Even though the bulk of the career you see on my resume is working with multi-million dollar businesses, in my day-to-day life I, like pretty much everyone else, interact with people outside my professional circle. Be it the local coffee shop, an independent publisher, a digital design firm, a newly-launching small clothing shop or even an accounting agency, one thing is for certain – every business looking to succeed is also looking for some tips on effective online marketing.
Since the basics of marketing are honestly the same regardless of your business, any research you can do into the basics of how marketing works will be useful. Better yet, look at bringing on an agency for a short engagement. But if you want my list of quick tips on things I think every small business should be keeping in mind when they look to grow through marketing, read on.
1. Determine Your Budget
Yeah, this is about as basic as basic can be – but it’s also something that is overlooked way too often. Go into marketing like you would any other expense to your business, with a set budget in mind. There’s a really great article and infographic over at Wordstream (read it here) that can help you figure out what’s appropriate, but a simple rule of thumb is this: If you’re a new business, figure on 12-20% of estimated gross revenue. If you’re an existing business, you can lower that down to 6-12%.
2. Know Your Goals
A lot of the time when I talk to someone about marketing and ask what the goal is, the answer is “to make more money.” That’s not a marketing goal. That’s a business goal. Marketing can drive that, but you need to think a little more in-depth than that when you’re determining what you want to accomplish through marketing. Questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I want to generate leads?
- Am I looking to maximize value of repeat customers?
- Do I want general brand awareness?
- Is the goal to drive a direct sale?
- How do my marketing initiatives tie together?
3. Adjust As You Go
Unless you’re either a.) really lucky or b.) working with a professional, if you’re new to marketing you’re going to make a few mistakes along the way. And honestly, even if you work with a professional or agency, there will be mistakes. The important thing to do is to learn from them and adjust your strategy accordingly. If one approach doesn’t work, don’t just keep putting money into it since it was part of your initial plan. Be willing to shift those resources as needed. Two things to remember though:
- Marketing takes time, especially more subtle types of marketing focused on long-term growth, such as branding. Don’t be too quick to give up or change.
- Just because something doesn’t work when you try it doesn’t mean it won’t work. Sometimes you just need to make a subtle adjustment to your offer or campaign. Going into the campaign with your goals in mind will help you determine effectiveness, and make it much easier to see what parts you might want to tweak to make a losing campaign a winning one.
4. Concisely Explain Your Offer
All-to-often I’ll come across a business and honestly have no idea what it is they actually do or offer. This needs to be clear in your marketing materials, especially as you build brand recognition. In any instance where you are likely addressing someone new to your business or product you need to let them know what it is, and even more importantly, how it will help them solve a specific problem. After all, that’s what we do with products and services – solve problems. Figure out what that problem is you’re solving, identify it and explain how you can help. But above all, make sure you keep it simple. No one wants to read gobs and gobs of text just to understand your basic value proposition. A few bullet points, maybe a short video or an image or two should be enough. Make it digestible. You can’t set the hook until you get your bait in the mouth, after all.
5. Have a Clear Call-to-Action
What is it that you want the (potential) customer to do? Tell them to do it with one simple action. Call now. Stop by Today. Sign Up for Updates. Add to Cart. Without clear direction on how the customer can take the next step in their interaction with you, you risk letting them flounder … and possibly abandon their interaction in favor of someone else.
6. Have a Web Page
Again, super basic. But it’s a question a lot of small business ask. In my opinion, every business should have a web page. It can be super simple, just a one page thing going over what you do and how to contact you – but the web is the first place people go now to find information. To not be there would be foolish.
7. Have a Facebook Page
Having a presence on Facebook as your business gets you the ability to communicate with your customers in a public forum. Yes, this can be a little scary – and you can’t just let Facebook sit there. You need to check in on it regularly (at minimum once a day – but Facebook also alerts you when there’s activity so that helps). Plus Facebook is a place many people live online, which means you’re able to be part of where they are, vs. having them come to you.
Also note that while this is closely related to the idea that you should have a web page and some businesses choose to just have a Facebook page, I think that’s a mistake. There’s little extra cost involved in having both, and having a destination to send people to that’s not reliant on a third-party like Facebook is smart defense if nothing else. At the very least, if you only want a Facebook page, register a domain through GoDaddy and redirect the site to go to your Facebook page. At least that way you’ll have an easy-to-remember address to send people to, that’s all yours.
8. Be Easy to Contact
Super-simple, but often forgotten. If you want people to be able contact you, have as much contact information as you can. Phone, email (or email form if you’re concerned about spam), Twitter, Facebook and even your mailing address. Bonus Tip: Make sure to list your business address and hours if you’re a place people actually go to, like a coffee shop.
9. Minimize Customer Risk
The Free Trial: It’s one of the old standby tactics for marketing for a reason. Anything that is going to involve any sort of investment by a customer, whether time or money (or anything else) involves risk on their end. Your job is to minimize that perceived risk so they can really take a look at what you offer. Give people a taste for free. Offer a free trial service. Give out some free advice. Minimizing the customer risk gets fear out of the way when trying to grow your business – and fear can be a major distraction.
10. Don’t Be Everywhere (Unless You Can)
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the different channels you can use to communicate with customers. My recommendation? Do a web page and Facebook, and then assuming your customers are using them, look at other channels. Find the ones that you honestly think you can keep up with. There’s nothing worse than a Twitter account with one tweet from six months ago to show your business might not be all that professional. It’s better to be active professional in less places than to be scattershot and amateur on them all.
11. Leverage Word of Mouth and Social Proof
Customers trust other customers. They trust their friends even more. The one they’re least likely to trust? You. (At least until you gain that trust.) Leverage testimonials on your site. Solicit customers to leave feedback on Facebook (or Yelp, etc). You give a customer a good experience and they share it? That’s gold.
12. Be Authentic
People can spot a fake – and in today’s world of cautious trust and growing distaste for “business” it’s important that you remember that no matter where you are in the company, you’re a person just like every potential customer. Be human. Share photos and bits of your life from time-to-time. Post candid shots of customers in your shop. Talk to your customers in your marketing material just like you’d talk to them if they were standing right in front of you.
Thus ends this batch of marketing tips for small business. They’re all pretty basic, but they’re also all super-important to keep in the front of your mind even while you dig deeper into levels of marketing sophistication. In fact, they’re useful for any size business, as far as I’m concerned – whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or CMO of a Fortune 500 company. The resources available might differ, but the basics remain the same.
Which reminds me. If you need any help with marketing or business strategy, feel free to reach out to me. I’m happy to help where I can, and I’m also available for consulting and advising if you want to have a bit more of an in-depth conversation.