It’s true what Lisa Barone wrote: Now is the best time to start a small business. And if you do, chances are good that you’ll build a web site and use the Internet to help grow your business. Heck, the web site and Internet might actually be your business.
Either way, the hard work is only beginning when your web site is done. That’s when the marketing and promotion kicks in. How would you do that? How would you spread the word about your new small business and web site?
I’m not starting a new business right now, but if I were, here’s how I’d market it. Let’s assume the following:
- My web site is fully developed. There’s no sense marketing an unfinished product.
- My web site is attractive and is user-friendly. I’ve taken care of the basics of usability.
- I’ve done the appropriate keyword research and my page content reflects that.
- My web site has good content for my target audience (and for search engine spiders).
- I’ve done at least the basics of SEO across the site. Crawlability isn’t a problem. Page titles and meta descriptions are relevant and unique, the keywords tag is used for misspellings, etc.
- I’m on a tight budget. I can’t spend more than $2,500 over the first three months for both online and offline marketing.
Ready? Let’s launch this small business web site!
1. Have metrics tracking in place. If my web hosting service doesn’t provide a stats system, or provides an inadequate one, I’d sign up for Google Analytics. It offers more data than some small businesses need, but you can’t beat the price. You need metrics in place at the beginning so you can track all your upcoming marketing efforts. Cost: Free
2. Create a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising account. Two benefits here:
1. PPC advertising is a great way to get instant visibility and immediate traffic. Geo-targeting can be particularly effective for small businesses, and allows you to advertise with a smaller budget.
2. Even if you set an ultra-low monthly budget, you’ll still have access to actual search counts for your keyword terms. This data can be invaluable for future marketing and web site development.
Cost: $300/month (Actual cost will vary based on budget limits you set.)
3. Write and Distribute a Press Release(s). This will be a business announcement, and I’ll want to focus on my USP (Unique Selling Proposition). What separates mine from similar businesses? That’s the story I’m telling. Since I’m on a tight budget, I’ll have to write this myself. I’ll use many of the same SEO copywriting techniques I would for a web page — emphasizing the appropriate use of keywords, especially in the title and the beginning of the release.
I’ll spread my release both online and offline.
- Offline: Many local newspapers have announcement sections for new businesses. Some communities have business-specific newspapers that will be more likely to consider your new business launch a newsworthy event. If your town still has a locally owned radio station, check if they have a news department and if they accept business announcements. Cost: Free
- Online: There are several good online sources of press release distribution. I’m on a budget, so I’ll use PRWeb and PR Leap. PRWeb offers packages ranging from $80 to $360. I’ve had some success at the $80 level, so I’ll use that. PR Leap’s services range from $49 to $149. The $49 option looks good to me since I’m on budget. Cost: $129
4. Buy Directory Links. It gets a bit complicated here. At $299, the Yahoo Directory is steep for someone on a budget, but it’s a trusted link. Ezilon is another solid directory that costs either $69/year or a $199 single payment. BOTW.org is either $100/year or a $250 one-time payment. Choosing the best directories is another article altogether, but I’m basically going to analyze the pages where my link would appear, see which ones offer the strongest links, and submit there. To make things easy for this article, let’s choose Yahoo as the best link and the one we can afford.
There are also free directories worth investigating. I’d submit to DMOZ and forget about it. Debra Mastaler recently recommended Sphericom and Illumirate. I’d also look for local and niche/vertical directories that will likely be free or very inexpensive. Cost: $299
5. Take advantage of Local Search opportunities. I’d start by using GetListed.org to check my local listings on Google, Yahoo, and a couple other primary local search sites. I’d also use my Google AdWords account (see above) to create a Local Business Ad for Google Maps. I’d buy a Local Featured Listing on Yahoo Local, but only if I qualify for the $30/month or less plan. I’m on a budget, after all. Cost: $30/month
6. Add a blog to my web site. Blogs make great “spider food” (i.e., search engines love blogs) and they’re a great way to have an ongoing conversation with customers. I’d use WordPress because it’s great, free, and my hosting company probably supports it with a one-click installer. I’d be sure to make it easy for readers to add my posts to social media sites like delicious.com, Facebook, StumbleUpon, etc. It takes a while for a blog to gain traction, so I’d start writing posts as often as my schedule allows. The main goal at this point is just to get in the rhythm of writing and make blogging a habit. Cost: Free
Total Costs, Month One
7. Be active in the blogger community. I’d create accounts at MyBlogLog and Technorati, and put their widgets on my blog. I’d run my feeds through FeedBurner for the community stat tracking. I’d use Bloglines or Google Reader to track other blogs in my industry and I’d be active in commenting on them (not spamming them, commenting on them). Cost: Free
8. Join Twitter and Facebook. I’ll join them both now because each offers a good opportunity to meet and network with local people who may be good contacts and/or future customers. But rather than signing up and starting to promote my business, I’ll spend the first month or so just meeting people and listening to the wider conversations. Cost: Free
9. Join my local Chamber of Commerce. Small businesses rely heavily on networking and word-of-mouth for survival. The CofC is a great way to do both. I’ll ask for a link from the chamber’s web site, and/or a mention in their newsletter. Cost: ~$500 (Actual cost will vary by location, number of employees, and other factors.)
Total Costs, Month Two
Monthly: $330 (continuation of Month One costs)
10. Investigate local offline advertising options. Sponsoring high school sports teams, Little League teams, etc., is inexpensive and gives me at least a couple months of exposure, not to mention plenty of goodwill with parents and the community. Ditto for partnering with local charities, schools, etc. Cost: $300 (estimated)
11. Invite/pay bloggers to write about my business/product/service. I’d use ReviewMe or Sponsored Reviews to find bloggers in my industry who are willing to write a paid review. I know that search engines, Google especially, frown on paid links. So, I’ll tell the blogger that it’s okay to use the nofollow tag if they link to my site. I’m more interested in the exposure to the bloggers’ audience than I am in the link. If I can find a popular and influential blogger with maybe a couple thousand readers, and only spend a couple hundred dollars for a write-up, that’s a great deal. Cost: ~$200 (will vary on industry and blogs targeted)
12. Use Yahoo! Answers to answer questions from people asking about my industry. It’s light years ahead of any other Q&A site in traffic. It helps establish me as an expert and a helpful person/company. It’s also kinda fun. And it can even be a source of web traffic. Note: This may not be effective for a small business that’s located in a small town/city. Cost: Free
13. Use Flickr. I’d join photo groups related to (a) my products/services, and (b) my local geographic area and upload quality photos related to my business. As with any social media/networking site, I’d avoid the spammy sales pitches and focus on contributing value to the groups I’m in. Note: If I were a lawyer, accountant, or in some other business without a strong visual element to what I do, I’d ignore this step. Cost: Free (or $25 for an annual account, recommended if you use it heavily)
Total Costs, Month Three
Monthly: $330 (continuation of Month One costs)
That’s my three-month plan for starting a new small business and marketing my new web site. Going forward, I’d give these ideas a couple OF months to see which ones work and which don’t. At about the fifth or sixth month, I’d start focusing on the ones that do and eliminating the ones that don’t.
Let’s see how I did in meeting my marketing budget:
Total Costs, Three Months
One-time costs: $1,428
Monthly costs: $990 ($330/month)
I’m a little under budget, which is a good thing when you’re a small business. I could spend that on a couple extra low-cost directory listings, maybe up my PPC spending a little bit, or save it for future marketing needs.
Note that $800 of the estimated $1,428 one-time costs are for offline expenses. Take those away and you really see how inexpensive online marketing can be, if you’re willing to invest the time that it takes to make up for being on a tight budget.
I didn’t name a specific product or service in this article. There are additional marketing opportunities that may be effective depending on the size of your small business and what you do or sell. Ultra-small businesses, for example, may be able to market effectively with something as simple as printed flyers distributed around town. Other businesses may find branded publicity materials (calendars, magnets, etc.) to be effective.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for small business marketing. Hopefully the ideas shared here will help you put together the right game plan for launching your small business!
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About the Author: Matt McGee offers search marketing consulting and training to businesses of all sizes. He blogs at Small Business Search Marketing and HyperlocalBlogger.com.
Interesting article Matt, especially that no one size fits all.
I would add that it is important to set some simple goals. That way you can measure what you have actually achieved for the time and money spent. This makes it easier to fine tune your activities after launch.
For most new small businesses jumping into online marketing for the first time I would steer clear of PPC advertising. For a while at least. Without a decent understanding of how search works and the whole PPC thing, including quality score, split testing of ad copy and landing pages, negative keywords, etc., you burn through your money pretty quick while trying to just learn and often end up with a deeply negative return on investment.
Instead I would maybe spend that part of the budget on doing more of some of the other things you mentioned. Maybe buy another directory link or two. Another press release. More local offline advertising.
Save the PPC for when the budget is not quite so tight and those other marketing efforts are already bringing in business. You can then better afford the learning curve costs and time required to get it right, and most importantly get it profitable.
Great advice for new business owners! You explain everything simple and straight to the point. Good marketing ideas…Thank you!
Great post! I happen am about to start my own small (online) business and I will take your tips to heart!
Catch Search Marketing
My tweak to this marketing plan is that I would maybe silo these activities off into 1-2 month periods. That way I can measure results better, and focus.
For example, spend 2 months creating a social media plan and engaging with Facebook and Twitter. Another conducting SEO, and PPC.
This way you become an expert on one area before moving on to the next.
I’d also like to point out I offer local search training at http://catchsearchmarketing.com for those businesses looking to do Local SEO themselves.
this launched of new small biz website was very challenging, me, still surfing and reading about marketing on the web. I am interested to learn more. You may follow me in twitter http://twitter.com/jeanmar143
Great advice. Thank you for also letting us know what to expect cost wise with each step. A lot of people just starting out don’t realize they can send press releases out. I was among them. I used to think they were only something a big business could do. It’s really a good option especially on limited funds. Small price but potentially can reach a very large audience. Good job!
Thx for all the great comments folks (and tons of retweets).
@Stever — it’s hard to have a “deeply negative return” if you’re limiting yourself to a small, manageable PPC budget. I used
$30/month$300/month (fixed; see below) in the article. How does that translate to what you’re saying?
Respect your opinion, but I do disagree. 🙂
Another great article. Just a mention on “#5 Take advantage of Local Search opportunities”. There are SO MANY local search engines and directories to list with that will help a local business be found. There is a great resource with all these listed and ranked at http://www.emarketingmatador.com/step-2-local-search-directories. We created for a our clients but wanted to share.
Hope this helps your readers as well.
As usual, great post. I wholeheartedly agree with using Twitter as a brand awareness and relationship building tool. It’s amazing how many people you can connect with in such a short period of time. However, I don’t feel you need to have a buffer of a few months before you start promoting your product, so long as that’s not the only thing you’re tweeting about.
Matt, you said $300 per month for PPC not $30. Even $300 is not a lot in absolute terms but in relative terms is just over 1/3 of the budget.
Perhaps the wording “deeply negative” was a little too strong. What I often hear from small biz owners who tried PPC for a few months is they didn’t see any return, or very very little. They are often making all the rookie mistakes (bidding on broad terms, bidding for top spot, not using dedicated landing pages – just directing clicks to home page, etc.).
If you’re going to go the PPC route just do lots of research before buying those clicks.
I really appreciate the back and forth between Stever and Matt McGee. I can see both sides and have heard the same concerns from biz owners that Stever points out. But I like Matt’s point about it is a great way to kick off some traffic. As long as you limit it, I think it can be useful. Not making the rookie mistakes is a great counter by Stever. Ahh, both sides are good. Thanks to both of you.
@Matt — I really enjoyed the way you laid out all the steps you’d take. Very clearly done.
For me, this is a great article to jumpstart my online business. Thanks a lot. 😉
Sorry about the typo in my previous comment; I was able to fix it. Stever, I get what you’re saying and yes, there’s a chance to do a poor job of PPC. But I still think it’s the best way to get immediate traffic to a new business web site.
Thx to all for the recent comments and feedback. 🙂
Small business tend to think big when it comes to their marketing schemes. And I am agreeing with you regarding the chunk-by-chunk budget approach that you have presented. It provides a ballpark for the newbies in the business sector. Around two thousand dollars plus of promotional expenses for your small business website could pay off in the long run. Since web site promotion is better done as soon as possible to make the ROI more on the schedule.
I’ve just been writing about a low-budget AdWords PPC strategy on my blog:
Key points are:
+ choose your keywords carefully
+ use negative keywords to screen out non-relevant traffic
+ write your advert carefully (tips in the blog)
+ watch your campaign like a hawk – twice a day is not too much
Many of the tasks you discuss are also relevant for the website that already exists. Many small business owners feel that once they have a website, they can check the box and declare victory. Analyzing the results of your first action item, Google Analytics, is probably one of the most misunderstood areas for the small business owner, only followed by understanding the opportunities of social network sites like Twitter and Facebook in business.
Great kick-start campaign!
Another fine post McGee. I’d also recommend doing exactly what Matt is doing here – find strong local media outlets – on and offline – and offer to provide them with content tailored to their audience (and yours). Make sure you include a link back to your own site with keywords in the anchor text (or a mention of your URL). And the sites don’t have to be local papers, blogs, etc. If you are a plumber it couldn’t hurt to provide the top ranked local electrician’s site with an article about how to work with a plumber when you are doing an electrical project, etc.
This is a very good write-up on how small business owners should look at marketing their businesses from launch. Having a outlook such as this will really give SMB owners a good understanding of what it takes to get their business rolling.
Small business owners can get a free listing and business page at Matchpoint.com (http://www.matchpoint.com). Should help with the SEO.
Love this blog, straightforward and easy to understand.
I like Yahoo Small Business. start small, think big. Once you know the software and have “hits,” you can upgrade and consider more features. There’s a good book at the library called “Marketing without Money” by Nicholas E Bade that will help you get free or very low cost ideas on getting the word out about your business. The first step is to have a business before you start spreading news about it.
Great outline. There’s so much to pay to start a successful website these days… To help narrow down my costs, I’d also make sure to add AdWido to any list of directories I’d be putting my site in, especially because it’s free.
There are tons of resources out there for small businesses now. Many marketing companies are really making an effort to work with business owners and their budgets. There are many sweepstakes running to get owners off to a good start. Check out sweepstakes sites, networking is key right now, and talk to marketing companies about free advice. You can enter to win a free website at http://www.higherimagesblog.com/ for starters! Good luck to everyone!
Hey, thats an awesome list of things to do when launching a new website project. Nice write up. You’ve mentioned the prices here, therefore its adding value to the information you have posted in this article.
It is really important for people to know the basic things that are required for the marketing purpose when starting a new website. Thanks for the informative article.
This is exactly the right way to promote a new small business, having a website is a must for every business on the internet as its just like your home shelter. SEO work is very repetitive and tedious and you would have to eventually outsource the work. It has to be promoted daily on a scheduled routine to gain better ranks in the search engines.
You can also try some PPC advertising on Facebook. VISA Business Network have a nice plan whereby you get $100 worth of free Facebook PPC clicks for trying it out.
Some types of sites do better than others, and I have personally had mixed results … but well worth a try seeing that it wont cost you a cent.
http://apps.facebook.com/visabusiness/sign_up is where you signup.
Facebook is already the no. 3 website in the world according to Alexa ranking. Many marketers and business owners are already enjoying its promotional benefits. Furthermore, you can also target your local customers in Facebook through expanding your network (friends, fans and followers) in your local area.
Is this really works ? This is not low cost for SEO Marketing. Plase share your experience. I want to promote my site Butik Online
Thanks for this post. I took your advice to heart when I started optimizing my website and only a few months later, it is my main source of advertising. Thanks again.
Vic is absolutely right on this one. Facebook is huge and probably very much overlooked for small businesses looking for a local advertising edge. Google ain’t the only kid on the playground.
good advice. thanks.
Any advice on creating an email message for word of mouth type marketing?
You could also post your business for free at UBUZZLE.COM
They are a social networking site for business owners to connect with other businesses and customers.
Adwords is a great tool once you learn how to use it effectively. I also agree with another commentor that chatting up your website on the various social networks can be a great promotional tool, provided that you are not coming off as spammy…
Great article. Very helpful. If I were to make a suggestion to people who are thinking of starting their own business, I suggest to first find out through books, magazine, or online resources to find out which business would be best for you. What do you like? What’s your passion? You can never go wrong with a business or product idea that you love and are passionate about. Then you can go ahead and build your own site. You can take a short course to build your own site. Some of them are even free. There are also free software that you can use to make site building easy and quick. I would also suggest WordPress as it is very easy to use and maintain. Hope this helps.
Thank you for this interesting article, I’m looking for a long time for good directories that can attract much traffic and are able to improve the conversion rate on my site. I think a massive registration can improve the odds. I’m thinking to a special service that specializes in this
This is very useful and I am going to use a couple of your tips that I was not aware of.
I would not underestimate the benefits of dedicated niche vertical portals.
We have launched such as site, together with a Q&A for SMBs willing to ask questions about SaaS and Cloud Computing.
Small software vendors can get very qualified promotion from vertical portals.
Nathan | Small Business Website Builder
I have to agree with Stever on the PPC debate. I wouldn’t recommend it to people just starting out online. They most likely would not do well, for all the reasons Stever said. They might even be turned off from PPC or, even worse, turned off from promoting their website at all. If you don’t know what you’re doing in PPC, it’s pretty much like throwing money away. And nobody likes that.
For any local business owners who are struggling with getting a website like Matt starts off with, you might want to check out Clearly Local. I built it to give small business owners a simple, professional website. In fact, it covers everything you need to start off with (yes, even some basic keywords and on-page SEO).
Then you’re set to jump into his guide.
I think that Join Twitter and Facebook will be a good way to promote business.
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Even a year later this article has lots of wisdom for me. I like the focus on both off-line and on-line activities to get things done right. So much of what I read about SEO and local SEO neglects this fact. Are you going to write the mid-year 2010 version?
Great article and really hits close to home. I love articles like this – good job of producing a nice inspiring post. Simple and effective.
This post reminds me that the best entrepreneurial innovators nurture a childlike mind. They are playful, open-minded, and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure.
In China, I noticed that top innovators innovate in 8 ways: remix, reproduce, rapid, requirements (of users), restrains, revenues, resources, rivals.
Follow me on @chinnovate (http://twitter.com/chinnovate)
Good post, I would like to add the advice: to start getting positive reviews to make sure your presence is mostly positive online.
Hey, really great post, especially about the blogging communities. I personally use my blog log and get quality traffic to my site from them. plus I get a chance to network with people as well.
Also A good thing to do is to Ping your blog, and Bookmark your approved comments on social bookmarking sites.
Good stuff man.
Thanks for the information! I didn’t know how involved starting up a small business website could be. Say that I work for a apartment rental agency, do you think I need to have an up-to-date listing of which apartments are available?
Really good article on getting started. One thing I would add since you wrote this awhile back. Make sure the business Google Places listing is claimed and optimized. Make sure you’re promoting the citation information throughout the web and get reviews. Google Places are the first listings for many local search terms now.
Excellent information in original article and in many of the responses as well. This info will be helping me a lot.
I have a large list of email contacts, from friends, friends of friends and and also a lot of less relating contacts.
What experience does anyone have using email for promotion. I am surprised nobody covered any aspect of doing that, at least as far as could see. Anyhow, to do something like that I think using an email programs such as iContact or Constant Contact is fine, but for me it seems like an overkill. I am trying to find something simpler, less expensive, less time consuming to use. I think I am looking for some kind of simple bulk email program with merge capability. I want to be able address those contacts for which I have names with a greeting including their name. And for the recipient to act on my mail, I think to include some kind of offer about Start-Up bonus, Early Bird Special, Grand Opening Special or….
I like to hear what has been working, or not working, for someone else. Best of luck and thank you all so much.
These tips are helpful for bloggers who are just starting but to those people who use Google Adsense, I think it will be fine if the bloggers will generate natural traffic (a kind of traffic that would be generated from the search engine or pinging sites) so the blogexplosion won’t be okay to use.
Excellent tips Matt. Thank you for writing this useful article.
Using Yahoo Answers is a really great way to drive traffic. I use it daily and I’m now listed as a Top Contributor.
Google Maps is another good source for SEO.
For certain local searches, you get a list of businesses operating in that area. The search link takes you to the Google Plus pages.
That is one thing you should look into. Try uploading pictures of your business on your Google + page.