Marketing your small business online isn't all that tricky. Though there are plenty of things to learn if you're to get the best results from your efforts, I wouldn't advise anyone to sit around learning all there is to know about online marketing before jumping in.
First of all, I don't know any small business owners who have the time to do that. Second, it isn't necessary. Instead, jump in! Start now... You'll learn plenty along the way.
An important note: your online marketing efforts will reflect either positively or negatively on your business. Any business owner can start marketing online now, but do take care to put out content and messages that have quality and authenticity.
So, let's get down to it. Here are seven online marketing activities you can start today.
Blogging is a powerful content marketing activity for any size business. It can help position you as an expert in your industry, bring more traffic to your website, grow a loyal fan base, and generate buzz and interest in what you have to offer.
It does take a time commitment, but the return on investment is generally high.
If you already have a website built with the mega-popular WordPress software, setting up your blog will be very simple and essentially free. If you're not using a website service that allows you to add a blog to your website, you can host your blog independently of your business website and link to it. However, I highly recommend the all-in-one solution, since it helps enforce your overall brand unity.
Once you have your blog up and running, you can begin publishing helpful articles to attract your target market. You blog shouldn't be an advertising outlet, it should focus on delivering content that is helpful and engaging. You might feel like you're giving away some of your best ideas, but doing so will only increase your credibility and community.
2. Join Twitter
If you're not on Twitter already, now's the time to get started. It's simple to set up a profile for your business, choose some interesting people to follow, and begin sending your helpful, engaging tweets out to the world.
Here are some things to remember when using Twitter for business:
- Don't "advertise" with Twitter. You can talk about your business and your products/services, but don't overdo it. Most of your tweets should involve sharing helpful information or interacting with your followers.
- Stay updated. Don't set up your account, tweet a few times, and then let it sit there. Update a couple times a day if you can. It doesn't have to be time-intensive; simply share an interesting article you read, reply to someone's question, or retweet something useful.
- Be personable. Use Twitter as a communication tool, not a broadcast tool. Sharing helpful articles and announcements is good, but don't stick to that format all the time. Ask questions, answer questions, start a conversation. Interaction is key.
- Create a concise and compelling Twitter bio. Let people know, quickly, what you do and what you have to offer. Such a bio will help you attract quality followers.
3. Answer questions on LinkedIn
This is a simple activity you can do every morning, or twice a week, or whenever you choose, and it helps get your name and knowledge in front of peers and potential prospects. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile yet, you can create one for free. Then find—and join—LinkedIn groups related to your area of expertise.
You can search for questions that fellow group members have asked, and provide helpful answers; you can also ask questions if you want to get a specific conversation going. (Another way of doing that, aside from groups, is to use LinkedIn Polls.)
Remember to answer questions with genuinely helpful responses, not just an advertisement for your services. Give useful tips and suggestions, and even refer the questioner to your contact information to get in touch, if they wish.
Being helpful and demonstrating your knowledge will build credibility for your business, and it could earn you actual business leads and connections.
4. Be a guest author
Similar to sharing content on your own blog, you can write helpful articles for other blogs that your customers and prospects read.
Most blogs are actively seeking guest authors, and in return for your contribution you general receive an author bio with links to your website/blog and social media profiles.
Guest-blogging is a great way to gain exposure in your industry, reach a new audience, and boost the SEO power of your website (because of the incoming links).
As with each of the previous marketing activities I've talked about, it's important to keep your guest posts helpful and informative, not salesy. Most blogs won't publish articles that are promotional in nature, and you wouldn't gain the same long-term benefits even if they did.
Growing your online presence is about establishing your knowledge in a certain niche and growing a community of consumers who appreciate your advice and your brand.
5. Comment on blogs
Become a regular part of the conversation on other blogs in your industry. You'll make valuable connections and get your insight and thoughts in front of a new audience with minimal effort.
When commenting on blogs, always make sure you're adding something useful or thoughtful to the conversation. Don't pretend you read the article and copy someone else's comments. Find content you are genuinely interested in, and then add your opinion, thoughts, or compliments.
6. Start an email newsletter
Email marketing is still a powerful way to grow a business online, even in the midst of our Twitter-saturated world.
You can set up an account at one of many email marketing services and begin capturing emails on your website in a snap. I recommend checking out MailChimp and AWeber; both offer flexibility and affordable prices.
7. Be an expert source
A great way to demonstrate your expertise is to show up as an expert in someone else's article, blog, podcast, or video. This strategy can also grant you exposure to a completely new audience that you might not have otherwise been able to reach.
Bloggers, journalists, and media types are always looking for experts to interview. You can add you name and contact details to various directories, offer your expertise directly to someone of interest, or (my personal recommendation) sign up for a free account at HARO and reply to queries that interest you on a daily basis. You might not get quoted in every article you volunteer for, but you can score some great publicity for a few minutes of your time each day.
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The seven online marketing ideas outlined here should give you a great place to start. I don't suggest trying to launch all of these activities at the same time. Instead, choose a few that best fit your business and personality, and then add on from there.
Your turn: What do you do on the Web to spread the word about your business? Share your thoughts in the comments!