Small business marketers walk a narrow path. On one side, they have to get results to keep their companies going.
On the other side, they have miniscule marketing budgets; according to the 2016 State of Small Business Report, 63 percent of them spend less than seven 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.
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It focuses on building long-term mutually beneficial relationships rather than securing a quick sale, and according to the State of Inbound from HubSpot, it's the primary marketing tactic used by 84 percent of small businesses. 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 is pretty good at it. 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.
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Inbound marketing can involve a mix of old school and digital tools; magazines, how-to-do-it brochures, YouTube videos, educational blog posts, ebooks, webinars, newsletters, speeches and more.
How to Do It
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 them? 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'll 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 everything together on your potential customers and website, you can 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
- 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
- Start collecting email addresses and create an email newsletter
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Once you start communicating, you need to start evaluating as well. Check to see what content methods are working best and cull out the ones that aren't getting results. Inbound marketing is going to take some patience; remember that it takes time to build relationships. It usually takes six months to a year before you see any traction. Throw in a little 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. View your inbound marketing as an investment. It’s best to be patient while it grows, and to view it as an asset, not an overhead cost.