May 2, 2019 Last updated May 1st, 2019 1,216 Reads share

4 Things I Wish I Knew About Marketing My Small Business Years Ago

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Marketing a small business is incredibly difficult for most.  In fact, as web-based e-commerce sales have continued to increase over time, sales have become more and more difficult.  Many categories which were once open for new business now feature a mix of well-established brands, as well as, venture-backed competitors.

Affiliate Sales Are Hard:

When we first opened, affiliate sales seemed like a panacea of sorts.  We’d simply pay a commission based on a sale, but only the first sale! After that, we’d keep it all for ourselves.  Over time, I found out a few things about running an affiliate program:

  • It’s hard to recruit good affiliates.
  • There’s a lot of shady affiliates out there.
  • It’s hard to know who the next great affiliate in your space is going to be.

Because of all of those challenges, we tried hiring an affiliate manager.  After all, my day to day life running my business is insane enough already and some affiliates need substantial hand holding or want it.  Unfortunately, many of the large affiliate managers tend to work only with significant businesses, so they didn’t drive many sales for us.  Luckily, there’s any number of great guides available right here at Tweak Your Biz, from asking yourself if affiliate marketing is right for your business to using your affiliate program to grow your business.

There’s a number of good affiliate networks out there, some with more elaborate offerings than others.  We’re a member at Share a Sale and have been happy with it.  Is it perfect?  It’s close enough to be well worth the $650 setup fee and the ongoing $25 per month price point.

While there are definitely challenges with growing your affiliate program, I wish we had put in a better effort to do so from the start.

Blogging Depends on Keyword Research (Or Should):

When we first opened our doors, we wrote a lot about wine and the wine industry. A LOT.  We were writing about stuff that winemakers talked about.  The changing ratios in GSM blends in California as an example.  What we found a year or two in though, is that (unsurprisingly, looking back) is that no consumers were looking for that same information.

So now, when I blog for my business, I take a more data-driven approach.  Instead of writing what I find interesting, I write about things that people are actually searching for, no matter how basic they seem at first gasp.

Learning how to do effective keyword research wasn’t easy and it does admittedly cost us a $99 per month ahrefs subscription to help.  But, when you find a simple keyword that can rank on Google’s first page for a search term with a few thousand searches As an example, the core of my business is my wine club and the subscription revenue that it generates.

I write about the wines that I ship every month, but those are generally small production wines that most consumers have never heard of.  That’s literally the entire point of my business, to deliver wine that people cannot otherwise find.

But, no one has heard of those wines, so no one is searching for them.  Now, every week my wife and I grab 2 wines at our local grocery store to review.  The only rule is that we have to have seen them other places as well.  So I review wines that all wine drinkers and consumers are familiar with, like the Apothic Red as an example.  The amazing thing, there are close to twenty thousand monthly searches for a review of this wine!

This is the kind of keyword research that could make any company blog a success.  Find what people are looking for and make sure to write about that stuff, in addition to what makes your company unique.

Online Video is Exploding:

Over the past few years, online video has gone mainstream. Even as it has almost completely penetrated the market, it’s growth has continued.  That’s also likely to continue as the online video folks continue both sapping away customers from cable, but also, directing them to their other web properties in the process.

As an example, if you subscribe to Youtube TV, you’ll see suggestions on Youtube directly on your tv set.  Some people will take those suggestions without realizing, or caring that they’re headed to a different platform.

Digital Video Growth in America

As a small business owner, I wish I understood what was about to happen in online video.  There are challenges, of course, it’s difficult to produce high-quality video at an affordable price point.  But, there are so many success stories.  A quick example from my wine niche, Gary Varnerchuck rode some interesting wine tasting videos, as well as an inherited wine store and a couple of in house video editors.

Social Media Clicks Are Easy, Sales Hard:

When we opened, we had a budget for social media advertisements. Ok, well we started on Google, but we quickly learned that paying $6 or more per click was a losing proposition.  Especially when our budget was like $5 a day.

On Facebook, that same budget gave us a good number of clicks.  We even were able to build a fairly substantial following to our Facebook page, well over a thousand people, which dwarfed our number of customers by a long shot.

What we found though, was that while consumers were on Facebook, they weren’t there to buy stuff.  They were there to share cat videos, pictures of their kids and see how their neighbor in 4th grade turned out at the doctor.

Wordstream says that advertising on FB has doubled in 18 months, which seems about right.  Prices are tracking the same route.

Currently, that’s leading many consultants to suggest Instagram.  Of course, with Instagram, the rub is, that your brand has to be Instagram-worthy right?  That can be easier said than done if you’re selling something like auto parts. Bplans has a nice guide on the setup and the execution of a high-quality Instagram account for a small business. There’s also an outstanding guide right here on Tweak Your Biz as well.

I hope you’ve learned a little something from the things that I felt that I did wrong at the beginning of building my business.  It’s never easy to build a small business, especially from scratch, but it’s an exciting process none the less.


Mark Aselstine

Mark Aselstine

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