Marketing. *Cringe*. You can think of a million things you’d rather be doing. The ice bucket challenge in the middle of winter. A half marathon with your ridiculously fit niece, a Toastmasters table topics competition in front of 100 unknown people.
Two months into business, you’re busy making sure staff morale is high, productivity is at its peak, pitches for jobs are turning into paid work not to mention getting to grips with your awesome cloud-based project management software, establishing training for all your staff, and yeah, developing a kick-ass workplace culture.
But with all of this going on, how are you supposed to find the time OR the capital to invest in marketing?
Unfortunately, in order to run a thriving business you need clients, and to get clients you need to invest in some marketing. It’s a vicious circle that doesn’t seem to get easier no matter how you look at it. And to make it worse, your competitors have big budgets, fancy above the line campaigns and bigshot ad agencies at their beck and call. So what can you do?
Step 1: Understand the difference between Branding vs. Marketing
At its core, branding is who you are and marketing is how you build awareness about your brand. Knowing where one crosses over into the other is critical – you can’t simply develop your brand assets and then wait, hoping for new business to come flocking in. You need to put your brand out into the world, and that’s where marketing comes in, using the right tools, channels to (at the right time).
Tip: You can find out more about what’s involved in branding and marketing in this post by Kissmetrics.
Step 2: Write a compelling story...
...that you can repurpose across your touchpoints. The long form will probably live on your website, with shorter versions tailored for other channels.
“Analytics often shows the [about us] page as one of the most frequented on any website.” via Moz
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
It can be uncomfortable transcribing your story into words – where do you start? How do you explain the five years of thought, stress, uncertainty, ups and downs, that went into creating this business?
Try to think about the main message you want to communicate. To help you out, let’s simplify it further. Break it down into WHY – WHO – WHAT
WHY is your purpose, your business’s reason for being.
WHO is you, the founder, your team, everyone who makes the business what it is.
WHAT is all about the tangible stuff you offer: your services, capabilities and/product.
Try to cover AT LEAST these three things in your business “about us” section. Use language that is commonplace in your industry (e.g. “multi-channel retail experiences” “professional services”) – something you could rank for if it’s specific enough and something that potential clients would be searching for. But remember, don’t keyword stuff your homepage with it!
Tip: Check out keyword planning tools like Keyword.io or answerthepublic to make a list of relevant keywords you could use. Check out your competitors’ website to see the kinds of terminology they are using.
Step 3: Set up the right social media channels
"Don’t wait for launch day to create your social media channels” – Amy Vernon, social marketing consultant and cofounder and CMO of Predictable.ly
Let’s be honest, you don’t really need 100 business cards for all your employees or five boxes worth of branded brochures. Printed collateral quickly goes out of date, whereas expanding your digital presence can be done at minimum cost and relatively easily.
“No platform is off limits so long as you adapt your content to that platform” – Amy Vernon
Check out Which Social Media Channel Is Right For Your Business? for our tips on finding the right channel. Resist the temptation to spread yourself across every social channel under the sun. And don’t be limited by stereotypes in your industry either. For example, increasing numbers of engineering, construction and professional services firms are using Instagram to promote their business, despite not being in industries typically associated with “visual content”.
Example of channel-appropriate content (via Moz): Engineering, architecture and consulting firm Burns & McDonnell uses LinkedIn to post articles for working professionals (e.g. “How to build a LinkedIn Profile That Turns Heads” and “The Perfect Resume”), as well as trend pieces and hot topics within their industry. They use Instagram as a platform for promoting gender equality in the engineering fields.
Ceres Organics – Instagram
The great thing about social media is that you can have a lot more creative freedom than with above the line advertising which can be heavily regulated. Wellington based creative studio Dick and Jane do an awesome job of creating a quirky and fun Instagram account that reflects the founders’ personalities. And if you ever wondered how umbrellas could be engaging, check out some of the neat stuff Blunt Umbrellas do on their account! Organic Food brand Ceres Organics regularly post competitions, free recipes ideas and even job opportunities on their instagram account. So as you can see, possibilities are endless – get creative and have some fun!
Step 4: Make it as easy as possible for people to find your business
Include links to your website and/or social channels wherever you can, e.g. in your email signature and personal social profiles and get listed on major directories online like Google (Google My Business) or Bing (Bing Places for Business).
Step 5: Capture your contacts’ email addresses
“Building an email list is crucial because it’s the best way to build a relationship with potential customers in an intimate way.” – Nathalie Lussier, Ambition Ally
Email is still hailed as the holy grail of communication. In fact, according to wpbeginner “email marketing had never been more alive as it is today”. Marketing through e-mail is flexible, cost-effective and easy to measure (assuming you have the right tools and have put the right tracking in place). Best of all, it can be personalised and targeted.
You might use email to let your customers or clients know about new services you’re offering, a peek into the behind the scenes at your business, trends in the industry or to profile other customers in case studies and excerpts. Here at WorkflowMax one of the ways we use email is to help nurture our customers through the onboarding process when they first sign up to WorkflowMax, and we also use it to provide helpful, insightful content (speckled with a touch of humour!) to our blog subscribers in our weekly email The Unconventional Guide To Work. (Subscribe now and transform your work life!)
Tip: Get set up with a tool like Mailchimp (which boldly and quite simply states “send better email, sell more stuff”). They even have a neat guide to help you get started. Stuck on what to write? Hubspot has some more ideas here 12 Different Kinds of Marketing Email You Could Be Sending.
Step 6: Tap into your local community
Another common misconception is that marketing has to be digital, online, intangible, impersonal. But good old relationship building goes a long way. So get out there and TALK to people and businesses in your community (your local barista or grocer can be a wealth of information!) and tell them what you do. Additional benefits of doing this will include:
- More practice on nailing your elevator pitch (the more times you repeat your pitch, the more convincing and refined it will become and the more confident you will become delivering it and hey, believing in yourself!)
- Becoming known in the area. Whenever someone needs IT consulting services or builders, they’re more likely to come to you directly or be referred to you.
Step 7: Do some pro-bono work
The word might make you wrinkle your nose, but pro bono work can be a great way of boosting your profile in the community, creating goodwill and well, giving you those warm fuzzy feelings that good deeds usually inspire. It’s also a great way to pad out your portfolio if you’re just starting out.
Are there any local businesses that might benefit from your services e.g. a refreshed logo, some copywriting love, or illustration joy? Can you host a workshop or a few classes open to the general public on a topic of your expertise? State Farm Insurance does a great job of this with their Chicago-based financial coaching centre Next Door“. Classes are free, the environment is cosy and relaxed, and best of all, there’s coffee!
For more ideas you can explore organizations that help professionals discover pro bono opportunities, like Catchafire.
Step 8: Become an authority in your area of expertise
There are several ways to do this, for example by publishing thought-leadership style pieces on LinkedIn or Medium, searching for opportunities to guest post on influential blogs in your industry, sending out writing pitches to industry magazines and journals, speaking at events like CreativeMornings, creating Meetup groups to network with like-minded individuals or collaborate on projects together, creating tip-sheets, writing ebooks, hosting webinars, workshops or “#askmeanything” sessions. You could also explore creating live chat streams like buffer does
(less resource intensive) or starting a podcast channel (slightly more resource intensive) specific to your industry niche/topic of interest or even participating on the Q&A website Quora, the most popular question and answer based social network.
Tip: Make sure you leverage your social media channels to distribute the content you create!
Step 9: Share, share, share
A great way to “market” your business is to share your journey, your struggles and your successes openly. If you feel more comfortable with the written word, do this via your blog or if you’re more spontaneous (and maybe a little time poor) try the ‘stories’ feature of either Snapchat or Instagram, both which require little or no editing!
Social media scheduling tool Buffer has a designated platform to share the goings-on within their company called (appropriately) open.buffer, which is a “journey to better productivity, more transparency and a happier work culture”. Like wow. That level of openness is admirable.
Tip: The more open and honest you are, the more likely you are to attract and engage people.
Step 10: Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.
If clients have given you positive feedback or praise, make sure you capture those comments and profile them publicly where others can find them! A great way to do this is to visualise quotes and positive feedback and share this on your social channels.
A few last words of wisdom:
- Be proactive by chasing up every opportunity that comes your way (as soon as you can!)
- Don’t favour one channel of communication over another
- Exceed expectations whenever you can!