While big business and established brands have seemingly endless budgets and an army of tech-savvy staffers, many small businesses are left scratching their head at this “whole Internet thingamajig”.
This article will give you practical advice and some of the basic know-how needed to move into the online world. But before we delve into some of these low-cost tips and tricks, you should consider what exactly you are hoping to achieve.
The first thing you need to do before even opening a browser is to look inwards. Ask yourself (or your employer) a few vital questions:
• Who are you and what is it about your identity that makes you useful?
• Would it be suited to the online world?
• What would your brand gain from going digital?
• How much time and money can you invest?
• How does online marketing tie in with your overall marketing and business objectives?
• Who are your competitors? These might extend beyond organisations that compete with you on the basis of price and product and could also be competition in the form of abstracts such as time and mindshare.
These are all important questions that should be answered before even attempting to move your brand online.
Objectives are vital for any planned expansion. For instance, an objective could be to grow a community of fans around your brand in a particular country. Thus, your key performance indicator might be fan numbers, and you could look to set a target of 5 000 Facebook fans over six months.
Step one – create your own space
The first thing you will need to do as a small business without an online presence is to stake out your base. This should be the first port of call for any consumer wanting to know more about your brand or hoping to get in touch.
Register for a domain in line with your brand identity. To put it more clearly, register a domain that actually ties in with your business. Choose something that is easy to remember and relatively short – long URLs or ones with unusual characters are likely to either be forgotten or entered incorrectly.
Be prepared to invest money in your website. For a small business this is the one section where you shouldn’t skimp. A proper base of operations, with all the relevant information and an easy to use content management system will go a long way in turning your offline brand digital. You may have to spend initially.
But remember that without a website, your brand could come across as a fly-by-night company trying to make a fast buck online. A website serves two purposes. Firstly it informs consumers about your company – what it offers, its history, how to get in touch and any other information you’d like to share. Secondly, it acts as a platform to give your band exposure and credibility. For example, a bed and breakfast without a website might look untrustworthy or shabby, while one with a relatively simple website would use it to showcase great reviews and testimonials.
Yet another perk of owning your own space is that you’ll be able to drive traffic through useful or interesting content. Create infographics, reports, whitepapers, directories or anything else that might be relevant to your brand, and then share! This brings us to our next step.
Step two – getting social
After you’ve gone about giving your brand an Internet home it’s time to move onto the ever-popular social networking aspect of digital marketing.
Social media has changed the way we go about our lives. Never before have so many people, from so many different places had the opportunity to communicate so easily and at no cost (besides an actual Internet connection). This has changed the ways brand behave, both online and off. Consumers are now able to interact with brands completely in the public eye, whether they’re attacking or complimenting it still has the chance of being seen by scores of users.
From a strategic perspective, social media is useful for branding, raising awareness of the brand story and allowing the consumer to become involved in the story through collaboration.
Social media platforms also play a role in building awareness, due to their shareable, viral nature.
They can also provide crowdsourced feedback via open graphs and social analytics systems.
Choose a social network where you think your consumers will feel most comfortable interacting with you. Remember, social spaces are owned by people, not brands.
Consider establishing a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter – the two most popular social networking platforms in the Western world.
Both of these networks are free to use, so go ahead and create a Facebook page and a Twitter handle. Start by inviting friends and family members, drive traffic from your (new and snazzy) website by inserting icons representing these platforms (called chiclets), and include links to your pages in email signatures. Don’t spam people with messages, but use your already existing network of contacts to get the ball rolling.
Below you can see a section of Quirk Education’s infographic on online learning. Try to create content which is meaningful and relevant to your brand as this will work towards establishing yourself as a thought leader in the field.
Step three – getting a newsletter out there
Newsletters offer a great way of informing your customers while retaining a community. And even better, they’re relatively cheap for small businesses to create and send.
Services like Mailchimp and Graphic Mail offer incredibly cheap (and sometimes free) services and tools including templates, training courses, graphic designs and even content.
Using a neat template, clever branding and well-written copy can go a long way in promoting a brand. Again, ask yourself a few questions: How many times should I send the newsletter? What will I offer? What do I want to achieve via my newsletter?
Make an effort to offer valuable content in your newsletter. This could be anything from a discount to an article on tips or tricks relevant to your services. Another perk of an email newsletter is that it will inevitably drive traffic to your other platforms.
With careful planning and consideration, consider investing in a website for your brand. After you’ve completed this step take a look at social networking. Offer your consumers useful content and they will love you, ignore or mistreat them and they will hate you. Think about investing in an email newsletter to expand your customer base while retaining already loyal customers.
This article introduced you to the teeny weeny tip of the digital marketing iceberg. This is a basic guide to going digital, and there are several other techniques for digital marketing, but many of these require large budgets and long-term commitment. For small businesses hoping to enter digital space the above steps serve as a perfect starting point.
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