Several friends have been asking for advice on how to do small business marketing. I have a friend who runs her own home-based pottery business and I have another friend who runs her own construction business, and another friend who runs his own home-based glass-blowing art business.
So, based on what I know from almost 2 full years of successful small business marketing, here’s what I think these friends should do. You can take this advice, or leave it. It’s free.
- Set up your own Website: Every small business needs its own website with its own hosted URL. (Not “RandomBusiness.wordpress.com” but your own URL – “YourBusiness.com.”) The reason: if you own the URL and host it yourself, you totally own the site and aren’t bound by any “commercial” restrictions that some of the publicly hosted services like WordPress have. I know a guy who had his wordpress.com site shut down b/c they said he was “violating their Terms of Service” by trying to sell books through the site – even though that’s ridiculous, because everyone in the world uses websites to sell things. So the point is: get your own URL and host it yourself. Costs like $10 a year for the URL and $60 per year for hosting on GoDaddy.com. Super cheap!
- Set up a blog on your website. I recommend using WordPress because it’s easy to use (relatively) and there are lots of cheap (or free) “themes” that you can use to build your site. You don’t need a super complicated site, just a Home Page (“landing page” with your business name, your name, location, short bio introduction, etc.) a Blog (where you can share news updates, articles and especially PHOTOS of your great work) and maybe a few other pages like Photos (to store photos in a permanent central location) and Videos (“behind the scenes tours” to show people how you work, the types of projects you’ve done, etc.?) Find some other people in your field whose websites you like, and copy theirs. You can probably even find the same basic (free) WordPress Theme and use it for your site. If you need help with WordPress, I can recommend a WordPress developer in India named Tamil who set up my business website for an affordable price, and he was very reliable and easy to work with. You can hire him here on Elance: https://www.elance.com/s/tamilsweet/
- Set up a Facebook Page for the business. This is different than your personal Facebook “Profile.” Your business page is a public Page that anyone can see and access, it’s a way to collect a list of fans on Facebook. I’m rather new to this myself, but you can also advertise on Facebook to build up your fan list. I’m doing pay-per-click Facebook ads and it’s helped me find like 3 new fans so far – maybe not worth it (paid over $10 for those 3 fans) but I’m still learning and you can quit the advertising at any time.
- Do Twitter. It’s pretty easy. Or if you want to focus on just Facebook for now, that’s fine.
- HootSuite. Whether you use “just” Facebook or both Facebook and Twitter, use HootSuite! It’s awesome. You can schedule your Facebook posts in advance. You can post the same blog article a few different times to catch people at different times of day. You can load a bunch of photos on your website and then send links to the photos via Facebook, and stagger them out over the course of a week or a month, etc. http://www.hootsuite.com/
- Build your own e-mail list. I just signed up for Emma and it is AWESOME. http://myemma.com/ I’ve been blown away by the service and support. If you sign up soon (like, by end of April) they will give you a free HTML e-mail template design. They also have online classes so you can learn how to build up your own e-mail list. E-mail marketing still works – as long as you get people’s permission first, don’t spam them, etc. and the big advantage of e-mail over Facebook is YOU OWN THE E-MAIL LIST. Even if Facebook screws you over and changes their Terms of Service and shuts down your business Page for no reason (which has happened before to others – leaving the business suddenly bereft of thousands of valuable contact names), if you have your own e-mail list, you have a “permission asset” (as Seth Godin calls it) of dozens/hundreds/thousands of people who love your work and want to hear from you. Emma only costs $30 per month for up to 1,000 e-mails per month. I recommend looking into it. It will make your business look much more legit and “bigger than you actually are” – in a good way.
- Get Business cards: If you don’t have them already, get some done. You can get like 500 business cards for $75 (including Rush shipping) on http://www.VistaPrint.com/ They’re an old-fashioned way to market but they work – there’s no better way to quickly introduce yourself to people and give them something to carry home with them that reminds them to look you up later when they’re ready to buy. Put a special offer or special discount or something on the back of the business card – don’t leave it blank. Like, “Call for a free consultation or 10% discount” or whatever you want to offer. Lots of small businesses have less-than-impressive business cards, and there’s no reason for that in 2012 – you can have good looking premium business cards for very little extra expense and effort. (This one should be much higher on the priority list – like maybe even #2. Once you have a website, you need business cards.)
- Incorporate as an LLC or other business structure: This is a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because I haven’t incorporated yet, myself, but as a sole proprietor/independent contractor you are often better off incorporating your business as a corporate entity. There are liability protections (unlikely but always possible – if you get sued, someone can go after your personal assets – house, savings, etc. – whereas if your business is incorporated, creditors can only get the assets of the business). Sometimes there are tax benefits too, but the biggest benefit is peace of mind. Plus it makes you look more “official,” plus it gives you an “LLC” or “Inc.” to put after your business name when signing contracts, makes it easier to get a business bank account, etc. If you’re interested, one of my favorite clients is an online incorporation service called CorpNet. Nellie Akalp is the CEO and I’m sure she’d love to hear from a friend of Ben Gran. (I don’t get a commission or anything – but CorpNet are great people, they really know their stuff and they’ll give you a free consultation if you call.) http://www.corpnet.com/start-a-business/free-business-consultation/
- Write a marketing plan: This doesn’t have to be too complicated. Ut doesn’t have to be written by an MBA or a dissertation, etc. But just take an hour sometime and give some thought to these questions:
- Who are my biggest customers?
- Who do I want to sell more to?
- What is the ideal way for me to sell?
- Who are my target markets (types of customers, types of projects)?
- Why do people buy from me instead of a competitor?
- Who are 5 people in my local area that I should introduce myself to and tell them about my work?
- Who are in my “inner circle” of people that love my work and would be willing to spread the word to others?