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I have a number of friends who own or operate small to medium-sized businesses. The number one question I get from them is how to make online marketing work for their businesses. There seems to be quite a bit of pent up need for online marketing help by SMBs. The irony is the last place I would send them for help is the Internet.

I'm sure you've seen the extraordinary number of self-professed experts out there hawking SEM, SEO, and the latest entrant Social Media Marketing. I got an up close look one Saturday afternoon when I took a local basic plumbing course (you can check out my experience here).

The women who ran the class also run a contracting business. The day of my class they had a Social Media Marketing consultant film the class for their social marketing outreach efforts. Their consultant filmed the class using a Flip video camera and then about an hour into the class, tired and stopped filming altogether. My heart went out to the women who ran the class. I'm not sure where they got this social media expert, but I was pretty sure they were not going to get what they wanted out of it.

I recently spoke with a friend, Matt MacMahon who runs Thrivepoint, an online marketing consultancy. I know Matt because he was referred to me and I used his services while at Consorte Media.

He confirmed my gut that SMBs really struggle with Internet marketing. The problem is there is also a lot of noise. Part of the problem is there is no barrier to entry in the online marketing consulting industry. All one has to do is put up a Web site. So what's an SMB to do?

I asked him, what's your best advice for a SMB who wants to use the Internet to drive its business? His response surprised me. It was decidedly non-technical. He said, "Build a relationship marketing program."

Yep—he's talking CRM, customer relationship management. He didn't mean go out and buy CRM software. Instead, he was advocating getting back to the basics. Figure out the best way to talk to your customers and leads. Your current customers are really the best starting point. They provide you with direct access without having to spend money for advertising. You can do this via email or in person—it doesn't have to cost money.

Where do they like to interact? How do they like to be reached? What else would they buy from you? Spend time connecting with your customers. You may just find that online marketing, whether it be SEM, SEO or Social Media, makes no sense for your SMB.

You can reach Alicia through her Web site,