The Internet has become the great equalizer for small businesses in their competition with the “big boys” for a share of the market. The reasons for this are:
- Print and TV advertising are in a major decline. While newspaper advertising is still used by many local businesses, fewer and fewer people are subscribing to newspapers. Mute and fast-forward buttons mean that TV commercials are not viewed much.
- Flyers are still sent out by snail mail, but, except for grocery ads and fast food restaurant coupons, they go to the recycle bins quickly.
- People who search for and ultimately purchase products or services do so online.
What this means for small businesses is that there are marketing strategies and tactics that are free or low-cost except for an investment in learning and time. And when done right, these strategies can be every bit as good and as effective as those of major companies. Here are marketing strategies that can be developed and implemented which, over time, will result in ever-increasing traffic. More traffic means more sales.
1. Create a Business Blog on Your Website
Using WordPress, set up your blog for free and add plugins that will do the following:
- Provide you with guidance for SEO – Yoast is a great plugin for this. Every post you write will be analyzed for SEO, and suggestions will be made.
- Provide conversation capability, so that readers can comment and ask questions
- Provide sharing buttons, so readers can share valuable stuff with their communities on social media
As you learn more and get better at blogging, there are all sorts of other things you can add, but begin with these basics. Content marketing is critical for business growth, but it must be done right. So begin slowly and never sacrifice quality for quantity or speed.
Set a schedule for your blog posts and stick to it – people who become regular readers will expect those posts on a regular basis – don’t disappoint them.
Provide a variety of content on your blog – expert advice and information, some humor, some inspiration, but whatever you write make it engaging. Use great catchy titles and visuals whenever possible. The better your content, the more engaging you can be. And with that engagement comes increased sharing.
Contact experts in your industry and ask if you can repost their content on your blog – they never say no. Now you have influencers on your blog, with established reputations as experts in your niche.
Curate the great content of others – never plagiarize – curate.
Read your competitors’ blogs – find out what your target customers are talking about. Use those conversations as topics for your posts.
2. Identify the Two Most Important Social Media Platforms
Why only 2? Because maintaining your presence with fresh, regular posts takes time. You can always expand later. Which two to choose?
- Develop a customer persona – a full description of your typical customer
- Do the research to find out where your typical customer hangs out most on social media. Ask your current customers where they hang out. Find out where your competitors hang out and see which platforms are their most popular
- Commit to a regular presence on the two platforms you have selected and set a calendar for postings that will provide consistency.
3. Use Social Media to Develop Relationships, Not to Sell
Today’s consumer doesn’t want a hard sell. S/he wants to get to know you as a human – are you honest, caring, and funny? What’s your story? Who are your team members? Do you have blog posts on your site that will interest them?
The point of social media is that it must be “social.” The more social you are, the more your stuff will get shared with others. If you can engage, entertain and inspire, your community will grow.
Check out the social media pages of your competition but also of other small businesses in related industries. See how they are engaging their followers.
Once you are posting regularly on social media, check in regularly. If you have comments or questions, you must respond right away. Keep conversations going. This establishes trust.
Use social media to feature your customers, your team, and your community involvement or a charity you support.
Offer things of value to your followers – a free download, a discount, a free trial. Hold a contest for something of value – free product or service. These are shared a lot. But you also get something in return for that value they can pick up on your site. You get an email address, so that you can build an email list for further distribution of content.
4. Visuals, Visuals, Visuals
Content with visuals is shared about 53X more than content without. Photos, graphics, memes, and videos are far more engaging than text.
Fortunately, there are great tools, many of them free, that you can use to create great visuals, even videos.
Add interactive visuals. These may be anything from surveys and quizzes (people love to take these and then share them with their friends) that you can develop with tools like Survey Monkey, infographics with tools such as Canva, and even interactive videos with SnapApp. Slides are also great, because you can post them on your blog, on Facebook, and on SlideShare, where people are searching for content by topics, products, and services.
5. Use Technology to Simply and Streamline Your Marketing Tasks
If you have difficulty coming up with topics and great catchy headlines, use a title/topic generator tool. HubSpot has a great topic generator tool, and there are a variety of title generator tools as well.
When you have time, create posts for your blog and for social media in advance. Upload them to an automated publishing service that will follow the schedule you designate
6. Use Analytics Tools to Measure Success
Success will not initially be measured by sales. It takes time to build up your presence and spread your brand. But you can determine which strategies are working the best in terms of audience engagement. As an administrator of your social media platforms, you have access to all sorts of data – how many visits, how many shares, how many clicks on links back to your blog or a landing page.
Google Analytics can provide you with full and detailed reports about visits to your site pages, length of time spent there, and bounce rates. There are other services that will provide even more information, like CrazyEgg.
The important point is this: You don’t have time to spend on what is not working well, and you will wat to increase your efforts in areas that are successful. Using analytics data will help you work much smarter.
7. Review and Revise Your Strategies Regularly
Using the data from our analytics and new trends in social media to assess and modify your strategies. Social media sites are continually adding new features that you will want to investigate for possible use. For example, Twitter has increased the number of characters per tweet; Instagram now allow carousels of pictures rather than just one at a time; Facebook is experimenting with live streaming, and Periscope (owned by twitter) allows you to stream video.
A content marketing strategy is an ever-evolving, long-term proposition – one that requires patience. And the learning curve is substantial. But you don’t have to do it all at once. Build on what is working, add new features as you are able, and produce content that you know your customers want and need.