To a small business owner that already has a million things to get right, the online landscape can be a very confusing and intimidating space.
Especially when just starting out, and in an effort to direct startup funds to what they perceive as more deserving and worthwhile areas, many new small business owners will tend to place less emphasis on their online marketing tasks.
In this article we’ll take a look at 5 of the top Internet marketing mistakes that small businesses make when coming online, and also what to do to fix them.
#1. Free is Good, But Not Great
There are lots of ways to build a web presence, and many of them are free or extremely cheap to get up and running. This may seem like a good thing when money is tight in the beginning and being allocated for all sorts of other expenses, but building your online home on a poor foundation can only lead to troubles down the line.
Free site builders like Wix, Weebly, or WordPress are great for certain applications, but in the long run I believe you’d be better off buying a domain name and securing hosting on your own.
I realize that these platforms have a path to upgrade to paid versions, and that you can build some pretty fancy looking sites using their drag-and-drop tools. But unless you’re a tech wizard already, are you really up for learning how to use new software and fussing around with designs? What about integrating shopping carts?
It can get complicated quickly, and in my opinion there are better places to be spending your time than doing web design.
For most small businesses, I believe website creation should be outsourced. Resources like Upwork (formerly Odesk) and Elance are great places to find competent designers for fair prices. A couple of tips for hiring on Elance include not making a decision based solely on price and ensuring your job description is clear and succinct.
Also, pick a CMS like WordPress and keep the customizations to a minimum so if something goes wrong and your freelancer disappears, someone else can pick up the task with minimum effort.
#2. Shortcutting Content
It’s not good enough to build a website and then leave it static and stale.
If you build it, they will not necessarily come.
Creating quality content and posting it regularly will do wonders for your website in the eyes of the search engines. Most small business owners ignore this task because it’s just one more pain point that they don’t have time to deal with.
Posting quality content doesn’t have to be a daily occurrence, especially when just starting out. Once a week or every two weeks is sufficient. Blogging will give you another way to be found on the Internet. In theory, search engines will index your content and serve it up when people are searching for your particular service. No, it doesn’t happen overnight, but over time your blog posts will get noticed by the search engines, and searchers will find it.
Remember that your blog is not about you, it’s about your customers and their issues. One of the best ways to connect with your audience is to pick out one of their problems and then solve it for them. That’s the kind of stuff that gets you remembered.
Whether you’re writing the content or having someone else write it, make sure you’re listening to your customers. Discover their problems and then tailor your blog post around them, not you. Be sure to use plenty of pictures and even video to increase customer engagement and interaction. And don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. I believe the best way to approach adding content on your website is to supply it yourself because the tone and message will be clear and consistent.
If that’s not an option, you can always outsource this as well, using the same sites we mentioned above. One key point I would make is that if you take this route you must give clear instructions to your writers, including the headline of the piece and also exactly what problem you’re trying to solve.
Bottom line: No one knows your customers as well as you do, so if at all possible, find time to add high quality content on a regular basis.
#3. Ignoring Social Media
Social media is hot and getting hotter all the time. It’s a great way to broaden your audience and connect with more people. Unfortunately, most small business owners see this as one more thing they have to get done during their already way-too-busy day.
Sweeping this one under the rug, however, can cause a significant loss of business and I can assure you of one thing: Your competitors are definitely using social media to their advantage. One issue I see is that there are so many social media options, many small business owners don’t know where to concentrate their efforts.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, etc. The list is almost endless, and it can be an overwhelming dilemma for business owners. So which ones do you absolutely need, and which ones can you do without? I say a blog and a Facebook page are a must for social media, and while we’re at it I’d throw in Twitter as well.
Depending on your business, you may want to add to that mix. For instance, I have a friend who owns an embroidery business and as you can imagine, it’s very visually-oriented.
I convinced him to create an Instagram profile and start using it. It’s easy for him because he can post pictures instantly with his smartphone and for virtually no extra work he gains new followers and potentially new customers.
If you own restaurant or café you could develop both Instagram and Pinterest. Whatever medium your business calls for, social media should definitely be a part of your strategy.
If you’ve been ignoring social media, learn to embrace it. And if you’re confused about how things work, seek the help of someone under 25 years of age. Seriously, kids are great with this stuff and will be more than happy to show you the ropes. College kids are particularly good at this stuff.
I recommend you take charge of your own social media outlets at first to get the feel of what your customer base responds to. If you want to automate things done the line with something like Hootsuite that’s not an issue, but you should understand how things operate before trying this.
There are also outsourcers that handle the whole social media puzzle for you, but I don’t recommend that when just starting out.
#4. Not Collecting Information
Once your website is getting visitors from your blogging and social media efforts, it’s critical that you find a way to stay in touch with them. Way over 90 percent of first time visitors leave sites as non-buyers, so it’s imperative that you’re collecting information of some sort from your web guests.
The holy grail of collected data is the almighty email address. If you can get visitors to surrender their first name and email, you are well on your way to having a customer for life.
This is ordinarily done through some sort of landing page and autoresponder software, but you could also have a signup form in the sidebar of your site as well as at the end of every blog post. Common practice is to offer the visitor something irresistible, such as a free report or a money off coupon, but you’ll have to test to see what your visitors respond to best.
Another way to capture info is to make sure you’re utilizing whatever forms of social media you’ve chosen to pursue. People love to share their experiences, both good and bad, on all their social media sites, so taking advantage of this knowledge is a smart move
If you’re not capturing visitor information, I can guarantee you’re leaving money on the table.
It’s not hard at all to integrate an autoresponder signup form into your website. Aweber is the most well-known and they are reasonably priced to get going, but if money is an issue you can always go with a service called MailChimp, which is “forever free” for the first 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails.
That’s a pretty good deal and people do like their service, but if you plan on growing a huge list there may be better options out there regarding price.
As for social media, make sure you give visitors plenty of opportunity to Like your Facebook page or connect on Twitter. Excellent content, prominently displayed social media icons and frequent calls to action should encourage users to tell their friends about you and your services.
#5. Customer Retention
Numerous studies have shown that it’s much cheaper to retain customers than it is to find new ones. And yet small business owners continue to place more emphasis on prospecting for new clients instead of taking good care of the ones they already have.
I realize that customer acquisition is an important part of all new businesses, but at some point there needs to be a balance between keeping what you already have and searching for new relationships. The one big problem, particularly with new startups, is that customer retention efforts may take a long time to get going, and a customer acquisition campaign is something that you can see almost immediate results from.
Depending upon which study you go by, it can be between 5 and 8 times more expensive to attract NEW customers than it can be keep your EXISTING ones.
If customer retention is ignored for long enough, you’ll find that your acquisition efforts aren’t bearing as much fruit as they once did, and you’ll be caught in a vicious cycle of trying to keep your customer hopper full while plugging holes where customers are leaking out.
In short, you’ll have a sieve instead of a funnel.
Realize that it’s much easier to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. A couple of excellent ways to keep customers you already have are to offer a superior product, and to perform outstanding customer service.
These two things will allow you to stand head and shoulders above your competition, and believe it or not this can actually help with customer acquisition. As more people tell their friends about your awesome product or service and mention you on their social media outlets, the more your name and brand will be recognized.
And this will naturally lead to more customers!
Many small business entrepreneurs want to be all things to everyone, all at once, and this can lead to disaster. Focusing on your online marketing efforts can deliver excellent results, but everything has to be fine-tuned to be customer-centric.
If possible, develop systems and schedules to keep things from spiraling out of control, and outsource where it makes sense to take some pressure off and allow you to do what you do best; run your business.
Have you found yourself making any of these Internet marketing mistakes?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Images: “Modern computer technology in business illustration with wireless device/Shutterstock.com“
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