One of the biggest challenges we face as small business owners is how to build a contact list of interested prospects. Finding it comes down to a trade-off between time and money, many small business owners turn to a paid solution as the answer. Here is an excellent article describing the best way to go about list building. (Spoiler alert…it’s going to cost you time, but the results are worth it.)
Paying a low monthly fee to automate your marketing and get customers for your business seems like the Holy Grail nowadays. This is the latest version of snake oil salesmen who used to say: “Pay me and I’ll get you on the top of Google search results”.
From my experience, it seems like most business owners dread the time of the day when they’re supposed to be working on marketing, and this is primarily because they don’t even know where to get started with marketing! Clearly, an easy way to forget about the problem is to purchase a solution that will take care of this so they don’t have to and this is why so many take advantage of this pain point to sell dubious solutions that rarely generate any results.
The biggest lie ever told to small business owners about marketing is:
“You can pay for advertising and marketing automation to grow your business without any time commitment on your end.” – Absolutely NOT!
Unfortunately, more often than not the magic bullet type solution is more illusion than reality. Advertising, marketing automation and lead generating services drain your limited resources instead of building a base that you can leverage as you grow.
There is a time and a place to use these tools, but most of the time small businesses get tricked into thinking this is always the best use of their limited budget, only to find out later on that they were taken advantage of and that these leads didn’t really convert into any tangible business results.
Advertising and Lead Generation Services
Before thinking about spending money to get visitors to your website or leads delivered to your email, remember to try out some of the free ways to revamp your online presence and get someorganic (free) results. If you do decide to try out paid advertising services, make sure to set up your website properly to convert visitors into potential business. If you’re not ready, you shouldn’t be spending a dime just yet.
Taking advantage of Google AdWords takes significant knowledge and budget to experiment. You’re literally bidding against every other advertiser to get those clicks! And even solutions like AdWords Express tend to work best when you’ve got enough money to learn about what works and what doesn’t.
In any case, with AdWords you’re fighting a battle where the one with the biggest wallet wins in the long term. And the worst part is that the moment you stop spending money, the visitors stop showing up.
The other alternative seems to be lead generating services. This can be frustrating, since they don’t really know your business well and end up driving the wrong type of leads (potential customers) to your business. On top of this, they tend to be expensive and have the same downside as regular pay-per-click advertising: once you stop spending money, the results are gone.
Classic Marketing Automation
Let’s face it; the biggest problem for small business owners isn’t dealing with large volumes of visitors or leads. How can thousands of dollars of unused marketing automation programs help when the challenge is really at the top of the funnel: getting exposure and getting found online.
The real problem is not about automation, it’s about building the right foundation and framework to reach people and engage them to eventually convert them into paying customers.
What do business owners need to succeed with marketing?
First, they need a comprehensive set of tools under one login that provide everything they need from a website to email and social media. The platform approach has been proven to work for the big companies by players like Hubspot and Marketo. It’s clear that there’s lots of advantages of having everything integrated in one place, saving time and making it easy to track the results.
But platform alone is not enough.
Smart Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is a key component to a comprehensive marketing solution for a small business. However, it shouldn’t be about complicated nurturing flows that use complex triggers and algorithms. A simple auto responder that’s easy to setup gets you 80% of the way with minimal effort.
What automation should be is a software package that helps business owners be effective with their time. It should also be about providing the right guidance to surface the things that matter like contacts that the business owner should be calling, emailing and then providing simple workflows to empower the right course of action. Automation can’t be about eliminating the business owner from the equation; this would only reduce their edge. It must be aboutempowering business owners and amplifying their impact.
But smart marketing automation is not enough.
Everyone agrees that small business owners need tools that simplify marketing. Simple is at the core of every successful SMB marketing product, and the reason for this is that business owners are very busy and don’t have time or patience to learn how to use complex marketing tools.
Simple doesn’t mean basic, business owners still need to have access to data-driven powerful tools, but the user experience of these tools must be fantastic. Whenever possible the number of options and decisions should be reduced and the use of guided marketing should be imbued in the system to recommend the right tool at the right time.
But simple is not enough.
A Guided Marketing Platform
The real solution for small business marketing starts by understanding that the majority of small business don’t spend any money on advertising when they’re getting started.
There are several building blocks that will help entrepreneurs carve a path to marketing success and that don’t cost too much money. It will take time and effort, but these will be resources well spent that will build a foundation that will be there for the long haul. Business owners must build upon their strengths andtake advantage of their edge as local businesses to find customers and grow. Nobody knows their neighborhood, their community, their customers and their products like an entrepreneur who decided to start a company to pursue their passion. That’s a pretty strong advantage that few others will have.
How do you unlock this marketing opportunity?
Set up your online presence
Get your business listed in online directories and review sites.
Setup a marketing optimized website (including SEO best practices) with an easy way to manage it and that has a simple way for you to create content.
Get a contact manager
Capture those people who want to learn more about your business, this will help you get organized from the get go.
Get started with social media
As your online presence starts building up through your website and you start receiving some organic (free) traffic from search engines, it’s probably time to start working on setting up your social media presence. This helps you connect with your audience and also helps strengthen your SEO and search engine ranking.
You don’t need to be present in every social network out there. Choose the ones that are right for you and the ones that you can commit the time to manage. Don’t spend 10 hours this weekend setting something up to then forget about it in a week! Commit to one and work on it to build engaging conversations with your audience on it.
Start a blog
With the bases covered, it’s time to start creating some remarkable content to drive traffic to your website. The best way to get results is to take the time to write blog posts that people will love to read and share. Since you’ve already established your social media presence, you can take advantage of it as a way to generate digital word of mouth. Your marketing platform must offer an easy way for readers to like and share the content that you create.
Start a blog. You can post as often as once per day or as little as once per month. Think of this as having a conversation over the counter with a customer. It’s a great way to tell a story about your business, how you got started or why certain products or services you offer are especially interesting.
Remember to use SEO best practices to get the best results from search engines.
Send your first marketing email
As your business starts picking up and you start generating a nice lead flow, you’re going to start building a list of people who are eager to hear from you. This is the time to start paying attention to your contact list and start segmenting or dividing it into sub lists. This is where smart marketing automation can help make this process seamless:
Send your first email to your contacts. A monthly newsletter to all of those who subscribed works great, you can also send product and event updates via email.
Reach out directly to your “Hot Contacts”, those who are most likely to become paying customers based on their actions (your Guided Marketing Platform should automatically filter these out).
Pay attention to the email marketing laws to prevent costly lawsuits
Paid Search and Lead Generating Services
As you start growing your revenue you can start thinking about allocating some of that budget on paid advertising and lead generating services. These can be useful to supplement your business growth especially when you have enough of a budget to make them work. We suggest using them to expand your existing organic efforts in months with low traffic.
Setup a Google AdWords campaign, using analytics to understand the results that you’re getting. Give yourself some room to experiment and learn before throwing in the towel. A comprehensive solution must offer managed pay-per-click services to help you use your budget wisely.
Takeaway: Build your organic foundation first and spend later
As you can see, there are many things that you can do to setup your online presence. These efforts take time, but they are a great investment and they can help you in the long term.
Once you’ve got an established presence on directories, review sites and other listings, this will drive traffic to your website for free. Then, make sure your website is optimized to take advantage of that traffic and use a guided marketing platform to build upon your investment. Then you’ll be ready enhance your presence by blogging and engaging on social media. Finally, you’re ready to start converting those visitors into paying customers!