Simplified Content Marketing Strategy for Small Business

Content marketing seems to be the buzz word “du jour” these days, and most of the guides, how-to advise, and case studies you find online work great for big brands, but no at all for small practices. Since most of our clients fit in the small-to-medium-sized category, (we’re right there too), and that’s what we’ve been working with, I’ll be discussing a simple way to make content marketing work for your small business or practice.

Purpose

The main reason to spend time and effort in creating and promoting content is to drive qualified traffic to your website and position yourself as the expert in your field, with is the first step in the path to someone becoming a lead. Since very few are doing this, it will not be hard for you to stand out from your competitors and be the one with more visibility.

Strategy

In order for your content marketing efforts to be effective you need to craft an action plan, that I’ve simplified as follows:

1. Know your clients
I always come back to this point because it is foundational. The more you know about your ideal customer the better you’ll be able to communicate the value you can provide him or her, and the more he or she will be interested in what you have to say. You may have several segments and you want to have a detailed profile for each.

2. Set up a blog site
If you don’t have a blog set up yet, it is preferably to add it as a section on the same platform of your website so you can publish all your content there, and promote it by sharing it to your social networks. The more you practice this, the more traffic you’ll generate. If your site doesn’t allow for a blog to be added on to the same platform, there are ways to integrate an external one in a way that will still bring you the traffic, it might not be ideal but it will work.

3. Know your keywords.
Basically you’ll want to know what your ideal customer is typing on a browser when they are looking for solutions you provide. I’ve found that many times the words you think they should be typing are just not it, and they may use different expressions that might be less technical. You want to use the words they use so they can relate, so your content magically appears when they are looking for information.

The Action Plan

Once you are clear about your clients wants and needs, and have a properly set up blog section to easily add and distribute content, the next step is to get to work.

1. Create a Marketing Profile Sheet for each of your top products or services
This is a simple word document or better yet, a note in Evernote. Make sure you have one file for each product or service, don’t combine them. Each Marketing Profile Sheet will include the name of the product or service at the top, and a simple list of answers to the following:

• Product description
• The target audience segment
• The problems they have that your product/service solves
• Questions they have about your product/service
• Objections they might have
• What can go wrong: if choosing the wrong provider, not seeking a solution, etc
• Misconceptions

The above list is a start and you should add your own points.
If you have a long list of products or service categories pick the top 3 to start. Once you have “profiled” each of those 3, add new ones, one at a time. Don’t over think it, the point here is to get started and get going.

2. Make a list of topics
Each of the answers to the points above will become a topic for you to write about and share your expert opinion. At this point, under each point write as many topics as you can think of, one way to do this is by writing “temporary” titles yo can develop later. Basically you will be addressing questions people have, objections, etc. Chances are you have been asked questions, and if you want to expand on this a bit more you can find questions on places like Quora or Yahoo Answers. The point is to tie in the issues people have with your products and services to your expertise.
3. Start writing
This is your area of expertise so you have the answers. Keep it simple and focus on just one idea. Each post can be as long or short as you want, it doesn’t really matter. Yes, I know you’ve heard you have to write long posts, and there is truth to that, but believe me, you will still get traffic to your site with shorter posts if it’s implemented properly.

You can also write a blog post about your point of view about an interesting article you found, and include the link. When you share it on the social networks, people will be going to your website, and that’s the point.

The point is, people are looking for information before making a decision, and providing useful content will keep you in front of them, and eventually choose you.

5. Promote your content
Create snippets of each post with it’s link to post on social networks. You can also do the same with the other content on your site, like your services page, etc. The point is to create as many mini-posts as you want from the entire content on your website, which you’ve worked so hard to create. We use a spreadsheet and Trello to organize this step, you can include the date you posted it, the network etc. The spreadsheet will help you upload the posts on to Hootsuite all at once, if you use it, making the work a lot less time consuming. We have a resource list you can download with more information about these tools.

6. Measure results
Pay attention to how people are reacting to your content. Social networks, especially Facebook, provide excellent analytics information about how many people saw your posts, and also how many likes and shares, which shows engagement, but most importantly, how many clicks to the links that took them to your site. You’ll also want to look at your site analytics and check the traffic that came from each social network and its bounce rate, which indicates how interested people are on the topic.

7. Tweak and repeat
As you see what posts generate highest engagement you can determine the topics your audience is most interested in and make adjustments, doing more of what’s working and discard what doesn’t work. Not be too quick in discarding a topic though, if it’s relevant to your practice you’ll want to test different approaches before discarding it all together.

8. Repurpose
As you add content to your website on an ongoing basis you develop a valuable library over time, that will provide you with relevant and well crafted material to continue to promote your business. Since the information doesn’t really expire, a blog post can be re-purposed in many social mini-posts weeks, and months after you first published it,  as a series of short videos with quick tips, a podcast, or you can have a designer create an infographic, all from the same post.

And there you have it! This is how you put an effective content marketing plan in place that’s especially tailored to your needs, and that builds your credibility and positioning over time. If you have any questions or need help getting started we are here to help! Just head over to our contact form and send your questions in.

The Risks of Ignoring Your Branding

Having worked over the years with many small and medium sized business owners, I have noticed that most of them tend not to pay much attention to their branding, and think branding is for the bigger guys. However, whether you think about it or you don’t, your brand is always on display.  You are represented in the marketplace by your logo, your business cards, slogans, signs, the emails you send, your website, the polo shirts your staff wears, the promotional pens that are floating around, and the list goes on and on.

Why It Matters
First and foremost, when a consumer is considering your products and services your brand is being compared to your competitors. When you don’t pay attention to your brand this is exactly how it comes across: as if you don’t care to make a good impression. If your business cards look too cheap, and have different colors from your vehicle signs, and then your website has a totally different logo, or has little information, your business will not be represented in a professional way, and sadly, people will carry this perception over to the products or services you offer, even though you might be the best in town.

Developing your brand identity is the place to start when looking to grow your business. Having a consistent message, logo, colors, and professional looking design will help establish a cohesive business identity in the marketplace, setting you apart from your competition.  There are 2 components to a brand: the marketing message, and the visual identity.

Marketing Message
Branding is not just a logo and colors, in fact, the first step towards creating your brand is developing your marketing message. This is fundamental to clearly communicate what you do, and who you help. An effective marketing message connects with your target audience, and makes them feel that you are the best choice above your competitors. Your marketing message should include a longer “sales sheet” version, a summary version, a short elevator pitch version, and concise tag lines.

It should be used in every piece of marketing material that comes out of your business, and everyone in your organization should know it well, so they explain what your business does in the same way.

Visual identity
Your logo, your company colors, the typography you use, and the look and feel of your brand constitute your visual identity. A skilled designer will translate your business personality, what you do, and how you want to be perceived into a professional graphic representation that will appeal to your target audience. Having it done professionally means you receive a comprehensive Brand Identity Package that includes original files of your logo that meet industry standards formats, include several layouts, as well as guidelines specifying your colors, fonts, style parameters, and other pertinent graphics information, regarding how the logo is to be used. The purpose of this is that your staff can use the proper logo in the correct way when creating documents, and also supply vendors such as printers, web designers, screen printers, and embroiderers, with the proper logo files to ensure the best logo reproduction and consistency across all your materials.

The Point
Every time a consumer is exposed to your company, there is an opportunity for a positive connection. Developing your brand is one of those simple, yet high pay-off things you can do to grow your business, that can help you quickly establish a presence in the marketplace.  This is an aspect of your business where it pays to hire a professional, it will help build your brand much faster, and improve your positioning. You will be perceived as a professional which is very important, keep in mind that, in business perception is reality.

If you want to have an evaluation of the state of your branding take advantage of our free marketing critique. We can help you stand out and grow your business.

10 simple steps to a marketing plan

Business owners tend to get overwhelmed with the thought of creating a marketing plan, often never getting to it at all. The result in inconsistent marketing without a clear direction,  which doesn’t get them much return for their money. Here is a simplified way of putting an action plan together, that’s easy to follow and implement. However, it does require you to set aside a couple of hours in order to get it done, but it will be well worth your time.

1. Before you start
Get everyone on your team involved, set a time to have an uninterrupted meeting, even if it’s outside business hours.  Have your team help with the following tasks, to be completed before the meeting:
• Go over your website with a fine tooth comb, looking for outdated and/or missing information, broken links, dead ends and inconsistencies.
• Gather all the communication pieces the business is handing out, such as everyone’s business cards, postcards, brochures, information sheets, banners, you get the idea.
• Review your profile on social media, including cover images, company information, posts frequency and quality of content, etc.
• Gather customer feedback, good AND not so good.

2. Identify Your Marketing Goals
You not only want to be clear on the direction you want to take your business in, but you also want to be specific and determine what does your marketing need to achieve for your business to grow. Specific marketing goals may be:
• Introduce new products/services
• Discontinue products/services
• Increase sales of X product/service
• Increase calls or foot traffic
• Get more qualified sales appointments

3. Your Target Audience
If you have already described in detail your ideal customer you are way ahead of the game. It is still a good idea to re-visit the profile since your products and services might have changed, and you want to be very clear who you are marketing to. Keep in mind you might have more than one type of audience, for example, if you are an orthodontist, you’ll want to market not only to parents of children ages 7 to 17 who are professionals, but also referral sources, such as, other dentists, pediatricians, and schools. Your marketing approach will be very different for each.

4. Review Your Marketing Message
Does your marketing message clearly describes the value you provide and how you are different? If not, it’s time to work on it. If your message is rather generic for your industry your business will not be perceived as better or worse that the rest, and your marketing will be weak regardless of the methods you use.

5. Review  your marketing for the previous year, to see what worked and what didn’t
This might seem obvious, but you want to take a close look at each marketing effort you have implemented one by one, and see how they worked. You don’t only want too look at the medium, but also the timing, frequency, message used, call to action, etc. This includes any print media and online ads, pay-per-click, direct mail, events, etc.  For example, let’s say you participated in a community event, you would look at how much, how early, and where did you promote it, did you do any follow up afterwards, if you didn’t think of ordering giveaways until it was too late, did you have a way to measure results built in, etc.

6. Brainstorm activities you want to use
Now is time to make a list of the methods you want to keep the same, make changes to, discard, and also the new ones. Don’t be too concerned with how complicated they are or cost at this point, you want to consider all the possibilities to market your business.

7. Narrow down your major activities
Now that you have a list of tactics, methods, and vehicles, determine  3 or 4 main marketing initiatives you will focus on, as well as components that support each one of them. As a general rule of thumb, you want to do those you feel comfortable with and are relatively simple, and you certainly don’t want to do too many. For example, you may decide to do the following:
1. Paid advertising  (such as direct mail, pay-per-click, print media, online ads)
2. Events –  (participation in community events, your own open house, cause walks, trade shows, for example)
3. Ongoing communications with customers and prospects – (such as email blasts, social media, mail outs, greeting cards, thank you gifts)
4. Marketing materials improvement (website updates, branding improvements, for example)
At this point you can determine what’s needed to accomplish each of the main initiatives, and discard those on the list that are either too expensive, too cumbersome, or don’t seem to support any of them.

8. Set a budget
Now that you have determined the main marketing initiatives, is time to estimate the cost of each method to come up with a marketing budget. You can base it on the previous year expenditure, and get estimates from providers for new things you want to do. It is important to set an amount aside for marketing your business, keeping in mind that every dollar spent is expected to bring returns in the form of sales.

9. Put it on the calendar
You will need a large calendar, one of those that shows each month in one page with boxes for each day, a bright color sticky note pad and a writing pad.
• Identify and list important dates relevant to your business, such as your business anniversary, celebratory dates for your industry, for charities you support, your town, etc. Mark them on the calendar. You can find a national holiday calendars online that will help you find those dates that might be relevant to your business.
• Mark seasons that affect your business on the calendar, including slower and busier months.
• Based on the dates identified above, as well as seasonality, create themes for each quarter, month or season, to drive your marketing initiatives. You can create special offers around these, and use as topics in your social media efforts, for example:

Mark each of the major marketing activities (determined on the previous step) on a sticky note and place on the month you would like to carry it out. If you decide you want to do a monthly email, then you would place one sticky on each month.  You also think it would be good to do online display ads on the slower months, so you place your paid advertisement sticky there. Same goes for events and so on.  Once you are done placing stickies, you might have too many things going on, so it’s time to edit, and it will be very easy to move the stickies around or just remove, to adjust dates as you define priorities, and fine tune your marketing activities.

10. What needs to be done and who’s responsible
Now comes time to break down the smaller initiatives into smaller chunks, and assign the tasks.
For example, if you decide to update the company website in January you might assign the task to your web master. If you are going to do an event in March, and you  will handle this in-house, you will not only mark the event date, but also, counting backwards, mark  the “absolute deadline to have everything at hand” 4 days before the event,  “have everything ordered” 4 weeks before,  and “start working on event” 2 months before. This way there is less of a chance it will fall through the cracks.

And there you have it! You will want to look at this once a month, to keep it in check. Things may change as the year progresses, and you can make changes as it becomes necessary. Having a roadmap will make it very easy to decide if the new advertising opportunity you are being offered at any given time, supports your original goals or not so much.
Having a plan will help you focus on what works, and avoid the “follow the new shining object syndrome”. Staying away from unnecessary methods will save you time and money. If you would like help in creating your plan, or with implementation, we can help. If you are considering rebranding, or want an expert outsider’s perspective, give us a call at 954-636-1685  or email welcome@actionmarketigfl.com.