Preparing The Ground
It’s very common for a small business to have little or no marketing budget. The problem is, creating a marketing budget is very much a chicken and egg situation. If you do have a marketing budget, and you invest it wisely, then you should be able to generate increased revenues which, in turn, should enable you to set aside a little more budget for marketing next time around. But how do you get the ball rolling? How can you kick off your marketing efforts without having to spend a load of money?
Fortunately, we live in the digital age, and this means there’s a whole host of activities you can undertake which are almost free. I say almost, because you will have to invest some time, and as we all know, time is money. But an hour or two dedicated to marketing each week can go a long, long way, at least in the early days of your business.
Step 1 – Establish Your Goals
It’s really important that you don’t simply rush in and start “doing” marketing, even if it’s costing you next to nothing. You have to have a plan, otherwise you will fail. You have to know what situation your business is in and what goals you are going to set yourself. With those goals established, you can select the right marketing activities to help you achieve those goals. The last thing you want to do is spend a load of your valuable time working on something which, at the end of the day, doesn’t help you address the original problem.
The goal planning process is covered elsewhere, but let’s assume you have set yourself some goals. Actually 1 goal. In these early days it pays to be laser-focused. So set yourself a goal, and make it numerical. e.g. increase revenues by 10% year-on-year. Then set yourself 3 objectives that will help you achieve that goal. e.g. increase website visits by 20%; achieve page 1 ranking on Google for 5 key phrases; establish 250 Facebook friends etc. By constantly measuring your progress against these objectives you can validate that the marketing efforts you are putting in are yielding the desired return. And if you are not seeing that return, then it may be time to look beyond “free” marketing techniques.
Time investment – 2 hours
Step 2 – Create a Marketing Calendar
You need to create a marketing calendar. You can’t fill the calendar in yet (because you haven’t considered the activities that you can/will undertake). But you can get it ready. At this stage we recommend creating something in Excel or Google sheets. Later on, when your marketing becomes more sophisticated and you have an actual marketing budget to work with, you can consider using a marketing platform which helps you schedule and measure marketing activities more scientifically. But for now, Excel will do. Create a calendar.
Time investment: 1 hour
Choosing Your Marketing Activities
This is the fun part, deciding what activities you are going to implement. There’s a myriad of low-cost marketing techniques which all small businesses should undertake as a matter of course. This is how you establish a marketing strategy. And as we’ve already mentioned, once a good marketing strategy is in place, it should become self-funding in next to no time. So align these activities to the objectives we outlined above, and that should help drive you towards your goal.
Step 3 – Re-think and re-write your core web pages
Chances are your website has a very familiar look: Homepage; Products; About Us; Contact Us etc. Take a step back and completely re-think what you want your website to do. If you want to drive more traffic to your website you need (a) more web pages (b) more interesting page titles which lure potential customers in and (c) content which is optimised for the keywords which revolve around your business and your industry. Consider some or all of the following pages for your “core” website content: Home – Products – Services – Portfolio – Who we are – What we do – Shop – Reviews – Testimonials – Case studies – What’s new – Videos – Photo Gallery – How to find us – How to contact us. The actual pages you choose will be determined by the business that you are in, but the key is to have plenty of core pages – every page acts as a gateway into your business. Make sure every page is search engine optimised (SEO). There’s a ton of info out there that will teach you how to do this. It’s not rocket science, but you need to be diligent and follow all the necessary steps.
Time investment: 20 hours
Step 4 – Plan your next 13 web pages
13 is a curious number right? Well not from a marketing perspective. If you are going to take your marketing seriously, you’ll become very familiar with 13. 13 is the number of weeks in a calendar quarter (52 weeks in a year, 26 in a half-year, 13 in a quarter) and most mature businesses refresh their marketing plans on a quarterly basis. So what we’re suggesting you do here is to plan to write 13 new web pages per quarter – 1 per week. If you can go quicker, go for it. If it’s too much, do one every 2 weeks. And how do you plan to create 13 new web pages just like that? You guessed it. Blogging. But hang on a minute. Before you throw your hands up in the air, we don’t actually want you to write a blog. People will not care that you have a blog. What we want you to do is to build out a lot of new web pages in a very methodical and systematic way. As a means of doing this, blogging is highly efficient and effective.
Create a section on your website called “Your Questions Answered” or “Frequently Asked Questions” or “Problems That We Solve”. It is actually a blog, but we’re not pitching it as one. Now write about the things which your customers want to hear about. What questions are you always getting asked in your shop? What solutions do your products provide to everyday problems? What knowledge do you have that your customers would appreciate? And most importantly of all, what Google search terms will people be using when they search for “stuff” in your realm of expertise? Google simply loves content. And it especially loves websites which produce new content in a sustained, systematic and predictable manner. So you now need to create a 13-week “roadmap” of topics. Remember that marketing calendar you created earlier? This is the next set of content that you are going to put in that calendar. 13 entries, 13 topics, 13 blogs. These 13 pages (which of course should each be search-engine-optimised for specific and unique keywords and key phrases), will act as 13 new gateways into your website.
Time investment: 27 hours (1 hour set-up, 2 hours per web page/blog)
Step 5 – Create and activate your Facebook page
Facebook is powerful. Your friends and family and customers are all over it. Create a page for your business. Share it with all your connections. Then get active. Community groups are all the rage at the moment. People use the groups to sell stuff, to get advice and to get recommendations. “Does anyone know a good plumber?” or “Can someone recommend an electrician?” or “Does anyone know where I can buy xyz?” are common questions. Make sure you have a presence. Put Facebook links on your website, encouraging people to follow you. If you have a shop, put a physical notice on the counter, encouraging people to follow you on Facebook. And then, most importantly, keep providing them with content. Tell them about promotions, about clearance sales, about new stock arrivals. Keep them engaged. Get to love Facebook. Better still, find a member of staff who’s really into it, and let them run with it.
Time investment: 2 hours (set-up), then 1 hour per week
Step 6 – Get a Google Business Listing
Get your business listed on Google. Ranking highly in the Google search results for keywords is hard work. But there’s one surefire way to get listed on page 1, and that’s to get a Google business listing. This will ensure that whenever anyone does a local search for a business like yours, you’ll show up.
Once listed, you will show up whenever someone does a local search in Google for a business like yours. So, if you own a hairdresser in “Mytown”, and you happen to be the only hairdresser in that town, then your business listing will always be listed prominently for the search term “hairdressers in Mytown”. If you are one of 3 hairdressers in Mytown, then all 3 of you (assuming your competitors have a Google Business listing too), will show up at the top of the listings (in a more concise format).
Time investment: 1 hour
Step 7 – Create a LinkedIn Page
You might think that LinkedIn is just for suited and booted executives, and has no role to play in your marketing efforts, but you’d probably be wrong about that. Consider an antiques and interiors emporium selling antiques, vintage items, ornamental pieces and collectibles. We can think of 2 professions straight off the bat that would be excellent target customers: interior designers and antiques dealers. A quick search on LinkedIn tells me there are 254,000 interior designers with profiles (in the UK). There are also 6000 antiques dealers (and another 3000 “antique” dealers). Identify the “professions” which might be a natural fit for your business. Note the people that are already connected to connections of yours, or connections of connections. Connect with them. Start networking. And when the time comes to start investing some hard cash in marketing, consider using LinkedIn advertising to target all these potential customers.
Time investment: 2 hours (set-up), then 1 hour per week
Step 8 – Consider using Pinterest and Instagram
If you sell a variety of products which are visually interesting, then Pinterest and Instagram could drive a lot of traffic to your website. They work very differently, but they both have something in common – they are geared to the sharing of photos. So back to the example of the antiques emporium. Antiques and interior design pieces can make for superb photographs, and if you take good photos, and share them, then people will like them and then they will share them too. At the very least it will drive traffic to your website. And you might even sell some of your products directly as a result of someone seeing them on Pinterest or Instagram. Other businesses these visual platforms might lend themselves to are art galleries, restaurants (think artistic food pics), tourism-related sites (pics of places) and fashion sites.
Time investment: 2 hours (set-up), then 1 hour per week
Step 9 – Create A Content Calendar
By now you’ve activated a number of communication “channels”, through which you can exchange messages with customers and prospects: Your website; Google; Facebook; LinkedIn; and possibly Instagram and LinkedIn. Now all you need is a constant flow of content to (a) keep Google happy (and so boost your organic search rankings) and (b) begin the process of turning these newfound strangers into customers (i.e. capturing and nurturing leads). So you need content. Developing content on the hoof won’t work. You need a content strategy which aligns to the goals you established at the beginning of this process. You’ve already created a marketing calendar, and you’ve already planned and (hopefully) created 13 new web pages (blog posts). You now need to map out a steady stream of content for the foreseeable future. Continue to plan a new blog post every week – this will be you main piece of content for the week. But also, create teaser messages which link to those new pages. These teaser messages are the ones you will put out via Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Map out draft content for the next 6 or even 12 months. So for a 6 month plan that’s 26 topics you need to come up with.
Developing Content – The Golden Rule
The golden rule is to create content which answers questions which are typically asked by potential customers in your industry. The idea is to become regarded as a trusted advisor in your sphere of expertise. If you answer people’s questions, help them overcome their day-to-day challenges, then they will quickly remember who you are and what you do. If they trust you, and become familiar with you and your business, then you are just one step away from that prospect (a former stranger) becoming a customer. Consider coming up with topics which fall into the following categories: 1. Problems which people might be experiencing, and which you can help them resolve 2. Pricing queries. Do your competitors openly talk about pricing? If not, then differentiate yourself. 3. Comparisons. Are people constantly comparing products/solutions in your space? If yes, do comparisons yourself – but keep it objective. 4. Product reviews. Has your product or service been reviewed by a trusted 3rd party. Or your competitors’ products? If yes, talk about it – a lot. 5. Case studies and testimonials. Do you have any? If yes, shout about them from the rooftops!
Time investment: 2-4 hours per week
Step 10 – Further “Free” Marketing Techniques
The “free” marketing techniques outlined above are the ones that we would recommend that you focus your efforts on. Remember the 80/20 rule? This states that 20% of the available activities will most likely deliver 80% of the results. But if you want to go the extra mile and consider some additional no-cost marketing techniques, check out the following:
- Exchange website links with your suppliers and customers
- Join industry discussion groups. Comment on relevant posts. Write a complete profile and include your website. Gain a reputation for giving trusted advice.
- Comment on blogs. Identify the most influential ones in your industry. Provide insightful comments. Make sure you profile name links to your website.
- Build a Google+ presence
- Follow 10 influencers in your industry on Twitter. Follow their followers and retweet their tweets. Add you own constructive comments. Build your own following.
- Claim your hashtag. Use it everywhere.
- Post free ads. Consider Craigslist, Gumtree, Free Ads etc. Use them as additional communications channel for the content in your calendar. Link to the landing pages you created in step x above.
- Write a guest blog on a well-known site in your industry or space. Offer to publish a guest blog in return.
Step 11 – Planning For Growth
The list of marketing activities you can undertake that are effectively “free” is seemingly endless. But you need to be conscious of (a) your time and (b) the law of diminishing returns. You could easily spend 50 hours per week doing marketing, but that would leave no time at all for you to actually run your business. The law of diminishing returns suggests that if you execute all of the above flawlessly, you will get some great results, but then, at some point, the amount of time and effort invested will not generate the number of leads required to continue to continue grow the business at the required rate. It is at this point that you will need to consider establishing a proper marketing budget, and developing a plan for growth.