Successfully marketing your business online is inherently challenging.
Building up an audience of dedicated followers, increasing your online visibility and even finding your “voice” can take up a considerable amount of time, money, and effort. It may involve a lot of tweaking and testing and trying things out till you land on the formula that will work for you and your business.
But, when the majority of your business is conducted off-line, there are additional challenges that can make the path to success even steeper – and that’s not something most online marketers talk about too often.
A business conducted both on and offline is desirable to have – but making the transition in a way that is both cost- and energy-effective can be one heck of a challenge.
So I’d like to talk today about building an online audience for your off-line business without having to invest one or more of your limbs and a month of Sundays to do it.
The Challenges of Building an Online Audience for an Off-line Business
If your business is strictly online then building this audience is a natural part of your marketing strategy. Chances are you’re already familiar with things like A/ B testing and social media, sales-oriented web copy, and maybe even content creation and marketing. You are probably also used to spending a significant amount of time online.
But that’s not every business. Let me pause here and explain what I mean by “off-line.” It can mean a few things:
- You have a physical presence where you engage customers or produce your products- even if that “space” is a home office or is a temporary setup in a business center.
- Though you may advertise online, you conduct services on a face to face basis- whether in person, over the phone, or even via online chat and web conference.
- You also don’t exclusively advertise online.
Now, obviously there are a lot of shades of gray when it comes to what qualifies as an online versus off-line business. My point is that for these off-line businesses while their online presence may be important, it may not be their top priority. If you think your business fits this description, then in this case you may be dealing with several additional challenges:
- The time factor. Dedicating 10 hours a week to your online promotion and influence may not sound like much on paper. But when you’re spending 40+ hours weekly trying to run and grow your business, or your business is a part-time endeavor on top of a full-time job or schooling, then those 10 hours might as well be 100.
- The high learning curve factor. If you’ve never heard of split testing, never been on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, don’t know a thing about setting up a good landing page, or have no idea how to manage a subscriber list, then you’re going to have to set time aside to first learn about these things on a basic level before you can even get to the implementation part.
- The translation factor. I’m not talking about language translation over here. One of the biggest challenges for off-line businesses is translating what they do off-line for an online audience in a way that will be compelling and useful. This includes not only content but their online user experience. Many, many businesses get this wrong. I’ve been to so many business websites, some for really good businesses, and I feel bad for them. They’re spending time and money, they’re making a commendable effort, but it’s so obvious that they’re missing the point of having a website or creating content or even who their online visitors are and why they came to the site. It’s as if something gets lost in translation.
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Building a Successful Online Following without Taking Away From Your Off-line Business
Before I go on, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page. Realize that the whole point of establishing and cultivating your online presence is to increase your profits.
Now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “No, it’s about relationships… building an audience… helping the right people find you online.” Of course all of this is important, but remember it’s a means to an end. At the end of the day, if you’ve given it a reasonable amount of time, money, and effort, yet your online strategies aren’t increasing your bottom line, or you are generating some income, but your business is suffering and growth has been stifled because precious time and money is getting shunted away, or this online workload is getting way too oppressive… STOP!!! Evaluate what you are doing and where things are going off. To continue like this means you’ve missed the point somewhere.
Bearing that in mind, here are several ways off-line small business owners can overcome some of the challenges mentioned above and actually generate that increase in profits they are looking for:
Delegate Tasks Among Owners and Current Employees.
If you run a business with other people – whether they are partners or employees, then you may have the option of delegating some or all of your online marketing tasks among these people. This will definitely help with the time commitment factor.
Additionally, I didn’t mention the issue of talent. I left it out in my list above simply because it’s something that affects any small business, online or off. But, the reality is that some people are just more adept at creating content and engaging others via social media. If you happen to not be one of those people, but you have a business partner or trusted employee who is, then look for ways to make the most of this talent.
Just a couple of side points here: 1. Make sure you have some kind of social media use policy for your business that is thoughtful, useful, and legal, and 2. Be very deliberate when recruiting the help of current employees in your online marketing. You have to be sure that you really can trust this person to present an accurate and truthful picture of your business.
Hiring Someone Specifically for the Task
Another option to consider is to hire someone who will carry out your online marketing exclusively, or almost exclusively. Aside from being able to free up your time, you will have someone with expertise in-house to do the job. There are several benefits to this strategy, specifically that this person can actually spend time in your business, get exposed to its unique culture, and interact with other employees, and potentially, customers. He or she will thus be in the best position to represent your business and its products or services online. Finally, this person is also on hand to handle any online reputation emergencies. These are extremely important factors to consider, especially if you are thinking of hiring a contractual worker (discussed below) to save money.
One tip to get the right person for the job: Don’t just look for online marketing experience. Depending on your budget, it may pay to train this person if he or she has the right personality or other qualities that you are looking for. (If you want more tips on hiring – you should listen to the podcast Megan and Danny created on the subject!)
Outsourcing your Online Marketing
The last main option small businesses have with their online marketing is to outsource these tasks to freelancers or internet marketing companies. Outsourcing your online marketing may seem like the best and easiest choice – especially if you are just starting out and you don’t really know what you are doing. Why not hand it off others who do know what they are doing?
From what I have seen, outsourcing your Internet marketing will work in two scenarios:
In the first scenario, you hand over the vast majority of your content creation, online promotion, and maybe even some social media activity to one or two Internet marketing companies that you have thoroughly researched and that you are certain can give your business the best, most accurate online representation.
How common are such Internet marketing companies? In my opinion (feel free to disagree with me here), most of the companies our there don’t know what they are doing, and they often end up hurting the very businesses they are supposed to be helping. (That’s why marketing education sites are becoming so popular!) The few really good internet marketing companies that do exist charge a hefty price for their services, which may put them out of the reach for many small businesses. Check portfolios and referrals, and make sure that you talk to a real person at length about your needs and expectations and their ability to deliver.
The second scenario is to only outsource select activities that almost anyone can do. This means activities like submitting new content to social media platforms, fielding and at times answering emails, editing any content that you or your employees have produced, moderating the comments on your website… If you hire a good virtual assistant to do these tasks, then you may be surprised to learn just how much time and effort was being eating up by them. With these things out of the way, you will be more available to create the content and have the kinds of interactions that only you can and should do. (Like interacting with customers, making sales, developing products and building relationships with other professionals!)
A Final Note…
To put some closure on this very long post (thanks to anyone who made it this far), the Internet and the technology that supports it, are constantly changing, but your business may not be- or at least not as extensively. Even if the pace of your business is slower, you have to make some kind of effort to stay in touch with the major online marketing trends. This means putting aside some time (at least once a year) to evaluate your efforts online. It doesn’t matter which of the setups mentioned above you ended up choosing. What matters is that you take a good look at where your online efforts are working and where they aren’t and that you use what you learned to create a rough action road map for the time ahead.
Of course – you may end up deciding that this is something important enough to you to really get into learning about yourself – and that’s fantastic! But there are other ways then to devote the months and years it takes to become an expert – I hope I’ve demonstrated some of those for you today!
Even if building an online audience may not be the top priority in your business, if you invest in this area wisely, it has the potential provide your business with a top return.
This week’s scavenger hunt post is brought to you from Adam Gottleib who has some great tips about how to build an online audience that can transfer into your off-line business. This is a topic that can be hugely important for people whose businesses are in transition, and who are trying to adapt to new ways of conducting more traditional business.
Scavenger Hunters: submit to FirepoleMarketingScavengerHunt.com 1 idea for a challenge that would go into the “In Real Life” category for 5 bonus points. We’ll pick our two favorites and make them official challenges! (Additional 10 bonus points if we choose yours!)
Adam Gottlieb specializes in helping small and home-based businesses improve their image, increase sales, and better manage their resources (both the animate and inanimate ones). He’s the mastermind behind The Frugal Entrepreneur, an online magazine for frugal business tips, tools, and money-saving business resources. If you are running a business with limited funds, download his free ebook, Business on a Shoestring Budget, and learn how you can start saving time and money today.