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.