[Photo Cred: Ryan McGuire]
If you have a business, of course you want people to know about it. If you have a small business, time and money are likely two of your top challenges... and some combination of them will be needed if you want to promote what you do. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the marketing side of business building, as there are experts in every corner telling you another thing you should be doing.
The truth is, you don’t have to be everywhere. In fact, you probably shouldn’t try. Quality trumps quantity any day of the week, and everything you do should be done with purpose. These steps can help you to decide where to focus your energy for great results.
1. Cover the Basics
If you don’t already have a website, business cards, and a space to work from, consider starting there. You want to have something to leave with people when you meet them, a place to send them to learn more about you, and a place to connect with them when they want to talk further (coffee shops can work, but co-working spaces can offer both a professional look and invaluable connections).
There are some great options out there for building a professional looking website without needing to write a line of code (Squarespace is a popular choice), and creating business cards (like Moo Cards) without necessarily needing to know design. You don’t have to make a huge investment... yet. Is there value in hiring professionals? Absolutely. Can the average startup afford to do that in the early days? No. There are some pros whose print and digital marketing services include actually helping you figure out how to get the most bang for your buck. If you have the funds, investing in that expertise can make a big difference early on, and when you get to a place where you can afford professional design and digital services, you already have someone you can trust (and who knows you well).
2. Build Relationships
When it comes to promoting your business, some things have changed over the years. The Web has changed where and how you can reach people. We have more global reach, and growth of niches as it becomes increasingly easier to find like-minded people to connect with. What hasn’t changed is the importance of building relationships with the people who matter most.
Your first step is to know who you’re looking for. If you were dating and you wanted a mate who shared your interest in fitness, you’d be better off joining a local running club than hitting the bar. Research local networking events and get to know who will be where; show up at the places that make sense. Consider where your audience spends their time online, and be there. If you’re mostly pitching to law firms, Twitter or Instagram might not be great places for you, but if you have a creative business with loads of personality, those are places to consider (as long as you can really BE there).
Once you know where to find the right people (customers, investors, employees), know who they listen to and try to reach them through those channels. If you’re local, consider building relationships with local reporters who cover what you do. If you have a niche product or service, find a niche trade magazine or influential blogger to connect with. Do your research so that you can tailor your pitch to catch their eye.
3. Build Thought Leadership
The truth is, there are only so many original thoughts, and there is probably someone out there doing something like what you do. BUT, they’re never going to do it quite the way you do it, because you bring your own experience, perspective, and values to the table. That is what will make you stand out... if you get it out there.
The only way people will know what you do and how you do it is to tell them. If you have a website, that’s a start, but it’s not the field of dreams. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come, and if they come once, they won’t necessarily come back again. They need a reason.
If you have time to blog regularly (i.e., weekly), having a blog on your site is a great way to get your message out—your thoughts, your value, your success stories, etc. What you don’t want is a blog that looks outdated because your last post was 18 months ago, so if you don’t have time for the regular upkeep, consider a service like Medium. It’s free, simple, and broadly used (so good content can actually get views from people who wouldn’t have found you otherwise).
Don’t forget about traditional media. If there is something new going on in your space, consider pitching stories with your take on the news. If you’re doing something new yourself (launching a new product, promoting a new service, entering a new partnership), get the word out. This is where those relationships can come in handy. If you haven’t yet been able to build good press relationships (or you work better writing from a prompt), Help A Reporter Out can connect you with reporters who are looking for input on new stories of all kinds.
Whether you’re blogging or you’ve been covered in the press, don’t forget to let people know through the social media channels you occupy. If you have a newsletter (MailChimp makes it simple), you can share the content with a captive audience that has already indicated they want to hear more from you.
4. Ask Your Fans
People need proof... a reason to believe. You can build the perfect website, have a brilliant social media presence, and follow your editorial calendar to the letter, but when it comes to a customer making that final decision to work with you, nothing beats proof. So why not get out ahead of that?
One of the best things you can do to promote your business is to ask people you’ve already worked with for referrals (especially if you enjoyed working with them). You’re generating leads through people you already enjoy working with, so you can guess that at least a good portion of the people they send your way will be people you want to work with.
Even better, you can ask those people for one of the most valuable pieces of marketing out there: testimonials. If you market yourself through LinkedIn, ask for recommendations right on that platform. Get those testimonials onto your website and on the marketing collateral you leave behind. Nothing sells the value of working with you quite like the word of someone who’s done it.
It’s probably obvious, but... if you do get a client to help you out, thank them. It can be a simple thank you or something more elaborate, but gratitude makes a difference.
5. Be Authentic
Promoting your business is a lot like starting a new relationship. Of course you want to put your best foot forward, show your best self. But if you try to be someone you’re not, you’ll get tired of it. Or found out. Or both.
Whether you’re tweeting about your business, or talking to someone at a networking event, be authentic. Let people know who they will be working with—no matter how they connect with you—so that they’re not surprised down the road. If you do that, you can make the odd misstep (just own it and move on), build the relationships you want, and create a business you can feel proud of at the end of the day.