The internet can be a complicated landscape for small businesses with limited resources to navigate and conquer, particularly for those that aren’t very tech-savvy…
At Add People we specialise in helping small and medium-sized businesses; so we thought it’d be a great idea to create a resource full of helpful tips for those just starting their online journey.
Ever looked back at something you’ve done and wished you’d known before what you know now? Use the advice in this blog to learn from other people’s mistakes and experiences and get a head start with your online business endeavours.
We’ve asked a selection of industry experts for their top digital marketing tip for start-ups and small businesses and then incorporated them into one comprehensive blog jam-packed with priceless advice and guidance from people who have been there and done it themselves.
Digital marketing is an extremely broad term that can encompass a whole range of activities from social media to email marketing, and web design to paid online advertising.
The following tips from our collection of experts can help you to decide where best to focus your marketing efforts and which areas to prioritise.
My top marketing tip would simply be to communicate through as many channels as possible. Eg.
- Make sure sure your website is mobile friendly.
- Keep your blog updated (my fail at the moment, as I am too busy with accounts!)
- Get an app so that you have a presence in the app store, and make sure you have versions for iPad as well as Android & IOS.
- Social media. Think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest… The list goes on!
Just about every Internet Marketer will tell you that their opt-in email list has become their major source of revenue. They’ll also tell you that their No.1 mistake was not starting this list soon enough.
That’s because email allows you to communicate directly with people who’ve explicitly agreed to receive communications from you. People who specifically elect to receive emails from you are ten times more likely to open them than others who haven’t opted in.
Because of this dramatically higher response rate, building an opt-in email list should be a matter of priority. You should start building equity by sharing useful and valuable content to your list at regular intervals to build and maintain top of mind awareness.
You should also make it a priority to create a regular, solid email newsletter.
Here at the world’s #1 online training platform for business networking, our top tip for small business digital marketing success is to blend the ‘real’ and the ‘digital’. The best small brands and small businesses maintain a face to face connection with their customers, clients and contacts. Digital is awesome and effective, but is even more so when blended with the intimacy that comes from real connections. Shaking someone’s hand. smiling at them, looking them in the eyes, inviting them to coffee or a meet up – all of these things reinforce the power of digital to give you a competitive advantage!
Starting up a business and getting on LinkedIn is my best advice. When things are new you won’t have branding sorted or a clear marketing message. Your business needs time to develop and listen and respond to the market place. LinkedIn allows you to pitch your business for free to everyone who knows, likes and trusts you. You can update and edit it quickly and efficiently allowing you to respond to the marketplace as you learn more about your target audience.
People buy from people, and more so, people love to help and assist people with a good vision. A genuine and authentic profile that communicates your mission, your values and your reason for doing what you do, can quickly buy friends and strangers into your vision and have them want to help. Get them willing to introduce you to the right people and can quickly find yourself sitting in front of your prospects, ask them the right questions that add to your market research and this could lead to a sale or further introduction.
After you’ve got a significant flow going with confident messaging tested on LinkedIn, you can begin branding and building your website. Its amazing what can be achieved just by talking to the right people and selling them on your vision. Today there really are no barriers to entry for any business, because there is only one of you and only you can do what you do, the way you do it.
My top tip is pick one platform, the one that your people are on and get comfortable and consistent with that before you embark on more.
It’s better to have consistent activity leading to engagement on one platform than a sporadic presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Pick the one you like the most or are most confident that your target market use and get really good on there. Your aim is to have people get to know, like and trust you. Edu-tain people (educate and entertain) Be personable not personal and people will begin to understand and know what your company stands for and is all about.
Know exactly what you’re trying to achieve (objective) and who your target audience are. 99% of businesses do not take the time to pause and consider these vital elements, and instead just dive straight into whatever digital channel they happened to read about last week. Take the time (30 mins will do) to wring out some SMART objectives and detail your target market. From these you’ll have the foundations to make strategic decisions about what digital steps to take, and you’ll be far more likely to be successful as a result. Be the 1%.
My no.1 tip for businesses entering the online digital world is to build your brand once you have got clarity on who your perfect client is and what solution you offer to their problem. This applies for startups as well as the more experienced coming online. Once you have that, your marketing message will be a lot juicier and you won’t be feeling overwhelmed in an online vacuum wondering why no one is subscribing to your list or responding to your offers.
Build your own opt-in email list. You don’t own social media channels and you can’t control them. Look what happened with Facebook – loads of businesses spent time and money building up fanbases, and then Facebook decided they were going to stop them accessing those fans unless they coughed up for advertising. I don’t blame Facebook – but for God’s sake don’t repeat the error! Build your own email database that you own and control.
Ensure that your website is your online hub rather than a Facebook page or other social media platform. Ideally your marketing activities should increase traffic to your site.
Pick your marketing platforms and deliver content consistently – week in and week out.
My top tip would be to focus. There are so many options out there when it comes to marketing your business online that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Find out where your competitors are and where they are seeing the most success, this will give you an indication of what to focus on. Once you have that information, choose 2 or 3 channels, for example Facebook, Twitter, and blogging, and fully focus on those for 3 – 6 months. Once you have built up a head of steam there and you are seeing results, you can then consider adding another channel to the mix and really become an expert at that. If you try to do everything at once then you will just waste your time and money, and you won’t see great results.
When small businesses take their enterprise digital it’s a real game changer. The trick is to make your offering to your potential customers as short, sharp and descriptive as possible. For instance if you sell cheap golf balls then call your site Cheap Golf Balls because that is what your customers will be searching for.
When you email have a look at the subject line, does that grab their attention, is it useful or interesting? ie. “Are these the cheapest golf balls in the world?” Or “how I halved my handicap with these balls”.
A great exercise for thinking short and fast is to see if you could tweet your CV, and then when you’ve done that halve that number of characters, and again, until you can make your unique business offering using one word.
Can’t be done? Remember that credit card? ‘Priceless’
Driving traffic to your business website using pay-per-click advertising is one of the quickest ways of seeing almost immediate results, that is, if you do it right.
If you’re new to PPC it’s easy to make mistakes and end up wasting a lot of budget.
Do your research before you get started and read these tips to get a head start with your first PPC campaign and avoid wasting time and money.
My one tip would be: Make sure you focus your PPC activities to the area that their business serves. If you only serve a small geographic area, a town or city, then restrict your advertising to that city via your Google Adwords campaign settings. If you only serve an area within a radius, say 30 miles, then likewise, your campaign settings can also restrict the area for which your ads are shown.
There are many pieces of PPC advice I could give, from defining your objectives before you start, to ad-copy creation and landing page split testing. But my number one tip would be to define a budget and stick to it. Over the years I’ve seen business owners throw money at PPC hoping that it will make a difference, and it doesn’t! By sticking to a budget, this will naturally encourage analysis around what’s working and what isn’t which will drive performance optimisation. Doing this on a regular basis will keep pushing the PPC account forward, along with lowering the average cost per enquiry or transaction, all without spending more money.
Google Ads, and other forms of PPC campaigns can be particularly effective for new businesses due to their almost immediate visibility.
However, if they are poorly set up and badly managed they are also very easy ways to send money to Google and their like for no real benefit.
A new business has a lot of things going on and can be very challenging. My advice is to use a PPC professional to set up, launch and manage your new campaigns unless you have the time to devote to really learning how to do PPC properly and effectively and then have the ongoing time to ensure that campaigns are well managed and to understand how well they are working for your new business.
Don’t start a PPC campaign with a tiny budget and then wonder why it didn’t work, PPC is all about testing new campaigns, which takes time, money and focus. If you just want to test the waters pick a handful of highly relevant keywords and focus your efforts on these. Never just leave your campaign to run itself as you will more than likely be wasting your money.
PPC is a powerful way to get your Ad listings up almost immediately and have prominence on the search engine results pages. The most vital part of any PPC campaign is that you have to be 100% confident about your website before you start PPC.
If you have any doubts about your website, spend time with it, monitor through analytics and start by running a test PPC campaign.
Once you are confident with your campaign structure and website conversion rate, you should then start to invest more in PPC with a greater chance of making a larger return on investment
StartUps entering the online world should start creating remarketing lists ASAP. When you enter an AdWords auction you need to make sure you are targeting the right audience. Your most valuable users will be ones that have already visited your site.
Once you collect your user’s cookie data you can remarket to them on the display network (this will help grow brand awareness) and the search network (this will boost conversions). The same strategy can be applied on Facebook.
StartUps tend to have small budgets so avoid wastage and combine keyword targeting with audience targeting – this will help you reap the rewards of a profitable PPC campaign.
The factors that Google take into consideration when ranking websites is constantly changing and getting your website’s SEO right can be an arduous labour of love.
It can be difficult to know where to start with your SEO as it can all sound very technical; here are a few tips from the experts to guide you in the right direction and help you to get started.
I’d say that the most important thing is to get over the fear of trying things out. Too many people don’t want to put their content out there because it might not be good enough, or don’t want to launch a paid campaign because they might waste some money, or don’t want to “do social” because someone might call them out.
You never get things right the first time but as long as you’re doing things the best you can and trying different tactics something will work. I’m not saying “throw enough at the wall and hope something sticks” – you definitely need to keep the quality high – but fear paralysis is very real, and very important to overcome.
My number 1 tip would be to start your own show. In the past you used to be able to rank well by publishing short articles without much value and no personality. Nowadays your content has to be great and more importantly you have to inject your own personality into everything you do.
One of the best ways of doing this is by starting your own show – be it a podcast, a video show or a regular webinar series. That’s what I’ve one with Digital Marketing Radio and it’s probably the most impactful thing that I’ve ever done. You increase your industry authority, add regular, unique content to your website on an ongoing basis and as a result your SEO power keeps on improving.
For a start up it can be difficult to know where to begin, but the key is to focus on a wider marketing strategy that incorporates organic search as just one facet. It is critical to develop an audience-focused plan first and foremost which focuses on helping to make them smarter. If you do that via content then you will win now not just in search, but also across every other channel available to you.
There are definitely technical aspects to an SEO strategy too, of course, and it is important these are covered by an expert to ensure that any investment thereafter will maximise your return on that investment in proactive marketing. This content strategy toolkit will help you build that plan more easily.
Stacey Cavanagh MacNaught
It’s difficult to pick just one! But if your objective is to sell or generate leads online as a start up, particularly in a competitive space, pay huge attention to the medium and long-tail keywords early on. Launching straight in and trying to take on big established names for money terms with a new domain is a veeeery long term process, and you also need SEO to be generating something in the shorter term, so medium and long tail is a good place to start.
In terms of building up a bit of authority and equity in the domain, getting people to write about your start up (if it’s interesting enough!) is a good start. https://press.farm/ is a good way to find journalists who may want to write about your start up specifically.
I don’t really have a number one tip for businesses, so here are my top 3:
- Firstly, don’t get stung by SEO salespeople when you first start out; do your research and find a good SEO consultant. Make sure that any work follows the search engine quality guidelines for webmasters, or you might end up with a Google penalty later on.
- Understand your market before you even think about building your website. Do your keyword research, and your competitor analysis. This will help you put a strategy together to build an amazing website, which is optimised from the start.
- Get some technical SEO advice before you decide on which technology to use for the website and ask for examples from the person you are considering to build the site. Show these to an SEO consultant and ask for their advice. This will save you money later on having to correct poor development.
In summary, SEO is no silver bullet, and it’s not ‘cloak and mirrors’ like I have heard it referred to as. Its knowledge, experience, logical thinking, and lots of hard work.
Use the 80/20 rule, spend your time doing the 80% that causes the most change in Google and don’t worry about trying to learn the other 20%. Don’t over optimise and hire help if you don’t know what you’re doing
SEO begins with the quality of your website, so if your website is not fully optimised, do not begin an SEO campaign offsite as it will simply not have the success levels you would expect from it. Your website needs to be fully optimised, so make sure it has a good structure, excellent content, and that your onsite SEO aspects like your Title Tags, Description Tags and H1 headers are all in place.
Your SEO should surround your content, so you need to make sure you are willing to take the time to blog and write articles about your industry, as Google loves fresh content and without it, your own SEO campaign is just not going to have the desired impact.
I am a big believer that the majority of your SEO success starts from your website, so it is crucial that you do everything possible to make sure it is fully optimised and ticking all of the SEO boxes before you even worry about hunting down links. Social sharing is also very important, so make sure you have all of your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ profiles linked to your website and you are sharing your content.
Get inside the mind of your customers and anticipate their searches. Use this to theme your content, do it regularly and keep it fresh!
Use the free Google Keyword Planner for your quality keyword discovery. Don’t necessarily chase search volume but choose search terms that clearly reflect your products, your content, services and brand values.
With this keyword discovery, you then need to attribute those search terms to the relevant allocated pages, don’t duplicate your page theming, then link internally to help the user and the robot with clear signposting.
Web Design Tips
With so many businesses now having an online presence, competition is fierce.
Small businesses must optimise and design their websites with conversion in mind if they want to give their business the best chance of growing and succeeding online.
The following expert tips will help you to design and build a successful, profitable and professional website.
My one web design tip for start-up businesses is to do your homework: research what you like, provide examples to your web designer of choice, prepare your content accurately and present it in an easy to comprehend manner. Also, be honest about your budget but prepare to invest. A website is a 24/7/365 advert for your business – what can be more important?
My recommendation is to use the WordPress platform for its malleability, easy-to-use CMS (Content Management System) and its track record with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
Own your Domain Name
When starting off capital investment is not just tight, it’s personal. So, when you set up your first website, you may not have the funds available to hire a web design consultancy. You may consider an all-in-one template provider, a local printer or get your neighbour’s son who is ‘brilliant with computers’.
None of this is necessarily a problem, until it comes to upgrading to something more professional. If your domain is not registered to yourself and you do not have full access to the domain registrar, you may have difficulties transferring it.
Treat your domain name like your birth certificate! Lose ownership and you lose that web address for your website and email. You have no legal right to own it. For more advice contact Richard Ambrose at Ambrose Designs.
Don’t Copy The Big Guys
When looking to get a website built a huge number of small businesses make the mistake of copying the design and style of the big guys – I see it every day from people wanting to copy the Apple website through to others copying the biggest player in their industry.
The reason this doesn’t work is those brands are already known incredibly well so their websites don’t have to work as hard to raise awareness of their products of services.
For example you already know Apple does iPhones and MacBooks, and chances are you know the pros and cons, so when you go to their website it’s either to look at tech specs or to just look around.
As a small business you need to focus on how you’re different and typically that boils down to you being able to give a more personal service.
Focus on Your Clients
We have seen on the websites we build for small businesses that visitors absolutely love to do their research – a big part of that is showing success stories from the people you’ve helped.
Get a large photo of your client and feature it proudly with their testimonial and then lead into what you want the visitor to do – typically enquire.
I’d say my biggest tip for entering business online would have to be a simple and effective layout with clear call-to-actions. Confusing a user when they first load the page with a ton of clutter will more than likely result in them leaving, without looking around. If you’re promoting a product that you’re trying to sell, make sure to put that across effectively with a link to purchase the product and a picture to show it off. Use the white space. Trying to cram information within a small space usually confuses people and looks more intimidating that you would think. Let your content breathe, users don’t mind scrolling if it makes the intended purpose of the site easier to see. This also makes what you’re saying in your text or showing in pictures far clearer to understand.
My second tip would be to make your online content responsive. A lot more of your users are viewing your content on a mobile device than you might think. It’s becoming a majority, so it seems silly not to give the majority of your users the best experience possible right? Responsive is the way forward, it should be a standard. It’s definitely getting there with pushes from Google. If you think about the amount of devices that have access to the internet, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, Android phones, there are thousands of them. These devices all have access to your online content so making sure that it works on all of them will definitely help you in your online endeavors. Responsive is how you achieve this.
Making sure your website is mobile and tablet ready.
Being responsive in web design terms means your site will respond to the device in which you’re viewing the internet from. So your new website will look equally brilliant on a desktop, tablet, or mobile screen.
The ever growing mobile internet market is upon us and as from July 2014 mobile internet use surpassed desktop use for the first time, so the need for any new or existing website to be viewed via mobiles and tablets is a must. An online user experience is also viewed by Google and many search engines as an essential part of any website SEO, not having a mobile friendly site could actually be detrimental to the websites ranking in the major search engines.
The best tip I could possibly give start-ups looking to create a presence online, is to keep things simple. It’s naturally incredibly tempting to go for the flashiest, most eye-catching web design out there but the problem with this, is it can detract from your key message, not to mention it can end up costing a fortune. Start small and simple. Put the emphasis on your content rather than the canvas it’s displayed on.
My top tip would be to embrace different platforms. I don’t recommend reinventing the wheel and doing everything yourself, but rather work with experts who have specialised in a particular platform or platforms.
For example today you no longer need to create your own CMS or ecommerce system. There are companies specialising in these areas, such as Shopify, who are solving these problems and improving their products daily. Given that many are customisable it’s still advisable to work with creative professionals who understand the platforms’ front-end architecture and third party plugin ecosystems. Piecing together highly scalable subscription-based systems will allow you to get up and running cost effectively, quickly, and securely, and at a level that would take you years to achieve on your own.
Make sure that if you plan to offer services online using a company or trading name, that the name is available on the major social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, etc. It would look quite unprofessional to use the handle UltimateDesigner17zx3, for example 😉
During April and May, mobile (phones and tablets) searches exceeded those performed on desktops and laptops. Start your website small, but build it with mobile users in mind, ensuring either a responsive layout or a separate dedicated mobile site. Ensure your site is tested on mobile devices and people can easily buy or enquire even on small screens. Enter the digital world with a bold mobile approach.
My one tip is to get your information on your website ASAP. Ignore the bells and whistles to start with, you can invest in that later, but make sure to get the basics up there and accessible from the start. A decent logo (invest in this!) and some basic branding, partnered with a clean & simple WordPress theme (there are some great themes available for less than £50) is all you need to get started. Once you’re set-up, and people can find you online already, you can invest some more time and money in working with a web designer and building the perfect online home for your business.