The online marketing environment has essentially leveled the playing field; small businesses can get noticed on a big scale right next to major brands with massive marketing budgets — without having to spend even close to the same amount. Despite requiring less money for the return on investment, there are still many strategies that you need to consider before just jumping online and marketing whatever comes to mind.
Here are some strategies that I’ve employed as a small business owner, freelancer, and startup founder. I’ve found that these approaches have led to proven and sustainable online marketing success for myself and many other entrepreneurs just like me:
- Define your brand and its attributes as a starting point so you can use these attributes to send a consistent message, look, and feel wherever you market online. This means having a logo, a tagline, and color palette that goes on your website, social media channels, marketing collateral, email signature and also any offline marketing materials. If you are not creative, you can work with a graphic designer who can take the list of attributes that you believe define your small business brand and set it apart from others and create a visual representation for you. There are numerous freelance graphic designers who provide good value while delivering a professional look for your brand. Look at websites like Upwork, Fiverr and 99Designs for hiring talented freelance designers.
- Research what your competition is doing online before you put anything out there about your small business. See what language they use and what they do in terms of marketing tactics and then consider how they are doing in terms of successfully engaging their audience. You can see how well the specific audiences are being engaged by paying attention to the social media conversations that exist (or that are missing). This will also help you to further differentiate your marketing messages, visuals, and tactics.
- Spend time developing content for your website, social media pages, and online profiles. While you may already have the starting of a website, there’s more you’ll most likely need to do because often small business owners do not realize how much content is really necessary and valuable to attract traffic. You’ll need to include information associated with what you provide, contact information, and becoming more relevant almost daily is the need to add some video or other visual content. Then, there are the other online marketing channels that also require a steady content diet. All of the content has to be related back to your brand definition, be consistent, and be relevant. If you are struggling with how to generate all this valuable content, a freelance content writer is part of an effective, low-cost strategy that will help you achieve this critical aspect of online marketing.
- Formalize your marketing strategy to include both online and offline tactics. You cannot approach any part of marketing in a haphazard way that you do when you have a few free hours here and there. It has to be formalized into a structured plan that includes tactics, a budget, a timeline, and a way to measure results so you stay on target with what you want to achieve from it. While this can all seem overwhelming as a small business owner and overdoing it, having a formal marketing plan is the pathway to success that so many skip over. You can find sample marketing plans online or in books that can help you understand how to structure your marketing strategy. Better yet, you can usually find a mentor somewhere willing to help you.
- Learn about the different types of online marketing tactics, channels, and platforms so you can determine which ones will work for your small business. For example, if you are looking to stir up more local business for your offline presence in addition to your online presence, you may want to consider online local marketing strategies that incorporate SEO, geolocation, mobile marketing and SMS marketing. However, if you are strictly an online business, then leverage some of the aforementioned tactics, but also create a content strategy, email marketing strategy, video marketing strategy, and promotional strategy. Once you have invested time into understanding what each does and how they are used as well as what tools and platforms are available to help you automate and streamline the work, then you can decide what you may want to try as first steps. Don’t take it all on at once. Instead, do a few upfront and then add as necessary. All I started with was a blog that I turned into an incredible online marketing machine.
- Create an online marketing budget that fits what is comfortable for your cash flow and current financial position. You don’t need to spend a lot to get a lot. In fact, most online marketing typically involves sweat equity. However, you can consider paid online marketing tactics related to search, display, and social, including cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-action (CPA) as well as display ads and social ads. Also, spend time educating yourself about these, what they do, how they are used, and what type of results to look for before you start throwing money at any of them.
- Track and measure everything you do online. This is probably the one piece of advice that will generate the most success for you. Knowing what is delivering for you online and what may need improving or replacing has to be part of your overall strategy to achieve online marketing success. This is one of the reasons why online marketing has surpassed offline marketing. Finding and knowing the actual numbers is so much easier to track thanks to the tools that compile and analyze the data from your online presence. This easily found information will be giving you insights you would have never received from print ads or a press release sent to a newspaper. With every measurement, you’ll see how to retarget, revise, and renew your marketing approach, messaging, and channels.
Don’t be afraid to seek help, stay on top of trends that impact the online world, leverage your network and connections, spend time teaching yourself, or dip into the pool of freelancers that offer affordable talent at your disposal.
Be patient, thoughtful, and flexible above all else. Marketing online success will follow.