Like me, you may be a startup or have been running your own small business for a handful of years. Having moved from full time employment to working for myself 4 years ago, I can honestly say I have experienced many ups and downs.
Apart from doing the day-to-day work (which I did in my old creative agency job), I now have to focus on accounts, sales and marketing. That’s a lot of new hats to wear! So how do you suddenly learn this stuff?
Well there is no doubt that there is plenty of knowledge shared on the internet, and you can pick up many useful tips. So what are the small business marketing actions you should be doing to stand the best chance of getting your message out there?
1. Create a small business marketing website
What I mean is, create a small business website that is clear, easy to use, understands the target market and works on mobile phones. But let me discuss this in more detail.
Focus your niche
You may be like me and offer many services. This is great but it may come across that you are not an expert in everything. What I do is focus my messaging to one or two things. I’m primarily a logo designer and web designer but I still offer other creative services. I just don’t shout about them on my website.
Try and focus on what you are good at and as far as marketing goes, just promote those. This means that when a prospect is searching for someone who just specialises in one or two things, they are more likely to choose that individual or business, as they are the expert.
If this isn’t possible, focus on a particular sector that you work for. You can offer your various services but only to a niche market. You might become the go-to expert for that area of business.
KISS (Keep it simple stupid)
Keep the design and layout of your website simple and make your messaging clear. It has to be really obvious what you do and how you can help. Stay clear of using any technical terms and arty speak that most people won’t understand. But don’t forget to show your uniqueness.
Don’t forget to tell your customers how you can help them! What are the benefits? Too often I see businesses talking about how wonderful they are and that they have 20 years experience in making widgets – which is fine. But how does that help their customers? Put yourself in your prospects shoes. What problem do they have that you can fix?
Update: Read my article on how to get the best from your website homepage layout.
If you have any, I’d recommend displaying your customer testimonials. These are worth their weight in gold as it shows proof that you can deliver. It’s obviously easy to fake a testimonial and I don’t suggest you do this. So make sure you put the full name, position, company name and include a photo. This looks much more credible.
Also think about your call-to-actions and what you want people to do next. This should be restricted to just 1 or 2 per page, so don’t overload them with too many, otherwise it will become confusing.
Adding good, relevant content to your website is key to driving traffic. Search engines love a website that constantly has new text and images to crawl through. So if you haven’t started yet, create a blog. This will demonstrate your expertise in your chosen field and it’s a great way to build a following of regular visitors.
Is your website responsive? If not then you should consider having it converted so it becomes readable on mobile phones and tablet devices. Google penalizes websites that do not have a mobile version, so this will effect your site ranking.
If you look to employ a professional to create your website then I’d also think about investing wisely with your purchase. There are many companies that offer websites for low fees. In most occasions they will use a basic template, drop in the text and images and that’s it. It’s very mechanical and it certainly won’t get across your unique abilities, personality or include any level of SEO.
Site Engine Optimisation
One of the most important factors is to make sure your homepage has a good keyword or key phrase. If you can, choose something that is very niche or specific rather than general, plus make the key phrase at least three words long. You will have more success on getting onto the first page in searches.
For example: If I was an expert in fishing based in Birmingham, using the keyword ‘fishing expert’ is too general and would have a lot of competition. But if I choose ‘Birmingham fly-fishing expert’ then this is more niche and I’d likely get more visits to my site.
Update: You can read more on website optimisation via my other article.
Spread the news
Consider collecting visitors email addresses with a simple newsletter signup form. At some point you can send a newsletter which can be simply an introduction to your latest blog post. Or share the latest news in your chosen sector.
You may find you have to provide a free give away in order to obtain the email address. This can be in the form of a list of useful actions or maybe a small eBook. Whatever it is make sure you provide value.
As far as what platform to use, for most small to medium size businesses I would suggest WordPress as it’s easy to use and very robust. Plus there is plenty of information on the web should you get stuck. Alternatives are Square Space, Joomla or Magento for e-commerce sites, but the last two will require help from an expert as they are more complex.
- Talk about the benefits not how good you are
- Display 1-2 CTAs
- Use the language your clients understand
- Keep the design simple but add personality
- Add client testimonials
- Make sure your site works on smart phones, tablets and desktop computers
- On your homepage use a non-competitive keyword for SEO
- Focus your marketing to 2-3 things max
2. Create a brand identity with impact
It is important to use a logo design and brand identity that is both appropriate and professional. When you first start out in business I can understand why some individuals or businesses don’t have the budget to have a logo created for them by a professional designer. Inevitably the business owner creates something themselves or get’s their nephew to cobble something together.
If you do go the DIY route, check with friends or business owners you trust for their options. Also think about the practicality of your design. Is it relevant? Will it work when small on a business card or blown up large on the side of a van? You may love your swirly logo in yellow but is it clear enough?
It’s also important to know what your competitors are doing. Make sure your logo looks better and is significantly different so you stand out.
DIY is OK up to a point, but in order for a business to be taken seriously, it does need to evolve. Logos, brand identities and indeed branding all pay there part in creating a visual language and help to promote who you are. We all have an emotional response to choose one brand over another everyday. Whether we buy our groceries or buy a new shirt, we decide to purchase based on certain factors, some of which may not be obvious:
– The branding
– The taste/quality of the product
– Advertising influence
I bet most people wouldn’t buy Kellogg’s Cornflakes if the logo looked amateurish and the quality of the product was poor. Do you see my point?
So if you can invest in a professionally created brand identity then this will stand you in good stead for many years to come. Importantly you will feel more confident, your business will look good and prospects will be more likely to choose you over someone else.
- Project a unique professional image.
- If you create your own logo, make sure it looks good and is relevant.
- Get feedback from people you trust
- Stay clear of anything too fancy. Keep it simple.
- Know your competitors.
- Stand out.
Update: Check out my article on creating the perfect brand identity.
3. Promote yourself with well designed marketing assets
It doesn’t matter what size business you run, at some point there will be a need for some form of promotional printed literature or packaging.
I only run a small business so the need for a fancy brochure doesn’t apply. But I do use business cards and on many occasions having one on me has led to making a better connection with new clients. For some meetings I have even left a postcard with the client, which acts like an expanded business card and allows me to talk more about what I can do.
For larger businesses a leaflet or brochure may be more useful. But I would suggest only producing one if it’s really needed. The cost of designing and printing can be expensive.
If your business attends conferences then a simple pull-up stand would certainly add impact. Standing behind a table with a few leaflets won’t quite have the same impact. So always think about how you can amplify your brand in the most effective way.
You could try free giveaways in the form of tailored print items. If you run a clothes brand, produce an oversize branded clothes label with a discount offer printed onto back. Or if you have a cake shop give your customers a doily shaped loyalty card. Simple inexpensive ideas can go a long way to create customer loyalty.
I realize that most businesses rely on digital media to promote themselves, but there is still room for traditional printed promotional literature. It just has to work a little harder.
Direct marketing in printing terms still exists but doing this on a mass scale is mostly going to fail. When was the last time you had a leaflet through the door that made you pick up the phone?
So I would suggest in order to make the most impact, you’d need to target maybe 10-20 carefully selected prospects and create a bespoke item. This could be a branded box containing a handwritten note, a teabag, some instructions and a message that says something like “I hear you are a really busy person so it’s time for a tea break. I’d love to fix a date when we could meet for tea and discuss how I could help your business.’
This can then be sent to your key contact through the post. I guarantee the person at the end will unwrap your gift and be impressed. I have read about this sort of tactic and the hit rate can be pretty good at getting your foot through the door.
- Make sure you have a good business card always to hand.
- Create a leaflet or brochure but only if you need it.
- Think creatively on how to amplify your brand.
- Target specific individuals. Don’t mass produce.
- Provide giveaways.
4. Engage your audience with social media
This is one of the things I find I don’t devote enough time to. But I have found that if I regularly post interesting, relevant items then I get more re-tweets, followers and interaction from people. So the rule seems to be do marketing every day. And don’t forget to show some personality.
This not only shows your audience that you are well informed about your subject but that you take an interest in sharing useful information. OK I don’t make any money from social media but that’s not the point. It all comes back to my previous mention on personal branding. How you act, what you say and how your business is perceived is all connected. Powerful stuff!
There is also a huge bank of social media platforms to choose from. Let’s face it, deciding which to use can be a head scratcher. I have found that you have to try various ones to see which works for you and your business. For instance Pinterest is good for creative industries, not so good for a legal firm.
If you are really stuck then I’d suggest creating a Twitter account. This is easy to manage and you can quickly build a following. Additionally As a business owner you should certainly consider creating a Linked In profile. Most professionals have a profile here and this is a great place to network and connect with new and old clients.
- It’s about sharing, helping and educating. It’s not about selling.
- Create a voice and be consistent.
- Vary your posts: share, quote, re-share and provide status updates.
- Use images as they receive greater interaction.
- Try a number of platforms and stick with the ones that work for you.
So with these easy promotional ideas you should now be able to increase your marketing efforts. The key is to do some or all of this stuff regularly. I too will keep on learning and trying new things out to see what works. So what are you waiting for – go for it!