, training and consulting services on Facebook and Instagram marketing best practices for Fortune 500 companies, brands, SMBs and direct sales organizations. Mari is also an expert webinar and live video broadcast host, and she serves as Brand Ambassador for numerous leading global companies.

 

Web: Mari Smith  or Twitter: @MariSmith

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Mari Smith to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Mari Smith is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Mari Smith. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

When small businesses add content to their social media campaigns, they’re looking to do two things:

 

1. They want to talk to the audiences they already have. They want to remind customers that they’re still there, that they still speak their language, and that those customers should buy from them again soon

 

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2. They also want to reach new audiences. They want that content to spread from their core audience to new potential customers.

 

One of the most effective ways to achieve both goals simultaneously has sprung up recently in the form of memes. Memes are easily recognizable visual gags that are customized and shared online. If you remember the Distracted Boyfriend or Grumpy Cat or the Success Kid baby pumping his fist, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The images are funny and anyone can crack their own joke by adding to the text.

 

The meme becomes the center of an international conversation, like people sitting on a giant, global sofa, getting laughs by riffing off each other’s jokes.

 

How can memes be used in marketing?

 

The power of those memes to reach millions, to stick in people’s minds, and to engage them actively is a huge opportunity for brands. A business that can put its brand at the center of the conversation around a trending meme can generate millions of dollars’ worth of free reach.

 

It’s no surprise that big brands have hired savvy social media experts to generate applicable memes. Netflix, for example, has it easy. The company has access to massive amounts of visual content that it can use to create shareable memes of its own, and it does so. But those memes are often less effective than the images created by the company’s customers which it then shares.

 

In principle, anyone who creates those memes breaches Netflix’s copyright. But Netflix certainly doesn’t care. It’s getting free publicity and an army of smart, witty people creating marketing content for nothing.

 

Few companies have a library of visual content as rich as Netflix’s but it’s also possible to create your own focus for memes. When the Philadelphia Flyers rolled out Grittyas their new mascot, they might not have intended to create a meme theme but that was the result. The orange, dumpy monster quickly appeared in a host of memes created and shared by fans, and even by people who couldn’t tell one end of a hockey stick from the other. Each time Gritty appeared in a meme, the brand image spread further across the Internet.

 

It’s not an easy model to copy. But it’s not impossible. There’s no reason that other businesses can’t have mascots, cute logos, or any other image that people might want to share.

 

The problem, of course, is that memes are never entirely in the control of the brand. Once you hand over an image to audiences, there’s no knowing how it will end up or how people will use it. Taco Bell has worked hard at using memes as part of its advertising campaign, even putting meme-style ads on billboards. But those fake memes always came across as a bit cheesy while the audience-generated memes about the “explosive” power of a Taco Bell meal were much wittier. They might have put the brand’s name in front of far more people, but sometimes it’s just not true that all publicity is good publicity.

 

How can I leverage memes for my own small business?

 

If you’re looking to create your own meme, pick a visual gag that your audience can relate to. Tie that gag to some element of your brand: its sassy attitude, for example, or its laid-back coolness. Seed your social media platforms with your content and hope that it takes off.

 

And bear in mind that if it does, whatever happens next is out of your hands.

 

 

About Joel Comm

 

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As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.

 

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.

 

Web: https://joelcomm.com/ or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Joel Comm to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Joel Comm is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Joel Comm. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

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