Whether you’re setting up a new business and deciding how best to reach your customers, or are at the helm of an established firm in need of a marketing review, the absolute first thing to do is to accurately identify your target audience. Without this, your efforts – not to money – can end up wasted.
Once clear on your audience, you need a brand – your company’s identity. Unless you’re an expert, you’ll probably need to employ a designer or engage an agency to work on your branding. It’s a common mistake to believe that this is a good area to save money: in reality, it’s an expensive thing to get wrong – done well, you’ll be able, and even benefit from, using the same branding for years. Done badly, you’ll have to pay again to have it redone or, worse still, you’ll be stuck with it and it will be an uphill struggle getting prospective customers to engage with you.
With a logo and branding in place, the next major step is getting your website up and running. Generally speaking, if a website is not business critical, i.e. is not ecommerce, it is possible to get a good website up and running relatively cheaply. Talk to other businesses to find out who they’ve used – using recommendation and referrals is often the best way to find excellent service at a price that fits your budget. Investing your time in doing this will pay dividends: statistics suggest you have just two seconds in which to engage a visitor on your site.
If yours is an ecommerce website, it’s going to cost a bit more to get it done properly. Making the best possible first impression is even more important here: a good first impression could lead to a sale, a bad one could lose you a customer. What’s more, visitors to this kind of site aren’t just judging the look of your site and the suitability of your product or service, but also how secure they feel using it to make a purchase. Functionality is key with an ecommerce site, and you need to ensure you’re set up on a well-known platform, so that third party integrations and data management are well catered for.
When it comes to web site design, the best way to keep costs down is to be clear and concise with your brief, and be explicit about your budget. Making sure you and your design agency agree on the desired outcome will avoid spiralling costs.
Using something like Google Analytics will allow you to track how many visitors your site gets, and have some insight into what they do when they get there. It’s free, and all you’ll need to get started is a Google account. It’s also possible to track how many visitors to your site become paying customers, and which pages are performing best. Armed with your Google account, you’ll also have access to AdWords, Google’s paid advertising platform. While this can seem a cheap option, the hidden intricacies this type of advertising can make it difficult to get a good return on investment unless you engage a third party to run your campaign professionally.
Arguably the best long term plan for digital marketing is to optimise your website to appear high in the search engine rankings when relevant words are searched. This is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). SEO is made up of three parts – technical SEO, on-page optimisation and off-page optimisation. If you have the time, this is something you can do yourself, but you need to be prepared to dedicate time to understanding the nuances of the trade.
SEO is not a quick answer; it tends to take six months before you can expect to see any meaningful results, depending on the competitiveness of the market, but, in the long-term, it does provide lasting results. It is crucial to pick the right phrases to focus on, as you need to be sure that you are putting your energy into phrases that you’ll see conversions from.
The local and industry press can be a fantastic place to start to spread the word if you’re looking at off-line marketing. If you have a story to tell, there is a good chance the local press will be happy to cover it, and it won’t cost you a penny.
Partnering with other businesses can also be a very cost-effective marketing method. A reciprocal arrangement where you and a partner company benefit from promoting each other’s businesses, even if only to existing customers, can pay real dividends, and needn’t cost anything at all.
Joining business networking groups, which are often free or very cheap, can be a great way to generate brand awareness, and to learn from your peers’ successes and failures, while developing a network of contacts who could refer prospective customers to you.
Think carefully about what you can do yourself to promote your business without breaking the bank, but also admit if something is beyond your capabilities (or available time) – a penny spent now can save a pound spent later.
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