So your small business has come together nicely. You have a business plan; you’ve got a solid customer base. You’ve chosen the right accounting software, office space, and staff. You’re executing against the plan, but you’ve noticed that incoming customer leads have slowed down from your initial launch timeframe. You realize it’s time to enhance your marketing plan with an online strategy– but where to start?
Take heart, online marketing is easier than it’s ever been. With social media, content creation programs and other easy-to-use planning and measurement tools, any small business owner can successfully execute an online marketing plan like a pro. And, within almost any budget.
Here are six steps to creating and executing an online marketing plan that can work for any business.
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- Research Your Audience. Whether you’re a beauty salon owner or a software provider, take the time to research where your audience hangs out online. It’s not the same for every business, so you’ve got to put some legwork in to the discovery. If you’ve already got an email newsletter, ask your readers to provide feedback on where they’d like to hear more from you. Ask them what online communities they participate in.
- Choose Wisely. There are so many free tools available today to help you reach your audience. And that’s fantastic! But as a small business owner, you know that you can’t be everywhere all the time.
If you’re just starting your initiative, don’t panic and feel that you need to be on every social channel. Choose wisely – I recommend two to start. For a fashion company, it might be Facebook and Pinterest. For a software business selling to marketers, it could be Twitter and Linkedin.
If you’re unsure, do some research on brands in your industry having success with social channels. There are plenty of case studies available online to help you choose. Remember – it’s better to start small and be consistent, than to create a presence on every social channel and disappear because you can’t keep up with content.
- Create Original Content. I know this seems daunting. I know you don’t have all the time in the world to sit around and create cute cat memes. But you can easily create some original content with just an hour or so a week if you use the right tools and reuse existing content.
You most likely have a website. You might have some product fact sheets. Pull snippets from these with an image, tweet and link back to your site. You most certainly have access to a camera of some kind. Capture your team at work and give some “behind the scenes” peeks on Facebook or your blog.
Instead of just writing up a blog post, take one minute to record a video announcing the news highlights. Remember, content is simply another way to humanize your brand and make customers and prospects feel closer to your company. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it just has to be genuine.
- Piggyback. There’s an unspoken pressure for businesses to create their own content. And, as stated above, it is easier than ever, and a good idea. But, you have a business to run, and you can’t spend too much time creating only original content.
The good news is that “piggybacking” is perfectly acceptable online (with attribution, of course). Follow quality brands or media outlets and share their content. Retweet influencers in your industry – showing both that you follow what they do, and that you help to spread quality content. Two tips: share content with visuals as much as possible, and take the time to add a comment about why you’re sharing it. (Is there a good lesson in it, a positive message, great statistics, etc.)
- Create A Smart Toolbox. There are so many great tools on the market for marketers today. You can buy affordable marketing and sales solution suites like Hubspot, providing everything from a blogging platform to email, site tracking to CRM. You can find great one-off tools such as Buffer, which enables you to easily share and schedule content to a variety of social channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Linkedin.
The service also offers “Content Suggestions,” where it will make suggestions based on topics you deem important. You can use the suggestions they provide, or edit to make them your own. I also love the ability to plan and schedule updates, so I can go about tending to other business needs.
Other similar services include SproutSocial and Hootsuite. There are a lot of tools I personally love, but you may find value in reading this post, where Nick Loper interviewed over 500 entrepreneurs to ask them about their favorite online tools.
- Do These Two Things. At the very least, I highly recommend small businesses invest time in two things: 1) blogging 2) drafting a newsletter.
Blogging doesn’t have to be long and complicated – think roundups, interviews, recaps of interesting industry events or news. And newsletters don’t have to be weekly – you can issue them once a month or even once a quarter, as long as you are clear on what subscribers should expect.
Again, content doesn’t have to be long – in fact; it should be short and sweet. Think of it as an opportunity to provide updates on your business or product, share leadership articles and gather reader feedback. Don’t forget to add your contact details, including where else you can be found on social channels. And repurpose – content can be shared several times across different networks, including a recap in your newsletter of the best content you’ve shared. Two affordable newsletter providers I like are Constant Contact and Mailchimp
Online marketing seems time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be! Remember to stay focused, test and vet a few options over time, and focus on what works best for you and your business. Measure results, analyze the data and pay attention to ROI, so you can repeat what’s working, and pivot from what isn’t.
Christine Perkett is a senior marketing and PR consultant, and the founder and CEO of SeeDepth, a PR Analytics platform that makes measurement easy, meaningful and profitable for PR agencies and corporate communications teams. She has been named a “Top 100 Must Follow Marketing Mind” in Forbes, “A Top 100 Small Business Influencer” in the Small Business Influencer Awards and a “Top 50 Social Media Influencer on Twitter” by Cision.