It must be a difficult time being a small business owner today – putting up with tough trading conditions, low consumer confidence and a complex digital landscape to navigate.

A recent survey of small businesses says trading conditions have recently improved for Australian small businesses, but remain historically weak.

I had a conversation with my dad, a small business owner, last week about his use of digital tools (or serious lack of) in his marketing toolkit.

He was quick to tell me he doesn’t have time for Twitter.

No doubt my dad is just one example of millions of Aussie small business owners who don’t feel they have the time for digital marketing among their mountain of daily tasks.

To me, it appears small businesses might be missing simple but powerful opportunities to help them through tough trading times.

Twitter, Facebook & LinkedinMy dad’s not totally offline, he has a company website but from all accounts it’s outdated and needs some work. What about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn I asked him? These three social media tools are used by many businesses to build advocacy and engage with customers. According to dad, he doesn’t have time and doesn’t see the point. When I pointed out these channels can actually be a cost effective and easy ways to market his products and drive sales through the door, he wasn’t completely convinced but was willing to hear more.

This particular take on the relevance and value of ‘social media marketing’ is not unique and it’s not surprising there are millions of small businesses asking the very same question – what return will I get and where do I start?

The launch of Yelp in Australia at the end of last year is definitely a space for small businesses to watch. Yelp, the leading user reviews and ratings site globally, is an international success operating in 13 countries. With the increasing role ratings and reviews play in purchasing decisions of online Australians, Yelp’s entry means small businesses may be forced to get involved sooner rather than later. If Yelp succeeds in Australia as they have in the US, they’ll become a household name and will see millions of businesses and brands thrown into the reality of dealing with public online reviews about their products or services.

What I told my dad is this: it’s important to remember businesses needn’t be afraid to jump in and try it out. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, you can simply listen, or take up a simple presence or you can choose to go the whole nine yards – it’s really up to you.

The online world is exciting and it’s understandably complex, I work in this space and I still don’t have my head around it all. But it’s crucial all businesses realise the huge potential on the online world, and not be afraid to JUMP IN!

My mission: to get my dad on Twitter. His business is one that could really benefit from mirco-blogging to a community about his industry, sharing discounts and news about his business.

A couple of other pointers for small businesses wanting to get involved online:

  • Social media is a fantastic ‘listening’ tool – start up a Twitter account and follow a few people related to your industry and simply listen to what is going on
  • You can’t ‘set and forget’ with social media – if you do get involved you need to commit to providing updates on an ongoing basis – you’ll never grow a community otherwise
  • Don’t pay thousands of dollars for a website – there are plenty of service providers out there that can help out and it can cost as little as $1000
  • Ask your kids about social media and what they like about brands on social media, you’ll get a good feel for what content people like to engage with
So, are there any small or medium sized businesses out there that have recently started using Twitter as a business tool and would like to share their experience? I’d love to hear from you – the more case studies the more I’m likely to convince my dad!