by Matt McGee
You just launched your new small business. Congrats!
But now what?
You’ve got a great website and you’re ready to start selling widgets or generating new leads. You’re ready to start making money. You know the internet is gonna be a huge part of that. You know you need to be visible online where potential customers can find you.
Four years ago, I wrote a post for Small Business Trends with a suggested process for launching a new business and marketing it online. It’s time to update that post and talk about…
How To Start Marketing Your Business (A 3-Month Plan)
I’m not really starting a new business right now, but if I were, here’s how I’d do it.
First, Some Assumptions
Let’s assume the following:
- My website is fully developed. I’m gonna have a hard time marketing with “under construction” signs on my site.
- My website 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 website has great 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, etc. I haven’t gone overboard because SEO requires a light touch these days.
- I’m on a tight budget. I can’t spend more than $3,000 over the first three months for both online and offline marketing. (Four years ago, I allowed myself a $2,500 budget; consider this the effects of inflation.)
Ready? Let’s launch this small business website!
1. Have metrics in place. 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.
2. Create a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising account. There are two benefits here:
- 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.
- Even if you set an ultra-low monthly budget, you’ll still have access to actual search counts for your keyword terms. (Something that’s often blocked in organic search by Google Analytics.) This data can be invaluable for future marketing and web site development.
Cost: $500/month (My actual cost will vary based on budget limits that I set.)
3. Setup accounts using my business name on the primary social networks. This is as much of a defensive move as an offensive one. Even if I don’t plan to use all of these accounts, I want to make sure that no one else is able to register accounts in my name. In a perfect world, I researched available names on these primary social sites before I even named my business, because it would stink to have a business name that someone else is already using online.
At minimum, I’d manually setup accounts (or Pages, etc.) on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr. But to be really safe, I’d use a service like Knowem to automagically claim my username across dozens/hundreds of sites. Knowem offers several different packages with different price points. I’m on a budget, so I’ll stick with the “Essential Plan” for $70.
4. Start planning and writing blog posts. I’d create an editorial calendar to plan out my articles, and I’d aim to post two articles per week. I’m not going to start publishing anything until next month; this first month is just for writing. My goal is to get about 8-10 articles written and ready to go — that’ll help make sure the blog launch (next month) is smooth with lots of consistent, quality content being published.
5. Start an email list. This is a highly underrated commodity. If I have an email list of dozens or hundreds (or more) people that want to get updates from me, it’s marketing gold. There are several options available to get started with basic email newsletters and email marketing —Constant Contact, Mailchimp and Aweber are just a few of the options. The cost depends on things like how many subscribers you have, how often you plan to send out emails, and so forth. Since I’m just launching a new business and don’t have an existing list, my initial fees will be quite low — somewhere in the $20/month range.
Cost: $20/month (estimate)
6. Take advantage of Local Search opportunities. I’d start by using GetListed.org to check my local listings on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and a few other primary local search sites. If my business is the kind that Foursquare users are likely to check-in to frequently, I’d use the business tools that it offers to add my business and begin offering specials to regular customers. The same goes for Yelp.
7. 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 — using appropriate keywords to describe my products or services, but not overdoing it. Moderation in all things where SEO is concerned.
Once it’s ready, I’ll spread my release both online and offline.
Offline: Many local newspapers have announcement sections for new businesses. Some towns have business-specific newspapers that will be more likely to consider your new business launch a newsworthy event. If your area still has a locally-owned radio station, check if they have a news department and/or if they accept business announcements.
Online: There are several online sources of press release distribution. I’m on a budget, so I’ll use PRWeb, which offers packages ranging from $159 to $500 per release. I’ll go with the second-level up, which is called “Advance” and costs $199.
8. Start monitoring my online reputation. As I start this marketing effort, I’m hoping to get people talking and writing about me — hopefully saying positive things! But I know not everything will be sunshine and puppies. Either way, I want to know what’s being said about me and my company online.
There are numerous options for reputation monitoring with a wide range of prices from free to big bucks. I’m going to spend some money on this because free services aren’t guaranteed to be around six months from now and usually aren’t very strong. Two services that have affordable monitoring options are Trackur and Mention. Their low-end plans are in the $20-$30 per month range, so I’ll compare the two via free trials and make a decision based on that experience.
Total Costs, First Month
9. Review my analytics. One month won’t give me a ton of insight; my website is too new. But now’s the time to start getting in the habit of looking at how things are going on a regular basis. I’d use the email function to setup a couple important reports and get them sent to me every day, or at least once a week.
10. Add a blog to my website and start publishing. Search engines love a good blog 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 setup my blog atmydomain.com/blog because that’s best for SEO reasons. In month one, I already wrote at least 8-10 articles and I have an editorial calendar helping to make sure I stick with the plan to post regularly.
11. Be active in the blogger community. I’d use an RSS reader (like Feedly) to track at least a few other trusted blogs in my industry and I’d be active in commenting on them (not spamming them, commenting on them). Joining conversations on other blogs is a great way to gain exposure and make connections.
12. Be active on the right social networks. I know it’s important to be where my customers are. It might be too soon to get a sense of that using analytics, but I can learn about the demographics of several major social networks and plan accordingly.
Wherever I decide to be active, I’ll start my activity by observing and/or listening to what’s being said, not by cranking up the promotional machine to 100%. I’ll setup the necessary alerts to help me learn about what’s being said about me online.
13. 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.)
Cost: $500 (estimate)
Total Costs, Second Month
One-time: $500 (estimate)
Monthly: $545 (continuation of Month One costs)
14. 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: $500 (estimate)
15. Get more active on social channels. By now, I’ve been blogging for a month and have 8-10 quality posts published. I’ve also been using social media as a listening platform, replying when appropriate, and I’m ready to be more active. I’ll start posting (not just links) more often on my Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+ or wherever I’ve determined my audience is active.
16. Sign up for HARO. That’s the acronym for Help A Reporter Out, a free service that connects journalists and publishers with story sources/experts. I’d sign-up to get the daily email that gives me a big list of journalists that need to find sources. The reason I’d wait until month three to do this is that the journalist/publisher/blogger is going to want to see some proof that you’re an expert on the subject that s/he’s writing about — and by now, I’ve got that early batch of blog posts and articles I can refer him/her to see my expertise.
The combination of a great blog and PR opportunities via HARO is a great way to build authority and get great links from media websites, blogs and the like.
Total Costs, Third Month
One-time: $500 (estimate)
Monthly: $545 (continuation of Month One costs)
That’s my three-month plan for marketing a new small business. 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: $1,269
Monthly costs: $1,635 ($545/month)
Whew! I’m a little under budget.
Note that $1,000 of the estimated $1,269 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. And some may find that it makes sense to spend money on Facebook or Twitter ads, and other online opportunities.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for small business marketing. I hope that the ideas shared here will help you put together the right game plan for launching your small business!