In today’s fragmented, increasingly digital world, being able to market your business is a young person’s game. Marketing best practices are being rewritten everyday or Google is tweaking yet another algorithm, forcing marketers to change their tactics and learn new technologies and strategies.
On the other hand, the diverse, dispersed nature of digital spaces makes it’s easier than ever for businesses to find marketers or learn how to do things themselves. In either case, the Internet has really democratized marketing.
This is why taking out a loan to pay for marketing isn’t always advisable, given the massive amount of free (or very cheap) tools, educational resources, and freelancers out there.
For the Most Part, You Can Do It on Your Own
Marketing never has to be expensive because there are so many affordable steps you can take to boost your brand (and your bottom line).
If you haven’t done so already, the first thing you should do is start to create your own personal brand. This can take the form of a blog, a LinkedIn profile, or even a portfolio site. The payoff can be significant: according to Hubspot, 57% of businesses acquired a customer through their company blog, while 41% of B2B companies (and 67% of B2C companies) acquired customers through Facebook.
While there’s certainly something to be said about well-written articles, beautiful headshots, and a consistently engaging social media presence, it costs very little to do this on your own. You can always hire a freelancer once your brand is up and running.
And if you have a website, it’s easy to run analytics or tap into other website metrics to see how many visitors you have, where they hail from, and how much time they spend on your site. The downside is that many of these SEO tools can have a steep learning curve, which might be an issue for a business that needs quick, dramatic results.
Understand the Importance of the Online Space
Whether you’re a community hardware store or an eBay retailer that sells power tools, know that four out of five customers find local businesses through the Internet—but only 37% of businesses have ever updated their information.
Search engines like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor have displaced physical directories like phone books or the Yellow Pages. But that doesn’t mean that local directories are out of the picture (they’ve just moved online).
Even if you’re a community business that makes most of its money from foot traffic, you need to pay attention to local search providers. As powerful as companies like Google and Yelp may be, they can’t be everywhere at once. Instead, they rely on local search data providers to feed them information about your business, such as phone numbers, opening hours, contact information, etc.
Just by updating your local listings or using these intuitive, free local search tools, you can help keep your business information current, which will attract more pageviews and more customers.
If You Do Hire, It Doesn’t Have to Cost Much
SEO is the Wild West of the Internet. Because the Internet has allowed startups to compete with more established agencies, there are a host of agencies (some skilled, most average, and many unscrupulous) to choose from.
As a result, it can be hard to figure out how to distinguish quality from quackery. Aside from Googling your desired agency, you may want to ask for a proposal/price quote, as well as former and current clients who are willing to put in a good word (testimonials). The key is to know what you want out of this relationship, what sort of specialist you need, and more importantly, how much you’re willing to pay.
A limited campaign with two to three clear goals (boost traffic to my site, increase customer conversions by 50%) is clearer, more achievable, and cheaper than a comprehensive revamp of your online presence (which could include a new website, blog, Youtube channel with videos, etc).
Another good way to assess any given agency is through its portfolio and/or blog. If an agency has a consistently useful blog or a portfolio of successful case studies, you can be assured that they will be highly competent and knowledgeable.
Understand the Difference Between Marketing and PR
For the most part, you (and your business) will probably not need a public relations (PR) agency. Unless you run a large, specialist company or a multinational, you won’t need to communicate with press or conduct damage control.
In fact, PR is so expensive that it’s not a suitable investment for most businesses. PR retainers can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per month, and they generally handle large-scale events and projects, from launching a new line of purses in the New York market, or helping a defense contractor secure an audience with an important foreign dignitary.
So unless your business requires you to hobnob with world leaders or top fashionistas, there’s really no need for a high-priced, low-value PR firm. Your bottom line, and your employees, will thank you.
Anyone Can Learn How to Market Their Own Business
Ultimately, whether you choose to take out a loan to invest in marketing is your choice. But before you do, do a quick search of all the PPC, SEO, social media, website copy, landing page, funnel creation, and email marketing websites out there. Nearly all of them have free ebooks and training videos you can watch.
Try to spend some time reading these free gems because even a few minutes of learning can give you a much better understanding of what you need to spend money on and what you can bootstrap yourself.