In a nutshell... the most successful marketing plans are those that allow flexibility to flow with the changing trends each year. As digital marketing and customer-focused content are gaining in importance, here are 7 tips to help you finalize your marketing strategies for 2014. #1. Develop A Realistic Marketing Budget. “My philosophy is that if I have any money I invest it in ventures and not have it sitting around.” – Richard Branson While gaining new customers and keeping current customers are the top two concerns of small business owners, 1 in 4 owners spend ZERO money on marketing. About half spend $500 or less each month. A more flexible budget allows business owners to tackle new marketing opportunities that fit with this year’s ever-changing trends. #2. Optimize Your Website For Mobile Searches “The longer you’re not taking action the more money you’re losing.” – Carrie Wilkerson About 60% of consumers find businesses and brands via their smartphones or tablets, but 9 out of 10 business owners say their websites are not optimized for mobile searches. Businesses need the ability to provide a positive experience for their on-the-go users, increasing their opportunities to secure new business. #3. Maintain Accurate Contact Listings “The brands that can connect with client in a real way will win.” – Gary Vaynerchuk Small businesses are listed among a variety of sites incuding Google, Yelp, Bing, Superpages.com, Facebook, and LinkedIn. A survey this year found that about 50% of 350 surveyed small business listings were inaccurate. About 70% of small business owners say they don’t have time to keep up with all of their listings. And only 23% had a good sense of how to use their online listings to drive traffic to their websites. (Survey conducted by ConstantContact’s Single Platform division.) #4. Build Your Social Media Presence “Content is fire. Social Media is gasoline” – Jay Baer Consumers spend a considerable amount of time online, interacting with businesses and brands now more than ever. By knowing which platforms provide the strongest amount of engagement, by posting engaging content/posts/photos, and by responding to customers, businesses generate loyalty with their custoemrs and potential customers. #5. Provide How-Tos And Case Studies “Each of us has some kind of powerful story. Tell it.” – Leo Babauta A growing trend in content marketing goes one step further than news articles. Consumers are looking for more “how-to” aritcles and case studies to show why something is valuable, helpful or important.How-to articles offer more than information or direction. They offer exact steps on how to get clear benefits. Applicable information is always welcomed by consumers. Case studies illustrate selling points much better when they are accompanied by a story, proof that a product, service, or philosophy worked for them. Both deliver more brand awareness, more value, more conversation, and more shares. #6. Measure Your Impact “Measurement is Like Laundry. It Piles Up the Longer You Wait to Do It” – Amber Naslund Check your efforts weekly or monthly across your social media platforms and your content marketing. If you aren't measuring your marketing, it will be difficult to know which platforms are the most effective. You don't want to speak your voice and not pay attention to who is responding or listening. Monitor your listening engagement so you are consistently building upon and improve your strategy. #7. Refocus Content On The Customer “The only way to win at content marketing is for the reader to say, ‘This was written specially for you’.” – Jamie Turner While we are eager to share anything and everything about our businesses, we should be mindful that the information consumers want to see is information that helps them, benefits them, or solves a problem for them. Before posting content, ask how your audience can benefit from the information you are sharing. Why should they pay attention? And why should they share it with their own friends, family, and contacts? BONUS - Send Out An Email Newsletter “Email has an ability many channels don’t: creating valuable, personal touches – at scale” – David Newman eNewsletters provide another touch point in addition to social media, web content, and logs/articles. It is another form of content marketing that offers a strong extension to your audience, keeping your brand at the forefront of their minds. Collecting contacts for emails is vital as you can begin to collect information about your customers and prospective customers In marketing, one size does not fit all. "And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it." – Steve Jobs So use the resources available and tailor them to fit your specific needs. Focus on what works and get rid of what doesn’t. We are looking forward to 2014. What are your marketing plans for the new year?