SmallBizLady Talks About…SmallBiz

April 26, 2012 No Comments by Helen M. Ryan
SmallBizLady, Melinda Emerson, interview

Melinda Emerson is the ultimate example of branding success.

You might not be familiar with her name, but if you are a small business and active on Twitter, you most likely have heard of the “SmallBizLady” and her corresponding Twitter #smallbizchat.

In our interview (below), Emerson talks about what ignited her passion for helping small businesses grow, offers insight into building relationships , and shares the best accidental branding mistake she ever made. 

Engaging, funny and full of insight, Emerson is one of America’s leading small business experts. A former television producer for ABC and NBC, Emerson is also the author of “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months,” a professional speaker, and a small business coach. She has been featured on NBC Nightly News and in U.S. News and World Report, the Wall Street Journal, and Black Enterprise. Named one of the Top 50 Women in Business in Pennsylvania and one of Top 30 Leaders of the Future by Ebony magazine, the SmallBizLady has also been given the Woman of Distinction Award by the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Take a few moments to get acquainted with the @SmallBizLady—and learn how she became America’s No. 1 small business expert online.

Helen Ryan: What do you think businesses have learned over the last couple of years?

SmallBizLady: Well, I think what people learned that social media really does work, and that they need to make the time to do it, but they need to do it in a smart way. I think that what I see people doing now is really listening to what their customers are saying online and listening to where their customers are hanging out online, and figuring out how to become a part of the conversation.

People are blogging, coming up with content, and content is still king. I don’t see anybody knocking it off of its throne any time soon. It’s really about being helpful to people and promoting themselves carefully. I think traditional selling is dead and that’s probably the most important thing that people have. Nobody wants to hear “buy my stuff, buy my stuff.”

HR: That’s true because everything changing more to relationship marketing.

SmallBizLady: Yes, it’s all about the three Cs of social media. It’s about content, and then you use your content to build community. And then once you have community and you have gained the trust of your target customer, then you can create commerce and that is the only way to do it now.

HR: Now, you talk, obviously, to a variety of different businesses. What has been their biggest obstacles? Is there anything that’s a common theme?

SmallBizLady: Well, I think it depends. Newbies are still trying to figure where the best place is to spend their time, but I think existing business owners are more so struggling with sustainability. They’re able to get the onesies, twosies, but they know that long term that’s not sustainable and so they’re really trying to figure out, “how can I make my business sustainable?” I talk a lot about how to get repeat business and how to give great customer experiences, and really that all has to do with the follow-up immediately after the sale-really, just calling a customer and thanking them for their business, sending a handwritten note and thanking them for their business. Those are the things you have to do and those are the things that are memorable because so few people do them. One of the things that I do in my business is I send out Valentine’s card to my customers.

I want them to know that I love them. And you know what? My customers love it. Everybody’s busy stuffing people’s mailboxes with Christmas cards, and so what? Some people do Thanksgiving cards, but nobody does Valentine’s cards.

I think you can just pick a holiday that you’re going to say, “this is my holiday.“ Let’s say you’re a manufacturer and you manufacture your product in the United States  Well guess what? that’s something to crow about. I would say July 4th then probably should be your killer holiday, that you go buck wild on the 4th of July. Throw big appreciation party for all your customers.

HR: That makes a lot of sense.

SmallBizLady: These aren’t all things that cost a bunch of money.

HR: Is there anything that you see either in your business or with the customers you work with, that they’re moving away from? Like a shift or a trend?

SmallBizLady: I think that everything is moving towards mobile. I think everybody has got to, got to, got to be on the web and be effective on the Web. I think the things that people are moving away from what I call “paper marketing.”

In my case, I don’t even use an Outlook database anymore. All of my contacts go into LinkedIn. If you’re not in LinkedIn, your business card goes in the trash.

If you’re not Googleable, you don’t exist.  If you are not Googleable, nobody can find you…your customers cannot find you. I don’t own a Yellow Pages anymore.

HR: Well, most people don’t.

SmallBizLady: Right, so if you are not on the Web and bare minimum have a LinkedIn profile, you don’t exist.

HR: I’m always surprised when I find professionals not on LinkedIn.

SmallBizLady: I am, too. These people who went to college. We’re not talking about unsavvy people who don’t know how to use a computer. We’re talking about people under 40 years old and don’t have a LinkedIn profile. 75% of all professionals in the United States have a LinkedIn profile.

HR: Now, when you started, how did you become interested in helping other small businesses?

SmallBizLady: I ran a business, and after a few years my business was really successful, but then I got pregnant with my first child. I ended up having crazy high-risk pregnancy and it was at that moment that I realized what all the weaknesses were in my business. I literally had built a business that couldn’t survive without me.

But in that time frame, I had the opportunity to think quite a bit. And what I thought about was the advice I wish somebody had given me. After that was when I got on my crusade to help people not make the same mistakes I had made.

I had built my company back up and it was really hard, but after I did it I didn’t necessarily love doing it anymore.This other calling felt like it was stronger.I felt the reason I had gone through all those bumps and bruises in my business was because I was supposed to teach others.

It was a seasoning process. And literally, once I figured it was my calling it was amazing the mountains that were moved out of my way. The first publisher I ever talked to published my book. That’s how it worked. That’s how it went.

HR: That’s a great story.

SmallBizLady: And then literally, the story goes on. I wrote this book which was due to my publisher September 1st, 2008. I turned this book on time, mind you, but right when the world was falling apart. My publisher wasn’t going to publish the book until March of 2010. And this was September of 2008. I had ramped my business side down so I could go on a national speaking tour so then I had to figure out what I was going to do. A friend of mine suggested that I hire a publicist and have that person to help me  prime the market, build my platform to get ready for the book to come out. That is how is how I got to Twitter.

Then when the day came for me to sign up for my own account for Twitter, my name “SmallBizLady Emerson” was already taken.

Which is how I became SmallBizLady. And that is the best branding accident that ever happened to me….because now I am America’s number one small business expert online. I reach 1.5 million entrepreneurs every week on the Internet.

HR: That’s amazing. What a great story. A lot of things happen by accident .

SmallBizLady: It’s a hilarious story. It just didn’t seem so hilarious at the time.  I just made the most of it, I became SmallBizLady and then four months later I launched SmallBizChat.  Then I launched my blog, www.succeedasyourownboss.com

I’m always excited to tell my story because I think sometimes people see me on Twitter or they see that I have 150,000 that follow me and they’re thinking, “she’s so this.” But in reality, I’m a very regular person.  I’m just somebody who has been given a very special gift and a very special calling, and I take it pretty seriously.

I just kind of feel like everybody came from somewhere, and I think that’s the thing people forget.

The cool thing is that all this social media is free, so it’s not that tough to tell people what you’re into.

I got a call a month ago from some organization in South Africa who follows my blog. They want me to come speak in Cape Town and Durban this summer

HR: That’s exciting.

SmallBizLady: It’s kind of cool to get a call from South Africa. It’s an extraordinary blessing and it all started from social media.

HR: Anything in closing?

SmallBizLady: I want to inspire people to live their dreams. I want to inspire people to be really smart in business. And I don’t want people to risk their whole financial future on a half-baked business idea.

(This is part of a small business series. Read the interview with Brian Tracy and learn his secrets for success. Up next: 24 small businesses share their best business tips. Download your free copy of the complete series in e-book format here.)