Online Local Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Online Local Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Reading about online marketing when you’re still trying to jump in somewhere can make it seem like you not only need a huge budget, but a massive team of players in order to achieve professional-quality results.  In reality, you can have some type of online marketing going without dumping all your advertising money into the effort.  When you’re working on a shoestring, though, you should realize that it will take much longer to see results and you may still be out-competed by bigger companies that have more ad spend.  But here’s where you have an advantage: you only need so many customers unless you’re planning to expand.  Even if your investment is small, you may still find enough new accounts to keep afloat.

When you’re ultra-focused on a small local area, you can treat digital marketing more as a supplement to your other marketing efforts, rather than a full-on effort to find new customers.  This makes it easier to feel out your market, gives you time to find your audience online and allows you to more slowly transition your ad spend to online marketing as it proves its worth for you.

Decisions, Decisions: Where to Enter the Information Superhighway

When your budget is very small, your options may seem fewer than those of the guy down the street with ten times the money to spend.  You may not be able to cover as much ground as that fella, but a carefully considered plan of attack can get you close to your target audience.   The trick is figuring out where to enter the market.  National and international corporations have to cast a wider net because they’re trying to round up an audience that could be anywhere in the country or world, but your local marketing efforts don’t have to be so dramatic.  You can just set a hook and wait for the customers to come swimming up (does this sound too fishy?).

What I mean to say is that local businesses like yours don’t need to spend a fortune to make the same kind of impact on a local level as Coca-Cola or Budweiser does on the international scene.  You can keep it simple, accessible and easy.  These are a few places that you should consider as jumping off points:

 

Google My Business.  If you’ve read anything I’ve written on local digital marketing (here or on other sites), you know I’m a huge fan of Google My Business.  I love it for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s free, so you can sign up, fill out the little form and you’re done.  You can update it with photos, marketing offers and so forth, giving users a good idea what your company is about.

Second, Google My Business verifies business addresses to ensure that you’re legitimate.  And your potential customers will be looking for an answer to that question from the moment they begin considering your company.  According to W3Schools (a leader in web development education), in February 2018, 77.9 percent of their traffic came from people using Chrome as their browser.  This is significant to this discussion because when Chrome combines with Google My Business, you get something like this:

Pretty cool, huh?  This box appears on the right hand side of Chrome when your company’s name is searched.  The same information will also appear in Google Maps if someone uses a “near me” search.  You can be selling your brand coming and going with a few clicks!

Review sites.  Some sites that allow customer reviews are expensive, that’s for certain.  But others, like Yelp! will allow your clients to describe their experiences with your company in detail and you to answer back for free.  You need to establish an account with at least a few of the biggest review sites for your specialty right now.  Even if no one ever leaves a review, leads can see that you’re there.  It further establishes your legitimacy.

One thing to keep in mind when reviews start happening, though:  do not answer with anger.  Even if the review says you’re the worst person, your employees are the worst employees, your company does shoddy work, etc., be calm, cool and collected.  How you respond to the worst reviews tells potentials more about you than how you respond to praise.

Your website.  There are two things that go very wrong with websites for local companies.  First, a lack thereof makes the 40 and under crowd wonder if you’re for real (remember that legitimacy thing from the review sites?).  They may still call you, but if your competition has a clean, well-designed website that explains their competencies well, don’t sit by the phone waiting.  A static website is relatively inexpensive to hire out, especially if it’s just a few pages.  That’s all you need to get started, really.

The second problem relates to the first.  If your website is outdated, has a lot of broken links and looks like you basically abandoned it in 2010, that’s not a good first impression.  Update that thing, clean up your links, optimize your pages and give those 40 and unders something that really sings.  WordPress is a good option for DIY web design and publication — heck, I even use it for professional site builds.  It’s easy to update, has lots of cool plugins and some really powerful tools behind the scenes.

Your blog.  I know this keeps coming up, but blogs are really very valuable sources of leads, authority and authenticity.  The problem most businesses have with blogs is that they don’t see an immediate payout.  That’s because there isn’t one.  Your blog and other types of content marketing via your website are slow burners.  You’re not going to see clear results for at least eight months, according to current figures.  That doesn’t mean this is not a worthwhile thing to do.  But, as with all things, you have to do it right or else there’s just no point.

Each blog should be useful, as well as adding something new to the conversation.  For example, if you’re a home builder that works on infill projects, you might have blogs about gentrification in your area, the benefits of new construction in old neighborhoods, reviews of materials that you’ve used in your homes and so forth.  Rather than copy what everyone else is doing, write what your audience needs to see, say what needs to be said.  Google will grade you on the quality of your content, as well as the links that connect to and come from it.  Make sure you’re linking any statistics that you quote and any other interesting tidbits you might have found on the wider internet for extra Google points.

Social media.  Last, but not least, is the social media machine.  The reason I listed this last is that it does take a fair amount of work to maintain.  First, you need to publish often, at least several times a week.  Secondly, you’ll have to interact with those people who are following you, otherwise it’s not really very social.  Adding this effort to your workload may be more than you can realistically manage on your own, and there’s no shame in admitting that.

If you want to give it a try, you’ll want to check out the top sites that cater to your audiences.  For example, if you want to reach other businesses, you may be best to start with LinkedIn, but if you’re looking for a space to showcase your incredible remodels, Instagram might be more appropriate.  Just keep in mind that every post should be a conversation, not a sales pitch or a monolog.  This is one place where your blog can help out!  Make sure to set up your software to automatically post your blogs to your social media for an extra boost.

Hey, not everyone has a big budget for online marketing.  If you’re getting started or you’re just wanting to back up and start over with marketing that’s not as overwhelming as what you’ve tried in the past, these should all cover your needs pretty well.  As you become more comfortable with digital marketing and start to see real results, you can invest a little more as you balance your ad spend between paper assets, like newspaper ads, and digital ones, like your blog.