Sat, Jun

Marketing on a budget

Get yourself noticed via this DIY guide to how to make your business known from the Forum of Small Business.

Investing in a proper marketing strategy is essential if you don’t want to let your business stagnate. Here at the Forum for Small Business, we have seen a definite post-recession shift in mood among the small companies which make up our membership. During the worst of the slump in 2008 and 2009, they concentrated all their energies on cost-cutting and survival. However, over the course of the last year, our research found that many of our members were starting to look for help and guidance with their marketing strategies because business was flatlining and they wanted to increase sales and expand.

 In order to address this need, we formed a partnership with a company called nxo, which specialises in marketing support for SMEs and has a presence across the UK. We also provide members with free advice on how they can get to grips with the basics of marketing, and in this article we provide some pointers focused around low-cost marketing tactics.

The term ‘marketing’ can be something of a dirty word in the small business community. It is an area that is often viewed with suspicion by business owners and seen as something of a ‘dark art’ that is riddled with vagueness and confusion – and it’s difficult to always quantify the return on investment. As a result, small firms can be reluctant to invest their time and money into an effective marketing strategy.

However, marketing is simply about making the maximum number of potential customers aware of your services, and with so much diversification into new markets and customer-bases in the wide-format print sector, its crucial if you intend to stay ahead of the game - keep up with your competitors, strengthen your relationship with your existing customers, and advertise your business to new customers.

Yes, it is often hard to precisely and tangibly quantify the effectiveness of marketing techniques and campaigns, as you can with other areas of investment like new machinery and staff. However, thanks mainly to the internet, there are many things small firms can now do which will greatly increase awareness of their services at little or no cost. And of course, this is especially needed at present when costs related to things like raw materials, utilities and taxes continue to rise, without the accompanying surge in economic activity to offset them.

1. Use Google Insights. Find out what key words and phrases your potential customers are typing into Google in order to find the products and services you provide. This can be done for absolutely nothing through ‘Google Insights’ – simply type this term into the search engine and you’ll be presented with Google’s own guide on how to use it.

By using Google Insights, you will discover crucial information on the numbers of people searching for particular things. From this, you can then make sure your website is worded in the right way in order to attract the right customers – for example changing from referring to yourself as ‘printer in Doncaster’ to ‘printing services in Doncaster’ may bring about a huge increase in relevant web traffic, and a useful decrease in people asking your price for the latest HP Officejet!

2. AdWords vs SEO. Familiarise yourself with the differences between Google’s ‘Adwords' service and the wider concept of search engine optimisation (often abbreviated to SEO). AdWords campaigns are paid-for listings on the Google results page. The most expensive AdWords ads appear at the top of the page (a maximum of three results) and down the right hand side of the free, ‘organic’ search results.

With AdWords, you set a budget and then pay per visit to your site, so this is described as ‘pay per click' advertising. The advantage is that you can drive visitors to your site within an hour and compete with the big boys. The disadvantage is that Adwords can be expensive and if you are unsure of what you are doing, you can spend a small fortune finding out what works and what doesn't – you need to convert a certain ratio of the traffic to your site into customers in order to make it viable.

Search engine optimisation does not involve paying for listings and instead, concentrates on getting your website to the top of the free, organic search results when someone types in the relevant search terms. The organic listings are generally perceived as being more trustworthy than AdWords listings and don’t incur a direct cost, but to stay in the top rankings, you will need to spend a fair bit of time – and therefore money - on a regular basis.

3. Go organic. Get your website’s search engine optimised so it appears high up in the organic listings. To do this, you need a well written and regularly updated website that contains the keywords for your business, which you’ll have discovered from Google Insights.

4. What’s in a name? Make sure the title of your site contains your keywords. These are more important than your company name, so choose domain names wisely. Can you find any that contain your product or service? If you can get them for only a few pounds a year it would be a very wise investment. There are many domain-checking services available, so do a quick search online.

5. Link up with friends. Try to get some other websites that are relevant to your business to create links back to yours. You will need to do the same for them - this term is called ‘reciprocal linking'. Google looks at this favourably, with every site that links back to yours being considered a vote for your site. A good volume of internal linkage (i.e., providing relevant links from one page of your site to another) is also thought to help.

6. Move it. Good content is critical, so make sure your website is well-written, relevant and regularly updated. It may seem obvious, but try to make your site as interesting as possible, so that your visitor feels compelled to come back. Static, unchanging websites tend to be left behind by Google.

7. Bring the outside in. Consider bringing in external help with marketing yourself online. I know this point does contradict the rest of the article, but if you can afford it, intensive search engine optimisation and Internet promotion is the equivalent of having a salesperson working 24/7 for your business. What would you pay to have a full time salesperson?

8. Show your touchy, feely side. Prove to customers that your business has a human side by keeping a blog. Blogging might not be for everyone, but the benefits to your business can be considerable. A blog can help increase your credibility in your marketplace – creating a perception of you as an ‘industry expert’ – and it’s also a quick and easy way to get more content on your website and insert key words and phrases, to help with search listings.

Blogs are also a way to get across your personality, which helps build relationships with potential customers. This often gives you an edge over bigger competitors who lack a single, charismatic figurehead. Many small businesses have also successfully used blogs to provide free technical support to customers or a hub for them share knowledge – this builds up goodwill towards your business and builds trust, which ultimately makes people more likely to buy or continue buying from you.

Also, much of the most popular blogging technology, such as Blogger or WordPress, is free and easy to set up.

9. Use the power of the press. Get to know your local reporter. If you operate on a local level, make yourself known to journalists on your local newspapers or presenters at your local radio stations.

Despite the advancement of internet-based media in recent years, more traditional forms of journalism like local newspapers and radio stations still command sizeable audiences. So if you can be of use to them, perhaps by putting yourself forward as a local expert in your industry or in any other areas you might hold an interest in, you’ll benefit from some useful free publicity that will raise your local profile and also create a perception of authority and trustworthiness.

The of course there’s always the trade press. Contact the editor if you have a story or comment that you think might interest others in your sector.

The Forum of Small Business (www.fpb.org) can be contacted on 0845 130 1722 or via email at info@fpb.org

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