Small business marketing for free on the web

Marketing for small business: part one

Posted: 2nd Jan 2016

MARKETING YOUR SMALL business doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, there’s quite a lot that you can do for free if you have the discipline to sit down in front of your computer or smart device for a few hours a week – or even just a few moments a day – to make your mark on the worldwide web.

Below you’ll find an introduction to some free online resources you might want to tap into – part two will be coming up in the near future with more free resources to explore.

If you haven’t heard by now, Twitter is the microblogging platform that allows you to relay messages to your followers in just 140 characters. Many dismiss Twitter and say ‘who would want to know about what I think’ – but you’d be surprised. As well as following and engaging with your favourite public figures and friends, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for the small business – follow entrepreneurs whose work you admire and comment on it. If you ‘tweet’ offers and tips relating to your unique selling points (often referred to as USPs), you will soon win a significant following. And the more you engage, the quicker you will pick up followers. Post regular links to your updated web pages or blog posts, and you’ll soon be proving your credentials as a subject matter expert. The Twittersphere can be a great place to network with like-minded professionals – and even spy on your rivals! Dismiss it at your peril – I have acquired new clients by using Twitter and so could you. Just remember to keep your tweets clean and decent. By all means engage in debate but always ask yourself, ‘does what I’m about to say reflect well on my business?’

The death of the 10-year-old platform Facebook is often predicted, but with 1.23 billion global monthly users there really is no danger of it going away any time soon. Have a long, hard think about that figure – from a base of more than a billion, there has to be a small number of potential clients lurking on it for you. Most people use Facebook socially to connect with friends and family – and part of that involves them sharing their likes. If you create a business page and post regular exclusive offers for your followers, you can encourage them to create likes that include you – thus your established client base will be engaged in an ongoing and organic marketing campaign on your behalf. You can even cross-pollinate between your platforms, for example posting links to your tweets, or even uploading videos from your YouTube stream if you have one. There has been a lot of media debate about privacy settings and news feed manipulation in recent times. If you’re concerned you should definitely do your research first before diving head first into Facebook. But there is a lot you can do to control and manage your privacy – striking the balance between that and allowing potential new customers will be key to your success.

We’ve all been sent links to funny videos or old pop classics of the 80s via email – most probably, these have been available for you to view via YouTube. But did you know that you can sign up to run your own YouTube channel? It’s almost criminal not to take advantage. To make a film about your business would have been prohibitively expensive 20 or even 15 years ago – and therefore the benefits were available to all but a wealthy few. But now that smartphones have excellent cameras and there is a multitude of free software available to edit your clips, it’s never been easier to make videos. If you’re a professional practitioner (such as a beautician or a fitness instructor) demonstrate your knowledge by setting up a tripod and filming a little ‘masterclass’ to upload. Be sure not to use music in the background though – you won’t have the clearance from the record company, and it will be distracting anyway. Write yourself a script to learn if that makes you feel more comfortable, or at least some prompting cards to put out of shot if you’d prefer to riff. Take care to make your mini-film short and snappy – long ones will simply lose the viewers’ interest. If you run a shop or a business that sells a regular turnover of products, why not film a quarterly preview of what’s in stock? You can get other people involved too, perhaps trying out the merchandise to show how it looks/feels. The more frequently you make little films, the better at it you’ll get – and it’s fun too!

Pinterest is now the fourth most popular social media platform, and its quite different to the others because its main focus is on visual rather than textual stimulus. Members set up a profile and create a series of mood boards which can be themed in any way you like. Then you simply pin images to it – either from your own collection or the boards of others. You can establish maps and add explanatory notes. It’s fairly addictive. But then how do you make it relevant to your business? Think about each board and pin as showing customers and prospects some insight into your brand. Make them want to identify with you.

One final point for the nervous: so what about your bad press? There’s no denying that in starting to use social media you are potentially opening yourself up to both legitimate public criticism and the vicious attention of web trolls. But as long as you are on top of your business and able to respond promptly and sincerely to any queries or complaints you will weather any storm. Don’t rise to trolls if you can help it. And where possible in answering a complaint get the complainant offline to discuss their concerns – go old school if necessary and resort to letter writing! Once made formal, people will know you take issues seriously. Plus if the complainant has behaved childishly and unreasonably then this may be the action that stops them in their tracks.