By James Mentor Head of Marketing at StreetShares Platform

Enter the world of small business lending.

So you are now small business loan and line of credit enabled and wish to expand your offer to your local small business community. That means the world of budding entrepreneurs, the next innovative solution, and the town’s new favorite shop are now prospects for your institution. In order to be successful, you need to understand and nurture relationships with this group by connecting with them far before the first transaction. 

We’ve spent the last few years perfecting small business portfolio growth and engagement marketing. The last six years of building, nurturing, and engaging the small business community through direct, organic, and referral channels has taught us a few tips and tricks we are sharing in this guide for financial institutions who want to improve their small business lending portfolio this year.

Plant the right seeds, and watch your portfolio grow organically.

Keep in mind, this is the exact framework used by both large and small financial institutions, and we’ve followed the exact same path to achieve our growth objectives each year.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a secret formula. The focus of this post is more of the mindset, organizational methods, and tools needed to be truly successful in a much shorter time period, especially if you’re starting from scratch. With that said, here are the 5 Steps to building a Small Business Loan Portfolio.

1. Optimize Your Brand for Small Business Prospects.

Today’s small business owner has adopted a digitally augmented end-to-end experience through applications like Apple pay/wallet, PayPal, Venmo, Square, and many other tools that engage business finance in new ways. Almost all large financial institutions are providing a fully digital experience from application to loan with little to no need for a small business owner to enter a branch during the process. Whether this is a focus for your organization or not, business owners will expect sufficient guidance on the best strategies for seamless financial management from the institutions with which they currently bank.

Depending on your reputation or market focus, you may not yet be recognized as a viable option for small business financing amongst your target community. This needs to be made obvious and transparent within your brand messaging.

According to NerdWallet, the leader in online commercial lending resources, over 60% of loan searches (consumer and commercial) begin online. Online is a great channel for spreading the word quickly, and efficiently to the groups and segments that truly matter to you. With advanced targeting now available on most major marketing platforms, you can get started as soon as today.

3 Keys to a successful online presence: (CUE Method)

  • Clear messaging – Segment consumers vs. commercial. Using the same language between these groups won’t bode well for your campaign. Don’t be afraid to segment your segments. There is a clear distinction, especially with commercial clients; small, medium, and large organizations can all be facing very specific challenges once they cross certain revenue thresholds. Differing scales present differing challenges.
  • Under 3 clicks Studies show severe drop offs in conversions after the first 3 clicks. Ensure the path to application (or general information) is as frictionless as possible. Each additional step in the process will reduce the chances of your prospects reaching the goal: lead acquisition or an application completion. Errors can be both internal and external (i.e. internet connections, device used, etc). So it’s best to keep the potential error ratio low as an applicant moves through the conversion journey.
  • Enable tracking – Tracking is extremely important at every stage of the applicant journey for reporting and further optimization. These data points will reveal the engagement story of your acquisition system: where applicants came from, where they’re going, and why they leave. Use this to determine where to focus and make adjustments in your campaign.

Ensure your website and other digital assets explicitly state  that “you serve the small business community” through “offering awesome small business financing products”. Depending on the structure of your website, this may force you to rethink how people interact with the online presentation of your business. Front-end web developers can be found on human resource applications, and other common recruiting tools like Linkedin should you need a dedicated inside specialist.

2. Organize Your Lists

Make your lists, check them twice.

You need to know who may be interested in your product and why. Targeting will be a major part of your marketing efforts. 

Develop a solid understanding of each of your segments; size of business, industry, types of accounts, geographic, psychographic, and demographic differentiators are all potential segments you can parse further. This includes aligning contact information and managing customer journeys using a sufficient CRM system. You need to be extremely organized here, or you will encounter major reporting issues in your feedback loop.

*Remember – the better you do this part, the easier the next section will be.

3. Develop Messaging for Each of Your Defined Segments.

The last thing you should do is send generic copy to your entire contact list. You don’t like receiving junk mail, and neither do your customers, members, clients, or prospects. Instead of asking clients to sign up for your products or services, focus on owning “financial management” from your targets’ perspective. Be a resource and add value in every communication. (Hint, small business success is in YOUR interest too!)

For example, financial institutions focused on investment products should highlight, within all marketing collateral, EVERY major benefit derived from “investing” in general. Once a prospect IS ready to move forward, you’ll be the first consideration on their list of potential financial partners to help them along this journey. 

Fun Fact: Coca Cola’s brand message resonates so well since they’ve focused on “owning spaces” rather than asking prospective customers to “buy a drink“ in every ad campaign. They’ve sold the ”happiness of satisfaction” in their ads..not the “5 best ways to buy a coke”. 

4. Go To Market.

Marketing is communication x distribution. Communication is the messaging developed in Step 3, and the distribution includes ALL viable channels used to connect with your target market. Most institutions should start with the 5 major channels: Advertising, Direct, Email, Organic, Social. Each have their own thresholds that you will need to define as part of your channel strategy development. For MAXIMUM effect, define the channels your target segments frequent, and ensure you’re VISIBLE on them. This may include popular media publications with active small business subscribers. An important distinction amongst these channels is the WAY people communicate on them. 

For example:

Social Media: Heavy focus on emotions, use of graphics, video, emojis, and other multimedia increase reach and engagement on this channel organically. Focus on the stories worth sharing.

Direct Mail: Difficult to track as far as engagement, and easiest to ignore as it can often be tossed in the trash without a glance. However, if you do win a glance, that’s your one shot so you MUST make it count. 

Use attractive images that are seasonally relevant and resonate well with your target. Use clear fonts/styles and effective messaging to grasp attention. The goal is to get in the house/office. If you’ve done this correctly, you’ve potentially earned a spot on the to do list. This mailer will sit until the prospect is ready to make a decision to convert or toss out the collateral. By then, you’ve already earned positioning through brand recognition.

Email: The easiest and most efficient way to reach your target. Almost everyone has an email in 2020, and it’s virtually hassle free to set up. Emails are also one of the easiest to discard with today’s technology cracking down on scam attempts and excessive spam. Prospects usually scroll emails for subject lines and sender info to determine which to open. You’ll want to have an attractive subject line to get an open, and then a relevant and timely enough message to get a click through(CTR). Master this, and as long as you have an email subscriber list, you can attract prospects at any time. 

Advertising: Get it down to one sentence. Better yet, two to three words. Today’s consumer is bombarded with ads every minute. A general numbness to display advertising has been growing in recent years, as seen by declining revenues or attribution to this channel. However, search advertising remains a solid avenue, and you should attempt to be VISIBLE where people are searching for your services. However, it can be time consuming and expensive to manage if not monitored and evaluated consistently. This is especially important to keep in mind for major expansion projects to brand new market segments. 

Organic: This channel is always a bi-product of consistent positioning and branding efforts. If your brand is recognized for a specific product or niche, chances are people will begin finding you on their own. The key here is to ensure that you remain a thought leader in your chosen niche through relevant content production, sharing useful industry insights, and providing relevant advice or direction. Seek to add value in as many ways as possible to expand this channel. 

5. Track it.

Know what you do well, and then master it.

Use detailed analytics to understand the performance of each channel, identify opportunities for improvement, and optimize your overall strategy. Using tools that monitor your website traffic, email campaign performance, organic channels, and social media engagement will improve your ability to develop “Step 3” even further. 

Hint: the secret sauce lies in how well you develop “Step 3”. Accurate analytical reports will get you there. 

Important things to track:

Website and Landing page clicks. 

Phone calls. 

Usage times.

Length of time on digital channels (do they read your stuff? This is very important!)

How did they find you?

Where did they leave your funnel? and Why?

Which search terms were used to find you?

Demographics, psychographics, geographic, affinities?

The more the merrier. Data capture can be overwhelming, but it’s also important to define the KPIs that matter most, first. Stick to the basics. Once you’re ready, you can dive a bit deeper as your campaign grows. 

That’s it! Using this 5 Step Guide, you will expand your brand into the local small business community rapidly. Every step can be improved or optimized along the way. We’ve found it best to start with this framework in our journey, and have developed a major brand in the online small business lending space, which continues to flourish organically. This guide was written to give you a turn-key strategy to execute with your internal marketing team. If you are a Platform member, you’re already receiving dedicated support, automated campaigns, and monthly consultations designed to help you succeed on your new expansion project.

Our focus is to continue facilitating economic growth through America’s small employer firms and provide continuous resources for our institutional partners whom are committed to the same mission.

Try it FREE! Or click the following link for more information on the StreetShares Platform: Lending in 30 Days or Less. Be sure to stay connected on social media for latest industry updates, new Fin-tech disruptors that may benefit your operations, or fun facts shaping the small business community.

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