One of the most important things I have learned as a small business owner is this: Jumping in blind is a terrible idea! Many tell you that you should have a good business plan before starting your business. I completely agree. Others will take it a step further and mention a marketing plan. This is where I took a right instead of a left. I agree that new businesses should have an idea of how they want to market their company; however, I never thought about sitting down and studying my strategy before proceeding. The wisest words once uttered were by Sun Tzu : “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
Before I dive in, to make this easier to follow, I am going to use values and references from the current year (2019) versus 2012 as 1) so much has changed and 2) price points are nowhere near what they used to be since the explosion of social media and online marketing.
In the marketing game, your biggest challenge is attempting to stay afloat among the midst of competition.
The first mistake I made with DEK Consulting (the original name of my business back in the day) was trying to obtain first page status on Google Ads. Have you seen the competition for virtual assistants on the internet? For every one customer there is literally 256 million results!
Trying to set reasonable bid prices for keywords was immediately out of the question. Just the word “Virtual Assistant” alone would average $3.30 a click for average position (by the way – this metric is due to sunset in September of 2019) of 2.4, with a daily budget of $360, and estimated monthly cost of $9,800 for 3000 clicks and 110,000 impression.
Yes, you can lower your overall budget, daily budget, and cap your cpc but you will also watch the page placement and position of your ad diminish. There is a reason online marketing now called “pay to play”.
You could also use long-tail and short-tail keywords but this story is taking place in 2012, not 2019 so I had no idea what those things were at the time and most small business owners are not taking the time to take classes in Google Ads, Social Media Marketing, and other relevant curriculum that would be essential for their business. There is nothing wrong with that but the rise of trial and fall of error are a little steeper. For me, I had been in business for almost a year and it was time and while I was doing good locally, my online clientele was nonexistent.
Anyway, back to what I learned. Google Ads is a good advertising strategy for someone with a unique business type and whose marketing can be targeted to a more specified audience. For example, say you have a business where you specialize in creating customized journals. If you use Google Ads Keyword plan, you will see that the keyword for journal averages to $1.23 a click for an average position of 1; however, the keyword would only bring about 2,300 clicks a month, 40,000 impressions, averaging $2,800 a month on a daily budget of $120. Now most people would look at these numbers and say “well you get more clicks with virtual assistant– wouldn’t you be in a better position?” I thought the same thing but the problem is that you are paying for “curious joes”. These individuals click to your site out of curiosity but don’t stay to buy. In the end, you end up paying for all this wonderful traffic but none of it converts to a sale.
This brings me to conversion rate: the key formula in determining your marketing strategy. Let’s take the virtual assistant idea one step further, let’s say I had the budget to spend $9,800 for 27 days ($360 daily). That would mean that if I had a conversion rate of 0.1% to 7% (over 5% is pretty high for a new business), I would be paying about $0.36 to $705.60 each month to close a prospect. That is a lot of pressure for your potential clients. Could you imagine? Welcome to my business – I need you to buy at least $705.60 worth of services for your visit to be worth my time. So as you can see, pay per click (PPC) was not a good marketing strategy for me.
After one failed attempt I decided to actually do my homework to see what marketing strategies would be more effective. Before you even crack open a book, click on a link, or grab a pen and paper to brainstorm – decide exactly how much money you want to use towards marketing and stick to it. Like gambling, sometimes you get so caught up in the excitement you don’t realize that you are spending money you don’t have.
With a budget in mind, I started to brain storm how I could market my company – from free to affordable. First thing that came to mind was Facebook (maybe because of the excess IPO news at the time). I immediately opened my Facebook page and started posting about services I offered. Next, I found some groups that may have been interested in my services. Word of advice, there is a thin line between advertising and spamming. A lot of avenues provide an opportunity for new businesses to market their companies; however, many do not appreciate you utilizing their resources for personal gain. Choose your forums wisely or you could be building a bad reputation before you even get your foot through the door.
Social Networking and blogging is the best free advertising you can obtain. Lucky for you, it such a popular idea that there are more and more concepts hitting the market. Google Plus (you can now use Google My Business), Linkedin, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, SnapChat, WhatsApp (yes you can use this for your business), the list goes on for miles!
Use these avenues to connect with your customers on a real level – not just a business level. They are people – not cash cows. Would you buy from a stranger or a friend? I have learned a lot from the interesting people I have had an opportunity to meet. Find a forum or group that meets your needs and get to know the people – don’t just start spamming! Introduce yourself, leave helpful comments, join in on great discussions, and be a part of something. If you just so happen to put your website in your signature, fine – but that is not why you are there.
Newsletters are a great idea but they work more effectively if you already have a mailing list. You don’t want to send newsletters to people who did not request them (between the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and the new GDPR regulations, you are asking for trouble). Save the newsletters for the customers who truly want to learn about your business and what you have to offer. Another helpful hint – make sure you do double-opt in for any type of subscription based marketing (newsletters, emails, coupons, etc). Again, CAN Spam Act is a serious thing and you don’t want to be caught in a battle trying to prove that the customer did indeed request your communication but simply forgot. For new businesses, Press Releases are fantastic. The best websites (prweb.com) are very pricey but you have a lot of free options – prlog.com, http://www.free-press-release.com, etc). Let people know you have opened your doors and that you are ready to serve them. You can have the best business with the most unique services, but if no one knows you exist it will be a ghost town. You can also write articles if you are an expert in the subject matter. Certified in Quickbooks? Write an article explaining how a business owner can start preparing now for the new tax year and the best way to optimize the program.
I have focused on free for most of this article but there a few paid advertisements that are still very affordable. One suggestion is having business cards made and sticking them in various (pre-approved) places: restaurant counter tops, community boards, advertising card holders in front of registers, and with thank you gifts for your current clients.
Please do not stick anything on people’s cars. I personally hate that and I can imagine others do to. In college, we use to have advertisement post cards stuck to our cars and if it rained and dried before you caught it – well you had a nice paper stain on your windshield that took forever to remove. Speaking of cars, using your vehicle as a place for advertisement is recommended as a very effective means to obtaining customers. Buying a magnet or a decal can be very cheap depending on who you use. I use Vistaprint (www.vistaprint.com) for all of my business needs. They have incredibly sales throughout the year and you can buy so many marketing items and (at times) only pay for shipping!
The last suggestion (but certaintly NOT the least effective is YouTube). Youtube is another free way to advertise but it a little more time consuming depending on your talents. If you have the time and resources to create a marketing video, how-to video, or V-log, then YouTube is another high profile site to have on your team.
This was everything I learned on my initial journey into marketing. Have I learned a lot more in the last 7 years? I would hope so since I am certified in inbound and social media marketing! I wanted to keep this particular post authentic to my initial marketing path in the world of entrepreneurship. Best of luck on your new business!
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