3 Free and Effective Ways to Market Your Small Business

There are thousands of ways to market your small business. The million dollar question: Which ones do I use?

There is no way of ever knowing until you test the different strategies.

After extensive testing and implementation phases, here are 3 of my favorites:

1. CREATE A STORY- This is my favorite strategy because it helps separate you from the competition and it brings exposure to your doorstep without ever going out and directly asking for it.

As you have noticed, I’m a 3yr Secret Service Veteran. When talking about fitness, world travel, shooting guns, and eating healthier, it tends to add credibility to my brand. Why? I walked the walk… not just talked the talk.

For example, let’s say you sell pillows. Selling pillows sounds boring and tedious, but let’s look at how you can make it pop and attract people to buy from you versus the competition:

First, create a story. Can you create a sleep contest at your place? Maybe it’s the city’s largest sleepover! Either way, create a story and the press will be there in no time at all.

2. Critical Online Marketing Checklist: Print this list and keep it next to your computer. It will provide you more traffic to your site or blog and a stronger presence online:

* Capture emails – Most people go through the motions on this one. Are you giving something away FREE in order to retain an email address? Are you capturing visitor email addresses upon them landing on your site?

* Get social – Even if you don’t like it, your competition is doing it. START NOW! Open an account on every major social networking site and devote 2hrs/week learning how to use them. They all drive traffic to your site; each in different ways.

* Threshold Marketing – Don’t be afraid to send an email 2 days in a row. There is no way of knowing the true demand of your marketing message until you test it out. I was always instructed to air conservative, but soon as I tested a back-to-back email I noticed it was taken very well! There’s a grey area and you should push to find it.

* RSS feed- Do you allow the option for readers to subscribe to your content via rss? If not, the time is now! Studies show this concept it rapidly growing; and you need to claim your fair share of the pie.

3. BLOG – An online platform for helping people understand your brand. A blog is simple to operate and very effective when used properly. In fact, blogs now receive more relevance with the search engines! In 2009, blogging has been ranked in the top 3 Internet strategies that every business must be involved with; that is, if you want to change with the times!

Marketing Links Matter

Linking For What It’s Worth

International online business depends upon effective marketing links to generate the highest rankings on search engines and the most traffic to websites. Online positioning can be compared to expensive real estate for a traditional business.

If the building on the beach near the airport is like gold for attracting clients, then every block away, every traffic light further from the center of commerce, means drawing clients becomes more difficult.

The Missing Link

Obtaining prime real estate to setup business is usually a matter of timing and money. Once the property is established, the competition can no longer compete for business on that spot. Marketing links from these locations are very helpful but hard to get.

With enough money the same principle holds true online. Spots near the top left hand of the page (beach and airport) can be purchased and held indefinitely. Everyone else has to set up shop at least a block away.

When attempting to establish a position near the elite sites, one missing link can push you onto the next page. Here nothing is fixed or permanent. Marketing online requires true professionals, with specific skills and an eye for details.

Only The SEO Knows

Not every marketer has the same opinion on the best search engine optimization strategy, but then not every search engine is the same. They don’t publish exactly how they rank websites and pages. They do tell everyone exactly what they expect.

Your activity can become paralyzed by sifting for an exact formula that will work. Many people are still looking for an exact plan while the search engines keep modifying their guidelines.

If we look at the search engines like any other business, what they’ll be doing in the future is determined largely by what they’re studying in the present. If a company isn’t continually looking to improve their product or service, they’ll end up losing business to someone else.

It seems almost too simple, but if we use search engines, we help determine what they’ll become. Paying attention to our own experience can give us insight, because the search engine wants to improve our experience.

Good Ideas Don’t Go Away

If a link from an article or a directory brings us to where we ultimately want to be, it will be obvious to everyone who sees that activity. Likewise if a link sends us down the wrong path, we go backwards.

If we came across a crowd of people going forward, backward, turning to the left then turning to the right, we’d either suspect they belonged to a dance company or they were all lost. So either the choreographer yells stop, or the civil engineer checks the street signs to see what all the confusion is about.

Links that don’t do what they’re supposed to do stand out just as much as links that serve their intended purpose. If the system is working correctly then properly functioning links will gain prominence (the sites on either end move closer to the beach and airport) while faulty links will become increasingly hard to find.

Disconnected From The Flow

Business thrives from traffic flow, which is why metropolitan areas have more business. Zoning becomes a chess game because any alteration in the traffic flow directly affects the advantage one business has over another.

Effective online marketing links serve two purposes.

1. They keep the flow of traffic moving toward a desired destination.
2. They bring attention to that destination.

From the search engine’s perspective this is exactly what they want. They rightly reward the source that supplied the link, as well as the site that keeps receiving happy traffic.

Online marketers do their best to ensure they never give inaccurate or misleading directions. They know that such activity attracts negative attention. Eventually the flow of traffic stops and the site’s visitors go missing.

What If It Was Us?

When we’re setting up marketing links from an article, a blog or another website, we need to imagine that it is intended for us. We need set aside for a moment the fact that we know where we’re going. We should know, but what if we didn’t?

Usually the link destination has more than one option. Perhaps one page on the site is more accurately connected with the source keyword.

If for instance I’m linking from tropical fish eating habits to a page that explains three things tropical fish like to eat, I’ll be done in a second. If I exit from there or go backwards, the system doesn’t know that I’ve found something useful.

However if I land on a page that gives detailed pictures, videos and lengthy explanations about ways to improve the health of tropical fish through diet, people will spend longer at the destination. The system then likes the link and the website.

Even if both the page with the three favorite foods for tropical fish, and the in depth page full of movies and pictures are on the same site, it won’t matter. Online marketers should knowingly connect people to what they’re looking for with accurate marketing links.

Niche Marketing: The Golden Source of Online Business Success

Niche marketing is one of the most effective ways to make a lot of money off the web. It’s about taking a general market and stripping it down into targeted and focused segments or niches. One then develops solutions that meet the needs of a specific segment.

Banks for example operate in many niche markets. At first glance, they may appear to focus on one market, the financial market. There is no doubt that this is correct, but banks perform a number of different functions by serving many different niches.

A typical bank has a number of products and services, such as:

Investment products
Home loans
Vehicle finance
Financial planning and
Personal loans

Each product or service caters for a select group of individuals or niche market: Investment products for investors, vehicle finance for vehicle owners, home loans for real estate players, financial planning for seniors or retirees and personal loans for individuals seeking short-term finance.

Does this mean that a bank offering the above-mentioned services is able to compete equally well against all other banks in the respective service categories? Generally it’s very difficult for a business to dominate every market it participates in, but it’s certainly possible for a company to establish a significant presence in a certain niche.

Of the four major banks in South Africa, ABSA Bank is the ‘go-to’ bank for home loans, Nedbank tends to be the business bank of choice, First National Bank is well known for their innovative products and Standard Bank for their stock trading platform.

Whatever the business or industry, a market leader will typically enjoy a healthy revenue stream. And by operating in other niche markets (not necessarily dominating them), a business can easily diversify or supplement its primary source of income. The same principle applies to online businesses.

Niche marketing works impressively well in the world of electronic commerce. VirtualBank for example is an online bank that specialises in providing financial services over the internet. Google dominates the search engine market and News24 pride themselves on being the premier news source in South Africa.

What does this mean for your online business, pick a niche market, sell some stuff and Bob’s your uncle? Unfortunately it’s not that easy. You can’t expect to start a new business, offer everything from A to Z, take on the major market players and become the overnight leader.

As a start-up, you simply cannot bite off more than you can chew.

You are not going to compete against News24 for news readers or against Amazon for book sales. However, you might be able to trump News24 in the sports news category or Amazon in the Self-help book category.

The point is taking on a niche market is one of the best low risk ways to start and grow your business. There are three good reasons for this:

1. Niche markets tend to be less competitive than larger markets. Your chances of being successful or dominating the market is a lot greater.

2. Niche marketing can be extremely cost effective. For instance, suppose your business sells books on dog training techniques for German Shepherds. Instead of designing mass marketing campaigns (television or radio) which could potentially cost millions, brochures and flyers situated at select dog training schools may be more than sufficient to attract customers to your business.

3. A niche market is a great way to build a business on a subject that you find interesting or enjoyable. It may be a good model for you to convert those hobbies or passions into a home-based passive income business.

Not too long ago I received an email from a reader asking whether it’s a good idea to start an online business in the mattress industry. If you have a look at Google’s Keyword Tool, you’ll notice that there are over 9 million online searches every month for the keyword ‘mattress’. With search volumes like this, the chance of finding a profitable niche market and business model may be good.

Starting your business with a niche market is a good idea. Most successful entrepreneurs will attest to this. However, niche marketing success is dependent on three basic rules:

1. Know exactly what your customers want. Your products and services have to appeal to your market’s unique needs. Building a business around mattresses in general may be pointless if your market only has an interest in mattress covers.

2. Learn how to communicate with your customers. You need to understand the psychology or deeper reasons behind their needs. In other words, speak their language and use marketing messages that evoke feelings of action.

How do your customers feel about mattress covers? What words resonate with them? If people are concerned about the ‘scratchiness’ of mattress covers against their skin when buying, your products and services must speak directly to this