As I wrote yesterday, I think there’s a gap in the online education on digital business marketing for new entrepreneurs and solo creative workers. This is the first in a series of articles that I hope will comprise a one-stop-shop for the basic, easily-understood how-to’s and why-to’s that all solopreneurs need when they first start to market their businesses on the web.
In the next several weeks, future articles will delve into specifics on how to build the first “set” in the theatrical production that comprises digital marketing for solo businesses.
Today’s post, though, provides an overview of the entire process. It’s a road map of sorts, so those who are new to the journey of marketing a business on the web will get the big picture of where they’re going, and what they’ll be learning and doing along the way.
A Critical Note: If This Is You, Don’t Bother
Now, before I dig into the Technical Stuff 101, I want to stress something here about the method and models I’m talking about in this series.
There are other ways to market your business. This is absolutely a fact.
Another fact: there are a LOT of people giving advice about “marketing on the internet” who are teaching and selling “internet marketing.”
Internet Marketing (also called IM/MMO — the MMO stands for “Make Money Online”) is the label ascribed to the early-days gold miners (hat tip to Danny Iny for that analogy) who make their money teaching other people how to teach other people to make money online by — you guessed it — teaching other people how to yadda yadda, ad nauseam.
It doesn’t work, in my experience (and yes, I confess, before I learned how ugly it really is, I tried it myself – I’m humanly frail, just like you).
And it’s unethical as hell.
(It also frequently crosses the line from sleazy into “full-on illegal.” FCC, folks. They’re watching.)
That’s not what this is.
If you want to learn how to do that kind of stuff, this is not the digital space for you. (And no, I won’t tell you where to go learn it. I wouldn’t tell my friends where to learn how to set up a Ponzi scheme, either.)
What this Guide is about — all these posts I’ve got planned and this blog and my business itself — is how to market a real solo business online.
What’s a real solo business? Well, the hallmark is that you’ve got something of value that you actually sell.
Your services as a lawyer, a wedding cake maker, a photographer, a housecleaner, a dog groomer.
Or your stuff — your jewelry, your clothes, your artwork, your books — stuff you either make or other people’s stuff that you sell to the public.
In short: something of value that other people buy. If that isn’t the sole heart of your business model, this guide will not help you and was not written for you.
The Big Picture of Digital Marketing
Ethical, sleaze-free digital marketing for your solo biz (which is the only kind I ever recommend and work on with clients) generally follows these guidelines:
- It’s permission-based – not intrusion-based – and inbound.
- It follows a general hub-and-spoke model
- It utilizes feeder channels to drive traffic to the hub of your model – your website
- Some of those feeder channels will be social media tools and platforms
- Other feeder channels will consist of both online and offline marketing activities
- Marketing in this model can also be thought of in terms of the traditional “funnel” paradigm, where conversions take place periodically to move the prospect from “general interest” to “paying client” to “raving fan and brand ambassador.”
- In order to make this model work efficiently for you and your biz, you need at a minimum perfect clarity on the components of your super-simple business marketing plan.
We’ll cover each of these factors in more detail in the following sections.
Permission-Based Inbound Marketing
Permission-based marketing or “permission marketing” is a model of digital marketing popularized by Seth Godin.
It’s distinguished most clearly from traditional interruption or intrusion marketing, where the business intrudes into the target or prospect’s sphere of attention for marketing purposes. Classic examples of intrusion marketing would be television commercials and flyers received in the mail.
By contrast, permission-based marketing does exactly what the name implies: businesses ask permission from the target or prospect to send or direct to the prospect its marketing materials.
That permission can be explicit (such as when a prospect signs up for your email list) or implicit (such as when a search engine user submits a query and clicks on your page’s link in the results).
The net result of all this is that the client comes to you. That’s called inbound marketing. Put permission-based marketing together with inbound marketing and you have a solid, potentially winning digital strategy.
A full discussion of why permission-based inbound marketing is so kick-ass awesome, and why it’s hands-down so superior to intrusion marketing would take several blog posts, and this is supposed to be a short overview. So let’s move on to examining the pieces of the model.
If you’d like to read more about permission marketing or any of the subjects in this post, I’ve included a list of links at the end of this post, divided by subject, under “Further Reading & Resources.”
Your Website: The Hub of the Whole Enchilada
Below is a slightly fuzzy (I have no idea why that happened) hand-drawn representation of the hub and spoke digital marketing model.
(OK, you can stop laughing now at my pathetic GIMP skills.)
So, you see from this illustration that your business’s website is at the very center of things.
And all these other channels feed in to the hub – the website.
This? IS KEY.
Please, if you understand nothing else, understand the following crucial point about this particular model of digital marketing:
Your social media profiles & activities, guest posts on other people’s blogs,
comments on message boards, Google and Facebook ads,
and ALL other feeder channels exist to
funnel traffic TO YOUR SITE.
NOT the other way around.
The spokes flow INTO your central hub.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever direct traffic to another site, or to one of your social media channels for a specific purpose.
Or that you won’t put a badge or link on your site so folks can find you on Twitter or Facebook.
It means that the purpose of these feeder channels – the primary purpose, that is – is to drive the right kinds of people to your website.
Who are the right kinds of people? And how do these feeder channels accomplish that goal? Keep reading – I’ll cover both these question later.
But for now, let’s look at your website.
In the permission and inbound model, that website serves as your home base. Your main “set,” to continue the theatrical analogy.
Your website serves up to your prospects and targets the content you’ve created which will (we hope) convince your prospects to convert to the next level in the funnel. (More on conversions in the section below titled “Conversions 101 and Your List.”)
The website, then, is home base. It’s the first technical presence you need to build (again, for this model – there are other valid ways to go, but this is a good, basic approach for new creative biz owners).
And it’s the first technical outlet you need to build out, with lots of valuable, well-written content that helps solve your targets problems.
But not yet. (More on that in the last section, “The Super-Simple Business Marketing Plan.”)
Social Media: The Feeder Channels to Your Website
Now that we’ve identified the hub of your digital presence, let’s move on to probably the largest category of feeder channels that will drive traffic to your site: social media.
Social media is probably the second biggest area of confusion for new solopreneurs, after sussing out the website options.
Remember, this section is just a broad-strokes overview of the role social media can & should play in your digital marketing plan. If you’d like to read more, check out the list of recommended links under the “Social Media” heading below.
Social media is simply a broad umbrella term that covers a range of platforms or websites that are based on social interaction, either one-to-one or one-to-many or both.
Some common examples of social media platforms:
That’s just a small sampling, although it also happens to be a list of the six biggest players, arguably, in the social media marketing world. There are many, many other sites, some of them of general interest and some targeted to specific purposes or interests. (Here’s one list.)
The general idea is that by building out a branded profile and presence on one or more social media sites, a business can interact with prospects and targets in such a way that the following marketing goals are accomplished:
- Establishing a brand
- Offering valuable free content to prospects/targets
- Forming and building relationships with both prospects and major players in your niche or industry
- Communicate expertise
- Create interest in services + products
Additionally, the process of establishing a social media identity and becoming active on that channel communicate to prospects that your business is current and knowledgeable on how they live, communicate, and make decisions.
One of the major purposes of social media from a marketing standpoint, though, is to drive traffic to your website, where (we hope) the casual reader will sign up for your email list, and then convert into a paying client or customer.
This is one place where digital marketing looks a little like offline or analog marketing. Both rely on a funnel paradigm that moves targets from one level of engagement with your business to the next more-involved level.
So, in terms of this permission inbound marketing model, social media serves as feeder channels for your website. Of course, that’s not the only function social media use serves, as the (partial) list above shows.
Other Feeder Channels to Your Website
Social media is far from the only kind of feeder channel available to help drive the right kind of traffic to your site, though it is the first thing most folks think of.
Besides social media, the four major types of online feeder channels for new businesses (or businesses new to the web) are:
- Guest posts
- Message boards and forums
- Other blogs and websites – both linking to your site outright and through your own comments on those sites’ articles
- Search engine results
Guest posts are short (500-750 word count) articles that you write for submission and publication to other people’s blogs and websites. Typically, there’s no compensation for these pieces. Your payoff comes from linking to your site in a short bio sketch included with that piece’s publication, and from further spreading your name and your business’s brand/niche to a much wider audience. In the beginning, especially, guest posting is probably the single best way to grow your audience.
Message boards and forums are websites that allow individual users to communicate with each other on a one-to-many basis. Typically, these sites are organized around a common interest or demographic.
Finding out which boards and forums your targets and prospects are most likely to hang out at already, and then becoming genuinely active on those sites yourself, can drive relevant traffic to your site as well. This is particularly true when the board or forum you’ve chosen allows you an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in your field and help out other members.
Besides guest posts, other blogs and websites can also send traffic to your site through both organic links and your own comments to articles on that site. In the beginning, it will be difficult to get links back to your site from another blog, because you haven’t yet had a chance to demonstrate your expertise or value to that blogger’s audience.
Getting organic links is difficult in the beginning. Asking for links outright (A) no longer works well and (B) may be considered rude, so I never advise this strategy.
But a longer-term strategy based on offering substantive comments, value-intrinsic email exchanges with the other blogger, and then (and only then) offering one of your own pieces of content for consideration often does lead to a link to that content in a post on the other blog.
At least in the beginning, don’t expect too much traffic from search engine results. A basic understanding of SEO best practices will help in this regard, but for the most part, even the most thorough SEO program won’t help a new blog get in the top 10 Google results for a specific keyword.
However, even from the very beginning, you should be aware of SEO, and begin training yourself or your staff to consider SEO when creating new content. Then, once your audience and content grow to a significant size, you’ll already have those good habits firmly in place.
Conversions 101 and Your List
We discussed above that there’s a funnel-based model at work with your prospects.
Just like a funnel, the path of conversions goes from a wider mouth at the top to a comparatively much smaller spout at the bottom. In terms of pure numbers, then, you’ll lose a major percentage at each stage of conversion.
That’s OK, though – because what you’re left with at the bottom of that funnel is a highly concentrated group of dedicated fans who become brand ambassadors and spread the word about your products/services.
Here’s what it looks like in text (hey, we’ve seen my graphics skills – nobody needs another example, I’m sure…)
The entire population on the web
Your prospects and targets
List & blog subscribers
Clients & Customers
Raving fans & brand ambassadors
That’s really all conversion is, in a nutshell. Of course, there’s much more to the concept in practice – including lots of fun math and metrics – but the key thing to keep in mind is that we want to make sure we’re moving our site traffic down that marketing funnel in the direction of “paying client/customer” status.
The Super-Simple Business Marketing Plan
Now that you have an overview of the digital marketing process, your first step awaits you.
And that is not “go build a website.”
Nor is it “choose between WordPress and all the other potential website platforms and Content Management Systems (CMSs) available.”
And it’s certainly not “join Twitter and start tweeting.”
It’s “become absolutely, crystal-clear on the answers to these five questions”:
- What is it I sell?
- To whom do I sell it?
- How do I deliver it?
- How/how much do I get paid for it?
- Why should the folks I sell it to buy it from me, instead of every other option at their disposal?
The answers to these five questions form the foundation of your marketing plan. In a very general sense, they are your marketing plan.
And these questions – and the process of discovering and refining your answers to them – come first, before everything else. These questions and your answers to them are so important, in fact, that they deserve a post of their own. But until then, spend some time noodling on these questions and start defining your answers to them.
The next post in the series will be about the basic building blocks of a business website, because understanding how those blocks fit together might take some mulling-over. Then we’ll come back and revisit these questions.
Prepping the Production: The Foundation of Your Digital Marketing Plan
So that’s it – a very long, but still abbreviated and shallow overview of a simple permission-based inbound marketing plan, a highly effective model for creative businesses who want to market their goods and services on the web.
What do you think? If you’re new to the whole process, does this clarify how the big pieces fit together a bit? Is it too basic? What questions does it leave you with? Please share in the comments, so I can make this resource more valuable for everyone!
Further Reading & Resources
If you’d like to read further about these topics, check out the following links by topic:
Permission & Inbound Marketing
- Wikipedia: Permission Marketing
- University of Washington Business School: A Comprehensive Analysis of Permission Marketing
- Amazon: Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing (not an affiliate link)
- Wikipedia: Inbound Marketing
- Hubspot: Introduction to Inbound Marketing
- Amazon: David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR (not an affiliate link)
Social Media Marketing
- Social Media Explorer: Social Media Strategy Learning Curve and Framework
- Web Trends (About.com): Social Web Guide
- Traffikd: List of Social Media Websites
- Problogger: Guest Post Hosting: The Surprising Traffic Driver
- Weblogbetter: How to Make Sure Your Guest Posts Get Published on Top Blogs
- Jon Morrow: GuestBlogging.com
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Stage Presence Marketing: SEO School
- Yoast: The Definitive Guide to Higher Rankings for WordPress Sites
- SEOmoz: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO