Ask the Expert: Digital marketing pitfalls for early-stage businesses

Ask the Expert |

This article appeared in the Union Leader on October 6, 2019

Digital marketing can be very effective for startups and small businesses.

It promises flexible budgets, the ability to track return on your marketing efforts, and unparalleled targeting capabilities for early stage businesses looking to gain exposure for their products and services.

But one of the most common pitfalls early-stage companies and small businesses fall into is jumping right into tactics.

You may have read articles and attended conferences where you were told you must do “X.”

For example, “your business has to be on Facebook,” “or “your business has to be doing video or you’ll be left behind” or “you have to have a blog.”

HubSpot posted a blog last month about blogging, and if you read the first few paragraphs, you would think all was lost and you should just throw in the towel if your business doesn’t have one.

While some of these tactics might be right for your business, jumping straight to doing these things because someone told you that you “had to” could be a big mistake.

What’s far more important is to focus on the basics of marketing and foundational things you should have in place first.

Know your customer

Knowing your customer should be your first step. I’m always surprised at how many established businesses come to us so wrapped up in their day-to-day efforts that they haven’t stepped back to think about who their customer actually is.

Taking the time to research and think about who your ideal customers are will guide the marketing decisions you make going forward.

Write down everything you know about them.

Ask a lot of questions.

Who are they? What do they do? Where do they live? Where do they get information? What conferences do they attend? What are their pain points? What do they value or what are their key considerations when thinking about your product or service? What does their buyer journey look like and what are the questions they ask along their buyer journey? This will take time, and I find it best if it continues to be a work in progress that evolves over time.

Create personas

Once you have all this information, make it real and relatable by creating a couple of personas. These are fictitious representations of your ideal customers. Give them a name (I usually go with something like Designer Dan or Marketing Manager Mary), find a stock photo the represents them, and write a bio. When you are making important decisions about your marketing or website, print the personas out and hang them on the wall. Keep asking yourself, “what would Designer Dan care about? Would this answer Mary’s question?”

Your website

The next step is making sure you have a good website. Your website should be the hub at the center of all your digital marketing activities, and it’s often the first impression for potential customers.

What makes a good website? One that speaks to Dan and Mary’s needs, answers their questions and addresses their pain points. It should also look presentable, adapt to mobile devices, be easy to navigate, well organized and search engine friendly.

Make sure you have Google Analytics installed and goals setup to track what you’d like visitors to do. Whether that’s filling out a contact form, making a purchase, scheduling an appointment or downloading a case study. This is how you’ll know which parts of your digital marketing are working and which ones are not.

Create an email list

Email is still one of the best performing channels of digital marketing. A good email list allows you to inexpensively and easily encourage repeat sales or visits for existing or past customers. You can also nurture potential customers into becoming paying customers. And unlike social media followers, you own and control the list and can reliably connect with people on your list.

Make sure you have a way to stay in touch with potential, existing and past customers via email. There are free tools like MailChimp that work well for getting started and countless other tools with minimal fees. Many modern point of sale systems like Stripe have ways to automatically add customers to your email list, and it’s usually fairly simple to add a newsletter subscription option to your website.

Create content

Create content that answers Dan and Mary’s questions, addresses their pain points, makes their job or life easier and/or entertains them. Think about what they’d be interested in, what would help them or make them happy. Content can be any number of things, like blog posts, calculators, tools, guides, white papers, recipes, photos, videos, etc.

Get traffic and exposure

You could skip right to this step like many people do but getting exposure and engaging with your audience becomes so much easier and more effective if you’ve laid the groundwork first. Think about where Dan and Mary are online and where they are likely to engage with your content and your business.

If you are a company that has created a new app to monitor energy usage at home, this could mean creating a series of YouTube videos on how to save energy with a short plug for your new app at the end. If you are making gluten-free baking products, this could mean posting recipes that include your products on your website and sharing them on Pinterest.

Taking care of the basics and having a solid foundation in place will help guide you towards the right tactics and where you should be focusing your efforts. In the end, social media and a blog might be the right places to invest your time and money, but you’ll be a lot more successful if you are talking to Dan and Mary and sharing content and tools with them instead of talking about yourself to a faceless audience.

Zach Luse is the founder of Paragon Digital Marketing, a growing 12-person New Hampshire-based agency that helps marketers around the country grow their small to midsize businesses with digital marketing and website design services. Contact Luse by emailing [email protected].