It’s 2017 and your business isn’t on social media. You only have a basic website, not much more than a homepage with your store hours and email address. You have no online marketing strategy to speak of, and frankly, aren’t sure what that is. The truth is, you feel stuck.
You might be thinking that maybe you missed the boat. That the whole world of digital marketing has passed you by and you don’t have much of a chance of catching up now. Besides, with all the other businesses that already have polished sites and entrenched social media accounts with all the bells and whistles, what would be the point of trying to break into the conversation this late in the game? Might as well not even bother, right?
I’m happy to tell you, you’re wrong.
It’s never too late to start marketing your business online! There isn’t a business out there that can’t benefit from an online presence and a smart digital strategy. And it isn’t nearly as difficult to get started as you might think.
If you’re not playing, you’re losing
The sad truth is that a business can’t choose to “opt-out” of the digital marketing world. You can’t just sit on the sidelines or decide that online marketing isn’t “for you.” The digital world doesn’t just disappear when you’re not looking and not being there is just means you’re ignoring an important end of your business. Whether you like it for not, your online presence matters.
When people want to find something, be it a bike repair shop or the nearest place they can find a good burrito, they reach for their phones and search engines. If you’re not there to be found and your competitor is, you might as well not exist. Same with complaints and comments. Whether or not you have a social media account, people are still going to talk about you and your products or services online. The question is, do you want to be able to have a voice in that conversation and have a chance to make things right, or not even know that your customers are fuming behind your back?
Getting started isn’t as hard as you think
The reason many business owners are hesitant to jump into online marketing is because they’re worried it will be too expensive, too time consuming, or too complex to easily manage while looking after the rest of the business. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. For a small business, creating a decent online marketing strategy can be a trifling expense, take only a few minutes here and there to administer, and is no more complex than checking your email.
Start with the basics. If you don’t have a website, or the one you have is looks like a 1999 Geocities fanpage for a Three Dog Night cover band, it’s time to look into a new one. The good news is, it has never been cheaper or easier for small businesses to get their hands on a professional looking website.
Once you have a site you can be proud of, register it with your local listings. Registering on Google Business and Apple Maps is an excellent way and free way to increase your business’s visibility and get your name out there. The process only takes a few minutes, a chore you can get done during your lunch hour while eating a pastrami on rye. If you really want to go crazy, you can even register with the online Yellow Pages for a free listing (don’t bother buying a premium profile or any other offers, the regular profile will do fine).
Next, create social media profiles on each of the major platforms. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. You might not use all of these (we’ll get to why in a moment) but it’s handy to have your business registered on these services if for nothing else than making sure your business’s name isn’t being misrepresented by anyone else.
Set modest goals
If you’re just getting your feet wet with online marketing, don’t try to tackle the web right out of the gate. It’s okay to move slow. Know what you want to accomplish and set reasonable, measurable goals to help direct your efforts. If all you want right now is just to have a defined presence on the internet and provide potential customers with clear information and ways to get in touch with you, you won’t have to do much more than the basics. Complete those previously mentioned steps and give yourself a hand! That puts you ahead of 46% of small businesses, all of which don’t have a website. Combine that with local listings and some basic social accounts, and you’re already looking good.
But, there is a lot more you could do. Your website and social media accounts can help you increase sales, reach new markets, or help set your business apart from your competition. This is where digital marketing really heats up and gets exciting, but also where you have to start putting in more effort.
What if you could use your social media accounts to broadcast flash sales and limited time offers? Or what if you could attract new customers who haven’t heard of your business before by providing them useful information relevant to their interests? Or how about a way to show off how interesting and fun what you do really is and get people excited and talking about your business?
Ask yourself what you want from your online presence and go from there. Figure out your goals and then you can start to work on the different ways you can accomplish them!
Being on social media isn’t just a way to stay in touch with customers that may have a question or complaint, it’s also a great way get your name out and show people why your business is special. But, before you get started, you need to figure out what you want to accomplish and where your customers hang out.
For example, while you’ll want a LinkedIn account to get in touch with other professionals, if you sell to the public, chances are your customers aren’t hanging out there. LinkedIn isn’t exactly the most exciting network if you’re not a professional. No, your customers are more likely to be using something like Facebook (by far the most popular social media service in the world), Twitter, or Instagram. You don’t want to waste time perfectly tuning your profile on LinkedIn and posting status updates on it if your customers are never going to see them!
For most businesses, focusing on Facebook makes sense. It’s the biggest and most inclusive service out there – but there are exceptions. Twitter is a very popular service with the younger crowd and for niche interests. It’s very easy to join conversations and make yourself findable on that service by following hashtags and monitoring certain keywords. It is also a very responsive service, more heavily geared towards engagement and back-and-forth exchanges than others. Or, if your goal is to make people excited about your business or you work in a very visual field, Instagram is a great place for that. It is a very casual, easygoing service that is perfect for sharing pictures of your business, your products, and customers (great for bakeries, garages that offer custom work, tailors, ect).
Again, start slow and set reasonable goals. You don’t need huge follower counts to be successful on social media – what you need is dedication. Posting regular updates, responding to comments/questions, and going out of your way to be involved in conversations is what separates successful social media accounts from glorified placeholders.
The basics of content marketing
Rather than just hoping people will find their way to your site and business, or waste money on ads nobody will click on, why not find a way to attract potential customers right to your door? This is the basic premises of content marketing – you provide something your audience/customers might be interested in for free on your site and eventually they’ll find their way to you.
“Content” is a very broad term that includes lots of different ideas. It can be something as simple as a blog, or as complicated as a video how-to series. Articles, infographics, picture galleries, and more all fit the mold of content. As long as you’re providing something your potential customers may find useful, informative, or entertaining, you’re on the right track. This is hands down the best way to increase your businesses visibility online, rise through Google’s search rankings, and convert visitors into customers.
Content marketing is a big topic and can represent a larger commitment for a small business. Take some time to think about what your business is good at, what you and your team can generate, share, or highlight. And above all, don’t get intimidated! It’s okay to start slow and small and figure out what works for you and your business before really committing to content marketing. Even a little effort will go a long way towards setting your business apart.
Better late than never
Whether you want to take the internet by storm and use online marketing as an engine to grow your business, or just have a decent web presence customers can find, it’s never too late to get started. Every business can benefit from digital marketing, you just need to take those first steps.
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