Did You Do the Free Stuff? How to Market Your Business Online

Do the stuff that makes your business viable before you go slapping your new logo on t-shirts and showing off at networking events. Here’s how (really) market your business online – for free.

The internet is a vast wealth of opportunity. Today I encourage you to take a long hard look at your goals and how you’re going to achieve them. Today’s post is part rant, part constructive criticism, part education, part encouragement. I leave you to determine the percentages yourself. I’ll jump right in.

Before you invest in a website (even a $99 one) – have you done the free stuff? And by free stuff, I don’t mean 300 Facebook posts to demand that people buy your crap or discounting yourself into oblivion. I mean taking the time to get deeper into defining your target market than say, “women 25-65 in Atlanta.” You don’t have the right to complain about ANYBODY’s price until you have done the free stuff. I’ve found that many newbiepreneurs want a magic bullet that will make them appear everywhere – and that bullet should be $100 or less, naturally. Well, it kind of is. Except its not magic. It’s work. Read on.

1. First, Business 101. Define what you’re selling, how much it needs to cost and how many you need to sell to make money, who would buy it (the answer is never EVERYBODY unless you’re toilet tissue – and even then, NO), and how they find you to get it. I’m not going into detail here, because this stuff is covered all over the place. Cost: $0.

2. Marketing Plan. If you’ve paid for a brand coach and/or graphic designer already at this point – that is, before you have a marketing plan for that identity, allow me to sideeye you. Do the free stuff that makes your business viable before you go slapping your new logo on t-shirts and showing off at networking events full of people who will not buy anything from your as-yet-nonexistent business.

If you now know who your ideal customer is, write their origin story. Marketing professionals call this a customer persona, but I like comics, so origin story. Deal with it. In any case, you need to know your customer like your bestie’s favorite comfort food. What is her motivation for needing or wanting your product? What is she doing right now to meet that need? How much time and money does she spend to get it? This is not the time to tell yourself how great you are.

This part isn’t about you. Dig deeper into your customer’s life. Which social networks is she hanging out on? Where does she work? What kind of salary and disposable income? Married? Single? Foodie? Naturalista? A Belieber? How much is she spending on her mortgage? What kind of home decor? What kinds of boards is she following on Pinterest? Of course some of this has nothing to do with your product specifically, but a holistic look at your customer’s lifestyle will tell you a lot about how to sell to them effectively. Google is your friend. Cost, $0. (Once you’ve done this part, if you REALLY want that tshirt, I’ll allow it, but you really should wait until after #3.)

3. Then, CONTENT. Today, information overload is a constant thing. Yelling louder than everyone else is expensive and largely pointless. But, people like stories. Stories that make them say, “I know what that’s like!” Stories that are powerful with and without words.

Fantastic storytelling is a talent, to be sure, but you can do a WHOLE LOT with your smartphone’s camera and a blog. Quality posts that actually help your target market. Images that tell stories about more than your workout or date night. Imagine that you are always in the middle of a conversation with 1 or 2 customers, not the entire internet. Here’s a whole DIY Content Marketing Guide, also free.

Either you’re going to invest your own time to plan and produce your content, or you’re going to pay for it. Either way, it’s an investment. Broke? No sales yet? “Pre-revenue?” – then you need to do it yourself. This is where discipline comes in. Take all that rah-rah empowerment you got from that inspiring women’s conference to sit down and do the damn work. There is ZERO online marketing strategy without content. Period.

Look at what is happening in your industry over the the next 3 months. Events – not just for industry pros like yourself, but where your customers are likely to be. For example, look at your ideal customer’s workplace from #2. Head over to Eventbrite and use her industry as a search term. Write a blog post about how your product can help her achieve greatness at that event, in her career, etc. If you’re a designer, in addition to posting your pieces – “How to Dress for…” posts are a major draw – especially in “unfashionable” fields. Do the same kind of research for a variety of industries that are local to your town. Be creative, and be RELEVANT.

Before you get started with actual writing, you need a calendar or you’ll go insane. Before we get big and plan out an entire year of content, let’s just look at the next 3 months. 90 days is enough time to start getting some Google traction if you’re doing this right, especially if you have a good mix of networks to work with. Lay out your topic plan for each week, and keep your customer in mind as you think of article titles. What kind of tone reflects your personality and that of your business?

As you finally start writing, don’t get bogged down by editing details right away. Get your thoughts out first. Use whatever word processing software you have handy. Write offline. There are two reasons for this one – you can send it to a buddy and have them review and edit easily, and you’ll always have your very own backups. Backups are important, because site crashes. Notice that we have not talked about website design, hosting, or posting anywhere yet. You need to get the hard work done first.

After you have about four posts done, move on to writing your website content – the text that actually makes your customer want to buy after they land on your site. NOW you can shout your greatness – but make sure to frame that greatness in your customer’s actual need for your product. Continue the conversation that your blog started.

Next, pictures. You need well-thought-out images that help tell your story. Even if you sell makeup or hair products – a million selfies are not a story. You need website images, blog post images, social media images (not being specific on networks here because you should be where your customers are). Before you tap that shutter button, consider where and how the shot will be used, and for the love of Pete – WAIT FOR THE DAMN THING TO FOCUS. Take your time. Take 30 shots if you have to, to get it right. Cost, $0.

Once you’ve completed your website content and at least 30 days of content (a good mix is 4 standard posts of 500-600 words, 1 long post of 800 words, 20 social media posts for your most relevant networks) – with a real, doable plan for the next 60 – THEN it’s time to see about a web designer (it’s totally ok to see a brand coach now). Your budget will dictate how you go about that. I’ve ranted about free website builders in the past, but if that’s your budget, do what you must to present your business well. HOWEVER, keep in mind that WordPress software is free. You could have a professional website for the low, low cost of hosting – about $15 per month. Your own domain name will run you about $15 per year. You see where I’m going with this, right?

With few exceptions, professionals don’t work for free. BUT, if you show a professional that you have made the effort to invest in the success of your business, and respect their time and art – you may find flexible terms are easier to negotiate than you think. Your new business deserves your investment, and at the very beginning, your time is far more valuable than money in establishing a foundation for your success.

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