There is nothing I enjoy more than building marketing strategies for small businesses. I've been lucky enough to have been chosen by numerous small businesses that have enormous potential. It doesn't seem to matter what industry, location or personalities I work with, the prevailing similarities between them is that small businesses often don't position their company or use the web as effectively as they could. This is partially due to the time and resources small business owners don't have, and beyond building a website, they don't know where to begin.
It doesn't have to be overwhelming, you can either out source and hire someone who can take care of everything for you, have someone hold your hand and tell you what you need to do, or do it yourself. Below you can find the initial steps I take my small business clients through.
1. Define the brand
As always many of the small companies I work with have a name, a website, and a logo. But they didn't stand for anything.
When you think of Apple, you think of innovation and well designed products. Most small businesses are built by individuals who simply want to work for themselves, and some who saw an opportunity to do something better or to solve a problem. Both types, too often, build their website sit back and wait for the visitors to come.
Having something that differentiates one business from another, that people can connect with, coupled with good products and customer service is something that keeps people coming back.
Small businesses rarely have the money to hire a branding expert, but there are things they can do themselves to get started.
a. What is your origin story
If you have ever watched Apprentice, X-Factor or Alex Polizzi The Fixer, then you've seen people talking about their origin - where they came from and what they believe in.
Ask yourself: Why did I start this company? What am I proud of? How has that driven you forward and how is it reflected in your business practices.
b. Talk to your customers
This can be a hard pill to swallow but you can only improve if you actually listen to what your customers have to say and don't take it as a personal blow.
Ask your customers: What do you like about our company? What don't you like? Why did you choose us over our competitors? What are your pain points?
Asking these questions will give you a better understanding of the aspects of your company that resonate with people and what should be reflected in your branding messaging.
c. Do competitor research
Take a look at your competitors' websites. Consider what they are doing well, what they aren't doing well and take notice of how they talk about their company. You're looking for a gap in your industry that you can fill and stand out from the crowd.
d. Compile all information and develop a brand
It's time to start building a brand. What from your origin story and customer conversations stood out or got you excited? How can you talk about those things in a way your competition hasn't? Once you have that all worked out, you have a brand position.
2. Review the website content and language
It is often the case that your customers will not know your industry jargon, go through your website and make sure it clearly explains in simple terms what your customer gets for their money.
Ask yourself the following questions:
a. Does the website have the information my target audience needs?
On the most basic of levels, this should include what your company does, in-depth product or service information, prices, and contact information.
b. Am I using the language my target audience would use?
Our customers don't always use the same language as we do. I had a client who used the term Door Supervisor, whereas I thought they were called bouncers or doorman. By using terms that are different from your target audiences will make your organic traffic suffer. When you speak to your customers take note of the terms they use. Using keyword research will validate your findings, so use this language on the website.
c. Develop your marketing strategy
Now your website reflects your brand and differentiates you from your competitors, assuming your website is already optimised for search engines and you have a good user experience, you might be fooled into thinking that's it. If you are counting on online to bring you the majority, if not all of your sales, you are going to have to start planning a marketing strategy.
This part usually overwhelms small business owners, as there are many different options. The best thing you can do is not pursue all of them but stick to the ones that are going to have the best return on your investment (ROI).
So which avenues are going to be worth your time?
If you are in a competitive market you need search engine optimisation for the website to appear in the right places in the search results. SEO brings long term benefits to a website, which means it can have one of the best ROI.
Again this should be in place before you invest time else where, often the design of a website is half the battle to improving sales.
There is absolutely no point rewriting what everyone else is talking about unless you can come at it from a different angle. You'll also be going up against companies who have more powerful websites so will be listed before you.
The best content you can provide is new, fresh, and unique. To add value to your business and the search engines provide content your customers will find helpful, informative and possibly teaches them something. Content is not just about blogging, it covers news, services and product pages.
If you can solve your clients' unique problems, you'll give them a reason to keep coming back to your website, keeping you at the forefront of their mind.
Whatever you do don't waste your time writing content for the sake of it. It is better to write unique, quality content every now and again then churn out rubbish or exactly the same stuff as everyone else.
Paid Online Advertising
Online advertising such as pay per click in search, display or social can be very effective if done correctly. However, it can take a lot of time and money to monitor and improve your campaign.
To be cost efficient you will need to monitor your campaign to see what is working and what isn't and make changes. This is a good option for people who are not showing up in the search engine results or driving traffic from other avenues.
It is better to get involved in social media once you have built on your brand and website. You'll need unique content, images and deals in order to have a social media marketing strategy. As you build your website and brand you can collect content and images over a period of time, helping you to build a catalogue of resources you're going to need.
LinkedIn and Twitter are good for B2B interactions, whereas Facebook is better for B2C.
Only concentrate on the social media platform that best serves your audience.
Email marketing isn't an effective way of gaining new customers, if you're trying to increase customer retention or brand loyalty then it is effective. Just like the content strategy, your emails must contain value. When your customer opens your email they either want their lives to be made easier or they need to see a tangle value (discounts).
Often reaching out to bloggers and publications is beyond small businesses resources. But you have to do some form of out reach if you want your brand and organic traffic to grow.
Build relationships with other businesses in your area or be active in industry specific forums. This helps others see you as a thought leader and helps your business to grow.
Small businesses must network to survive, even if this means networking online first.
Small Business Branding Advice
Take it one step at a time so marketing your business won't become too overwhelming.
Figure out what makes your company different and communicate that.
Think about your customers' needs and how you will address them.
Having content that solves your customers' problems is a huge part of your battle.
Once you have the content, work out which marketing strategies will help you to reach your target audience.