You know one of the things I love most about the internet and small businesses?
It’s the way the online world has made marketing easier and cheaper for those of us on a budget.
Wait up, hold the phone.
Isn’t marketing expensive? Isn’t it scary? Isn’t the internet complicated and confusing?
Well… it doesn’t have to be.
The thing is, the online world has created tons of awesome places and tools that your small business can use for low cost marketing. Because if you’re anything like most of the small businesses I’ve worked with, you don’t have many thousands of dollars to spend on an advertising blitz or s high-end PR consultant.
Those things are great, don’t get me wrong. But small businesses and sole proprietors generally have a pretty tight budget to work with when it comes to advertising.
The online world has great resources for small business owners looking to get the word out about their services without breaking the bank. Here are five of my favorites.
Choosing And Using Social Media
- Go way overboard, sign up for everything, share everything, and get burnt out when they don’t see huge, immediate results. Or,
- Get scared off because they are “not marketing professionals” and don’t even attempt to use social media to promote their business.
Neither one is particularly productive! Because here’s the thing: social media can be an incredibly useful tool for promoting your business, sharing news, building a community, and connecting with your audience, but it is not the be-all, end-all of marketing. So there’s no reason to be scared!
In my social media workshops, I tell small business owners they really need one thing to be successful on social media: a willingness to experiment.
To figure out social media marketing for your business, you have to be willing to try something and either say, “Wow, that really worked, I should do more of that!” or “Whoops, no one responded to that at all, guess I should try something different.” You need to be okay with either result — in fact, if you are really using your social media accounts, you’ll have a lot more of the second than the first!
So, if you have that willingness to experiment, how do you actually use social media to promote your business?
- Start small. It is better to focus on 1-3 social media accounts at first and really build up a following there. If you try to sign up for every platform at once, you’ll be stretched too thin and you won’t see results anywhere. This is a recipe for burn-out, discouragement, and a really lousy social media presence! Once you are used to making time for social media and feel confident on the platforms you already have, you can look into branching out more or play around with new accounts.
- Choose platforms where your audience spends time. For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you want to be on the platforms women in their 20s and 30s go to for visual inspiration, aka, Instagram and Pinterest. Do your research to find out what demographics and interests are popular on each platform rather than just signing up for the ones you think you need.
- Learn all the features. What sort of hashtags to users put on their posts? What size images are recommended? Are there chats that you can participate in? Should you set aside a small budget for ads? Are there groups or communities you can join? Each social media platform is different; to successfully promote your business, learn how to use your accounts to their full potential.
- Share your best content. There’s a lot of social media users out there, and a lot of content for them to pay attention to. You’ll only get them to join your community if you are sharing stellar content that you believe in and genuinely think they will like.
- Interact! Social media is social, and you should be too. Don’t just post your own products, photos, or blog posts. Share other people’s content. Respond to comments and questions. Thank followers for following. Join communities and participate in chats. Show people that you care about them, and they will have a reason to care about your business.
Guest posting is one of those marketing tactics that business owners in very internet-oriented industries know about, but others might never have even heard of.
Or, if they have heard of it, they can’t quite figure out the point. Create content for someone else? Why write a post for someone else’s blog or website when you already have so much trouble keeping up with your own?
There’s a very good reason, actually. Guest posting allows you to piggyback on the work someone else has already done to build and connect with an audience. They already have people who read their blog, and those readers will see what you write without you having to do the work of finding them and guiding them to your product!
Guest posting also:
- Improves your authority. Your words have been published somewhere other than your own platform; someone recognized and promoted your expertise! And now you can add a little “as seen on” or “featured on” blurb to your own website, letting visitors know that you’re the real deal.
- Increases your web presence. It can be hard for a small business to rank on Google. But when you guest post on a high-ranking website, that will be associated with your name and your business name in searches.
- Guides people where you want them to go. Most websites allow guest posters to include a bio, and you can use that bio to link anywhere you want on your website. Got a sign-up page? A special offer? An introductory product or service? Direct readers straight to that part of your website, rather than hoping they end up there after landing on your home page.
- Provides new opportunities. When you put your name and your business out there, people who would never otherwise know about you see your business and your work. You never know what new offers or partnerships will come your way as a result! I’ve had new clients and promotional opportunities find me through guest posts; you might find yourself with new customers or PR opportunities.
Of course, a guest post doesn’t do much good if the right people don’t see it. So make sure you are posting on sites where your audience or ideal customers will find you!
If you’re an accountant, guest post on financial blogs. If you’re a makeup artist, guest post on beauty websites. My favorite way to find guest posting opportunities is a simple google search: “niche + guest post” or “niche + write for us.” Brainstorm keywords that your customers or audience might be interested in, then look into posting on sites about those subjects.
Once you’ve found those websites in your audience’s niche, take a good look at them. Look at their sidebars, their posts, their newsletters.
Do they have any advertising spots available?
Do they do sidebar ads, banner ads, sponsored posts, or other targeted content?
If so, then you might want to consider some targeted blog advertising.
Popular industry blogs, whether big ones like Apartment Therapy, mid-size sites like Cup of Jo, or smaller niche sites like Careful Cents, fill a space that used to be occupied only by magazines and trade publications. They are trusted resources for their readers, who take their recommendations seriously. Blogs also tend to have very loyal readers, which means that any advertising spots you buy are going to be seen by a very interested audience.
- What is Blogging?
- How to Outsource Blog Posts Without Losing Your Voice
- When a Blog Isn’t Right for Your Small Business
- 6 Signs That You NEED a Business Blog
- 11 Ways to Make Your Blog Posts More Awesome
- 15 Blog Post Ideas for Any Niche
To make blog advertising an even better deal, it’s often much less expensive than running an ad in a traditional magazine or on the radio. Ad space on blogs is usually even less expensive than a flier campaign or printing signs! Depending on the size and reach of the blog you use, you might pay anywhere from $80 for a month’s worth of sidebar ad space to $800 for a sponsored post. Most sites will offer a range of advertising options and prices.
Once you start paying attention to blogs that your ideal audience frequents, you’ll probably discover a huge range of low-cost advertising opportunities. Make a list of websites, ask for prices or media kits, and start exploring your options. Odds are, you’ll find some great deals and a new audience out there.
There are lots companies out there that will offer “manage your PR.”
But when you have a small business with a limited budget… well, let’s be honest. Paying for PR is basically a waste of money. You’re unlikely to get the kind of exposure that will actually help your bottom line, and you’ll pay way more than you want to in the process.
But PR is a great idea! You get the word out about your business! You get featured in the media! People see your products and services in a trusted context!
Once you’ve been featured a place or two, you may find companies and publications contacting you and asking to feature your business. But before that happens, how do you get mentioned in the media without spending a fortune?
HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out, is a website and listserv that connects journalists, bloggers, and other media figures with sources. They post the type of source they need for a story, and business owners can respond with a pitch. In a single email blast, you might see:
- a journalist looking for doctors to comment on a healthcare story
- a tv show that wants to feature successful entrepreneurs
- a blogger searching for innovative makeup brands
- a magazine looking for food bloggers to contribute recipes
- a financial blog asking for tax tips from accountants
Who is looking and what they need varies, but there are dozens of queries that go out every day. But if you sign up as a source and check the query emails regularly, you have a good chance of finding one that’s a perfect fit for your business. HARO also sends out urgent source requests for journalists on short deadlines to people who follow their Twitter account.
If you are featured in the final story, you will usually get a link back to your website, a quote or product featured in a popular publication or established website, and a little bit of free publicity for your business!
Building a List
Finally, the marketing tool that I constantly encourage my clients to invest their time (and only a very little bit of money) in: an email list.
An email list is your best way to connect with past, present, and potential customers. It’s your tool for sharing new products, promotional events, special sales, and great news about your business. It’s your platform for building a community that you can always keep in touch with.
Of course, having an email list and building an email list are two different things. So how do you persuade visitors to sign-up and stay subscribed?
- Make the sign-up obvious. Don’t tuck your sign-up form away in your footer or on a single page of your website. Put it multiple places. Add it to your header. Make a pop-up that appears. (Yes, people say they hate pop-ups. But they totally work, so apparently people don’t hate them too much.) Wherever your sign-up form goes, it should be somewhere that every visitor sees and interacts with.
- Incentivize signing up. Don’t just tell people to “sign up for my newsletter!” or “join my email list!” Everyone who comes to your website probably already gets way more email than they want, so you need to give them a good reason to share their email address with you. Offer a discount or promotion off their first order (10% off or free shipping are relatively low-cost to you and just as effective as larger discounts). Give them a freebie, such as a resource list, course, or an ebook. Offer a free consultation in exchange. When you offer an incentive, suddenly the email sign-up is no longer about you: it’s about benefiting the customer. And everyone want to benefit.
- Make it exclusive. Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of a special club or getting offers that other people don’t have access to. So share things with your list that aren’t available anywhere else. Send them a free template that you don’t offer on your website. Give them an exclusive discount code. Offer a flash sale to subscribers. Create a VIP newsletter. When you offer exclusive content, you make your subscribers feel special. And when they feel special, they are more likely to stay subscribed — and maybe encourage their friends to subscribe too!
- Don’t send junk. Don’t share your email list, send irrelevant promotions, or spam the people on your list. That way lies lots of people clicking the “unsubscribe” button. Instead. respect the trust customers are placing in your by safeguarding their privacy and only sending them relevant, valuable content. If they value the information you send, they are more likely to open your emails and click all the way through back to your website… which is exactly where you want them to go!
Whether you’re looking to connect with a new audience, get mentioned in the media, or create a community of customers, the online world is full of low cost marketing opportunities that can benefit your small business.
But they’ll only work if you start using them!
So here’s my challenge for you: pick one of the five marketing tools I listed above and add it to your to-do list for the week. Then, add some follow-through time to your schedule. That could be five minutes a day on social media. It could be checking HARO queries every morning. Whatever you choose, make a commitment to using the tools available to you.
I promise, your small business will thank you!
Have a question about using any of these five marketing tools? Leave it in the comments, and I’ll be happy to help you out!