If there’s one thing that Gene Sower, president of Samson Media, finds frustrating it’s meeting with small business clients who are short-sighted when it comes to online marketing.
“I’ve had clients who’ve approached me and the first thing they want to talk about is the color of their web pages,” says Sower, whose Montclair, N.J.-based firm provides online marketing and website services. “I ask them, ‘Okay, but what do you want the website to do?' I try to get them to think of their website as more than a brochure.”
Sower says he has made it his mission to help clients with their online marketing by actively blogging about issues he feels are relevant to the subject. For example, he recently posted about the cost-effectiveness of using a template design for a client site versus an original design. Because the latter is often more expensive, Sower maintains that money earmarked for a customized web design would be better spent on a SEO or pay-per-click advertising campaign.
Read on to find out the most common online marketing missteps and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Not allocating enough money
Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend any money. Sure, you might derive some leads or pique the attention of a few prospects from a clever (and free) Twitter or Facebook initiative. However, these results could be short-term and middling when compared to the reach of a well-executed and strategic long-range online marketing campaign.
Says Sower: “Clients think that social media can drive all of their leads and new business when it’s just unrealistic. A lot of what I tell people is that you have to allot some money to marketing—whether it’s PR, advertising, or search engine optimization.”
Julie Davis, director of marketing and development for TotalHousehold, a two-year old Danbury, Conn.-based online marketplace that connects homeowners with qualified contractors, echoes Sower’s sentiment.
“When you’re looking to save money, you still need to go with reputable companies and the best plans rather than the cheapest plans,” explains Davis.
“We do a weekly giveaway on our site and for $29 a week, we can generate a press release [via PR Underground],” says Davis. “If we used PR Web, which we do for bigger releases, it would be hundreds of dollars.”
Mistake #2: Doing it yourself
Some small business owners might think that if they take an hour-long seminar on online marketing or read a book on the subject they might be prepared to go the DIT route. Although it is possible that some business owners might excel in blogging or sending out e-newsletters, for example, most will not be skilled enough to launch a comprehensive online marketing campaign that will bring results. To get the ROI you desire, you must make an investment.
Janet O. Penn, managing director of Janet Penn Consulting, a seven-year-old internet marketing consulting firm in Fairfield, NJ, urges small business owners to steer clear of the DIY approach.
“A lot of times when someone starts their own business, they do it because they have a particular talent, such as making jewelry,” she says. “Their area of expertise is providing that service and they should concentrate on doing that. It’s not prudent or even a good business model to have people thinking they can do it themselves.”
Penn brushes aside the notion that it’s in her best interest to take this approach. “The lay person might be aware of Google’s changing algorithms but they don’t really understand what that means,” she explains. “There are so many critical strategies and business practices that are changing. If you aren’t spending a minimum of one to two hours every day just observing and understanding all of those changes, such as how to optimize a Pinterest post, you’re going to be left behind.”
Penn often counsels small business owners to allocate some funding to hire a marketing professional, even if it’s on a part-time or contractor basis. This allows busy entrepreneurs to tap into the expertise of marketing professional who can evaluate what needs to be done to have a solid and effective online strategy.
Mistake #3: Staying static with your website
Not too long ago, having a website, which listed the services of your small business and included a gallery of portfolio photos and contact information, might have sufficed. But in this social media era where information is constantly streamed to the masses, that is no longer practical. If you want to reach a target demographic or get more leads, you will need to be more proactive with your online marketing.
“Everybody these days is a content creator,” says Sower. “The new marketing is about sharing your knowledge and expertise with the people you’re trying to attract. You can no longer have a static brochure website. You have to have some kind of blogging component where you’re able to put up timely content that will be able to attract people to your business. This will not only give you something to disseminate through social media, but it will also help your search engine optimization because the search engines are always looking for sites that are being updated on a constant basis.”
Mistake #4: Not properly evaluating your online marketing needs
Believe it or not, not every small business needs online marketing. “It is fashionable, yes,” says Helena Zakmane, a marketing professional whose broad range of experience includes running her own small consulting firm as well as working for international companies. “But by no means is it necessary for everyone.”
For instance, Zakmane recalls advising a client—an apartment cleaning business—to forgo social media outreach in favor of direct mail in their city. “Not having a sufficient advertising budget made it practically impossible for them to reach their audience via social media channels,” explains Zakmane. “It's also hard to imagine someone following a cleaning company’s Facebook page.”
The lesson learned: take a good look at the business you’re in before committing funds to an online marketing campaign. Just because many businesses are doing it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
Whether it’s to increase sales or elevate your company’s profile in a saturated marketplace, including online marketing in an advertising campaign can be an effective and efficient strategy to reach new and existing customers.