This past month, I met with several small business owners who had never ventured into online marketing. Commonly, they wanted to know “Where do I start? “How do I start?” and “Who can I trust to do the work?”

The answer is not a one-size- fits-all approach; however, there are basics and “must-haves” that should be in place to get going. With small businesses, I’ll let them know what is ideal;Just aim and market! however, I then offer workarounds to get the job done within their resources. The reality is that most small businesses with 1-5 employees just don’t have the time or money to implement what is ideal. But, like the engine that could, small businesses can make big splashes with small budgets. Take small steps.

And the trust issue… ask around. Ask fellow business owners or folks at your local Rotary, Chamber of Commerce or business networking group, such as LinkedIn, for who they’d recommend. It’s no secret that there are unscrupulous marketers and marketing firms who over promise and under deliver or don’t follow best practices. But my experience over the years is that there are many small business marketers, boutique agencies, and part-time contractors who know what they’re doing, are nice to work with, and offer reasonable fees. These good egg marketers are out there, just ask around.

Here are a few things to consider when you’re starting out with online marketing:

Do you have a website already? If so:

  • Is your website bringing you business?
  • Is your website mobile-friendly? (You can test that here.)
  • Is your website SEO in place (this is an open-ended question!)? Some examples:
    • Unique Filenames? Unique Title Tags? Unique Meta descriptions per web page? If retail, focused on local?
    • Is your website set up with Google Analytics tracking and/or Google Webmaster Tools? [Update: Rebranded as “Google Search Console”]
    • Are all the images on your website optimized with ALT text?
  • Do you have ways to add website visitors to your database? (Newsletter signups, Content downloads)
  • … and more.

Recommendation: Get a Website Audit done to find out if your website is up to par and what, if anything, needs to be done to have it act like a lean, mean, well-oiled machine.

If you don’t have a website, that is the place to start.

Your website is your OWN real estate. I recommend against solely relying on using Facebook or LinkedIn or any 3rd party platform as your one and only online hub. You have no control over what another company does. For example, what if you wake up one day and one of the giants like Facebook, for example, was purchased and then shut down? Or another social channel comes along that is far superior and people jump ship to go to the new provider? Your marketing would be toast. The goal is to use these 3rd party channels to funnel visitors to your own website, where you can control the content and interactions with your visitors.

Recommendation: Get a website. It shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. I have seen estimates from $1200 to $7,500+. For a small business, I’d say budget for $1,800-$2,500. And once you get a website, you must think of yourself as a mini-publisher. Set the expectation for yourself that your website is a continuously changing space to showcase your business. You don’t just build it and let it run virtually untouched. You feed it content, keep it updated, get a maintenance plan ($40 – $300/month depending upon what you need) and continually make improvements based on the data that Google Analytics offers you, feedback from customers, and your own experiences on the site.

Open up an Email Marketing account and begin building your email list.

Your opted-in email addresses are the gold bars in online marketing. I highly recommend MailChimp if you’re just starting out, because it’s easy to use, reliable, and has funny and easy-to-understand tutorials. It offers automation, which means you can set up automated sequences that nurture your prospects and customers based on their behavior. This little ape product is my favorite for small businesses. One of my clients started with MailChimp then grew to looking for an all-in-one platform and has been using Infusionsoft after growing their list and their revenue to the point it made sense to make the leap. (Though MailChimp offers many integrations if you want to stay with them.)

A website and email marketing initiatives are solid places to start. These days, everything is integrated, so when you have the basics in place, next steps will be to look at social channels, blogging, online advertising, ongoing SEO, and more. There is always more, trust me on this one! Additional newsletters will cover these topics in more depth.

To help you make decisions, be clear on WHO you are selling to and WHERE these people can be found online. Then, just aim and market!

Phoebe-Mae, queen of the Mocktail!Cheers!

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