Much like a major corporation, a small business is nothing without its customers. They buy your products, use your services and keep the wheels of commerce turning. In general, the more customers you have, the more revenue you’ll generate—and vice versa. Of course, retaining clients, converting prospects and generating sales requires an investment, often in the form of marketing. While big business with big budgets can throw money at it, the most plentiful resource at many smaller companies is time.
Fortunately, time is often enough, especially when you’re planning to market your company online. As long as you have a sturdy foundation—namely, a well-designed website that is functional, easy to navigate and full of high quality content—there are literally hundreds of free (or almost free) approaches you can take to attract the interest of your target market without a marketing budget. With most methods, consistency is essential for success (there are no shortcuts) so we suggest focusing on a few key aspects that will give you the greatest bang for your metaphorical buck. Don’t try and take short cuts, because they will not help you and can definitely hurt you. Shortcuts are usually referred to as “Black Hat” SEO methods and the only thing they are likely to do is either get you banned from Google’s index, delisted or stuck on the 94th page where no one will ever find you.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, the return on investment for email marketing is $39.40 for every $1 invested. Keep in mind, that investment doesn’t have to be in cold, hard cash. Time has a dollar value as well. The more time you put into creating engaging, informative, useful email content, the greater the return you can expect. Of course, you’ll need an email list first.
It won’t cost you much, unless you can do it yourself, to add a newsletter sign-up link to your website, enabling you to build a list of warm leads from people who opt in to your communications. These current customers and eager prospects are the people who are most likely to buy from you—so it should take less time to convert their interest to sales.
While it is possible to send emails from your desktop client, this is a really bad idea, for many reasons—especially as your list grows. Consider a professional email service provider, also known as an ESP or a managed email marketing service provider who is experienced and knowledgeable. This might be your path of least resistance and a worthy investment, and it may be more affordable than you think.
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The higher up in the rankings your website appears in search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, the more potential customers will click through to view it. According to one study, the top ranking site in any search will receive 37 percent of the clicks generated, while 60 percent will go to the top three. This doesn’t leave many customers for the rest of the first page, let alone those that follow.
You can use search engine optimization methods to raise your site’s ranking—and position within search results—without spending a dime. Of course, you will have to invest time. Success in SEO depends on hard work, diligent review of the latest algorithms, and carefully selected content and keywords.
Learn more about the process when you read Unmasking the BIG Secrets of SEO. Then Google “SEO basics” to find everything you need to do it on your own.
Every business can benefit from a blog, whether you’re selling toaster ovens or retirement plans. Not only are consumers attracted to companies that share great content, but also blog posts are an excellent place to put relevant, linked keywords. Even search engines love them. Publish high-quality information regularly and they’ll reward you with better rankings, which, as you may recall, means more prospects. In fact, according to one survey, companies that publish 15 or more blog posts a month generate five times more Internet traffic than those that don’t blog at all. Blog nine to 15 times a month and generate three times more traffic.
At Email Answers, our blog accounts for 21 to 24 percent of our unique monthly page views. Once visitors come to the blog to read a specific article, they usually look around to see what we do. The average, unique visitor stays for nearly five minutes—a pretty impressive figure. According to some sources, the average page visit on the average website lasts a little less than a minute.
All of our blog articles land in Google’s organic index, allowing prospects to find us who might not have normally done so. We ensure this happens by linking our blog content to our website as efficiently as possible. Of course, you can also promote your blog on social media, as we do.
From Facebook (with 1.11 billion users) to Twitter (500 million) to LinkedIn (225 million) and Pinterest (48.7 million), you have many social media options. Choose one or more that is particularly suited to your potential client base and create a free profile. For example, according to one recent report, female consumers are more likely to have accounts on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. A survey found Facebook to be the most important social network among small and medium sized businesses for business-to-consumer marketing, while LinkedIn tied with Facebook in the business-to-business arena.
As mentioned earlier, accounts on these sites are free—as is adding the appropriate link to your website and outgoing emails. Your only investment is time, so use it wisely to build relationships. You can share useful, entertaining or otherwise value-added content (like excerpts from your blog)—eventually driving traffic to your website.
So there you have it: four free (or almost free) online marketing approaches you can use to retain customers and attract prospects—the lifeblood of every business. Invest your time in email marketing, blogging, SEO and social media and your reward will be greater sales revenue—no marketing budget required.