After decades in marketing and branding for other companies, I've struck out on my own, helping small businesses reach more of their customers by building a better digital presence. In the past few months, I've been lucky to have lots of conversations with people throughout the Region at various stages of business startup.
After a few conversations with these entrepreneurs, a pattern started to develop – a circular pattern. They'd speak about the marketing tactics that they knew they should be doing, and then about the ones that they could be doing if they were doing the ones that they should be doing, and, then, as they continued, they'd overwhelm themselves and fall back to talking about what they should be doing, and, more times than not, nothing actually got done.
Let's take it a step at a time. If you've even been that guy on the should-could merry-go-round of digital marketing, here's four clear steps to get you to stop watching the world spin 'round, and start taking steps forward.
For the purposes of this exercise, let's assume you have your branding in good shape. You know who your target customer is, and you have a name, logo, typefaces and colors that will give your brand a consistent look and feel wherever they show up, from business cards to your social channels and website. (If you don't have this lined up, then you'll want to start here).
Step 1: Get a website.
81% of consumers use the internet to do research before making a purchase. If your business serves other businesses, that number is even higher at 94%. You need to have some place where people can check you out, learn why you're different than the other guys, and find out more, whether that's by following you on social, signing up for your email list, or filling out a contact form.
Contrary to what you might hear elsewhere, your website doesn't have to be expensively custom-designed. It does need to be easy to navigate on both desktop and mobile, and it does need to clearly convey what your brand is about and how you will help prospective customers solve the specific problem that drove them to you in the first place.
But, let's be really clear here. If you expect get a website up and running and then have the business to come rolling in – well, I have news for you. That would be equivalent to staging your home beautifully, baking cookies so the place smells like a dream, and hosting an open house, but failing to tell anyone about it. Sure, the place looks and smells great, but the only people that are going to see it are the people that just happen to stop and knock on your door that day. Step one is important, but meaningless without steps two, three, and four.
Step 2: Get website traffic.
This is going to look a little different for every business, based on who your target customers are and where they digitally "live". But, in short, this involves finding people that are prospective customers and getting them to come check your virtual storefront out. There are free ways to do this, and there are paid ways, but it should always going to be a combination of these tactics, rather than just one.
On the free side, it can be as simple as writing a regular blog that informs and educates prospective customers about something related to the products or services you provide, posting it on your website, and letting Google and Bing drive traffic to your site when customers search for the keywords contained in your post.
You can also build business profiles on the social media platforms that make the most sense for your business and post new content on a regular basis. Here, though, I can't stress enough how important it is to focus on quality over quantity – posting thoughtful, engaging content once a week or once a day will win you more revenue than posting throwaway content three times a day.
If you're ready to try paying for web traffic, then Google's pay-per-click and Facebook's ad network are the largest and most popular. If you're running on a shoestring budget, be aware that this can get pricey fast, so it's really important to measure results (see step 4) to make sure you're getting a bang for your buck.
And of course, if you have one, your brick-and-mortar location will drive traffic to your website, even more so if you take a moment to let your shoppers know that you have a website. If you're a home-based service provider, don't underestimate the effect that networking will have on your web traffic either. You may meet a potential client for just a few minutes, but if they leave with a positive impression of you (and also your business card), there's a good shot that they'll be www'ing you later that day to research you further.
Step 3: Get them coming back.
Ok, you got them to come to your site, but they haven't bit yet. Or, they've been a customer, but wouldn't it be nice if they were a repeat customer?
If they signed up for your email list, then keep your brand top of mind with regular email newsletters, and triggered emails that fire when they do (or don't do) something on your website. Also, you can use retargeting ads to remind people who visited your site that you're still around and, just maybe, are a good fit for that problem they're still trying to solve.
Maybe one of your social posts clicked with them, and you got them to follow you on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Make that connection stronger by posting engaging, entertaining content on a regular basis. The key words here are "engaging" and "entertaining". There's no better way to turn into stop being shown in someone's social feed than by posting boring spam every few hours.
Step 4: Measure, Rinse, Repeat
This step is *so* important, and yet, it gets forgotten more often than anything else here. Remember, even if you are using "free" channels like social media to promote your business, it really ain't free – there's still a cost in terms of the time you're spending to create and post content. So, no matter what you're doing, you should be carving out time to:
a) Measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts
b) Stop doing stuff that's not working
c) Do more of the stuff that is working
d) Try new things, all the time. The digital world evolves quickly, algorithms change, and what's working today could be obsolete tomorrow.
There you go; a mini roadmap for getting off the should-could carousel and back on to the road to getting stuff done. As they say, a thousand journeys to Rome begin with a single step.
Wait. That's not it. You know what I mean.