You can achieve kick-ass results on a tiny budget. You’ve just got to get creative and spend more time thinking. Good marketing is 80% thinking, 20% doing.
Yes, you can pay £1k a month to advertise your business with paid ads. Yes, you can hire an expensive agency for £2k a day. Yes, you can buy magazine coverage for £400 per article. Yes, you can speak at an event for the measly sum of £1800+VAT. Good for you if you do.
But, if you’re a marketing director or business owner on a budget (and many of us will be in 2019) then read on. I’ve got tons of free ideas to kick-start your business at a time when marketing is more important than ever.
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Disclaimer: this is just my opinion, based on mistakes I’ve made, stuff I’ve seen and things we tried that worked. If it’s not right for your giant multinational, er… sorry. But if you’re a plucky marketing director, founder, or an ambitious junior exec, then this is for you, pal.
Speak to your customers regularly to find out precisely how and why they chose to work with you. Take notes, and listen. This stuff is absolute gold. You are not going to guess anymore, you’re going to let your customers show you the way.
Do your customers find out about you from your website? An article? Word of mouth? Events? Don’t know? Whatever your main source of referrals, leads and traffic is right now, that’s where to focus your efforts.
Your content should be tailored to the questions your customers ask you. See Marcus Sheridan’s brilliant book on this. Marketing strategy starts with working out what your customers want to hear, and where they want to hear it. Make a note of any questions your customers ask you. Add these into a spreadsheet, and boom! You’ve got yourself a content calendar.
Don’t spend time on any platform that doesn’t bring you business. If you’ve tried to grow a social network on a particular platform, and it hasn’t worked out, then listen to what your customers are telling you. The chances are, they’re waiting patiently somewhere else.
It is not a junior colleague or outside agencies responsibility to make tactical decisions about where or how to market your business. As the business owner, or manager of marketing, it’s down to you. You decide which platforms to lose. And which platforms to focus on.
Choose three marketing channels that serve you well, and ignore the rest. Yes, I just said that.
Create a marketing calendar and note down national, local and industry events.
Share that calendar with everyone your team and ask them to add in any creative marketing ideas.
Assign responsibility within your team for specific actions. Divide the responsibility for marketing your business according to skill. And if you need a copywriter, or a photographer, or a videographer, then (unless you want to spend lots of money) someone in your team should step up.
Create a vision for the year’s marketing. What percentage uplift in audience, referrals, leads and sales would you like to see? How are you going to get these? Which channels are you going to prioritise? Who will manage these channels? Produce a presentation and share it with your team, ask for feedback and suggestions. This is the beginning of momentum, because no-one ever got anywhere without a plan.
Marketing is seasonal. Think quarterly about what you’re going to continue to do, what you’re going to re-evaluate, and what you’re going to experiment with. Make a medium-term quarterly strategy plan, with a quarterly focus, set of goals and ‘new ideas’ bucket. Book in a team meeting at the start of each quarter to get people excited.
Get out of the office and go for an hour long walk. Your job on this walk is to think outside the box. What ideas have you been too afraid to try? What (if you’re honest) isn’t working? When you get back, commit to trying one new thing and ditching one failing thing this month. Make this strategy walk a monthly habit. And if you can, take a colleague with you.
Set a reminder in your calendar to check-in once a month with a mentor. Don’t have a mentor? Approach 5-10 people on LinkedIn who are more senior than you, retired or built and sold a similar business, and see if anyone would trade ideas for lunch. You’ll be surprised how many responses you get.
Set a reminder in your calendar to check your data every week. Google Analytics, social media metrics, the performance of your email marketing. Note trends, note things that work well. If something bombs, then stop doing it.
Stuck for campaign ideas? Spend an afternoon looking at your competitors social media posts – usually a great portal into new campaigns, landing pages, promotions or ideas. Note down anything that worked. Could you try something similar? What are you competitors doing, that you aren’t?
Go down the library and head to the marketing section. I started with ‘Content Marketing Strategies for Dummies’ and it didn’t disappoint. Perhaps because I’m a dummy.
“Hang on, what’s a library? I thought we lived in a digital age.”
Order a free copy of Lean Content Marketing here.We’ve sent over 1,000 copies out to businesses in the UK, so why not have a look for yourself?
Think about which day of the week you feel most creative, and what time of that day. Now block that time out each week (an hour will do, but two is even better) for creative thinking, creative writing and exploring your industry without a set game plan.
Keep a list of the best blogs you read last year. Stuck for inspiration? Go back to your list and note what the writers you follow are doing well. Start there.
Make a list of 10 influencers in your industry. Contact them for an interview.
Make a list of your 10 most recent customers. Contact them for a case study.
Create a new note in your phone entitled ‘content ideas.’ Whenever a clever idea hits you at 5am, put it in the list. Comedian Sarah Millican carries a notepad with her at all times, in case she says, hears or thinks of something funny. She’s not done too badly.
Who are the unsung heroes in your team? Why? Book in some time with one, per month, interview them and write something genuine about what your company does, who the team are and what it takes to make a difference.
Content can be anything you like – it’s not necessarily a blog, just something that adds value for others. Write down the 5 most useful things you remember from last year, and note what they have in common? Were they all the same medium, or did they differ? That begins to tell you what works in your industry, and where you can begin focusing your efforts.
Content is 80% thinking, 20% doing. Timetable in thinking or research time before you produce anything.
When you write, your first draft will always (always) be terrible. Allow 20% of time to bash out a bad first draft, and 80% of your time to edit. When in doubt, sleep on it, come back and delete 20% before you publish.
It is completely acceptable to publish something, and if it doesn’t work, delete it. Nobody died. Content marketing is not about perfection, it’s about value. And it takes time to learn what people really want.
Think about the last time you enjoyed producing content – was it a picture you took? A conversation you had on a podcast? Did you write an article that felt great to ‘get out there’? Stick to what you enjoy, but make a monthly commitment to do it. Content is all about consistency, as well as enthusiasm.
No idea what to write / talk / tweet about? Think about the last conversation you had with a customer. What did they ask you for help with? Start there.
Content marketing is the home of free marketing. Start with a blog. Not sure what to blog about? Read this.
How often should you blog? Friend, as often as you bloody well like. How long should a blog be? Pal, as long or short as you please. It won’t affect your SEO greatly if you decide to blog every second, or every month. The key is it must be sustainable. And if you can’t sustain a blog a day (and nobody besides Seth Godin can) then step away from the laptop. The world will keep turning.
Enjoy blogging! (What?) Yes, that’s right. ENJOY IT.You are witty and funny and awesome and talented. Share that stuff with the world. And who cares about spelling mistakes and grammar errors? You do you, and the rest will follow.
Send your content to other influencers in your field. Ask if they’ll re-share for you.
Get involved in some of the brilliant online forums for your industry. Explore Twitter chats, webinars, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and anywhere else that other people such as you share content. Join. Join in. And gradually, start sharing some of your brilliant ideas.
Never, ever worry about what other people are writing about.
Posting to social media is completely free. But thinking isn’t easy. So, take some time and actually select two or three channels to focus on. More is madness, I’m afraid.
Social media could and should be enjoyable. But like chocolate, limit your consumption. Allow yourself a set amount of time to engage on social media and create content each week, and don’t go outside that.
Create a social media group for a niche within a niche, promote it in as many places as you can.If it grows enough, you could even ask people to pay a membership fee.
Create a Twitter chat for your particular industry, ask relevant influencers to guest-host and curate monthly topics that are relevant. Use it as an opportunity to find new people to follow, and widen your reach.
Follow new accounts on your chosen platform each week. Tools such as Crowdfire really help with this. A good place to start is by following your competitors followers.
Use LinkTree to ramp-up the value you get from the single link in all your social bios.
Experiment with links, quotes, ideas, mantras and emojis in your bio information – can you communicate more with less? Can you shock people a little? Inspire them?
Get outside. Spend a day with customers, walking around the city you live in, working from a different environment. Take pictures, take note of how other people work.
Go and visit a customer, take your phone with you. Take pictures. Talk about the day in general terms, and express gratitude / interest in what you talked about.
Share something of real value at least once a week. I find writing lists of thoughts, ideas and questions as I go along in a word document helpful. By the end of the week, you’ve got something worth sharing!
Visit Piliapp, home of emojis that can be used on a desktop computer.
Cut up a blog you wrote into 5 social media posts, each one a section with a link to the post.
Write a story about a lesson you learned, share it on LinkedIn.
Create a mini social media campaign related to the season / near national events coming up. Create images using Canva and a special offer relating to your business. Schedule 6-10 posts across your channels using Buffer.
Ask questions – that you genuinely want answers for. Check for responses, and start a conversation about something relevant to your industry.
Tell a joke, and if you can’t think of anything funny to say – why not share someone else’s joke about your industry.
Share something personal, a story about your day, be humble and honest. Don’t worry about getting it ‘perfect’ just talk from the heart. Include a selfie. Yes, you read that correctly.
Never, ever worry about what other people are up to. Just be your wonderful self.
Email marketing is not as scary as GDPR makes it out to be. A great email list is still your best source of ROI, but it takes time to build. You should still be bothering with email.
Mailchimp is still the best free email marketing software out there, allowing you to create a simple list, build smart-looking communications and now create landing pages to allow people to subscribe. Promote your list everywhere – on your social media bio, email signature, blog, LinkedIn profile, and send monthly (at first) emails that really, really sound like you, to a growing group of people who want to hear from you.
Start thinking about automation – write a series of six emails that take people on an educational journey. Could this be used as a course? You could promote it using a similar process to the above, ask for signups everywhere – your social media, blog (you get the idea) and at the end of the course, offer a one-time only deal for people to sign up to work with you.
Automate one process in your business – an excellent place to start is arranging meetings. Tools like Accuity and Calendly will do it for you. No more email ping pong!
Your email signature is now more important than a business card will ever be. Is it working for you? Probably not. Get a specialist (a colleague found someone on Fiverr) to build you a glorious, custom HTML email signature with a link to your blog, so month-to-month there’s always something new for your customers to engage with.
Stop thinking of email as something that GDPR has a strangle-hold on, and start thinking of it as something you need to actively promote, talk about and encourage people to – in other words, email needs to be a repository for your very best content. Are you writing content specifically for email? I’m talking about tutorials, ideas, lists, video links, audio exerpts, book chapters – email should be a place that you communicate out the best of what you do.
Mailchimp has some incredible free features – autoresponders, automated campaigns, newsletter lists, landing pages. Spend an afternoon just learning on their education platform, and incorporate one new functionality into your marketing plans.
Do you have an email strategy? Include an ‘email’ column into your content calendar and plan ahead for monthly content to go out via email. Assign responsibility to someone in your team (no, not the most junior person) and start ramping up the value you offer.
I’ve done a fair bit of PR, but please, please consult an expert if you want the best guidance. This, after all, is just my opinion:
Think about having a unique PR strategy, creating content that is only shared via a relevant publication. For example, I wrote a marketing agony aunt column for TechSPARK. This relationship was reciprocal, and really worthwhile. Could you do something similar?
PR is all about relationships. And lists. Create a spreadsheet of all the local and industry publications that would be relevant to your business. Spend a morning calling them up, and asking for information about journalists in your area.
Maintain the accuracy of your PR list. Add any information you collect to the list, and create a very targeted set of contact details that you can reach out to.
Always, always put yourself in a journalist’s shoes. These people are busy, tired, on deadlines and under enormous pressure. I lived with a journalist for a while, and it helped me understand how crappy their job can be. If you want to run PR effectively, then your job is to make their lives easier.
Always call journalists first. Pitch your idea, then email. The vast amount of cold emails most publications receive each day makes the alternative practically pointless.
Just because something is interesting to you, won’t necessarily make it interesting to a journalist. So, think carefully about the angle you’re going for. Pitch to just a couple of outlets, and spend time thinking about the type of thing they promote, before you call up to pitch.
A good press release isn’t a blog in a word document. You’ll need to meet certain expectations and standards. A boilerplate is essential, find out what that is here.
If someone doesn’t publish your stuff, don’t take it personally. But do learn from it. Perhaps you need to up your game, or be more original, or include more research. Try a different approach next time, but do keep trying!
Further reading, contacts and links
For content marketing and social media know-how:
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If you’d like to have a chinwag with me about marketing, you can have 30 minutes for free. Book a call here.
Did I mention Lean Content books are free to order in January? I did, but here it is again:
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