The Definitive Guide to Online Marketing for Small Business

Most people believe that they just need a website because, well, its the internet age. While it may be true that every business should have a website, that’s not reason enough on its own. The same can be said for social media. You don’t need a social media presence for its own sake. You need a social media presence to achieve some specific business goal.

The vast majority of companies don’t pay much attention to this, and their online marketing (and their business) suffers as a result. Without a clear business goal, it’s impossible to know whether or not the investments you’re making in the digital world are paying off.

In this post, I’m going to provide a detailed guide to online marketing for small business. I’ll be tackling:

  • Creating an Online Marketing Strategy
  • Implementing the strategy
  • Monitoring and controlling the effort

By the end of the guide, you’ll know exactly what you need to do in order to put the internet to work for you and your business.

Creating a Small Business Online Marketing Strategy

Before we get too deep into the creation of an online marketing strategy, we should focus first on what exactly “strategy” and “marketing” really are. I know it seems a bit silly, but understanding the fundamentals here will pay out huge in the end. It’ll keep you focused and efficient, which is important because if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you don’t have time to waste.

Strategy

Strategy, broadly speaking is how you approach your business. More importantly, you can think of your strategy as helping you understand what you will and what you won’t do in your business. In my experience, the later is the more important. It’s relatively easy to do what you think needs to be done in your business. It can be very hard, on the other hand, to decide to stop doing things that aren’t really aligned with your business, or that aren’t adding a lot of value.

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter breaks strategy up into four basic quadrants. On one axis, he explains that you can be either broad, or focused. On the other axis, he argues you can either be cost-focused, or a differentiator. This yields four combinations:

  • Cost-focused + broad
  • Cost-focused + focused
  • Differentiator + broad
  • Differentiator + focused

Cost-focused companies try to compete on price. They don’t make much money per transaction, but they make it up in volume. Costco is a good example of a cost-focused company.

Differentiators, on the other hand, try to make their product as distinct as possible. They offer innovative, new, different, better, or faster products. While they are more expensive to develop and produce, they also command a higher price in the market. These companies can get away with selling less product because they make more money per sale. Apple is a good example of a differentiator.

The focused-broad end of the spectrum has to do with market focus. Walmart has a broad market focus – they’re trying to sell to everyone everywhere. Vespa scooters, however, are only interested in a certain quirky segment of the market. They appeal to a focused segment of the market.

This is all important for you to bear in mind, because you need to know what your business’ strategy is. Are you a cost leader or a differentiator? Are you interested in a broad market, or a focused market? Knowing this will have an impact on the way you approach your digital presence.

Marketing

The other term I wanted to define for you was marketing. Marketing best thought of as a conversation with a target market. Normally, a business makes money by being able to solve some problem, pain, or fear that a particular group of people has. Marketing is the act of figuring out what exactly those problems, pains and fears are, and letting those people know that the business can solve them.

So, marketing can take on a number of forms. You can have advertisements, store fronts where people can come in a talk to employees, sponsored events, publish white papers, do media interviews, and of course, you can have websites and social media outlets. Ultimately, the list is endless.

The important take away here is that marketing is a two-way street. You have to listen to your market before you can speak to them in a way that appeals to them.

Creating the Online Marketing Strategy

Our goal for any online marketing effort should line up with our business strategy, and line up with the essence of marketing. Our business strategy tells us what we do as a business, and who we do it for. We now want to market ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing the right things for that group of people, and that they know we do it.

Bearing all this in mind, our online marketing strategy should accomplish four specific things. It should:

  • Help us find our target market
  • Help our target market find us
  • Help us figure out what that market needs
  • Help us to tell that market that we can help them with our products and services.

In short, our online marketing strategy should be to help us connect and converse with the right people.

In order to do this, we recommend a three-pronged approach. You need to set up an a website with a blog, an email list, and social media accounts. Each are explained below.

A website with a blog

Your website acts as the home base for your online life. Everything you do online will point to this home base. It’s important to keep your site fresh with new content so that Google finds you (which drives a heck of a lot of traffic to your site), and so that your visitors/ fans/ customers have a reason to keep coming back to your site. This is why we recommend setting up a blog. Blogs are simply websites that are designed specifically to make it easy to post and distribute content on your website. Google loves them, and they’re easy to set up and use. By adding new content to your site on a regular basis, you also establish yourself as an expert in your field. Your customers get to know, like and trust you, which is a critical component to having someone want to do business with you.

The other important goal of a blog is to build an email list, which I’ll talk about next.

The email list

This is a key component, if not the key component to your online marketing strategy. There’s a saying in the online marketing space that says “the money is in the list”. That is to say, it’s the sizer and quality of your email list that determines how much business can be driven from your online efforts.

So what exactly is an email list? Simply put, its a collection of email addresses from your site’s visitors. You can use special software to create forms for your website to collect and store those email addresses for you. Its important to use special software for this, because if you try to send an email to 1000 people from your own personal email account, it’ll get flagged as spam.

The reason an email list is so important is that it gives you an avenue through with you can really talk to your customers. People check their email every single day – sometimes dozens of times a day. Someone may only visit your site once, but if you collect their email address on that one visit, you’ve turned that visitor into a lead. The other important thing to keep in mind is that when someone gives you their email address, a transaction has occurred – they’ve given something of value to you. This infers that the person isn’t just a lead, they’re a warm lead.

We’ll get into how to actually build your list and what to do with it later in the guide.

Social media outlets

Social media outlets are like little outposts in your digital empire. These accounts are good for a couple reasons. They help you find people in your target market, and give you the opportunity to chat with them. Most importantly, they help you point people towards your blog – your home base – which, in turn, helps you build your email list.

The specific social media platforms to use depend on your market. Almost invariably, Facebook and Twitter are a good idea to start.

Bringing it all together

To sum up, a basic online marketing strategy is to build a blog to show expertise and collect emails, and to use social media to point people to your website. With these elements, you can accomplish the main goals of connecting and conversing with your market.

Implementing the Strategy

Okay, so how do you actually go about doing all this? In this section, I’ll take you step-by-step through how I establish this strategy.

1. Build your blog

The first step is to build a blog – your home base. Here at Tandem Consulting Co., we build our sites using the WordPress platform. The platform is free, which is super, and is used by approximately 20% of the world’s websites. This makes it the single most used platform for web development in the world. There are a ton of free resources online to help you build and manage WordPress sites, and Google loves WordPress. What could be better?

In order to build a site, you need somewhere to install it. Companies called “hosting” companies are there for that. The host we use is called bluehost (affiliate link). They’re very, very affordable ($4.95 per month is the current promotion), and have excellent customer service. They also have a function that allows you to install WordPress sites with a single click. Not bad, eh?

Once you have your site up and running, you need to add high-quality content to your site on a regular basis. How frequently depends on your specific industry or niche. In most cases, 2-3 posts per week is perfect. This is what draws people to your site, and shows people that your business knows what it’s doing, that you have expertise in what you do. It also grows your site over time so that Google has more and more to look at, increasing the likelihood that one of your pages will be a  good match for a Google search.

2. Start an email list

Once you have a website up and running, you want to start an email list. As discussed above, this is a key component to your online marketing strategy because it gives you a direct link to your audience (customers, fans, etc.). I’d go as far as saying that if you don’t have an email list, you’re severely limiting how effective your online strategy can be.

You can keep things simple by starting an email list through a dedicated service like Mailchimp (affiliate link). Mailchimp is the service we use, and is free to start. You only have to pay if you want to activate some of the advanced features, which most people won’t use in the beginning. Once you set up a list, you can add forms to your website to allow people to easily sign up. There are good free WordPress plugins that you can use to set these up.

Once you have an email list, be sure to send them at least one email a week. That way your list stays “warm”, and they remember you.

On a side note, we *highly* recommend you use the double opt-in option on your list to make sure you comply with spam laws. Also be sure to make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list, again, to ensure you’re compliant with spam regulations.

3. Set up social media accounts

Now that you have your website and an email list, you’re ready to set up little digital “outposts” to try and guide people to your site. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook act as these outposts. What you do is set up these accounts (both free) and post regularly to them as you add content to your website. This puts your message in front of people who may be interested in what you have to offer, and could visit your website if you had something of interest to them.

The whole point here is that you can attract traffic from these social media sites to go to your website, and eventually sign up for your email list. We often suggest you get started by using just Twitter, because it’s the easiest social network to build a following on.

4. Reach out to your list

Once you have a large enough list, you can start doing some interesting things to help build your business. Here are some ideas:

  • Launch a new product by emailing people on your list to go to a sales page on your website.
  • Survey your list to figure out what product or service you could develop to serve their needs.
  • Offer special promotions or flyers to drive sales
  • Organize an event and get people to come out.
  • Continue offering value to your clients by giving free content, videos, and media.

Like I said before, in the online world, the money is in the list. If you are trying to build your business through online marketing, the number one thing you want to do is build and use your email list.

Next Steps

So, there you have it. This is our definitive guid to digital marketing. We hope you’ve found value in this guide. We truly believe that if you follow the steps provided here, you’ll be well on your way to making a splash on line.

If you need help with implementing anything in this guide, we’d be more than happy to help. Just leave a comment below, or drop us a line on our contact page.

Photo credit: Flickr/ Gabriel Saldana

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