Interview with Lisa Barone, Small-Business Marketing Expert

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Lisa BaroneIf you’ve been reading me for a while, you know Lisa Barone is my favorite marketing guru — she gets quoted in most of my weekend reading posts! So I’m tremendously excited to bring you this interview with Lisa Barone, internet marketer, popular blogger, witty tweeter, fabulous inspiration, and very very nice person!

In true Lisa style, she opens up about her work, marketing in general, and advice she has for small businesses.

Let’s get to it! My questions and comments are in bold.

So, why Overit?

When I resigned from my last position I was looking for a considerable change of pace. I wanted to go back to working for a larger team, I wanted to be working in a far more creative environment, and I wanted the ability to be more “hands on” with clients – to blog less and to be considerably more involved in the strategy and the implementation of the work. Overit has given me all of that and a lot more.

Overit is truly a company of immense talent. The motion team is doing things with video and animation I haven’t seen anywhere else. The designers and developers will blow you away. The PR team is securing mentions from nationally known publications. Essentially, everything a client could ever want for their marketing campaign is right here, in-house, with all the departments working together. I’ve seen many companies call themselves a “full service” agency, but I haven’t seen a company that truly represents that, without sacrificing quality, the way Overit does. The chance to work alongside these amazing people and learn from them was something I would have been crazy to pass up.

Also, have you seen our new office? Who wouldn’t want to come here every day?

I know, those photos look awesome! Speaking of awesome… What social media platform do you personally like best? (Let me guess… it’s Twitter, isn’t it?)

On a personal level, I like Twitter. Twitter allows me to have quick conversations, to answer questions on the fly, and to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations to benefit from them or add value when I can. Who DOESN’T like getting permission to eavesdrop? ;) Twitter is definitely the platform that has given me the most value over the years.  I seem to have an easier time connecting with folks there than I do on others.

I knew it! But for small businesses, which platform offers the best bang for their… time?

That’s going to depend on what your business is and where your customers are. In many cases it will matter less what site you choose to dedicate your time to and more that you really decide to dedicate your time to it.

I thought it was interesting that Facebook was said to drive almost 50 percent of traffic to small news sites [PDF]. That’s pretty noteworthy.  If I was a business starting out though, I still think Twitter would be my “go to” just because it’s easier to dip your toe in without an established audience.

What are your favorite tools? I know you love Buffer (I tried it on your recommendation and now I can’t do without it!)… What else?

Yes, I’m having a passionate love affair with Buffer. If your readers haven’t tried it yet, I challenge them to give it a shot and then wonder how they ever lived without it. It’s great for personal use. If you’re looking for a Twitter tool to help you manage multiple accounts or make it easier to coordinate team tweeting, than CoTweet is pretty powerful, as well.

Harvest is my preferred time tracking tool. I’ve used it with two different companies now and it’s great at keeping me accountable to my day.

Rainymood is my favorite for blocking out the world and focusing on work. Writing in the rain is pretty sexy. ;)

Those are the tools I rely on most. To be honest, I don’t use that many in my day.  If one of your readers has a Facebook tool they really rely, I’d love to hear it. I haven’t tried any I’ve fallen in love with. I’d love to hear what I’m missing.

I need to try these out — I’m opening Rainymood right now, since I’m easily distracted by sounds and I don’t like music on while I’m working.

Tell me, what’s the one thing you hate doing but still force yourself to do every week?

Besides working out? ;)

I don’t think there’s anything associated with my job that I hate or even strongly dislike. I’m pretty lucky to enjoy what I do. I love to share ideas, I love to be creative, and I love working with people who aren’t afraid to try new things. And I get to do that every day.

That is awesome (though not as controversial as I’d hoped.)

Right now, there are so many social media platforms and tools that ostensibly make things easier, and there is so much expert advice on what marketing activities a small business should be doing. What do you think is the most important marketing activity a small business should focus on?

Focus on serving your customers and making their lives easier. If that means providing content on your blog to help them get smarter about something – then that’s the activity you want to focus on.

If it means holding in-store workshops so they can meet other people in their community with the same interests – then do that.

If it means being available on Twitter to answer questions, make the time to do that.

Coming up with new ways to solve your customers’ problems is the key to any business, but especially a small business. Figure out what it is your customers are searching for, and then consistently give it to them.

Apart from Small Business Trends, what’s the one site you’d recommend for small-business marketing advice?

It’s hard to pick out just one. I think there are a number of great sites for small business owners.  If you’re obsessed with local search, I’d want to make sure people are reading Mike Blumenthal’s blog. If you’re looking for more general small business marketing advice to implement, then Duct Tape Marketing is a great source of information.  If you’re looking for advice on how to use content marketing to convert, go to Copyblogger.

The great thing about the number of sites and blogs out there is that you can find whatever it is you’re looking for.

Agreed. Though one challenge I often hear of from my small-business clients is that they struggle to make sense of their data… What’s the one metric they should keep an eye on?

Your conversion rate. You’re spending time and money trying to build your business, both on the Web and off – so you want to make sure you’re profiting from your actions. That doesn’t mean everything needs to lead back to a direct sale, but you should have goal-tracking in place to help you keep track of conversion-oriented behavior. If someone signs up for your newsletter, subscribes to your RSS feed, places an item in their shopping cart – these are things you want to be looking it. It doesn’t matter if you have 20,000 followers on Twitter. It matters that people are converting on your site, whatever a “conversion” means to you.

I believe small businesses can be responsive towards their customers and in their marketing in a way big businesses struggle with. What other advantages do you think small businesses have?

Small-business owners have a lot of advantages that their larger competitors don’t have.

They can act faster. They’re more in tune with their customers. They speak the same language. They can be more bold and daring in their marketing. They can show more of themselves. They’re more relatable. There’s less red tape. They can provide a more intimate experience. If you’re a small-business owner, you’re in a great position. Small is the new big!

Speaking of showing more of yourself… you have built a reputation (and an ardent following!) by being honest and provocative. Would you recommend that as a strategy or did you just do what came naturally to you?

You have to be true to who you are in a way that helps you achieve your goals. For me that meant being open about my opinions and taking stands when I thought they were important. I wouldn’t recommend that everyone be as mouthy as I can sometimes be, but you want to take the time to understand who you are in your business, what you’re trying to build, and to identify your strengths and weaknesses. How can you be the most “true” version of yourself… while still building your business.

I think the whole “be authentic” thing is kind of a lie. Being the unfiltered version of yourself isn’t always the best course if it means you’re going to be an authentic jerk. I gave a talk at TEDx last year about why our weirdness is our biggest selling point. I think more people should take the time to identify what’s unique about them and to use it.

Having been an entrepreneur yourself, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business-owner?

The challenges are endless when you’re living life as an entrepreneur.  Obviously there are time challenges, issues scaling, and lessons in delegating, however, I think surrounding myself with the right people has always been something I’ve struggled with. Whether you’re a one-man (or woman!) shop or if you have a team of business partners, it’s important to work with people who share your core values and beliefs. You don’t have to agree on the small, day-to-day things, but you absolutely need to agree on the bigger picture and have the same core values. Finding that can be difficult. But if you surround yourself with the right people, I’ve found the rest of it kind of falls into place.

Thank you so much for doing this, Lisa. As usual, I find your words incredibly motivating, and I hope our readers will too!

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