Small business marketers are forced to walk a fine line. On one hand, they must get results to keep their companies going. On the other hand, they have miniscule marketing budgets; according to the 2016 State of Small Business Report, 63 percent of small businesses spend less than 7 percent of their revenue on marketing.
Because of this push and pull between getting results and not overpaying for them, it’s not surprising so many small companies are trying their hand at inbound marketing. The inbound marketing approach isn’t about running ads or making sales pitches; it’s about creating content to educate and engage potential customers. It focuses on building long-term mutually beneficial relationships rather than securing a quick sale. It’s cost effective, and it works.
It’s also been around for a long time; companies have been doing it for decades.
Agriculture leader John Deere has a great approach. Their journal, “The Furrow”, was launched in the mid-80s and has an avid online and print readership. It’s also responsible for a good chunk of the company’s continued sales. However, the magazine doesn’t sell a single thing; it merely educates John Deere audiences about the agricultural-related topics they want to learn about. No sales pitches whatsoever.
Inbound marketing can involve a mix of old school and digital tools; magazines, how-to brochures, YouTube videos, educational blog posts, ebooks, webinars, newsletters, speeches and more.
How to Get Started
The process for inbound marketing follows that for other marketing approaches. Start with research and then create a plan. Identify your ideal customers first. These are the people you want to reach with your inbound marketing. Ask yourself a few questions about this group:
- What information do they want from your organization? They don’t care about the features of your products or services, and they don’t care about sales pitches. They want information that benefits them. Can your business expertise help them solve a problem?
- What communication outlets reach customers? Think about the print publications they read, the social media outlets they use, the kinds of videos they like on YouTube. These are the outlets you must use to share your content.
You also need to examine your business’ communication resources. First and foremost, you need a website. It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles, but it does need to have information about your business, the products or services you offer, location, and contact information. Nothing destroys credibility faster than typos, bad grammar and poor photos, so make sure your text and images look professional.
Please note that “professional” doesn’t mean expensive. You don’t need to hire a website developer to create your site; WordPress offers many free and user-friendly templates that look great, and they also offer easy-to-use plugins for that can help with search engine optimization.
Once you have you have a solid foundation, you are ready to start creating and promoting content. Remember, you’re teaching, not selling.
Consider doing things such as:
- Writing a weekly blog post for your business’ website
- Sharing your blog post on the social media platforms your audience uses
- Sharing helpful stories from your business social media accounts. Make sure these stories have a tie to your business or industry and are relevant to your audience.
- Writing an article for your local newspaper or for someone else’s blog
- Designing an infographic
- Being a guest on a podcast or developing your own podcast
- Filming a how-to video for YouTube
- Creating an online course that can be shared from your website
- Conducting a “lunch and learn” speech for a local civic organization
- Make sure you are collecting email addresses and send an email newsletter
Once you start communicating, you need to start evaluating as well. Check to see what content methods are working best and drop the ones that aren’t getting results. Inbound marketing is going to take some patience; remember that it takes time to build relationships. It generally takes six months to a year before you see any traction. Throw in some traditional advertising to “prime the pump” while your inbound efforts rev-up.
All of this might seem like a lot of work, and in all honesty, inbound marketing will keep you busy. That is the plan! View your inbound marketing as an investment. Be patient while it grows, and view the results as an asset, not an overhead cost.