The first act of marketing for many small businesses is probably as simple as a sign on the front of their store or office building that proudly declares “WE ARE OPEN.”
Although it covers a lot of the basics — raising awareness, inviting customers to begin a relationship and hopefully designed in such a way it peaks interest in what the company is selling — a sign like that is obviously only scratching the surface of what effective marketing can do for a new brand. Unless you’re already large enough to have a full marketing team in place, however, determining what to do next may be challenging.
It’s probably safe to say that most small business owners didn’t necessarily start out as entrepreneurs with a solid background in marketing. Instead, they might have specialized skills that led them to develop new products and services, or worked in a role similar to those they’ll be approaching as customers.
Unfortunately, while the company they build might be highly credible in terms of what it offers and the customer experience it will provide, no one will notice without good marketing.
This presents entrepreneurs with a dilemma. They may have to grow to a certain point before they can hire their first marketing team member, let alone cross-train marketing and sales teams. In the meantime, there’s not going to be enough time to enrol in night classes to get up to speed. Hiring an agency or third party can help, but a lot of business owners will feel more confident about doing so once they’re sure of what they need and how to judge the quality of potential partners.
On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of successful business owners who have largely taught themselves the essential areas of marketing. This includes developing compelling messages, fine-tuning the way they target an audience and making the most of the tools available to build a strong brand.
To join their ranks, we’ve developed a sort of starter kit based on some of the key areas you’ll want to master:
Start here because content marketing is all about the storylines that really matter to your customers. You’ll likely be able to develop brochures and other collateral about your products and services, for instance, but you’ll get more attention by creating content that is indirectly related to them. Think of a car company that publishes a downloadable map with ideas for the most exciting summer road trips in your area.
The resource: No one knows this subject better than the Content Marketing Institute. Delve into its website to find a deep library of articles on almost every content marketing-related subject you can imagine, with plenty of case studies of real-life firms who have demonstrated excellence in audience-oriented storytelling. If you have the time and budget, CMI also puts on a three-day conference in Cleveland every September where you can get a crash course of sorts.
The right keywords can make or break your customer’s ability to easily find your website in search engine results, which is still one of the biggest sources of online traffic.
Most small business owners could easily name a few basic keywords about what their business sells, but good search engine optimization (SEO) goes beyond that. You need to think of related terms, to what extent you’re competing with other firms to be recognized for the same terms and how keywords should be woven into your content.
The resource: An organization called SEO University has developed a perfect introductory book called SEO Fundamentals, which helps explain how algorithms like Google’s work and concepts like the “Semantic Web.” An audio version is available, which means busy small business owners could save time listening and learning while heading back and forth to work.
A good website is more than just a “digital shingle.” It’s the place where many customers will first discover your brand, explore the products and services you offer and possibly reach out to make their first purchases.
That means a website not only has to be designed well but also filled with content that prompts the right actions.
The resource: If you can’t afford to hire your own copywriter at the moment, you’ll be able to improve your ability to craft landing pages and other website content yourself via Copyblogger. It’s been around since 2006 and covers content for web pages and many other channels.
There’s a big difference between a typo-laden missive to a friend or family member and sending something you expect strangers to open and read through.
Given its ability to reach an opted-in audience, email remains an essential small business marketing tool, but there are tons of decisions to make. What’s the right subject line? What kind of graphics should you include? What kind of links need to be there?
The resource: A community-driven initiative, Really Good Emails is just what it sounds like: a curated collection of the most inspiring examples of marketing to customers’ inboxes. There are more than 4,000 items in the collection, as well as trend data that can help show small businesses what will really convert.
One day, you might be hiring a dedicated person or group of people to oversee what your brand says and does on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever big social network emerges next.
Today, however, you have to consider the creative constraints of each platform, how to build and maintain a following and what kind of content will get likes, shares and other forms of engagement.
The resource: Go to MarketingProfs and click on the words “Social Media” that appear when you hover over “Resources.” You’ll see free webinars on Facebook marketing, infographics on the use of LinkedIn, how to advertise on Snapchat and much more. This is another organization that provides in-depth education on many other areas of marketing that small businesses can use.
A sixth and final resource you should keep bookmarked? This blog! Whether you stumbled across this post through a search engine, were sent it by a colleague via email or some other route, it’s just one example of how we’re trying to offer tips and advice that not only help small businesses in Canada boost their sales and service efforts, but their marketing capabilities as well.
Marketing a business is an ongoing education process, but the more you learn, the better you'll be able to teach others — including your own future marketing team.