Running a small business is a huge challenge. You always wear more hats than one. You never have enough money in the kitty to allocate to a proper marketing budget and you never have enough manpower to do anything more than you are doing now.
The question is, that given the limitations you do have is there anything you can do to actually help your business succeed on the web? Realistically, if there wasn’t I wouldn’t be spending time writing this post, so the answer is yes. There is a caveat however. To succeed you need to put in place a strategy and stick to it. While this sounds easy the odds here are really stacked against you. There are many distractions which crop up daily, from the day-to-day running of your business to family pressures, life and the odd emergency which will conspire to prevent you from actually sticking to what you have created. Beat that, and do what you should, and the chances of you having a marketing strategy which really works will immediately swing to your favour.
So much for the theory, my guess is you’re reading this because you want some hard, practical help so let’s go and see what you can do:
01. Create a plan. Without a plan for your marketing, your marketing strategy will be at the mercy of whatever mood you are in that day and whatever pressures pile up on your business. A marketing strategy that’s down in black and white will provide you with focus and a sense that your business is being guided by more than chance and emotion. Professionalism requires that you actually have guidelines to help keep you focused on doing what’s important and this is where a marketing plan becomes invaluable.
02. Understand what SEO does. SEO has gone from being something which a company went into after some thought and with preparation to a knee-jerk reaction to solve online visibility problems. SEO will definitely help you become more visible online but only if it is applied with a clear understanding of the targets you have set and the tools you have at your disposal. It’s not, for instance, sufficient that you do some keyword research and start to sprinkle your content with keywords, nor is it enough to go through each page on your site and optimize it to show up correctly. These are exactly the kind of knee-jerk reactions which give SEO a bad name. So, it is important to decide upon the content you will need to create. How to create it. When. And how you will optimize it. Most importantly perhaps is deciding upon how you will measure the effectiveness of what you do in terms that make sense to your business (and once I was privy to a corporate meeting that cited an increase in traffic and an actual drop in sales as a ‘success’).
03. Understand what social media marketing is. Social media is not another mass broadcast channel for your sales messages. If you use social media platforms, each will have its own requirements in terms of tone, style of communication and even content. With social media there really is no “one size fits all” mentality (just as there never has been one with SEO). Sit down and think what the message you want to get out about your company is. What story do you really need to tell and what is the conversation you want to start. Then, once you have these clearly worked out, decide just how you will achieve this with your website, your business, your brand and the content you create.
04. Create a formula for your marketing. When I was involved in blue chip companies, in a different life, we had methodologies in place. I knew that when department A wanted to start a marketing campaign they would come to my team to help fashion the traditional advertising and online media messages. These would then go to department B which would be responsible for dealing with the Press and department C which would run the online media campaign and, at the end of each month, these three departments would have a meeting, presenting their results, which would be matched up against sales and I would then be called in to advise further if needed. Small businesses do not have this luxury. Departments A, B and C are usually the same person who also doubles up as the one making the coffee in the morning and dealing with the sales reports at the end of each week. Use this ‘weakness’ as a strength. Without a long chain of people to go through and communicate with, you are now able to move faster than your bigger rivals. Use this to your advantage, keeping the process in place (you still need to have the three step: A. Traditional advertising B. Online advertising C. Accountability and measurement of results) and breaking up each marketing campaign into distinct steps and phases which need to be executed sequentially and coordinated with each other so you’re your online marketing, for example, feeds into your offline marketing and vice versa. This way you maintain control, professionalism and the ability to put in place meaningful measuring parameters which help you decide how your marketing strategy is working.
A small business ran this way has the opportunity to outflank and outmanoeuvre any number of larger, less nimble rivals. I am not saying it is easy to do. On the contrary, it requires a lot of personal will, discipline and focus (everything a corporation does away with through its entrenched methodology) but the returns will be an increase in online visibility, a gain in market share and a corresponding increase in customers, sales and profits.