The world of digital marketing can seem a daunting landscape for many small businesses and startups.
In a world dominated by SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, eCommerce (and everything else), the task of getting your brand’s voice heard above the noise of your competitors is a complex task.
It is a rocky terrain that even larger, more established companies are still struggling to master.
Some of the findings from last month’s sixth annual Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, USA, confirmed how confusing the world of digital marketing can be.
Stats revealed that 88% of B2B marketers use Content Marketing, but only 30% say their organisation is effective at it.
Only 32% of B2B businesses revealed they had a Content Marketing plan, and only 45% actually understood what that strategy was.
It is an ever evolving dynamic that many businesses battle with on a daily basis, and with new techniques and platforms emerging all the time, the learning process usually descends into a never-ending cycle of trial and error.
But fear not, your learning can start here courtesy of author, speaker and digital marketing expert Leanne Ross.
Leanne, who hails from Belfast but is preparing to emigrate to New Zealand (the native home of her husband), is an award-winning consultant with over 10 years of digital marketing experience.
She has worked with clients in the public, private and voluntary sectors, from her local shores of Northern Ireland to Dubai and New Zealand.
Leanne is also the author of the 2016 Amazon Best-Selling PR book ‘Talk is Cheap’, and is guest lecturer and owner of communications blog aCupofLee.com
We invited Leanne to share her expertise on how small businesses and startups can embrace the scary world of digital marketing – and how they can make it work for their company.
“I’m often asked by small businesses and startups if there’s anything I can teach them quickly, anything they can implement easily themselves. It’s not a cost-cutting question, but an attempt to grow with their business as it develops and learn what does and doesn’t work for them online,” Leanne explained.
“As the author of a how-to PR book for small businesses (‘Talk Is Cheap’ £6.99 on Amazon), I do believe there are certain elements of the Marketing process that can be ‘bootstrapped’. That’s because a good chunk of the initial digital-to-do list costs more in time than expertise.
“However, I usually shy away from condoning that technical Digital Marketing aspects be ‘DIY-ed’, simply because even I enlist help with this sort of thing. Scared by SERPs? Unsure of Canonical URLs? Terrified of Google Adwords dashboard? Yep, me too. And that’s okay. You can – and should – hire good help to set your business on a stable digital road from the beginning.
“Having spent the last few months inside local digital agency Glaze, I can attest to a few key tips that businesses can try themselves easily that will stand them in good stead for growing their online communications, and steps that your future digital consultants will thank you for!
“So these are my Top Five Tips for starting out on the Digital Marketing journey for your Small Business:
1. Own Your Brand
Buy or reserve your name everywhere you can think of online.
The domain name is the most important (I buy all mine through GoDaddy but there are other providers).
You then want to think about key email providers, like firstname.lastname@example.org, even if you don’t need to use those addresses. This ensures no-one else can take them.
The same applies to social media channels. I will register for profiles in my name across them all even if I don’t intend to keep them active. Simply upload a photo and write in the profile description: “you’ll find us over on XXXX” so people know how best to contact you.
If you can’t pay for a website immediately, think of directing your domain name to even a simple free WordPress landing page design with a branded image and contact details.
Most WordPress templates available will be mobile optimised (size-down correctly on tablet/smartphone screens) and considering mobile searches have now eclipsed computer searches, that’s important for your SEO efforts.
2. Optimise For Local Search
Claiming and setting up your Google local listings profile has a lot of SEO value.
Google’s own support website has great videos and walk-through instructions to help you with this.
It will mean the difference between you struggling over time, perhaps without an ad budget, to rank on the first page when people search for your business locally (you can do it on other sites too like Bing, Yahoo or Yelp, obviously).
Also, if you aren’t as up-to-speed with eCommerce or fancy online contact forms on your website, optimising your Google listing with your location and phone number or email address gives potential customers the fastest, easiest way to get in touch with you to GIVE YOU THEIR MONEY.
You do have to prove you own the business by sending in validation proof – bills, etc., but it’s a small price to pay to get yourself on Google Maps.
3. Video is the Future
Of course, no one expects you to immediately be hiring a media team to produce high-quality content!
But with social media broadcast offerings such as Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Snapchat, if you feel particularly able and confident to take followers and customers on little live snippets behind the scenes at your business, events or face-to-camera vlogs of your journey, then it will invariably perform better online than generic text or image posts.
This wide video reach is important when growing an organic following because these sites will limit who can see your posts unless you pay them ad revenue.
You can also easily teach yourself to use free sites like Adobe Spark which have made it much easier to create your own little video segments of words and images, like a moving presentation video.
That can also be more engaging for people on social media. Instead of being afraid of getting it wrong, use the time while your audience is small and made up mostly of friends and supporters, to experiment and learn as you go. Make mistakes when people will forgive you for them!
4. Email Marketing
Email marketing is direct, personalised and still performs incredibly well online despite the growth of social media and content marketing.
As long as your offering is tailored and useful, with an attention-grabbing heading and a decent design, you should at least get a good open rate. And provided you don’t spam people too regularly, you should also manage to keep people from unsubscribing.
Free tools like the SumoMe app for WordPress will allow you to easily create pop-up windows for website visitors to capture their email addresses for future direct marketing.
Likewise, Mailchimp is also a free tool for up to 2,000 subscribers. There you can divide them into groups, simply design your own templates, link your social media accounts and schedule mail outs in advance to help you stay organised.
Some of the biggest brands in the world still use these programs so there’s no reason why your small business can’t benefit from a simplified version to help you grow.
Again, remember, many of your followers online won’t see all your social media posts or any blogs you might write. Email marketing is the way they – and you – guarantee that the important information reaches them.
5. Digital Media Relations
This isn’t something most small businesses think about when it comes to Digital Marketing, and the lines between the industries are becoming more blurry by the day.
But the fact is, there is a lot of media that is both produced and consumed online now.
In fact, some of our most well-known outlets only exist online (e.g. Belfast Live).
While the media publishes online, they now also source online. Most journalists have a Twitter account (you’ll find them by searching the terms ‘journalist’, ‘editor’ or ‘freelance writer’ on the Twitter search bar, or indeed by looking at the accounts each media outlet follows).
Many will also use the #JournoRequests hashtag or #HARO (stands for Help a Reporter Out) inside their tweets to ask for businesses like you to give comments on stories they are researching.
Become familiar with writers in your sector, initially locally and then work out from there. Engage with them online, send emails and introduce who you are and what your business does.
Make the offer to take part in future feature pieces. Look out for impromptu opportunities to give expert comment or interview. It won’t work as well as having a dedicated PR resource in-house or consultancy, but it certainly won’t hurt your efforts!
Make sure that, if they do feature your business name, you ask for a backlink to your business website to aid your SEO standing in search results!
And of course, the part a lot of businesses forget: while you’re doing all this work to promote your online presence, be sure to promote that you are online, and where you can be found online, in the real world!
You will inevitably attend many events, meet many people and probably still engage in some traditional print materials when you start out (even if it’s just a business card).
Make sure you look at every place you exist and think about it from a complete stranger’s point of view:
- Do all your channels feed back to one central place, like a website?
- Does one channel flow to another?
- Is your Twitter handle listed on your LinkedIn page, for example?
- Does your Facebook Page note your business website address?
- Do you have your social media account names prominent in your shop from display?
- Are they all listed in your email signature?
Maximise every opportunity for anyone who wants to contact you or follow your journey, to be able to do so quickly and easily.
As the famous saying goes, for everything else, there’s the experts!