National Small Business Week Interview: Orange Soda

Orange Soda is a pioneer in providing social media services to small businesses. Until recently social media tools and services were really only available to enterprises and larger businesses. Orange Soda specializes in local online marketing and helping small businesses use social and online media to reach out and market in their community.

Yahoo! Small Business Advisor caught up with Jay Bean, Chairman and CEO for Orange Soda to talk about small business today and the challenges and opportunities facing the typical small business. He spoke with us by phone for this exclusive interview.

How important do you think small businesses are to the economy?

Jay Bean: Obviously we all know that there are millions and millions of small businesses in America – probably around 23 million of them – and the vast majority of employers are small businesses. SBA statistics show that half of all employees in America are employed by small business. Half a million new small businesses start up every year and that helps keep our economy moving forward.

What are the three most important skills or traits a small business owner needs to succeed?

Jay Bean: One of the most important traits a small business needs to have is passion about their core business. That passion is core. The second thing is that it is hard, so you have to be very dedicated to sticking with it because it’s not easy every day. So passion, dedication and the third thing would be strong service orientation. There are a lot of good businesses and there are a lot of poor businesses. The thing that makes a business great versus not so great is the quality of service and the quality of product that they produce. Having those all added together makes a true small business owner – someone who is going to go that extra mile to see that customers are happy and that they are coming back and they are telling others about their business.

What single piece of advice would you give to a struggling small business owner?

Jay Bean: The biggest piece of advice is don’t give up. Great things take effort and hard work. There are always going to be obstacles in whatever we do – whatever it is. You have to have that dedication to keep going. You have to remember that those obstacles equal opportunity so you have to keep going. If you give up then that obstacle/opportunity will move on to someone else.

In the current economy, what should a small business owner be focusing on in order to succeed?

Jay Bean: That’s a very good question. It goes back to a previous point. It’s really the next customer and delivering the best product or solution that we can. Let’s say you start a small business and sit back and think ‘if we build it they will come,’ that’s not always the answer. It’s hard to get customers coming in and it’s hard to keep customers coming back. Like never before in America, small businesses have to focus on that quality service and that product idea. Customers have a lot of choices and hopefully they choose you but in order to that and focus on that customer you need to focus on the products and service that you are offering.

The small business market is so diverse and decentralized, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of small businesses across the country?

Jay Bean: We work with thousands and thousands of small business owners and have a very customer-centered approach. Every week our customer support and marketing teams are meeting small business owners. Sometimes they are bringing them in for a meeting and other times they are just going to lunch with a small business owner and learning about what they do and how we can better help them. Even myself, we’ve been in this business for about five and a half years within online marketing and not a month goes by where I don’t spend a day out with our sales reps going and visiting small business owners somewhere in America and talking with them directly and many people on our management team also will do that.

It is easy to get out of touch and business owners are all different.  A dentist in Topeka Kansas their marketplace and needs are different than a dentist in Irvine, California. So to better understand that you have to actually talk to them – you can’t sit back in a glass bubble somewhere.

Do you have a special message to small businesses in recognition of National Small Business Week?

Jay Bean: As small business owners we feel we have to do everything but just because we can do everything doesn’t mean we should. It is important to recognize the contributions small businesses play in building our economy, but at the end of the day it is up to us to keep going and sometimes we need to ask for help and that’s one of the hardest things for a small business owner is doing that.

What do you hear small businesses asking for that isn’t being supplied today?

Jay Bean: There are lots of needs and lots of things they are asking for and I think that there are lots of solutions for those things that they may not know about. We do hear that small businesses today have to do more of their marketing in different ways than they had to do five, ten fifteen years ago. A lot of small businesses are asking around about social, especially in light of Facebook. Small businesses are still finding Facebook hard to use and they don’t really see the value. I think there’s companies like us that are getting into that world to help and make that connection with Facebook or Google+ or whatever. Social is one of the things they are talking about and asking about right now. Mobile is the other one that I think is a bit out of reach for them but is becoming more important.

How does your company help small businesses and why?

Jay Bean: Our entire focus has always been around helping connect local consumers and local small businesses in a very effective way. It’s a struggle for small businesses today. Ten years ago or fifteen years ago, the newspaper advertising sales rep or the yellow pages sales rep would come in and create an ad for someone and that was the extent of their marketing.

What we try to do is bring simplicity to this complex world that small businesses are facing and give them a platform in order to get the most out of their limited advertising dollars. Orange Soda focuses on search, social and mobile advertising. For example, we just launched a product called PageInk that allows a small business to use a social outlet like Facebook to help in their marketing efforts. We’ve taken what an agency would do for a big multi-location business and we’ve simplified that down and delivered it to small business owners in a cost-effective way so that they can focus on their business and not feel like they have to do everything themselves.
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