This is a common question, and an important one when you’re trying to build a new brand and create a business from nothing. You’ll have limited time, money and people on the one hand, but you’ll be impatient to get big results and fast.
Rather than buying followers or running other dodgy activities that will get you fast but superficial results at the long-term expense of your business, you need to make sure that you are focusing on getting the fundamentals of your business in place. With the basic structure set up, you can build on this and see some great results in both the short and long term.
Getting clear on your strategy
As always, your first port of call is your strategy. What’s the bigger ‘why’ of your business, what’s your purpose? What are your specific objectives? What are you trying to achieve and by when? Who is your target audience and what do you know about them? What problem are you solving?
If you jump into execution, if you start designing a website and creating social media pages without any strategy in place, you’re likely to end up with a fragmented mess that fails to build a cohesive online presence for you and your brand. A poorly designed website that links to ten different social profiles, each one half-heartedly put together and abandoned after the first week, can be worse than not having anything at all.
Where will you focus your limited resources? What is the purpose and role of each element in your marketing plan? What products and services are you providing and where? What action do you want your potential customer to take? What’s the ‘path to purchase’? Having a clear objective and an understanding of your target audience will help you to focus your attention where it matters.
[See also this post on How to Identify Your Target Audience.]
Creating a website at the core of your ecosystem
When it comes to having an online presence, the first place to start will nearly always be your website. This is the hub for your content, it’s the one place where you 100% own the platform and you control the message and its delivery.
Your website should have a simple but unique domain name; the layout should be responsive, i.e. it should adapt to the screen size of different devices; and it should contain the key content laid out in a simple and intuitive navigation. Try to think longer term, i.e. think of how your business will grow – but don’t get too ambitious too soon. It’s fine to start with something basic, don’t go overboard with a complex custom design as you’ll most likely need to change it soon as your business evolves. Design with your objective in mind: Do you need to be able to sell products on your site? Do you want to direct people to an offline store? Do you want to collect people’s email addresses? The answers to these questions will determine how you set up your site.
With your website as the hub of your business, you can direct people here via your business cards, email signature, LinkedIn profile, and so on and people will have a quick and effective way of understanding who you are and what you stand for. A website that’s not mobile friendly, is poorly designed and doesn’t appear on the first page of Google search results is going to do nothing for your business or, worse, will be detrimental.
Creating content to win with Google and your customers
Content will be at the heart of everything you do on your website and beyond. What’s your core brand message? What do you want to stand for? What do you want to be known for? What do you want to write about, talk about, engage people on? What parts of your personal story are relevant here?
Of course, these questions represent only one side of the coin. The most effective content for you to create will sit in the sweet spot between what you as a brand want to talk about and what your customers are looking for. Publishing relevant and engaging content that meets customer needs will help you to rank highly in Google results and become a go-to resource for your target audience.
To find out what your customers want, you can use tools like Google Keyword Planner to review their search queries, you can find studies online, and sometimes you can simply talk to them! Find ways to answer their questions, solving their problems with your content. Can you write ‘how-to’ articles or step-by-step guides? Can you share your own personal experiences? Is there a ‘behind-the-scenes’ angle that can add interest? Creating different types of content, from broader lifestyle themes down to the detailed product information, will ensure that you have plenty to talk about on your site and on your social networks.
[For ideas on how to create content with the limited resources at your disposal, read Content Marketing: 5 Easy Wins for Small Businesses.]
Choosing the best social media channels
It’s easy to be tempted by the newest shiny thing, and to want to be present anywhere, but spreading yourself too thin is a recipe for being completely ineffective. Choose 2-3 key platforms where you will focus your energy and activity.
The platforms you choose will depend on a few things, including your target audience and where they hang out – e.g. you might choose to be on Snapchat and Instagram for a Millennial target – and the type of content you are creating – e.g. if you create a lot of video then YouTube might be a good platform, if you’re confident being spontaneous and articulate on camera you might publish on Facebook live or on Periscope, if your business is in food and you can take a lot of beautiful images you might consider Instagram and Pinterest. If you’re really not sure, then Facebook is usually a good place to start – almost everyone is on Facebook!
Once you’ve chosen your 2-3 networks, you want to first of all set them up beautifully, creating cover images and profile pictures in the correct dimensions, filling in all the information fields, and so on; then you’ll want to create a publishing calendar whereby you stick to a schedule of posting regularly and consistently. Remember that it’s not just about marketing your product, social media is a two-way conversation with your potential or existing customers and you need to engage them on broader content themes with a more general lifestyle approach.
Amplifying your content via paid advertising and partnerships
Building your credibility and thought leadership via SEO, blog posting and social media engagement can be incredibly effective; it can also be quite slow. If you want to give your online presence a quick boost, you’re going to want to set aside a budget for promoting your content and platforms.
Facebook ads are one of the easier options to get your head around and you can easily set up a campaign to drive likes of your Facebook page or traffic to your website. You might also consider Google ads, pushing specific messages to well targeted audiences based on the search terms they are using. In this way, you can make sure that you are serving your ads only to people who are actively looking for what you are offering.
Another option to get some fast reach is to partner with someone who already has a big following. This might be a celebrity – probably a local celebrity rather than an A-lister, since we’re talking small budgets here – or simply an influencer in the industry, maybe a blogger or a specific media outlet in your industry. Try to offer something of value in return, perhaps an exclusive offer for their readers, or coverage on your own blog. PR coverage can also help here, but it’s not going to be a panacea.
If you’d like individual support on your specific business, you can book a 1:1 consulting session via the Clarity platform.