When it comes to leveraging the latest digital marketing practices, owners of small and midsized businesses often feel left behind. They are inherently lacking the budgets to adapt new technologies & tactics to herald their way to the digital excellence kingdom.
Really, how can one create a solid customer base (or even attract leads), having to compete with dozens of local players and huge corporations? Sounds unachievable, doesn’t it? What if someone told you that it is actually a piece of cake? You might as well think that person knows nothing about problems and obstacles that small companies face in the U.S. market.
I have caught up with Sergey Grybniak, a recognized pro in development and marketing solutions for complicated projects, primarily marketplaces. He started his career as a freelancer to become owner of a digital marketing agency for small and midsized businesses. Later, he found Clever-Solution.com.
Sergey claims that driving traffic, attracting leads, raising brand awareness and improving conversions have never been easier even if you are a small business. Let’s find out more what he thinks about it.
Sergey, you seem pretty sure that small and midsized businesses have entered the golden era of opportunity. Can you elaborate more on that?
I am adamant about the fact that small and midsized companies have been enjoying preferential terms since the 90’s. Advances in internet technologies and the mobile industry have made it so much easier tojumpstart your company from an unknown, local player to a global business. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to solve lots of problems and put in the hard work, but nonetheless opportunities are abundant.
Just think about it. We didn’t have the internet, smartphones, social networks, and Google GOOGL +21.89% in the 80’s. If you were a small business back then, your only hope was to be mentioned by big players, or come up with some kind of a unique product or service. Most likely, you wouldn’t have enough money to run TV ads or purchase roadside banners across the state.
But what do we have now? Any business can afford to develop a website. Generating and posting content in a blog is not rocket science either. Just create accounts on social networks and share the content to entice your target audience. That being said, you can easily put your business on the map without having to spend much time and money.
What can a typical small business owner do to stand out? You see, merely every company has a website and pumps the juices from social networks.
To devise a strategy to differ amongst competitors, company owners can either rely on themselves (their knowledge, proficiency and expertise) or hire a digital marketing agency.
Sometimes it makes perfect sense to look into the whole digital marketing thing yourself because nobody knows your business better than you do. Of course, you will have to spend some time on research first and only then start cranking out articles, posting them on your blog and social networks. You will have to keep your accounts buzzed on a regular basis as well.
Anyway, at the bottom of it all, you should ask yourself: Am I ready to spend at least several hours a day trying to keep my digital presence strong? Do I have any ideas for content or a digital marketing strategy whatsoever? Am I trained enough to do SEO stuff on my website?
If your answer is ‘no’, consider hiring a certified digital marketing agency for the job. Then, you will only need to bring in professionals into the picture. Leave the rest up to them.
Employing a digital marketing agency is definitely a win-win solution. But what if you have just started a company and are desperate for money? Are there any free tips for driving visitors to the website?
To tell the truth, I’d recommend focusing on leads, not visitors. Visitors are casual users browsing the Web. They visit your website but are not going to buy anything just yet.
Of course, driving visitors to the website is important, but if you lack the budget (and “tools” such as forms, content, etc.) to convert and close them, do not invest in it. Your priority is to get a great ROI; and it can be achieved even if your traffic is not that impressive.
On the flipside, leads are interested in your products and services. They are not just looking around for ways of solving their problems, they have already found the solutions and know you can help. Thus, leads are more inclined to make a purchase in the first place.
Are there any foolproof methods to attract leads?
To begin with, owners should register their businesses on digital marketplaces. Even if you have a website, push hard to cement your position on third-party e-commerce or service-focused digital platforms. It will help you spread the word about your business and, most importantly, drive leads straight to your website.
Can you recommend any digital marketplaces to register on?
Well, the answer heavily depends on the business itself, its model and goals. My advice is, register on as many platforms as you can. It never hurts to get free traffic, leads and customers, right?
Begin with well-established marketplaces like Amazon, eBay EBAY -0.61%, AirBnB, Etsy or Sears. They are popular, both among customers and suppliers. The downside is that competition is fierce. But, if you manage to make it there (yeah, you can make it anywhere), you will not only generate dozens of leads but also earn quite a lot of money on the marketplace itself.
If you think that A-scale platforms are too competitive for your business, research and register on recently launched marketplaces – whether general purpose or niche-focused ones . They can hardly boast of having a huge supplier base, and their owners are interested in attracting you. They will often sugar coat the deal for you (if you ask politely).
The bad news is, initially you will not be able to drive lots of leads from these recently launched marketplaces. To see a positive difference in visitors, leads and conversions, you should get to the platform’s top first. Basically, you will have to become the number one business in the respective industry. Fortunately, that is not that hard.
Is it easier to make it on the general purpose or industry-focused marketplaces?
Obviously, the answer will be different for every company. Some of them are developed for huge corporations but some are laser-focused on tiny companies. What they have in common is that jack-of-all-trades marketplaces (like Opporty) are generally about providing or seeking some type of a service.
Let’s say, you need to find a carpenter to help you with your physical store. Create a request and give it some time to spread; then, just sift out the bids to choose the best one. But it works the other way around too: offer your goods and services, and leads will follow. That is how B2B & B2C general purpose marketplaces usually operate.
Meanwhile, industry-focused marketplaces are a different story. If your business is landlocked in a single niche, you have no other choice but to register on as many industry-related marketplaces as you can find.
Just search for marketplaces and keep registering on the ones you find useful for your business. Travel business? Most likely, you will want to have a stand at a flexible route planning marketplace (like Vericost). An auto industry player? You are free to choose from Your Mechanic (a platform that connects car owners with mechanics), Carvoy (a platform for leasing cars online) or ZipCar (a platform for renting cars).
Anyway, the bottom line is that marketplaces are great for attracting high-quality leads. They allow you to showcase your products and services. The more people know about your business, the more likely they are going to visit your website to close a deal.
Great. But what if you want to focus more on your own website? After all, most business owners will not hop from one platform to another – they need a more business-oriented approach, I’d say.
Well, it is all about attracting leads, right? So, whether you find it fitting for a businessman or not, you will have to do some hopping. For instance, my next tip is about the so-called cheap leads, and if you want to have any success with it, focusing on other platforms is crucial.
What I mean is, you do not need to put all your eggs in one basket. On the contrary, to get leads you are going to contact multiple blogs, forums, directories, etc. They all have some free leads, so why not take advantage of them?
Remember that social networks such as Facebook FB -0.29%, Twitter TWTR -2.18%, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and even LinkedIn LNKD -0.03%are your friends as well. Don’t be afraid to make your presence known: connect with people, post and share content, push content if you dare to be more aggressive – it is all up to you.
Free and cheap leads are your shortcut to becoming a better (and more profitable) business. They empower you to move your digital marketing campaign forward. After all, impressive ROI is what everybody needs, right? Just ask yourself: Am I ready to do what it takes to boost my ROI? If you answer is ‘yes,’ then cheap leads is your way to go.
Sergey, and what about networking events? Can they help with leads?
Absolutely! The whole idea of attracting leads is about getting your business connected – with blogs, forums, platforms, social networks, and people. You are an integral part of your company, so mix with the right people and make them interested in what you do. Get to know their pain points, learn from them.
I am not talking about being an annoying spammer who tries to befriend as many influential people as possible. Just visit business events and conferences, ask and answer questions, pitch influencers on social networks (but don’t be a maniac about it), join business-related groups, etc.
Basically, your goal is to find people who may help you make your business more popular. A single reference or endorsement from an industry guru will make a huge difference for your company. So, never treat networking as a waste of time, but at the same time make sure to utilize it properly.
Do you have any content tips? As far as I know, most digital marketers cannot help stressing the importance of using high-quality content. What do you think about it?
Well, digital marketers are absolutely right. Let me put it this way: you can promote your business without content but it will never reach its full potential.
Content is perfect for capturing leads in the sales funnel. People are always looking for ways to solve their problems, and content is their source of information. Provide meaningful solutions to their problems and you will immediately put your company above the competition.
It doesn’t matter if you create written content like educational articles, press releases, ebooks, guides and whitepapers or make videos, podcasts and slideshares – your goal is to attract, convert, close and delight.
Content quality inevitably plays a crucial role. It needs to captivate, encourage and empower people; be high-quality but emotional and fun at the same time. The more you invest in content, the better. The higher quality it is, the better.
How do you understand that your content is going to satisfy your targeted audience?
You don’t need to calculate each and every step. Just open your Word processor and start writing about your business, your goals and mission. You never know if people like or hate what you write, so just press “publish” and wait for feedback. Then analyze your mistakes and crank out several articles again. Rinse and repeat.
Basically, you need lots of content – to post in the blog, to share on social networks, to guest blog on other websites, blogs and forums. Though you will have to be productive to push your way to the top of search engines, it is the most efficient strategy in the long run. High-quality content will drive dozens of thousands of leads to your website for years to come.
The outlook for content is positive, then. But let’s talk more about digital marketing services. If business owners can do a lot by themselves, does it make any sense to ask pros for help?
The truth is, it always makes sense to ask experts for help even if your business is flourishing. You can get a lot of visitors, have excellent conversion rates and be proud of your ROI, but believe me there is always something you can improve on and achieve even greater results.
In other words, if you have the budget, hire an agency to audit your website, blog, social networking accounts, etc. I guarantee it will be an eye-opener.
Can you pinpoint any soft spots in what small business owners usually do wrong on their websites?
For sure. Business people are wired to do business, they are not digital marketing geniuses and make mistakes. No wonder, it is quite hard to get a handle on basic digital marketing principles, search engine optimization, social media marketing, blogging, analytics, conversion, pay-per-click marketing, and so on and so forth. People are trained to do this stuff, and you cannot just read several blog posts to get it all.
Anyway, when it comes to digital marketing mistakes, analytics and conversions are unrivaled. Although Google provides a free course on Google Analytics, it is quite challenging to set the tool up. Conversions, goals, acquisitions are not easy to tackle as well. In other words, if you want to use Google Analytics, Google AdWords or any other professional tool, hire a pro to launch it for you.
UI/UX is definitely a problem. It is quite common when a website looks and even feels good but is an utter and complete failure in terms of usability. Having a visually appealing website is a must but do not forget that it needs to be simple to use, too. Its homepage, landing pages, blog, and conversion forms should be a single entity that guarantees a perfect flow from one page to another.
But can small business owners devise a better strategy than a certified professional?
Well, it depends. On the one hand, you are an owner and you know your business. Though, on the other hand, you lack knowledge and expertise in that particular sphere. You can break down the whole process and follow detailed guidelines step by step, but nevertheless miss the big picture.
A small business owner decides to launch a PPC campaign. He creates ads and sets everything up but then, in the end of the month, he figures out that the budget is wasted with no results at all.
The problem? The ads were linked to landing pages that did not meet visitors’ expectations. The mismatch between expectations and reality hurt so much that leads chose not to convert into customers. They just did not find what the business had advertised.
My point? You need to understand the flow – from ads to landing pages, from landing pages to conversion forms, from conversion forms to thank you pages, and so on. Feel that it is a tough nut to crack? Hire a professional!
Can you share the best tip for attracting leads?
It may be as plain as daylight but consider hiring a professional digital marketing team to move your business forward. There are lots of agencies that provide niche-focused solutions at a reasonable price. Just go to Yelp YELP +0.80%.com and search for the best agencies in your city or state. It is as simple as that.
When you separate the wheat from the chaff, just ask for a free SEO audit. It will help you find out if the agency is really interested in polishing your website from a SEO standpoint. You can keep and use the audit if you do not want to hire the agency as well.
To sum it up, let professionals bring your company to the next level. If you know what you are looking for, finding an agency that is not a burden to your budget will not be a problem.
Any final thoughts?
Attracting leads is much easier than most small business owners think. All you need is a strategy and determination to fulfil it.
Take advantage of cheap leads from marketplaces, blogs, forums and social networks to quickly strengthen the position of your company locally. Become friends with the right people and ensure that your captivating content is shared where it needs to be.
Move forward to hire a digital marketing agency with certified professionals who care about what they do. Ask digital marketing pundits to enhance your campaign and perfect your strategy. Then, make your business 100% more powerful by utilizing SEO, PPC, SMM, link building and content marketing to the full extent.
It seems to be a daunting task, and I am not going to tell you that anyone can do it. However, it is much easier than it used to be several decades ago. You have a card up your sleeve – focus on leads; traffic and conversions will follow.
Thank you for joining me today, Sergey. Pleasure talking to you.
This article was first published on http://www.forbes.com/sites/laura-inamedinova/2016/08/08/how-startups-can-make-lead-generation-easy/#4d781da82815