Is Your Business Like a Billboard in a Desert?

In dealing with new business owners, I’ve noticed a common thread. All too often I hear them say, “I have this great product, I just don’t know where my customers are.” Or, “My customers have no clue that I exist.” If your business was launched in the last year or two and you can relate, this problem likely has to do with your lack of familiarity with marketing.

In the early days of business ownership, a lot of new business owners don’t understand much about old-fashioned marketing, digital marketing, and social media, and that’s understandable. Clearly, the business owner’s goal is to get the business making enough money so that it can develop a marketing budget. Not surprisingly, it’s not unusual for a cash-strapped business in its first year or two of launch to cut corners wherever it can. Often, marketing is put on the side burner until more money comes rolling in the door.

So, what are new business owners to do if all they can afford is a cheap website, business cards, and a couple hundred brochures? With little to no knowledge about content marketing, digital marketing, and social media marketing, how do they find their customers? How do they market their company on a shoestring budget, at least in the infantile stages?

While the approach varies depending on the type of product or service, here are some great places to start:

1. Know who your customers are. 

First and foremost, you have to know who your customers are; this is critical. How old are they? Where do they shop? Where do they dine? What do they do when they aren’t working? What kinds of cars do they drive? What are their hobbies? How much do they earn each year? You have to get into the mind of your customer; you have to understand how they think.

2. Know which social media platforms your customers use. 

“Oh, but social media isn’t important to my company.” Sorry, but to think that way would be so 1999. According to Small Business Trends, in 2016, 97 percent of adults between the ages of 16 and 64 admitted to using social media within the previous month. What’s more, 56 percent of adults said that they used at least one of the following social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Lastly, Small Business Trends reported that 68 percent of U.S. adults had Facebook accounts in 2016, and that number is only growing.

Remember when just 10 years ago, probably only half of your family had Facebook accounts? I’m more than willing to bet that today, your aunts, uncles, and grandparents use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on Facebook more than you. You might have even set up the account for them!

The bottom line: Social media is here to stay and it’s not just being used by teens and young adults. If social media statistics have taught us anything, virtually everyone is on social media – you just need to find out which platforms your customers are hanging out on, and those are the places that your company needs to be. A good place to start is Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

3. Think outside the box. 

Don’t have a clue has to how to reach your customers? Think outside the box. Let your mind stretch beyond its normal limits. If you’ve already figured out who your customers are, now think about how you’re going to reach them. Since they don’t know you exist, you need to bring yourself to them. For instance, for those of you in the B2B scenario, you want to cold call, and even show up personally with your cards or brochures. Make a list of every business in your area that you want to know about your company, and find a way to get yourself known to them. It’s all about getting out of the dark so your customers know that you exist.

4. Network network network!

Get rated by your local Better Business Bureau. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Get involved in your community, and attend tradeshows and networking events. If you’re a natural introvert, the more of these events you attend, the easier it will get. You can also bring along your spouse, a partner, an employee, or even a friend who is a lot more outgoing than you to be your sidekick and help break the ice if you’re still polishing your “networking skills.”

5. Understand that a website is ‘not enough.’

Obviously, you need a killer website, but understand that it’s not enough. Having a shiny website is like having a beautiful billboard out in the middle of Death Valley; what’s the point if not enough people are going to see it? Your business is like a living, breathing, organism that must be constantly nourished, and it can’t grow without marketing.

Marketing comes in many forms; it’s far more than a website. Marketing includes social media, blogs, email campaigns, word of mouth, articles, press releases, brochures, direct mailers, Google Ads, Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing, Yelp reviews, and more. If you’re on a tight budget, that’s OK, but realize that as soon as possible, you’ll need to step-up your marketing campaigns and budget.

6. Start a content marketing campaign. 

Even if you can’t afford to hire a professional marketing company or a freelance writer, you can start your own content marketing campaign. To do this, you should create a blog on your website and shoot for one blog a week to start. Each time you write a blog, make sure the content is relevant to your business and push it out to your business’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, Google +, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Not sure how long to make them? Anywhere from 300 to 700 words is perfect.

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience – and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” ~Content Marketing Institute

7. Learn and use your industry’s hashtags!

If you don’t know your industry’s hashtags, NOW is the time to learn. Whenever you post a blog or an “update” to your company’s social media accounts, you want to incorporate the relevant hashtags. For example, if I was posting small business blog on networking, the applicable hashtags would include things like #networking, #smallbiz, #smallbusiness, #entrepreneurship, and #entrepreneur.

If you’re promoting an event in a certain city, such as a grand opening, or trying to market to a specific geographic area, you would also want to throw in hashtags for that specific area, such as #LasVegas, #LosAngeles, #Chicago…you get the picture. However, you don’t want to overdo it on the hashtages. Usually, two or three will suffice. To learn more about hashtags, check out this article entitled, “The Importance of #Hashtags” in Social Media Today.

Even on a budget, you can take your company’s marketing into your own hands, at least until you can afford to hire the pros. By following the above advice and even devouring the latest books on content marketing, digital marketing, and social media marketing, you can greatly increase your reservoir of knowledge, and in effect, your ability to dominate the marketplace on a dime.

Elainna Ciaramella is an independent journalist, business blogger, and ghostwriter for entrepreneurs and business professionals nationwide. She has written extensively on the topics of business, entrepreneurship, law, and medicine. She is well-versed in search engine optimization, content marketing, and social media. You can connect with her on LinkedInTwitterFacebookGoogle +, and Instagram.

Originally published on LinkedIn.