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Making plans

It’s January. The turkey has been well and truly goosed. Those once-loose trousers seem to have shrunk in the wash.

The tree has choked your hoover with its needles of death and now lies naked on your front lawn. George Osborne, dressed in his Savile Row finery, cheerfully announces more austerity cuts are on the horizon. Cue poodle cloud.

January is always a pretty forlorn time of year. Especially with the weather as it is here in the UK at the moment. What’s to be done? What can we possibly do to make 2014 a better, more fruitful year for your business? Here are my top 5 tips to how to make your business less Brussel sprouts and more Purple Sprouting Brocolli.

1. Set goals for promoting your business online

It sounds simple but without a plan you have no way of measuring success. Sit down with a nice cup of tea and list the things you want to change about your business. Do you want more traffic, more sales or is it something more than that?

Perhaps you’re a charity and you need more volunteers. Or you’re a vintage shop and you want to increase sales of teapots. Whatever it is, write it down and put a figure beside it. For example, you want more visitors to your website. You currently get around 100 visitors a month. You want to make it 250 in 3 months. That’s a goal. Simple isn’t it.

2. Plan a calendar of events

First decide how long your calendar will last. I would recommend 3-6 months to start with, to keep everything easy to manage.

There must be seasonal activity for your business, whatever it is you offer in terms of products or services. Regular events that happen like sales or exhibitions that you run every year. Write these down in your diary. You are going to create content, and therefore marketing activity, around these seasonal activities.

This will generate good content that is relevant to your audience at that point in the year. It also gives you incentive to run regular campaigns. Aim to have at least one activity per month.

For example, you are a garden centre. Everyone needs grit in winter. Consider running a campaign about grit mid January. Run a special offer on shovels, write a blog about how or make a movie on how to clear your path and upload it to YouTube (or Vimeo if you’re wearing turned-upped jeans and winkle-pickers).

3. Create content for your audience

Content can be created and hosted in a number of ways. If it’s a product then perhaps it should live on your website, preferably on its own page. If it’s a handy tip then perhaps Twitter is a better place for it. If you’re giving business advice then LinkedIn is a good place for it. Blogs should be personal and subjective. No one wants to read press releases disguised as a blog post. They’re instantly spotted and damage your credibility. Don’t do it!

Engaging with your audience across multiple platforms means that you are always on your audience’s radar.

Be careful though. Don’t overdo it and end up irritating your audience. I just performed a huge cull of my newsletter subscriptions. The sheer quantity and irrelevance of emails I received over Christmas was ridiculous. Who on earth emails someone on Christmas Day with a promotional message?

Think about how you engage with your potential audience. Just like you would if a customer came into your shop, always be polite, be informative and be helpful.

That’s why a calendar is a good start for an online marketing strategy. It keeps your content relevant and synchronised with the natural cycle of your business.

4. Build an audience and maximise your reach

You’re better off speaking to 20 engaged and interested people than 200 disinterested strangers.

Build your audience through a email marketing application like MailChimp. They provide lots of free goodies you can use to build a mailing list including templates, white papers and apps. For example with Chimpedeedo you could have an iPad in store or on an exhibition stand and capture visitor data live into the mailing list itself. No more corny business card fishbowls.

You can do so much with a mailing list. You can segment it; sending out certain campaigns to specific parts of your audience. You can test ideas with it using A-B split testing. As long as you feed your mailing list with juicy, relevant content you will watch it grow. If the audience want to hear from you then you have a perfect audience to talk to about your products and services. Do you want to grow it quickly? Run a competition giving away a product or a prize and ask people to spread the word.

Make sure your business is registered with major social media sites. My starting top 5 list would be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. Facebook might be the doyenne of social media today, but the tech world changes terrifyingly fast. Remember market leaders Blackberry, anyone?

Make sure your messaging and branding is the same for each site. If you make a change on one then be sure to update the others. It takes a little work but it keeps your messaging and branding focused.

If you’re terrified of the amount of work it takes to update all these different websites, fear not. Online applications like Hootsuite allow you to not only post media across multiple platforms but also schedule them too. Going to an important conference? Schedule a week of tweets in one hit and let Hootsuite do the rest.

5. Iterate and improve the relevancy of your website

You must make sure that the pages your audience land on are relevant to your audience. People don’t just land on your home page. They land on pages within your site that they find in search engines. Search engines like Google want web pages to be relevant to the search term entered by the potential visitor.

So make sure that your page on prize turnip growing is titled prize turnip growing and talks about growing prize turnips. If your current page doesn’t even mention prize turnip growing, then you will have no chance of appearing in search results for prize turnip growing. It sounds really simple. And it is. But you’ll be surprised how many websites simply don’t follow this simple practice.

Don’t be bamboozled by “SEO specialists” promising you number one position for prize turnip growing. You can do this yourself with a bit of planning and a whole lot less money.

The visitor finds the product, you get a visitor, the search engine improves its accuracy. The visitor gives you money for the product they found on your website and the search engine rewards you by pushing you up the results pages. This is the basic transaction of search engine optimisation and why it is so important to make your website’s content relevant.

If you run a small pay per click ad campaign through something like Google Adwords, you can quickly identify the words and phrases that are relevant to your potential audience. It’s an accelerated way of finding out how people can find you more easily. You could do this for free by looking at search terms in Google Analytics but, sadly, this is becoming a thing of the past as Google tightens its privacy policies.

You can then create further activity, and generate more content, based upon on these search terms. This way you know that you are providing relevant content to people arriving on your site.

Look at the analytical data from your online activity. Are your goals being met, exceeded or are you falling short? Don’t despair. If something isn’t working, change it. Remove badly performing pages, or add new ones. Iterate, experiment, have fun!

How do I go about doing all of this?

These are all free services, apart from Pay Per Click advertising (how do you think Google makes its money!) You can do this yourself. Most of it is just plain old common sense. If I can do it, it must be easy. I still struggle with long division and fax machines.

Most small businesses can do all of this in just a couple of hours a week and perhaps half a day a month for planning and writing larger posts. It’s all about talking to the most relevant people possible about your business without upsetting or alienating them and giving them what they want.

What’s in it for me?

You might need a little bit of help with design, web coding or even writing. If you do, then please get in touch. I have a network of different specialists with whom I’ve worked with on lots of campaigns.

If you’re local to me, here in Hampshire, then please do get in touch, and I will give you a free design assessment of your current website or a single piece of marketing collateral. I want to see local businesses begin to flourish in 2014.

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