Not all businesses are blessed with endless budgets. If you’ve allocated a few hundred pounds to online marketing, or perhaps have one person in-house that deals with all promotional activities, you will always be limited in what you can do. However, even with these financial and personnel restrictions, there’s no reason why you can’t still succeed on the Internet.
Whilst big multinationals may have millions to spend on promoting their brand across a range of channels, small businesses don’t quite have the same luxury. Every penny can really count, which makes allocation of budget all the more important. If you end up wasting thousands without anything to show for it, then it’s all too easy to become disenchanted. So what should you be doing?
Well, the good news is that a small budget can in fact go a long way, when used correctly. In fact, a lot of the fundamentals of a strong online marketing campaign are free. The slight catch though is that you need to be able to invest time.
Generally speaking, there will always have to be a pay-off between financial investment and man hours. Whilst you can employ both, you can’t do without either. So you have to weigh up what you have available and apportion your resources effectively.
But enough of that, let’s take a look at what you can actually do:
Google Places and Business Profiles
Setting yourself up on Google Places will only take a few minutes and it can dramatically increase your visibility within the search results. Bing also offers an equivalent, called the Business Portal, helping you to get seen across a whole range of platforms and searches. Get signed up to Yell, Qype, Dmoz and any other strong directories. All of these will help raise awareness whilst providing vital links and traffic to your site.
Once created, you can then encourage visitors and regular customers to leave reviews, strengthening the profile and further increasing visibility within SERPs.
Develop Your On-site Content
If you’ve got an in-house writer, or at least a marketer who is proficient with the English language, take advantage of these skills. Make sure each of your pages is populated with unique content, perhaps even consider setting up a blog to help you to create a regular stream of information.
Search engines lap up text and they look favourably upon those sites who have taken the time to explain what their pages are all about. It is also vital for visitor-experience too, so make sure you write with your audience in mind. So both rankings and returns could be your reward for investing a few hours in developing your on-site content.
Following on neatly from the on-site content we have off-site promotion. There is a slight misunderstanding about PR and what constitutes “news”. Some businesses are still shy about sharing what they’re up to with the wider world. If you don’t tell people, they will never know. So if you are planning an event, have achieved a record breaking year for sales or are looking to expand, write a press release.
Get this sent out to local publications and industry magazines (all of which should have editorial contacts on their site) and see what comes back. Whilst they may not use your release on this occasion, they might well choose to publish future stories or even approach you for an expert comment. These are basic building blocks for brand recognition and, best of all it shouldn’t cost you a penny. As long as you’re prepared to be persistent (without edging into annoying) there’s plenty of mileage in PR as a way of building your online presence, increasing links to your site and raising awareness.
It’s a subject that’s been done to death, but just like all of the above marketing solutions, it doesn’t cost a penny for businesses to sign up for Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Vary your messages, respond to questions and don’t be excessively promotional, this is basically key to succeeding. Social networks do at least provide an even playing ground, so it doesn’t really matter how big your business is, it’s about how effectively you can communicate with the community.
Andy wrote about the perils of Twitter misuse yesterday, but the same rules apply to any network. If you don’t update your profile or fail to interact effectively, you will receive little or no benefit. So it will take time and a little knowledge of the social-sphere and its various nuances, but effectively it can act as an all-in-one customer service and marketing platform without having to pay a penny for the privilege.
So a meagre budget doesn’t need to hold you back. As long as you are able to invest some time and a little money where necessary, you can begin to create an effective online marketing strategy. Assuming that this proves successful, you might then be able to reinvest your revenue into furthering your efforts. Once you’ve nailed the quality of your techniques, then you can expand the quantity – and repeat.
Above all, remember your audience. Focusing your efforts on those who are most likely to be interested in what you’re offering will help to avoid a lot of wasted time. Whilst marketing to a broad swathe of society might attract visitors, it won’t necessarily drive sales or conversions. ROI is the real name of the game here, so make sure you don’t forget who it is that you’re reaching out to in the first place.
Out with the old via BigStock