When you start a small business, it’s tough to avoid daydreaming ahead to a potential future of satisfied customers, fabulous vacations, and the ability and revenue to grow into a real company or corporation.
For an overwhelming majority of small business owners, getting off the ground is the single-largest roadblock in the process. Fifty-four percent of small businesses fail in the first two years, according to a study by Business Insider.
The #1 reason these businesses fail is they experience cash-flow problems, which is a direct result of not bringing in enough business. One of the toughest misconceptions small business owners have to overcome is that people will not magically flock to their products just because it’s suddenly available.
Marketing your business is essential. Traditional marketing can be costly and has been replaced in many business models by digital marketing, that is, using the Internet’s staggering array of resources to inform potential customers of your products and services.
But how do you get the most out of your time and effort when it comes to digital marketing? What are the best practices that will get your small business off the ground quickly and help you maintain a steady rate of growth?
How to start a small business with digital marketing
There are many different components of digital marketing that can help you find leads and change prospects into customers. Not all of them will fit your business, so careful research and planning must be involved to keep you from wasting your time or resources.
Some of the most effective methods of digital marketing include:
- Your business website (inbound marketing)
- Social media marketing
- Video marketing
- Search Engine Optimization
There are plenty more than this, but these four come at a small or free price. Cash flow problems are the No. 1 cause of small businesses failing in the first two years, so any chance to save cash in the early stages.
Inbound Marketing (your website)
One of the biggest things you need when you’re starting a small business is a website that showcases who you are and what you do. Without a site, you have zero credibility as a legitimate business, even if you have an actual physical building where you work. Imagine taking a Sunday drive and noticing a new restaurant open in your neighborhood.
The odds of you pulling over and walking right in to check it out on the spot are very low. More likely, you’ll type the restaurant’s name into your favorite Internet-capable device and search for it online. A website gives you a look at when it opened, what kind of food it serves, what’s on the menu, and how much it costs. If there’s no website to speak of or it’s just one of those “coming soon” placeholders, odds are you’ll never think about that restaurant again.
To spur visitors to stay on your website and learn about your business, you need four things:
1) Speed: When a consumer clicks on a site, they expect it to load instantly. A consumer will lose all interest in waiting around for a slow website, even if it’s just taking a few seconds. Make sure your site is on a server that caters to quick loading.
2) Mobile-Friendly: The web traffic from tablets and smartphones has begun to outpace that of laptops and desktops. Your website needs to be responsive to the change between one and the other. If the mobile version of your site loads funny, has areas where you can’t read the text, or doesn’t work right, potential customers will swipe their way to something more prepared for their visit.
3) Security: Most websites offer visitors a chance to fill out a contact form for more information or possibly a consultation. Protecting your visitors’ data is your obligation. If a consumer fills out a form concerning landscaping services from your website, then starts getting spam mail on the same subject two days later, they’ll point the finger at your business, deem you unprofessional, and withdraw any feelings about working with you.
4) Easy: Your website should not resemble a maze or a word jumble. It needs to be straightforward, provides valuable information, and move visitors along the sales funnel to become customers. Consider your audience when you think about website design. If your target audience is 55+, don’t use a bunch of cutting-edge graphics and visuals, you’ll confuse them. Make things simple and smart.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you lived in Houston, Texas, and wanted to buy your wife a beagle puppy for her birthday, you’d go to Google and punch in “Houston beagle puppies for sale.” Simple, right?
Finding and harnessing the right combination of keywords that your target audience is searching for is the golden fleece of digital marketing. If you can hone in on those keywords and use them effectively in your website content, Google will boost your website in its search results.
There are plenty of free SEO tools that can be used to improve your ranking on Google and other sites, and a quick search can get you started. From there, your biggest obstacle is converting those keywords into intelligent, valuable information. The more information you can give visitors, the more likely they are to frequent your site and connect to it.
Social Media Marketing (your website)
You know all those likes and comments you get on Facebook every time you post a video of your cat eating pumpkin seeds? Well, that kind of following can make your rich if you’re getting the same kind of traffic when you start a small business website.
When you start a small business these days, harnessing the power of social media is one of the smartest things you can do. Most social media sites will let you have a ‘fan’ page for your business at no charge where you can share posts, pictures, videos, and anything else you want – even coupons and discount codes.
A smart small business owner will make his social media accounts into fun follows and likes, using creative approaches to keep customers and potential customers coming back several times a week to see what your latest news is. Be as creative and informative as you want. If you’re entertaining, you’re going to get a lot of likes and retweets, and that’s the perfect avenue to pulling in new customers.
Do something off the wall like adopting a mascot for your store and letting it ‘take over’ your account. If you sell homemade pies for a living, populate your social media with “Great Moments in Pie History” and careful step-by-step instructions on how to accurately hit someone in the face with a pie. The more value – be it from entertainment or information – you put into your social media accounts, the more customers you’ll get out of them.
Twenty-five years ago, recording a video of yourself required a tripod, an expensive camera, and a steady hand. Nowadays it takes pressing a button on your computer or asking someone with a smartphone to point it at you. Video blogging allows you to achieve three amazing goals in one session as you start a small business:
Give valuable information about your product or service to potential customers
Allow those customers to gain that information without needing to read about it, meaning they watch or listen to it anywhere.
Allow customers and potential customers to make a connection with you as they see your face, hear your voice, and get a feel for what your business means to you. This sort of relationship takes days, weeks, or months in the real world, but can be achieved in a 90-second video seen on your website or via social media.