By Flying Solo contributor Cath Connell
We live in exciting times! New technologies have made it so easy to grow your dream business by providing low-cost and potentially powerful ways to connect with your audience – often without having to leave the comfort of your office (or dining table)! No longer do we have to rely on expensive, broadcast advertising, nor make those dreaded cold calls.
But the rise of social media as a marketing solution can also lure the unwary business owner into a bit of trap… relying solely on these platforms to create the vital connections that will help them build a healthy business.
Offering a low cost, highly-targeted marketing solution, social media has become a key focus in the majority of today’s business marketing plans. But it comes with its risks. Not only is the potential effect on your productivity (who hasn’t fallen into a social media time-sucking vortex every so often?), most platforms have sophisticated algorithms designed to maximise their profits and keep you coming back – which leaves you very much in the hands of their ever-evolving whims. Analysing your data to optimise your reach, navigating the latest changes to their ad platform, and creating a gazzilion different forms of content to keep up with new algorithm preferences, is a full-time job in itself. And if they suddenly shut up shop, what do you do then? (Anyone remember MySpace??)
So what should you do instead?
Here are few marketing basics that will ensure your business has a strong foundation for growth, no matter what our beloved social media platforms throw at us!
Word-of-mouth marketing is still the most effective form of marketing there is. In fact, I know plenty of businesses who survive almost solely on it – no live videos, no pretty Instagram feeds, often no website! A successful “tradie” friend of mine doesn’t even have a business card! As a marketing specialist, I don’t particularly recommend this approach, but it’s worth remembering that it IS possible to run a successful business without being across every new marketing trend.
Tell EVERYONE you know what you do, even if it’s just a basic outline. Some of my best referrals have come from personal friends, not just my business network.
Network strategically. Going to a big networking event might give you the opportunity to meet new people and exchange a lot of business cards, but good referrals tend to come from closer relationships. Personally I prefer smaller community-type networking groups where we move regularly between in-person and online interactions. Give your time and expertise freely with your chosen community and be absolutely genuine in your referrals of others – not just because there is an expectation for cross-referrals.
Take the time to build a few key connections and regularly touch base with them, so you have a good understanding of how you can help build each others’ businesses. You’ll probably develop some close friendships in the process!
ALWAYS look after your existing customers. Follow up their enquiries promptly and be kind and courteous when dealing with any problems or challenges that arise. If appropriate, include them in your process of developing new products or services. Let them know if you can help them with other products or solutions that they are not currently buying from you, and remember to ask them for referrals too. If you would like them to write a testimonial, give them a helping hand by letting them know what areas you would like them to highlight. In short, love them to bits… after all, it’s much easier to keep an existing customer than find a new one.
Make sure you thank your referral partners when you secure new business. You could consider set up a formal arrangement where you take a finder’s fee or affiliate payment. Personally I prefer to send (and receive) a phone call, card or small gift. It feels more warm and personal and helps build our long-term relationship, rather than being just a business transaction.
As we well know, people buy from brands they know, like and trust. A great way to cover all these bases is to provide your community with useful and relevant content – an answer to their most basic problems, a new way to experience your product, or something that brightens their day. If you’re active on social media, you are probably already doing this.
However, it’s very easy for people to scroll through Instagram liking the pretty pictures, watch a video or live post, or throw in a few comments on Facebook, but it’s fairly low involvement. If you’re spending all this time and energy creating quality content, you want to get a return on your investment.
If you’re not linking your content back to your website, you are missing out on giving people the opportunity to get to know you better, find out what you do, and more importantly, buy from you! So whenever possible include a call to action on your posts – whether that be a “read more” link to a blog post on the subject, a button at the end of your video, an invitation to find out more about your product or service, or a promotion for your opt-in offer. You won’t always get a response, but it will be far more likely if you ASK.
Building your social media following and communicating with them in a closed group is a perfect way to build a strong connection with your audience, but this data doesn’t belong to you – the platform has all the control and YOU are their product.
So it’s important to make sure that you regularly invite your followers to join your mailing list, perhaps enticing them with a suitable opt-in freebie, competition or an exclusive offer with a traceable discount code.
Ensure you keep good records of your existing and potential customers, so that you can contact them on YOUR terms. You don’t have to set up a complex Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, at least not to start with. Often a simple spreadsheet will do, so long as you have the information you need stored where it is easily accessible.
When you meet new people at networking events, ask them if they’d like to keep in touch with you through your e-newsletter, in addition to following you on social media. If an event attendee list is provided, NEVER bulk-add them to your list – this is not only spammy – it’s illegal!
Also remember that even if someone agrees to be added to your list, this is not permission to constantly blast them with promotional messages. Email marketing is a great way to build TRUST, so it needs to be relevant, helpful and considerate of your audience’s time. Being invited into a person’s Inbox is a special privilege, and while most people will tolerate a little bit of promotion, they will quickly lose trust in you if you’re constantly in their faces. And once someone unsubscribes, they’re gone!
We are fortunate today that there are many ways to connect with our audiences. In fact there so many options, they can feel overwhelming. This is often the reason why small business owners spend all their marketing energy using only one or two options.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that somewhere out there, there are people who are DESPERATE to know that you can solve their problem, but don’t yet know you exist… you don’t want to let them down, do you?
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