Successful Small Business Marketing In 5 Easy Steps
For a new or even an existing business, a marketing strategy is a number one priority. It's not just enough to "build it and they will come". They won't come. Nobody will come to your business if they don't know it exists, or what is special about it.
Whether you're a consultant or freelancer, like me, providing services, a producer selling a product, or a restaurant or hotel offering products and services, your marketing strategy is essentially the same. You need to make your business available, recognisable and desirable to the general public and your audience in particular.
Here are 5 must-do marketing strategies to put your business in front of the competition.
Invest in professional photos. Your business needs some quality marketing images that you can use for a variety of different purposes - your website, blog, sales page, ads, flyers, and for both print and online use. This is a serious investment that will repay your business one hundred fold.
If you are a service-based operator, such as a consultant, writer, designer, or photographer with your own business, get head shots of yourself. Your customer wants to see the person they are buying a service from. It is hugely valuable in terms of building trust and recognition so be sure to smile and look natural.
If you have a product-based business, such as a cafe, restaurant, gallery or other bricks-and-mortar outfit, you need photos of your product and place of business. A smiling shot of yourself is great too but otherwise, keep people to a minimum. People want to see what they will be buying or visiting, and imagine themselves in those images not some posed model.
Hire a professional. It doesn't have to cost a fortune. Vientiane, for example, has several great, local photographers who can work with your business. A local knows the area, the light, the street traffic, knowledge that you're never going to get with someone else. I had my headshots taken by Vientiane-based photographer, Tessa Bunney, in natural lighting at the popular Lao restaurant, Doi Ka Noi.
Investing in professional marketing photos is much like choosing whether or not to get a friend to take your wedding pictures; most people who try to DIY it often regret their decision. And there'll be plenty of time later for iPhone shots and Instagram filters. Don't scrimp or hesitate over this one.
2. Get online
Get a professional website, or at the least, some way to showcase your business online. A business website allows you showcase your products and services the way you want, without advertising.
If you are a consultant or freelancer, there are many free portfolio sites to display your work, such as Clippings.Me or Format. And of course, for a website, I recommend Squarespace. If you're not sure of how to best sell your message, engage a copywriter to help craft your words. You'll be able to use this again and again.
Facebook is a common, easy and free means to showcase your business online, include pertinent contact information, a map and a menu, and be accessible to customers. In Vientiane, a Facebook page is essential for any business.
However, it's not enough to simply create a site or Facebook page; you also need to update and maintain it. Be sure to post new offers, products and services regularly, and respond to all messages promptly.
Get a dedicated email address that uses your business name. It's time to ditch that cute nickname or email you share with your partner. Use your new headshot in your profile so that every time you send an email, people recognise who it's coming from.
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3. Social media
A social media presence is essential in today's digital age. When I'm looking at a new restaurant, hotel or cafe, or want to engage a graphic designer, caterer or consultant, the first thing I always do is check out their online presence. And honestly, if I can't find someone online, I won't hire them. Would you?
There are a dozen or more popular social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. They are both enormously time consuming and addictive but they're also hugely powerful marketing tools for your business with hundreds of millions of followers.
You don't have to be across every social media platform. Pick 2 or 3, fill in your profile completely, upload your marketing images as headers and profile pics, and you're on your way!
Twitter is one of my favourite social media platforms and I post every day. I now collect about 50 new followers a month.
You will need to dedicate time most days to updating and engaging on social media. Platforms such as Twitter reward user participation by suggesting active accounts (like yours) when users click 'follow' on a profile. And Instagram and Pinterest reward users who frequently post too.
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4. Get business cards
While online marketing is the cornerstone of any business in today's digital age, the good old business card is still a winning tool.
Business cards are often the first and most lasting impression a person has of you and your business. It's an opportunity to not only share crucial contact information but also some of your company's style and personality.
Meeting someone in person and handing them your card is still one of the most effective marketing tools. It is a real opportunity to make your business recognisable and memorable. I had my cards designed and printed within weeks of arriving in Vientiane, despite not having any work contacts. They've been a proven success.
Business cards also show professionalism, confidence and capability. Even if your business is in its starting phase, potential customers don't necessarily need to know this. When you whip out a nice looking card, it demonstrates that your business is not fledgling but on its way up.
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Lastly (though, of course, there is no end to marketing a business, really), you have to network. Practice your elevator pitch - that one minute spiel about what you do and why your product/service is so great. Then use it as often as possible.
Tell everyone you know about your business, product or service - post it on social media, send an email to all your friends and contacts, and tell people at parties and social occasions.
Attend conferences, forums, events, workshops and other networking activities where you can meet like-minded business people in your industry, and potential clients. Rattle off your elevator pitch, smile and hand out your business cards like confetti.
Start an email list. This is a hugely valuable resource for any business. Communicate regularly with your mailing list and keep them informed of new products, launches, offers, services and anything else new about your business.
Take these steps and you'll soon be marketing your business like a pro! You won't look back.
What about you? What are your favourite work tools and apps? I'd love to hear your recommendations!
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She loves helping freelancers and small businesses get online with web design and content, blogging and her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun.