Do you own a business? Would you like to increase your marketing reach in 2009 at no cost?
(Please note: this post assumes that you have no advertising budget but want to use the Internet to promote and grow your business (not become an Internet or affiliate marketer). Some businesses don’t want (or need) to market, advertise or promote and that’s okay. There are many ways to publicize your venture and the steps listed below are exactly what I did to promote mine. The only expenses were for a domain name and web server space, all of which should cost you under $20.00)
As a solopreneur or small business owner, when it comes to marketing your business online, there are no magic bullets. None.
If you remember only one thing from this post, please do NOT give your limited funds to someone who calls himself a “social media expert” unless you do some heavy-duty research (that’s not to say experts don’t exist because there are many well qualified individuals, but with online marketing it’s buyer beware).
From first hand experience I know that online promotion can require a tremendous amount of work for what seems to be little ROI in the beginning, but hang in there. In the long run your efforts will payoff.
During the past year my little guesthouse business has been featured in Islands Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, and most recently, mentioned in a TripAdvisor press release. None of which would have happened had I not utilized the web because they all found us through various social media sites or my own blog.
When I took ownership of my small business a couple of years ago it had not really been marketed or run as an entrepreneurial venture for a number of years.
In fact, it was kind of strange, one day I didn’t own a business and I had NO mortgage to worry about. And suddenly, the next day, I had a mortgage and a business that needed to have customers ASAP because the funny thing about banks is…they like to get their payments every month (go figure!).
With no funds for advertising, and in a race against the foreclosure clock, I began to research and read heavily on marketing and online promotion. If you run a business or are starting a new one from scratch, and find yourself in a similar situation to the one I was in – – no customers, no advertising budget, and absolutely no presence on the Internet I crafted this post with you in mind.
Certainly, Internet and social media promotion is not rocket science, but for the beginner it can seem daunting. I have broken down the steps that I took below, and if there is a need or interest, I can explain them even further in a later post. Too, after each step I have included links to more in depth discussions.
- Your Story – before you register a domain name or think about anything technical you need to start with the story – – your story! Humans are emotional creatures and it’s the aforementioned “emotion” that typically determines what products we buy and services we procure. (Further reading: this is our ‘About’ page and two other resources How to Write the Perfect ‘About’ Page & How to Write Your About Page)
- Website – within your marketing strategy there is no place where the Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) theory holds more true than your website. Your website is an extension of you, so keep it clean, simple, and easy to navigate. I chose the free software WordPress as a content management system (CMS) and used a free theme that I customized. Though I have a technical background I didn’t know the first thing about CSS or HTML. (Further reading: WordPress & Customizing WordPress)
- Blog – you need to make a choice here whether you want to include your blog within your website (e.g. palmettoculebra.com/blog) or if you want to create a separate site. I chose to create a separate site called culebrablog.com where I can write about our island, and when necessary, my guesthouse. As most people know by now, blogs allow you to spread original ideas and messages via frequent updates and it is not easily done on a traditional static website. When done consistently and properly, a blog can become one of the most powerful tools in your social media arsenal. Whatever you do, avoid posts that are nothing more than simply spamming folks with “My Business is Great.” The goal here is not to make money from your blog, but to create conversations and to use it to drive customers to your business. (Further reading: 31 Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses & 10 Blogging Tips)
- Flickr – potential customers want to know what your business looks like and what to expect. If you don’t own a digital camera then use your cell phone to take some photos of you and your establishment and anything else that you deem relevant and upload them to Flickr. As an aside, I am amazed at how many people find us from this photo site. (Further reading: this post is all you need for Flickr, 100+ Flickr Resources)
- YouTube – if pictures are good, then video is exponentially better. If you have a video camera then shoot some quality, well lit video and upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or any of the other online services. The point is not to have your video go viral (which is great should it happen) but that it adds more depth and context to your story. (Further reading: YouTube for Your Business)
- Forums – whether you sell automobiles, women’s shoes, clean carpets, or make high-end jewelry; chances are there is a forum that discusses your product or service. Find out where they are, get into the conversation, and join the community. (Further reading: 10 Rules for Driving Traffic Using Forums [Traffic Analysis] & Website Traffic Series Part 6: Using Forum Signatures)
Bonus tip – once you move beyond any technical issues (of which I had many!), the type of online promotion that I have done (am doing) comes down to being consistent and devoting time to actually drafting blog posts, uploading photos, and engaging in forum discussions.
Yes, I know, these are the absolute basics (FB & Twitter to be covered later), but with the free tools available today the power of marketing and promoting your business is in your hands. Always remember that anyone can do it, however, without remarkable customer service your online efforts are for naught.