There’s an old saying that goes like this:
“Something terrible happens if you don’t promote — nothing happens.”
But, you want something to happen with your business. You want it to thrive, grow and make money. To do that, you have to promote your products and services.
How Is There Time to Market When You’re Busy Doing Your “Day” Job?
One solution is to schedule regular marketing initiatives and follow up with action when your calendar dings.
Why? Here’s what the U.S. Small Business Administration says:
“Create a marketing calendar. Break down your marketing plan more specifically into a calendar that shows what type of marketing you will do each month, each week and even each day.
“This can include ad placements, PR campaigns, social media posts and more. By putting your plan on a calendar, you’re committed to carrying it out and things won’t fall through the cracks.”
“Use free online tools such as http://marketingcalendar2016.com/* to keep you organized with the key marketing activities emailed to you as necessary.”
*Note: Even though the link says 2016, you can still sign up for FREE and get right on time to start a marketing calendar for 2019.
Like facing any challenge, the first thing you need is a plan. Read on for our guide to help formulate a marketing plan.
Schedule a strategy session with key members of your organization. Plan a half or full day, offsite if possible, and tell your attendees to come prepared to brainstorm. Get together, turn off the cell phones, disconnect from email, and strategize.
Ask questions such as:
- Where are we?
- Where do we want to be in six months, a year, five years?
- How do we get there?
- Which marketing strategies have worked in the past and which haven’t?
- Why should prospects choose us over our competitors?
- How can we convey what differentiates us from our competitors?
Identify some specific goals. It’s not enough to say, “We want to earn more money.” Instead, create attainable, measurable goals such as “We want to increase sales for this specific product or service by 20% by the end of Q3.”
Great! Now you have specific goals.
The next step is to identify which marketing strategies and tactics you want to implement over the next month, quarter or year.
TOP OF PAGE
Create a Calendar
Create a calendar specifically for your marketing strategies and tactics. Later, you can schedule specific tasks for whomever will be completing the tasks, but for now, it’s best to schedule the big picture plan.
Following is a list of proven successful marketing activities. Review each and determine which will work for your business. Each has a recommended frequency, in order from most frequent to least. Add each event to your marketing calendar.
Create High-Quality, Fresh Content
Creating high-quality content is a must for any business that wants to succeed. Everyone has a story. This is also true for businesses.
What is your story?
You’ll want to tell that story to your customers.
Products, services and industries — whatever you know and provide, you know it well enough that you’ve started your own business. Your customers should know what you do.
The how and the why of what you do is what is interesting to your prospects.
The simplest method is written content, usually in the form of a blog. If you’re not writing and publishing regular blogs on your website, you should be.
What’s a “blog?”
It’s an abbreviation for a “web log” from the early days of the Internet. These days, it’s the catch phrase or jargon for stories, articles, images and videos you publish on your website and then usually distribute across social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc).
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Content is king.” Your current and prospective customers must find some value in your content — whatever you publish must benefit them in some way. Usually this is to help them solve a problem or learn something new. Your content must supply a demand, even if the demand is to be entertained for a few minutes.
People are busy and there is a lot of competition for their attention. If you want them to spend two or ten minutes paying attention to what you have to say, make it worth their time!
Establish authority and earn trust
Use your blog to establish your authority. In other words, demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in your industry. Give your readers some free, valuable information — tell them how to do something or how to solve a problem.
By giving readers something for free, this earns their trust. And once you have their trust, they are far more likely to become customers!
Make sure you have a call-to-action in every blog post — a link to click or an invitation to leave a comment.
Writing Not Your Thing?
The odds are high that writing or storytelling is not in your skill set. Blog writing differs greatly from the types of writing you may be more familiar with. Blog writing is more casual and personal, often using first person perspective.
If you (and everyone else in your organization) lack the time or experience with blog writing, consider outsourcing this. There are countless freelance writers and digital marketing firms who can create your content for you.
Take a look at http://ContentFirst.Marketing for one source of content writing services.
Plus, there’s a hidden benefit to hiring professionals to write your blogs — they’ll ask questions and see story lines that might not be obvious to you. While you’ll have a list of blog topics, their perspective can add to that list with fresh ideas.
Other Ways to Tell Your Story Than Just Writing It
While well-written blog content is one way to tell your story, there are two other methods to consider:
Podcasts are becoming an effective and popular way to disseminate information. Even though we’re living in a video-centered world, consumers can be reached through their ears while driving, doing chores or exercising. Make your podcasts on single topics. If possible, have two people so there are different voices — and keep the discussion informal.
Videos are becoming increasingly popular and not as expensive as they used to be. Put together a 90-second to 3-minute video. Distribute the video via email, on your website and to your social media platforms. Half a dozen videos per year, along with podcasts and blogs, will provide a variety of content distribution.
TOP OF PAGE
Schedule a monthly broadcast email to your subscribers.
These monthly emails will vary depending on what your company does. It might be unveiling a new product, announcing an event, providing a case study that speaks to your brand, showcasing your recent blog posts, or a promotional video.
Don’t become discouraged if you have trouble developing ideas. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so taking others’ ideas and tweaking them for your advantage is not a federal offense. Just search in Google for “lead magnet ideas” and take a few sips from that firehose.
A few tips to keep in mind:
If your event is time sensitive — debut of a new product, a special sale, an actionable event — make sure to schedule the email a few days before your Big Day takes place. Then send a follow up email on the Big Day.
Know your audience. This can be crucial in terms of when to send the email you’ve spent days crafting. A younger audience won’t mind getting an email after 5 p.m. or on weekends. Older audiences, especially those who might get slammed with emails daily, will be wading through a swamped inbox on Mondays. Friday afternoons, people are generally trying to tie up the week’s tasks and are focusing on their weekend plans.
TOP OF PAGE
Your content strategy must NOT be a one-way street. Customers today want to have a say, they want to be able to make comments or leave reviews, they want to have conversations. Gone are the days when marketers streamed content out to customers and customers had little opportunity to respond.
A way to create two-way traffic is through surveys.
There are free online tools that can help. A Google search will yield answers; SurveyMonkey.com is just one tool. The survey can be emailed to your client list. It can also live on your website (just make sure it gets updated each month).
If you can provide incentives — coupons, discounts, prizes — you can increase the number of responses.
Your customers are smart and don’t want their time wasted, so make sure you keep your survey short and ask relevant questions!
Some of your customers will express their dissatisfaction, so be prepared. If you receive negative feedback, use it as an opportunity to resolve the customer’s issue.
- Avoid relying on yes/no or rating-only questions. Why? Because questions that rate your business on a scale of 1 to 10 or excellent/good/poor will only tell half the story.
- Ask for the “why” behind the rating or open-ended comments that will help you understand your customers. (Those comments could also lead to testimonials, a topic that will be discussed later).
Getting feedback about your messaging is crucial. Asking your customers for their thoughts is a great way to understand how well your talking points are being received. An added bonus is that if your customers believe they’re “part of the process,” then that can lead to building loyalty with your brand.
Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Safelite Auto Glass, had this advice in a Huffington Post.com story about small business surveys:
“You cannot live in denial. If the results are not what you want, don’t sweep them under the rug and blame it on the method. Embrace the feedback and do something about it.”
TOP OF PAGE
Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) can be a great way to instantly connect with your audience. This immediacy, though, demands that you refresh the message. The same ol’ same, ol’ becomes tedious for the folks who “live” on social media.
Once a month, take time to review what your company is doing on social media.
- You’re increasing your followers
- They re-Tweeting your posts
- Your social media posts are generating a conversation with your target audience
Avoid only using social media to promote a product or service. Use social media just like you use blogs — to build your authority as a trusted source of valuable, useful information. Give your social media followers some free content they will find beneficial in some way, even if it’s just to give them a little smile in their day. Humorous posts, especially images and videos, are often shared the most.
Social media can backfire if your message has a mistake – always, ALWAYS proofread before hitting send. The “trolls” who love to take shots at posts will bring unwanted attention. And if someone takes a shot at your company, make sure whoever is handling your social media communication stays above and avoids the fray. A virtual firefight is a losing proposition.
Because social media is running 24-365, it’s a must to schedule time for an assessment of how your business is using social media tools.
TOP OF PAGE
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Review
We all know the valuable real estate on the Internet exists on that first page of a Google search. If your organization is not listed on that first page when a user keys in a keyword phrase relevant to your business, they are far less likely to find your website. At least once a month, you should look at the analytics that are easily available to see how your site is doing.
We could write an entire book on how to optimize your site for search engines, but there are a few key things to know. Moz.com is a great site for some help with search engine optimization.
Two basic types of SEO exist: on-page and off-page. You can implement on-page optimization strategies right away, often for little or no cost. Off-page is a bit more complicated.
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing love high-quality content. High-quality content supplies users’ demands and should be linkable. This means you want people to link to your content, either from their own blogs or websites. Search engines look for content other sites like.
Using title tags and an informative URL to accurately describe the page content is also a good way to make sure search engines find your site.
You should also always fill in the “alt tag” field on all of your images and include the keyword or phrase you want the page to rank for. Even if your image includes text with your keyword, search engines can’t read images, so the keyword needs to be in the “alt tag” field.
Off-page SEO refers to actions such as submitting your website to search engines and directories, blogging, sharing photos and videos on social media, creating backlinks (getting other sites to link to yours), cross-linking between pages on your website, using tools such as Google Local and Maps, and participating in forums and discussion boards with links back to your site.
You may need to do some research here or seek the help of a professional digital marketing firm.
Again, this is a broad topic, but you can use free tools such as Google Analytics to see exactly how your site is doing.
Here are the things to look for:
- The content discussed earlier — is it being read?
- Which posts reached the most people?
- Which posts were shared the most?
- What are the demographics of the users who are reviewing your content?
- What are the traffic trends for your website in terms of unique visitors and return visitors?
- How much time are they spending on your site and where are they spending it?
- Is your social media strategy effective?
- Is there a need to improve your business’ backlink portfolio?
- Do the SEO numbers show the need to start a campaign to build more inbound links?
TOP OF PAGE
Paid Search Review
If your company’s budget allows, you might want to consider signing up for paid search methods. These can run as much as $1,000 per month to manage plus the price of the ads, but these companies can provide you with valuable information such as cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.
Here are three of the most popular online advertising services:
Google AdWords that lets you display ads on Google where you can set a budget and only pay when a user clicks on your ad. It’s based on keywords, and you pay more for popular keywords. Google added a new feature called Customer Match, which allows you to target users based on their email addresses.
This is run by Microsoft and admittedly runs a distant second to Google. However, Bing Ads has shown growth and could provide a less-expensive alternative to Google.
Bing Ads has two useful tools.
- Ads can be targeted based on demographics.
- There’s an editing function that allows for changes offline and then allows that update to be synced to the online version.
With 2.27 billion users and an estimated 1.5 billion visitors per day, Mark Zuckerberg’s invention is social media on steroids. With Facebook Ads, you choose who your target audience is and Facebook displays your ads only to those users. No need to waste money displaying ads to users who will have no interest in your product or service, so this can be a very successful advertising medium.
Make sure you have a calendar entry to review your paid search plans once per month so you can make changes promptly when you see ads aren’t generating traffic to your site and increasing sales.
TOP OF PAGE
Referral Partner Review
Frequency: Every two months
Similar to an employee referral bonus plan, a great way to find customers is to have partner businesses refer your business to their customers. For each referral that converts into a customer, you pay them a referral fee.
For example, if you own a company that installs windows and doors, you might have customers who need to have their decks repaired or replaced too. If you can refer them to a deck company, that company would pay you a fee. In addition, the deck company is likely to be asked by its customers for a window installer recommendation.
Create a “Referral Review” spreadsheet where you can track which partners sent you the most (and the best) leads. Review it every few months.
Here are some key questions when you conduct your review:
- How many referrals were there?
- How much were these worth?
- Are there certain referral partners doing all of the referring?
Being referred by a satisfied customer is invaluable (and cheap) advertising. According to Smallbiztrends.com, 85% of small businesses get customers through word of mouth. That’s great, but it also needs to be supplemented.
Your business might need to take the initiative.
- Identify some businesses your target audience may hire and approach them about a referral partner program.
- Send a broadcast email every few months to remind the ones who are not doing much referring about your referral partner program. And don’t forget to thank the ones that are!
TOP OF PAGE
Somewhere on your website you should have a section featuring testimonials from your customers. Those can be extremely valuable because they offer the customer’s perspective and, for the most part, should be positive reviews of your business and product(s).
Your testimonial page is a living document. Quarterly, update the page with at least three fresh testimonials that will be seen first. Review the previous comments and remove ones that are out of date or no longer relevant.
You can glean these from the surveys mentioned earlier or you can solicit comments.
Schedule time to call some of your customers. Let them know you’d like them to comment for a testimonial for your company. This is great public relations and a chance to break down the wall of impersonal communication in this digital age.
Make sure to ask permission to post the testimonials!
TOP OF PAGE
Visit Your Website
We all know how it is. We’ve all been there. When you’re up to your neck in alligators, you lose track that the goal is cleaning the swamp.
But there are times when you need to go up to 35,000 feet and take a look at your website. Once every three months, do some role playing: Pretend you’re a potential customer, visit the website and make some objective assessments.
Read some of the blog items, look at the videos; if there are any links, give them a click to make sure they’re active and lead where they’re supposed to lead. Remove or fix broken links or outdated info as soon as possible, as these guarantee visitors will click away to another site.
If there was a major change in a product or the direction of your company, does your website still convey your brand properly?
TOP OF PAGE
Autoresponder emails are messages that you send at scheduled times and days to engage your current and prospective customers. They generally contain useful tips, links to recent blog posts or special offers or promotions. Many email systems and customer relationship management systems such as Infusionsoft allow you to automate this process.
Automated email messages from your company can be a great time-saving tool. But remember, those messages can seem robotic. These are the questions to ask and details that should be checked quarterly.
- Make sure to analyze the click-through rates for each email in the autoresponder.
- Does this still resonate with the currently defined audience?
- Is the segmenting still relevant to the offers?
- Are the click-through rates acceptable for each email?
Using the answers to these questions, identify if any messages should be refreshed, removed or replaced.
Review and Update Print Collateral
It might be a digital world but printed materials still have value. Your customers and would-be customers still enjoy something they can hold that doesn’t have a screen or an on-off switch.
Every three months, go through your “library” even if it’s just a few items. Business cards, brochures, flyers, mailers — make sure all are accurate and up to date. Reviewing this material could also lead to ideas for new versions.
Also, printed materials can live on your website. If you site has the space, choose the printed items that best promote your offers or would be useful printed, such as a calendar of events, infographics or a checklist. Create digital versions (PDFs) that can be downloaded or printed. You can distribute the digital versions via email and social media too.
TOP OF PAGE
Your business needs to scrub its opt-out list. These are customers who have decided they no longer want to receive your emails.
Because of government regulations (if you haven’t already, get familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act) there are legal reasons to make sure your opt-out tool is functioning properly.
Archive the opt-outs to a separate list and keep for future evaluation. Remove duplicates as well.
Direct Mail Campaign
Frequency: Every three to six months
The version of “mail” that isn’t preceded by the fifth letter in the alphabet might seem too old school to be effective. But three to four times a year, you should contemplate a direct mail campaign.
Remember, the Internet is drinking from a firehose set to full blast. Your business can stand out with a print campaign that shows up in the mailbox instead of the inbox. A direct mail campaign that includes a coupon or discount can be effective since recipients may be more likely to hang onto it.
Are You On Target with Your Audience?
Frequency: Every six months
Famed golf instructor Harvey Penick’s best-selling book was called Take Dead Aim. That’s good advice.
Once every six months, take some time to assess your audience and if you’re targeting that audience properly. If your audience changes, adjust your aim. If your audience remains the same, make sure your aim is true.
Some reasons your target audience may have changed a bit could be you’ve added or removed products or services. Maybe you thought your target audience was one demographic but your customers and social media followers are turning out to be another.
For example, suppose you own an online shoe store that specializes in expensive, comfortable shoes for men and women. You thought your target audience consisted of older adults, aging baby-boomers who care less about being fashionable and more about being comfortable. But you’re finding that outdoorsy, adventurous, younger types and stay-at-home moms are buying your comfortable shoes too.
TOP OF PAGE
Review Branding Documents
Your business has a brand (if it doesn’t, get one, STAT). That brand should be the first thing a customer sees or remembers. Your brand should convey to customers right away how you want to be known.
Once a year, review how your brand is being used on all visible platforms. You don’t want to oversaturate but if a customer touches your business, that brand should be included in some manner.
Big Picture Ideas
These are ideas that don’t need to live on your marketing calendar but they need to exist on the margins. Consider these initiatives when your business needs a special boost.
Plan an Event
This is no small undertaking, especially if you’ve never done it before.
Here are some questions to consider:
- What’s the objective for the event? Lead generation? A product rollout? Developing customer loyalty? An event that generates profit?
- Who is the target audience you want to attend the event?
- How are you going to market the event (invitation only, open to the public, etc)
- What is your budget for this event?
Before you get too far into the actual event details, make sure you have a clear cut objective for your event.
Consider hiring an event planner, particularly if you lack experience in event planning. The investment could be well worth it since the planner handles all of the details and can make suggestions.
Free trial or promotion
Everybody likes to get something for free. Depending on your business and what it produces, you might consider offering free trials to potential customers. Before going this route, calculate if this fits with your bottom line. You also might consider a promotional giveaway that offers a taste of what your company has to offer.
Consider writing a case study that would promote your business. A case study is generally a story about a customer which demonstrates how your business delivered what it promised — rather than talking about what you say you can do. A few things to consider when choosing the customer to “study” should include:
Try to find a knowledgeable, enthusiastic customer who understood the value of what you did for them. Ideally, this is someone who either left a competitor and came to you and / or has a recognizable brand.
Consider a nontraditional customer who had positive results, which will appeal to a broader prospect base.
Obviously, this is not to be taken lightly. It’s a lot like changing your name. If your company has evolved into new product lines or service offerings, or appeals to a different audience than when you first launched, it may be time to rebrand. Remember, your brand identity is how you want to be known, so consider how this might have changed.
Or if your original brand identity doesn’t seem to be sending the right message, consider rebranding.
You may want to hire a marketing firm — it can be well worth the investment to develop a brand identity that grows your business.
If your business needs a profile boost or there’s a new product you’re debuting, a video is a great way to get the word out. Video marketing is exploding in popularity and has become a very effective tool for some types of businesses. Just make sure your video looks professional — recording it on your smartphone and plopping it out on YouTube may not attract the attention you want.
If you can’t afford a professional video firm, see if any local colleges or tech institutes offer audio / visual programs. Students nearing graduation often need examples for their portfolios and may be able to shoot and edit your video for free or a nominal fee.
Create a Television Spot
Obviously, this not only requires the money to produce a quality video but you also need to buy the time to get it on the air. Consider this option only if you’re confident it will be worth the cost.
Create a Radio Spot
Not as expensive as going the TV route so it’s an option if you want more media exposure — or if your target audience is likely to be listening versus watching. Consider public radio such as your local National Public Radio affiliate if your target audience listens to NPR.
Here’s something to keep in mind for these last three event initiatives. If you spend the time and money to create a video, TV or radio spot, make sure to post them on your website and social media accounts for maximum exposure.
TOP OF PAGE
Here’s what Cindy Ratzlaff, a small business expert, had to say about the value and key points of letting your calendar help guide your company. It’s a great summary to keep in mind:
“A good marketing calendar should incorporate all of your marketing activity and include detailed week by week activities for at the upcoming quarter, highlights for the next two quarters and broad strokes for the final yearly quarter.
”Additionally, I like my calendar to include planned upgrades for equipment, training and travel for live events. I also like to add a post-campaign review to assess successes and misses.”
How to Get Started
You can create a spreadsheet or document listing all of your marketing activities and due dates, and then populate whatever electronic calendar you use – Google, Outlook, etc. Make sure your calendar sends you reminders or popups as each activity comes due. A bit cumbersome, especially at first, but as long as you stick to it, you’ll stay on schedule.
Alternatively, you can have each marketing activity emailed to you when the time is right.
Just go to http://MarketingCalendar2016.com and sign up. It still works for 2019! Using this FREE tool is by far the easiest way to stay on schedule!
And as always, if you don’t have time to come up with these ideas or just want someone to take care of them for you, we’re here. Contact us to schedule a FREE business review and to see how we can help your business grow!
TOP OF PAGE
Why You Need a Marketing Calendar and How to Create One
How often should you check your social media following, or schedule blog posts? For these tips and more, see our guide on a making a marketing calendar.