When it comes to marketing your business online, sometimes it can feel like you are beating your head against the wall. You may be making a significant effort to build up your online presence; you may even be spending a lot of money. But for all of that, things just don’t seem to be moving- or at least, not moving enough. With all the noise, all the platforms, all the tools, all the experts out there claiming to have the answer to your burning Internet marketing questions, it’s little wonder why.
But, the truth is that Internet marketing is not hard. If you know what to focus on, and how to focus on it, and where you should really be spending your precious time and money, then all the complexity falls away, and the process will become a whole lot simpler.
Why Does Internet Marketing Seem to Be Such a Challenge?
It’s no secret that many smaller businesses are still reluctant to market their products and services online. Though there are many reasons behind this phenomenon, I’ve found that it usually boils down to a kind of confusion regarding how social media and other online platforms can really help their business and where these business owners see themselves fitting into the picture. Usually, such confusion is met with a litany of well-worn ideas and phrases from well-meaning peers or IM professionals looking for business:
“It will help you to build your brand.”
“You can engage with your customers.”
“You can establish your credibility and expertise.”
“Reach hundreds (or thousands) of potential clients.”
But, these “fluffy” explanations and reasons often only add to the confusion.
But wait, there’s more…
Have you noticed that your online marketing to-do list just keeps growing and growing? For example…
A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a post about the new G+ commenting system. In the comments section, I mentioned the observation that content creation is becoming more dynamic. It’s as much about the real-time conversation and engagement happening around the content as it is the content itself…
Or, the other week, I saw this interview with Mike Volpe from Hubspot, who talks about the importance of not only creating quality content, but putting it in the right context of a personalized experience…
And then there was a video from Gary Vaynerchuk, who argues quality versus quantity: why not both? His main point is a good one: massive content creation is already happening, and you’ll have a better chance of being seen and heard the more “everywhere” you are. He’s right. But, then again, he can say that; he’s got a camera guy following him around all day to capture his thoughts.
So what are we left with here?
To market yourself or your business successfully online you need to be producing quality content, at a significant quantity, have it precisely targeted to your market in a way that gets more personalized as the relationship proceeds, and try to make your response as close to real-time as possible.
These same messages are currently being plastered all of the Internet as we speak.
But realize that there is a lot of hype out there. Realize also that the proper way to market you business online is going to be highly specific to your business model, your industry, your customers, and the unique talents, skills, and personalities of you and your employees, as well as your available resources to dedicate to the process.
As much as your to-do list may seem to be growing, a lot of it can probably be cut out. Forget about trying to do more: more content, more engagement, more social media… Even if you are successfully marketing yourself online, chances are pretty good that you can be doing things simpler and smarter
The Zen of Internet Marketing
To start with, try answering the following five questions. But, here’s the deal, you have to go through them in order because they build on each other. I know they may seem basic, but they are really the key to success with online marketing, and most small business owners leave this process out. If you can’t thoroughly answer each one off the top of your head, then you should really be re-evaluating your Internet marketing efforts:
1. What you are trying to accomplish with your online marketing? Now this a big question that really has a two-part answer. There are your primary goals and objectives, such as “to increase sales and leads” or “to bring more people to my shop,” and then there are the smaller goals that will be attached to each, specific marketing campaign, such as “get people to subscribe to my list” or “bring people to my site where they can request a phone consultation.”
2. Look at the online platforms and communities you are involved in (or are considering). What do they allow you to do? If you are in touch with your goals above, then you will have an easier time determining if a given platform will help you achieve those goals, and how exactly it will do that.
3. Which one or two online platforms do you primarily focus on? Why? Are you taking a smorgasbord approach to online marketing? Unless you’ve got the marketing budget of a Fortune 500 company, you just can’t afford to be throwing away your resources like that. Spreading yourself too thin online (or anywhere else) is never a good thing. Pick one or two main platforms to focus on, places where you know you are going to get the best results, and let everything else be automated or updated only periodically. For example, if you need to promote your products and services to other businesses, then LinkedIn would likely be a place to invest in as the platform is set up to achieve such goals.
4. Are there people in your network who can help you out? Everyone talks about relationships these days, but few are an example of how to build them properly. The truth is that aligning yourself with other people or businesses, is a key element to really being successful online. But, realize that aligning yourself with others is much more than sending a connection request or commenting on their blog. You have to remember that there are real people behind those online profiles. If you are not doing any off-line networking, then you will have to work even harder to keep this in mind. If you head into the relationship looking for what you have to give, not just what you want to gain, then you’ll go far.
5. Do you know what tools and services to use? Once you know what you want to accomplish and where you need to go to do that, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right online tools and services in place to help you get there. This is important; it can really make or break many of your initiatives online, so don’t skimp too much in this area. If, for example, you are a heavy LinkedIn user, it may pay to opt for the Pro version. If you are targeting Twitter, then tools like Tweet Adder, may be something to consider. Working on your email subscriber list? In that case, AWeber or the OptinSkin plugin may be invaluable. Managing multiple social media accounts or profiles, then Hootsuite may be the right tool for you.
In short, Internet marketing does not have to be the scary monster hiding under the bed. All it takes is a little focus and some real understanding about what Internet marketing can do for you. If you head into the process in the right way, many things will simply fall into place, and you’ll be in a position to capitalize on your online marketing efforts. There’s nothing overwhelming about that!