Many books and articles on marketing assume that you have a decent sized pot of money to spend. However, small businesses usually don’t have spare cash lying around waiting to be lavished on marketing. Nor do they have dedicated resources in house to actually do the marketing.
So, can you achieve big results from a limited marketing budget and most importantly of all, can you do it yourself?
This two-part article looks at how to approach marketing, what sorts of activities you should be doing, as well as a few to avoid and finishes with a list of free marketing tools that you can use to help you get the results you are looking for.
The best way to approach any marketing effort is to have a plan. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace. But it should be written down. Going through this discipline is a great exercise to go through. Not sure where to start? Entreprenuer.com has a fantastic article for small businesses about putting a marketing plan together.
Your marketing plan should look at a number of different areas and should include sections such as what do your products/services do, who is your target audience or market, how does your product meet their needs, what research has been done (by you or by a 3rd party), who your competitors are and how do you compare?
Doing this analysis will help you to understand the best way to go about marketing to your chosen target audience, and identify which social platforms, events and media will be most effective.
A good marketing plan will place inbound marketing at the centre. This is where you spend time attracting prospects and customers to contact you about your business rather than you going out to find prospects.
There are a number of key areas that make up a good inbound marketing strategy but start by focussing on a solid content plan. Creating and publishing value driven content will build your reputation in the market, educate prospects and generate leads.
Coming up with ideas for content can be tough but the free Ideas Generator from Hubspot takes seconds to come up with relevant topics based on your products and services. By creating content that is useful and has value, you build credibility and establish yourself as a subject matter expert in addressing the problems that your target audience is facing. This applies equally in B2B and B2C markets.
Most entrepreneurs launch a website at the same time as launching the business. It is vital to analyse your website performance using free tools such as Google Analytics. It’s simple to set up and will allow you to track the traffic coming to your website. Building a solid understanding of which pages are visited most often, how long people spend on your site, and how people arrived at your site gives you valuable feedback to help shape the website.
There is an abundance of free tools such as SEMRush that can help you identify the actual terms that people search for. You can then sprinkle your content with these words so that your site appears in relevant Google searches. This can be a highly effective way of getting noticed online.
You need to make it as easy as possible for your audience to find out when new content is available to download. Ask people for their email address using a form and over time you can build a list of subscribers. You can then send out alerts with links to targeted landing pages whenever you publish a new article. Just be careful to adhere to GDPR guidelines!
Don’t limit yourself to written articles; podcasts and videos are increasingly popular. You don’t need fancy recording equipment as most smartphones can record high definition video. If you want to go to the next level, invest in a good camera, tripod and a microphone. Edit your videos for free with Lightworks to add a professional touch.
Infographics are another great way to get your message across. They can be used to summarise key points and link to a more detailed piece of content, such as a whitepaper or video that can be gated, so you capture contact details. They work well in social media or email marketing and can be created in Piktochart for free. However, some journalists don’t like them so use them sparingly in any Public Relation projects.
Follow the 3 R’s of content and save time. Rather than relying on creating new material from scratch every time, look to refresh, repurpose and republish your content. This should be a key part of your content strategy.
For example, if you have produced a series of articles around a particular topic, with a little bit of effort you can collate them, add a new introduction and conclusion and republish it as a downloadable e:book, or equally, you could turn it into a podcast series.
You have some choices when it comes to where to publish content. Sites such as Medium allow you to self-publish at no cost, or you can choose to host the content on your own website. The latter has the advantage of directly boosting your search engine rankings. You can also cross post articles onto LinkedIn too which maximises the potential audience.
New business leads are the lifeblood of many growing businesses. Online advertising can offer a cost effective and scalable way of generating leads. Google is probably the best-known ‘Pay Per Click’ (PPC) advertising platform. You can get started and see results even if you have a small budget.
Google Adwords uses a bidding system for keywords that you want your advert to appear against. You only pay a fee if your advert is then clicked on by someone that has searched for that particular keyword.
If you don’t know which keywords to choose then SEMRush can give you this insight based on your website and business. You will get the best out of your PPC spend if it is aligned to the content that is already on your website, or content that is created specifically for your Google Adwords campaigns.
Social media is easily accessible for every company. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most misunderstood areas of marketing, causing many an entrepreneur to commit lots of time and energy for little reward.
The objective of your social media efforts should be to engage with people that have a potential interest in what your business offers, raising awareness and building relationships as you go.
READ MORE: Know when to outsource
Start by looking at which social platforms your target audience use. Their profile, age and buying habits are all factors to consider. In general, if you are targeting businesses, then LinkedIn and Twitter are relevant social networking platforms. For consumers Instagram, Twitter and Facebook might be better options. If you are targeting the younger generation then Facebook is usually a no-no, as they increasingly spend time on WhatsApp and Instagram.
Once you have chosen your platforms, look to post content on a regular basis taking into account the differences in each platform. To maintain an effective presence, you should be tweeting every day but posting to LinkedIn 2-3 times a week. Ideally it will be content that has value and is original. Remember to follow the 3 Rs to deliver content that will be of interest to your audience.
There are many social media tools you can turn to for help. Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are two of the most well-known and are free. They allow to you schedule posts, monitor and report on engagement with your audience (called ‘followers’) and even keep track of what your competitors are doing.
The images that you post alongside your social posts are crucial. Use free image libraries such as Pixabay. You can also create imagery tailored to the specific social platform (frustratingly they all have different size requirements), and the free version of Canva contains templates and ideas to help you design appropriate images for each social platform.
Consider paying to enhance your social efforts. For example, sponsored LinkedIn posts are a great way to get your content seen by a precisely targeted audience. By setting a daily budget limit, you can control costs.
Although advertising on LinkedIn is one of the more expensive forms of PPC advertising, if you are targeting B2B decision makers, it can be highly effective due to the targeting options, enabling you to generate leads and create brand awareness.
Direct Marketing guru Drayton Bird, coined the phrase ‘common sense direct marketing’. This applies to a lot of how you should think about marketing in general. Because with a dose of common sense, you can achieve highly effective marketing that looks professional and gets results, by doing most of the work yourself and without spending a huge amount of money.
However, beware some of the pitfalls. Set yourself limits on any digital spend and measure the return you get. Small businesses often get targeted by companies selling advertising directories or special edition of a trade publication that you’ve never heard of, e.g. by telling you that you have been chosen to appear in a special edition. Sadly, this practice is common place in many industries and rarely delivers value for money.
In the second part of this article, we will explore other marketing tactics and look at the free tools that can help elevate your marketing to the next level.
Use the same messaging throughout all of your marketing efforts so your audience sees and hears a consistent story. This is a key part of establishing a strong brand message and identity.
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