When I speak to students about business, I always make sure to point out that they just can’t sit by the phone and wait for the calls from prospective clients to pour in. This is when their eyes glaze over.
The worst argument I ever heard from a student in response to my talk on steps to market oneself was, “I thought I’d just get an agent.” It seems the teacher of the class gave the students that sage advice. I wonder how many took my advice and how long it took the others to realize that advice was sound. How many careers, I wonder, never took off at all.
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in – marketing is as important, if not more important, as what you know and how well you do it. There are horrid incompetents who do extremely well and talented people who go nowhere due to their marketing efforts, or lack thereof.
Some people believe that search engines will help people find them on the web and that’s true to a certain point but at its best, it won’t replace marketing. In any business, you need to encourage growth and new customers. Don’t wait for prospects to find you – go out and find them!
The question is – what kind of marketing tools do you need? The answer is not what tools are out there but what tools fit your business. Social media is free or costs less… well, can be cost effective in most cases. As with fresh, young students setting their first step into the business world, the challenge is knowing what to use, how to use it and what NOT to use.
Is Your Site Really Ready To Promote?
No matter what business you are in, you need to show your services, product(s) and in some cases, the price(s). What’s more, you need to do it quickly as people will spend less then a minute on your site if they are surfing several different competitors. Make sure your site has the most important information in the space that will come up when your site loads. If people have to scroll excessively or your navigation is difficult, then your site is weak and marketing will be a waste of time. Your site is the foundation of your marketing and it has to be strong and reliable.
Let’s say you have a great site and you’ve allowed a seasoned and talented designer or design team to create something great for you without mucking up the design by asking your 12 year-old niece, who won a fourth grade art contest at her school, for her opinion on the design and then forcing the designer to put in prancing glitter unicorn gifs all over your site. In other words, don’t tell your doctor how to remove a malignant growth by telling him/her that your seven year-old son plays the game, “Operation” and will be assisting during the operation. You will die! Have your niece help with design and the site and your business will die!
Aside from that, design blogs LOVE to spotlight the best and worst of web design. Under which label do you want your site appearing? It won’t help when people search out your site. Let a professional design and code your site. They want to do their best so you’re happy and keeping coming back for more as technology changes web applications and technology.
Do You Sell, Process Or Manufacture?
What is it your business does for customers? Do you sell hard goods through a store and an ecommerce site? Even if only through an ecommerce site, be sure, once again, to listen to your web designer so the proper SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will allow people surfing for your type of products will show up and best if they show up within the first page of a search and even better if they show up within the top five.
What else can you use for selling hard goods? By having a tight and focused Twitter following, you can announce new products, sales and specials. Twitter is your billboard and even though it’s free, you have to know the optimal times to post your tweets to catch peoples’ attention without multiple tweets to the point of aggravation to your followers.
When are the best times to tweet? According to an article in Forbes.com, “Twitter gets busiest between 9am and 3pm Monday through Thursday (EST).
An article on Mashable.com also uses the same information compiled by bit.ly (URL shortener and link tracking), writing, “the company revealed that posting links to Twitter between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. ET (or 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PT) will give you the highest click rank, especially on days earlier in the week. Meanwhile, sending a tweet with a link after 8:00 p.m. should be avoided — as should posting links after 3:00 p.m. on Fridays.
I disagree only on the basis of what they point to as “peak times.” I deal with a global clientele and followers, so I have to plan tweets for the same working hours in different time zones. I have noticed that even tweets at 2:00 a.m. (EST), have drawn responses from people in (PST) as well as those just starting their work day in western Europe as well as eastern Asia.
The key is to know your targeted audience, tweet at times they are most likely to see your tweet in their feed, which can fill up with 500 tweets within a minute, pushing yours far off the page. Tweet at optimal times, but not so much that your own tweets sent page looks like an endless list of the same tweet. Bit.ly, to its credit does note, “by understanding the simple characteristics of each social network, you can publish your content at exactly the right time for it to reach the maximum number of people.”
This also brings up the practice of mobile marketing. Have you made your site mobile friendly? If not, you are sorely behind the times and being left behind quickly. Think of it as jumping off a speedboat at night. Within 60 seconds you will be lost and either drown or be eaten by sharks… the sharks being your competition.
With a mobile site and mobile marketing to smart phones, an opt-in list will give you a willing audience who will read your messages sent directly to them. Better then a tweet, more ROI then email marketing and simple to maintain an active database.
SMS (Text) Marketing is the popular way of using mobile marketing as almost every single person is an active text user. Many of these people prefer texting to most other forms of communication and most people carry their mobile device with them at all times. With text marketing, you have the opportunity to contact multiple customers at the same time and they receive the message in real time. SMS message delivery can be guaranteed which makes it a preferred method to email in many instances and there is a greater open rate for texts as opposed to emails.
SMS marketing can also be “location-aware,” so that if a potential consumer is nearby, you can send them a coupon or make them aware of time-sensitive specials. Foursquare is a site/application that you should check out if you want to offer pop up specials and sales.
Developing an application that promotes your business to a mobile user is another great way to harness the growing power of mobile marketing. Mobile apps are one of the hottest items available and you could apply the same concept to mobile games as well. Any application that builds your brand into a potential buyer’s mobile experience is a great way to increase your business.
If you manufacture products, the same techniques apply. The main difference is you are marketing business to business. Mobile marketing will not fit your efforts as well as email marketing and print catalogs. If you specialize in small runs in, say a firm that manufactures promotional items, having a fan page on Facebook with Google ads (which are also good for retail sales) is quite effective.
If you sell services based on intellectual properties, such as web design, consulting or copywriting, there are different choices that must be made. Your site, naturally, must show samples of your work and contact information. Unlike ecommerce sites that show a product and the price, most freelance designers and photographers would rather field requests from prospective clients and price projects accordingly. There has been some discussion if it’s a good idea to actually offer a price list so people surfing for design services can see costs upfront. By the same token, although it commoditizes design work, it also offers upfront payments of 50% or higher before the work begins and terms of sale the customer must accept before the project proceeds.
A design firm in England has found a unique middle ground to this question. Promo Design hits the “process,” “value,” and samples of their work right up front on their home page. Their contact page asks the PROSPECT to layout all of their needs AND budget before the first contact is ever made. The pull down menu of budget will act to weed out the clients looking for a bargain but it still gives the salesperson at Promo a chance to negotiate the work and fee.
But how do you bring prospects to your site in the first place? Creatives tend to be drawn together in life and on social media. We follow other creatives, connect with them and spend an inordinate amount of time-sharing our work, dreams and disappointments. Misery does love company but how much time is spent on this commiseration as opposed to searching for solid business contacts?
When it comes to business, other designers aren’t the number one source of work for us as freelancers or referrals. The dark side of relying too much on connections with other designers is that they can sabotage others. People can be petty and the current financial and competitive environment is fierce. Learn to trust your own efforts!
While your trusted friends, whether designers or “normal” people, are great connections and should be treasured and nurtured, you need to seek out those who BUY your services.
LinkedIn is a purely business site for networking. It allows you to connect with some legitimate heavy hitters who buy creative services.
Build a list of a hundred dream clients. Search companies, identify the right people (not the CEO; try people who are in a position to book design projects) and build a list. Make sure you respond to every accepted connection with a personal note (via LinkedIn) to thank people for connecting with you and include your site URL for “more on me.”
LinkedIn has thousands of groups you can join and even more “questions” that you can answer for awards for “best answer.” Search for questions on marketing and answer how design helps marketing initiatives or advertising. Become an expert in the eyes and minds of possible leads who will need your services. There are some members of LinkedIn that like to give one-sentence answers that usually make no sense or don’t even address the question. They like to have the “most questions answered” title for all to see. Their reputations aren’t the best on the site so think quality and not quantity! Good, sound answers show others you are knowledgeable about your field. Building trust with prospects is an important step in gaining new clients.
Groups allow you to create closer connections with prospective clients. Are you going to join the “Lovers of Joomla” site or the “Small Business Marketing Ideas” group? The latter is filled with people who need your services. The idea of marketing yourself is to reach out to prospective clients, not to be friends with other creatives. Leave that for local design group bitch sessions. The biggest mistake a creative makes is failing to network which, in its most simple state, is sales or selling yourself and your service. If you attended a college or university for the art program, you will have an alumni group that will contain members that were not art students and they have businesses that need design services. So, why not urge them to use a fellow graduate? Surely you talked to other people at that school… right?
Were you a member of a fraternity or sorority? Your brothers and sisters are no doubt members of a LinkedIn group. If not, then start a group. Starting a group puts you in charge and number one in the spotlight.
Both LinkedIn and Twitter have intuitive feedback that help you connect, join groups, hashtag to hot trends and see who is following you or viewing your profile. Use this information to connect with the right people who will become clients and customers.
Blogging is a great way to reach prospects but very labor intensive. This is why many firms start to ignore their blogs – they don’t want to have an employee using their time to update the content or pay for someone to dedicate the time and effort. I have several clients that pay me to write blog posts for them. The big danger with a blog is having it show that it hasn’t been updated for months or over a year. It reflects badly on you and your company. Update it at least once a week, even if it’s just one little blurb. Ignore it and it is a blot on your company’s ability to keep up with marketing, which is not a good sign in our business.
We are in a Googled world of information flying left and right. With sites like Stumbleupon and Digg, just to name two, and aggregators by the hundreds, your blog will cross someone’s path at some point, either via a shared link, Facebook “like,” or just showing up in a search for some odd term. The key is to bring that person BACK to your blog again and again.
While the internet offers many ways to connect with other people, don’t forget another effective marketing tool – face-to-face networking. You are more likely to do business with people who have met you in person then any other way. The old tried and true firm handshake and confident smile still works.
What Fits Your Needs?
All of the avenues mentioned in this article are dovetailed to work together. One is not better than the others and some just may not be necessary for what you want to accomplish. Any small business needs to advertise, market, brand and reach out to prospective clients. Target your clients and go after them. The idea is to use what works best for your needs, keep at it and make everything count towards gaining clients and business. When using social media or any active marketing solution, be sure you can dedicate the proper time and effort to keep at it. It’s better to have one active and effective marketing outreach then to have six that go nowhere.