Marketing communication guide for small businesses

Finding new clients is one of the biggest challenges of running a business. Especially when your business is new and unknown to the world, getting your marketing communication right will help to build your brand and grow your client list. You don’t need a huge budget, you just need a bit of time to figure out how your potential clients think and buy and then execute your marketing tactics accordingly:

MARKETING COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

When setting your strategy, the key is to start at the end goal and work backwards. Your marketing objectives should go hand in hand with your business goals:

1. Do your research

Work with what you know. Look at what your potential customers are looking for and how they communicate. Web traffic analytics is a good starting point to understand your audience’s interests and behaviour. Depending on the data available, look at return on investment on your previous marketing efforts. Marketing can be expensive; so it’s important to know what are you getting for your money.  Look at what worked in the past and what didn’t – in case you don’t have the information, talk to your peers to learn what works for them and do your online research. Different things work for different businesses so be objective and pick the ones you feel most comfortable with.

2. Define your unique value proposition

It’s important that your audience understands what it is that you do and how does it link to their needs. In the competitive market you need to differentiate yourself and make your business stand out. It’s all about buyer focus – what benefits does it bring to them, what terminology do they use and what would make them stop looking for similar services elsewhere. Keep it simple. You only have their attention for a limited period of time so make the most out of it.

3. Link communication to your products and services

Communication strategies are often purely focused around prospect’s interests and miss the link to what they are trying to sell. Your audience naturally expects you to tell them about how you can help them, as long as you are doing so within reason. Focus on their issues and offer solutions, giving them options to learn more about your products and services.

4. Get your messaging right

Common language starts a conversation. By understanding the terminology and tone your potential customers use, you will be able to connect and form relationships. Make it easy for your audience to understand your message and use clear calls to action. It will eliminate any confusion and make it much more likely that your audience will respond. There is no universal call to action – think about specific communications and adjust it accordingly. Sometimes you will find that businesses use all the right words, but missing the “so what” element. It’s important you not only communicate the message but also include how it impacts the recipient.

5. Tell a story

Stories naturally create interest and are proven to sell. If you have successful project stories, use them. Even if you can’t disclose the client`s name, focus on the scenario and outcomes. It will help your audience to learn about real life situations and it will stick with them for longer. You can turn stories into case studies and use those for media pitches. If you can back up your story with real success data and feedback, you are even more likely to attract interest.

6. Segment your audience

One message doesn’t fit all. Segmentation will take you further. With prospects you should be focusing on getting their attention and keeping it for as long as possible, whilst with clients you want to mature the relationship. There is a great advantage in knowing your client and therefore being able to tailor your activities around their needs. In both cases it’s important to take note that there is a human at the other side of the communication so keep it real and be reasonable.

MARKETING PLANNING

Once you are clear on what your marketing strategy is, the key to get there is to create and follow a tactical plan. No plan is perfect and there will be many things that won’t go according to your plan – so don’t panic if you can’t do it all. Review your plan on a monthly or quarterly basis to check if it’s still relevant and if time is spent on activities that are producing results:

7. Start with the past

Take the time to review your past activities over a set period of time to evaluate where you should focus your efforts. Think about the time, money and energy invested into each of the activities and ask yourself whether they would be worth the investment again. And think about yourself and what you enjoy doing – a half-hearted job will be felt and seen so either focus on those activities that bring you joy or see if they can be executed by someone else.

8. Set simple and clear objectives

By the time you are drafting a plan you should already have your marketing goals defined – if not, this is the time to finalise them. The simpler the better. I would suggest breaking it down to sections that you can then separately focus on. A good way to draft this is to create the overall end goal – which is likely to be around creating sales opportunities and then setting individual areas of focus that will support that goal. You could look at your marketing ROI, number of incoming enquiries, number of leads generated, PR coverage reach and frequency, social media engagement, website traffic volume or any other indicator that you think will help your business to grow.

9. Create a calendar

Create a simple table with as many months as you need and list all the activities you have planned. The visual demonstration will make it easier to spot gaps and errors. It might be difficult to commit to a specific date, especially if you are planning a few months ahead so creating weekly or even monthly schedules might work better for you.

10. Track progress

If there is more than one of you, have assigned roles for each task and most importantly track progress and results. Mark activities that are completed, delayed or are likely to never happen. Don’t just dismiss the activities you don’t get to complete just because you are unable to do so on time – you can always use them for a campaign later on. Not a big deal.

11. Review regularly

Don’t just create a plan at the beginning of the year and never use it. Have your plan visible and easily accessible and always be reminded what’s next. Schedule a couple minutes each week or month to review and reflect on where you are compared to where you planned to be. It will help you to stay on top of things and tweak your plan as needed.

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Social media platforms are an extremely effective brand awareness, lead generation and nurturing tool.  Here are a few tips on how to make your social media marketing smarter:

12. Pick the right channels

Not all the channels work for everyone. And you shouldn’t assume they do when planning your next social campaign. Think as your potential clients – consider which platforms would you prefer to use and what content would you be interested in. I would always recommend to test different campaigns via different channels and compare – learning doesn’t get better than that! You can then make your call on what you have seen and focus your efforts where you see most results.

13. Schedule your updates in advance

Being able to schedule your updates in advance will save you a lot of time. Don`t forget – you still have the task of having to collect the content ready to be shared beforehand. I would suggest you set up Google Alerts on topics of interest so you get triggers regularly, but also be constantly on a lookout for interesting content your followers would like to hear about.

14. Be mindful of automation

Avoid over-automating. For your long term success, it`s worth investing the time to select the people and updates you interact with. Be genuine and avoid spamming people with pre-set messages. It always goes back to having people behind the virtual conversations and your personality will show through your interactions.

15. Don`t just talk about yourself

The idea is to promote yourself and your business, however you might want to mix it up. Meaning that you shouldn’t just promote your own content, but also include content created and shared by others.

16. Time your updates

Again, this comes down to testing different times and working out what works best for your audience. Use simple logic based on who your followers are and when are they most likely to have the time to see your updates. Then test different times that you think might work and see what your results tell you! You will find a number of statistics on times that work best – such as weekends are better than weekdays, but again I would suggest you test your own audience. I`ve seen Sundays being the most successful but you also need to remember that whilst there are more active users online, the volume is much higher too. So just do your own research and then repeat what works best.

17. Keep your updates regular

Based on the volume of updates, schedule them so there are even gaps. I recently experienced a huge drop in followers on Instagram during a quiet week, which resulted in losing 40 percent of them. I have just started to experiment with Instagram a month ago and it`s been going well until then – so there is my lesson learnt! Keep going and keep it regular!

CONTENT AND SEO 

No matter how small your business is, content marketing is a great way to get exposure and make your business be seen. It can be done without much extra cost, minus your time of course. You will need a creative mind and a few good tools and you will be able to drive traffic to your website and build your brand over time. Share your personal experiences or tips from others. Make it light hearted and easy to read.

18. Know your audience

Before you do anything else, define who do you want your content to read and what it is that will make them want to return to your site? Keep your topics and writing style aligned with your audiences and the chances are you will get some regular readers before you know it.

19. Choose evergreen topics

You would want your content to remain relevant for as long as possible. If you are writing about topics that are linked to the present time, the likelihood is that they wont’t be interesting to anyone later on. Try to think about topics that are timeless, such as tips, guidelines, how to articles..and you will never be short of relevant content.

20. Recycle your existing content

It is a common misconception that content should only be used whilst it’s new and fresh and very often a few weeks later it’s completely forgotten. Re-use what you have even if it’s not new! Some of the blogs on here have gone viral months after they have been published and that’s only because they were shared by me at the first place. You will always be reaching different people and even if you share it with the person who already seen it before, the likelihood is that they have either forgotten or if it’s interesting enough they won’t mind to be reminded.

21. Be clever with titles

Titles determine whether you get your reader’s interest or not. No matter how good your content is – if you can’t catch their interest early on, chances are limited that readers will bother reading on. Think about how people think – use creative titles and keep them short. Focus on SEO and how likely is anyone to find the article based on its title.

22. Make it easy to read

Break your content down into paragraphs and use visuals where you can. Readers much prefer this to one long, text heavy paragraph. Use headings, subheadings and if you are providing tips, consider numbering them or using bullet points – they are much easier on the eye and will make it much easier for your readers to decide whether to read on or not.

23. Keep it regular

To keep you reader’s interest you should create original content regularly. This will help you improve your website traffic and brand exposure. But if you are really short of time it’s better not to write at all, as you might end up with content that is of poor quality and the impact could be more negative than not producing any.

24. Focus on SEO

Any copy that you write should follow your SEO guidelines, ensuring you are using all relevant words and tags to make your content easy to find. If you are not sure about how to, have a read here.

25. Make it easy to share

Use social media sharing buttons so your readers can easily share what they are reading. Always use visuals as this will make social sharing even more effective. But don’t just rely on your readers to share your content – use it to promote yourself regularly via social media.

PR

PR is a great way to promote your business to a large volume of readers, all at the same time. Especially with more and more publications taking the online route this opens up additional opportunities for global reach. It might be not particularly easy to track down the return on investment or capture all the readers, but will gradually help to build your brand within the readership of your target publications.

26. Get in touch

If you don’t ask, you will never know. What is the worst thing that can happen? They will say no – which is where you were before you asked anyway. Be upfront, open and provide a few points on how the journalist and the publication would benefit from publishing your article.  Bear in mind that journalists will receive a large number of enquiries so it is only those that stand out that will be read and potentially considered to get coverage.

27. Tell a good story

Everyone loves a good story – especially the media. Case studies, recent events – things that the readers can relate to are a great way to generate media interest. If you can also link to another recognised brand you have a double chance of coverage. Look at quirky, innovative angles that are relevant to the potential readers as they are much more likely to be picked up that the self-promoting, “stating the obvious” articles which provide zero value.

28. Make it relevant

The more readers can relate to your story the better. Look at real issues that your readers are likely to be facing and offer solutions. It is not just about analysing situations, but looking at the “so what can you do about it”. Provide insightful and practical advice people can use in their day to day life and the chances are that journalists will be keen to push this to get published.

29. Link to data

Everyone can talk, but it is really credible data that people believe. If you can link your story to recent research – either done by you or a third party, the article will also have a news factor which will make it twice as popular. Research, however is time sensitive so be sure to use up to date data.

30. Look at the bigger picture

When working in a certain industry, we naturally become fixated on that industry and we want to be seen in verticals other people in our industry would read. However, consider looking at broader business publications that reach a more varied readership and link your story to wider business issues. This will expand your reach and will demonstrate that you are able to see the bigger picture.

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