Maria Bailey is the CEO of the internet marketing firm Success City Online. Her diverse background includes newspaper columnist, small business entrepreneur, corporate Vice President and radio talk show host. She has managed multiple teams of sales and management personnel and been responsible for over 35 million dollars in annual sales. As a professional development consultant, she has facilitated hundreds of training programs and helped people working at all levels, to obtain greater success in sales, leadership and personal development.

Maria recently sat down with us to discuss the current trends in digital marketing, including social media, email, and video marketing.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to lead Success City Online?

In July of 2009, I was offered a unique opportunity to host a weekly show on the internet radio network known as XRADIO.BIZ. The show was established as “Success City.” The format gave local business owners the opportunity to showcase their success. We discussed the local, national, and international news and informed the listeners as to how it affects their bottom line. Guests included local business people, public figures, authors, musicians, and politicians at the local and national level.

As the show progressed, our social media presence grew and our reach expanded. Soon, we needed a website. We learned the importance of online promotion, made a lot of mistakes, and spent a lot of money. We ended up creating the company we needed to hire. Today, our passion for small business is stronger than ever as is our commitment to keeping other business people from making the same costly mistakes.

When entrepreneurs or small business owners “don’t know what they don’t know” regarding digital marketing, where can they turn for answers and unbiased advice?

There is so much information available online that it can be tough to navigate through all the sales pitches. Many online marketers are in the business of selling information. Many do it in the form of webinars. Much of the free information is dated or it is repackaged information sold by multiple sources. I like the term “Should-a-nars” because you end up feeling like you should be buying their products or terrible things will happen to you! Worse, you may end up feeling like you will never be able to do it on your own – so you may not take any action at all.

I suggest following the work of some of the most reputable trainers online such as Kim Garst of Boom Social. I also like Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, for excellent for website knowledge. I also like Derek Halpern of Social Triggers for information about blogs and podcasts. These individuals keep the information simple and easy to understand. By just subscribing to their newsletters, you can learn a lot that you can act on.

When should a small business owner or entrepreneur consider partnering with an outside service provider for his/her sales or marketing functions?

I think there is a point when every business owner comes to the realisation that it is time to grow or die. Businesses used to set aside a percentage of sales for advertising, usually about 10%. But the old forms of advertising just aren’t there anymore. Newspapers, magazines, and the Yellow Pages are no longer a viable option. Many small business owners who have been busy running their business are late adopters to using social media and are a little lost about how to spend their advertising dollars now. As a result, they may not be doing anything at all.

If their competitors are open to digital promotion, the aforementioned businesses are probably feeling the pressure. That’s when they know it’s time.

What’s the biggest digital marketing mistake that a small business can make that drastically increases the odds of its ultimate failure or closure?

Business owners are by nature results-oriented. They may want everything they spend time or money on to cause a result. The nature of brand building, especially with social media, is very different. The most effective social media strategy is about engaging the fans, not causing a transaction.

Much like networking, digital marketing takes time. A business strategy of posting too much about products or too many offers is almost always a mistake. Small businesses need time to let their digital marketing plan develop. As they build their brand, sales will follow.

Regarding their website, the mistake I often see a small business owner making is trying to be all things to all people. A website must be focused to be effective. It can be difficult for a business owner to understand how to edit his or her content down to only what is most important.

How can a company use social media marketing to nurture sales leads?

The answer is ultimately to build a brand online that is attractive to people. One of the best ways to do this is to post people enjoying using the products or services that a business offers. Nothing is more important than providing social proof that a business offers something people enjoy or value. This is also why testimonials on a website are crucial, as well as paying attention to monitoring online reviews.

When it comes to email marketing, how important is it to have a complete, updated database or list of potential customers?

Almost every business benefits from developing a database of current and potential customers. Some digital marketers state that the “list” is the most important thing. In my opinion, the database should be used to generate traffic back to the website and not be an end unto itself.

One thing to note: every business should have an effective way of reaching out to their current customers. If a business only reaches out to their customer to send them an invoice, they are missing out on a potential wealth of referrals. A monthly newsletter providing value (such as a tips sheet) sent to current customers can be very profitable. Value is the key. If there is not enough time to provide a valuable newsletter monthly, then try for quarterly.

If a small business owner were to say to you, “I’m not comfortable with using video to promote my business. I don’t feel comfortable on camera,” what would your response be?

There are so many ways to make videos now and they are powerful marketing tools. Yet many are uncomfortable in front of the camera. If it is not for you, my advice is to choose digital tools that you are more comfortable with. It is better to do what you like and to do it well. There is no good reason to force something that is hard for you to do.

In the future, what will it take for entrepreneurs or small businesses to survive and thrive?

Stay fresh. Everything I am saying today will be slightly different tomorrow. A few months ago, I was expressing to customers how important it is to be on YouTube. Now it is all about Facebook live. Entrepreneurs will have the additional challenge of staying on top of the changes in reaching customers and being able to adapt quickly.