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Inbound marketing is natural, sustainable, and produces measurable ROI (return on investment). However, developing a workable strategy that produces the kind of results your company needs is easier said than done. Whether you hire a consultant, outside marketing agency, or choose to DIY this year, you can’t afford to put your online marketing strategy on the back burner any longer. In any business, a marketing strategy should produce the best possible return with as little investment as possible.
Before you begin updating a site or interacting on social media, you need to start with a roadmap for implementation and measurement. Financial ROI is crucial to business success, but many inbound marketing strategies need time to flourish. Once you have identified strategic goals, you can start to identify potential consumer pathways – how consumers will contribute to your goals.
While some of this is easier said than done, once you have a clear image of your company goals, you can repeat the optimization and measurement steps over and over again until you meet your goals. For companies with little online experience, a small investment in an online audit or strategy consultant can help. Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money, a small content generation firm based in Lexington, KY. Truly agree with setting measurable KPI’s and then measuring at regular intervals as if you don’t know if you are getting a suitable return on your investment, what is the point! Founded in 2003, Small Business Trends is an award-winning online publication for small business owners, entrepreneurs and the people who interact with them. Together with hundreds of expert contributors, Small Business Trends brings you the news, advice and resources you need.
A knowledge base for small business marketing, customer loyalty, and FiveStars best practices. For the purposes of this blog entry, we’ll define a promotional campaign as any sort of sustained, concentrated public relations, marketing, or advertising effort that you and your small business will be executing.
A crucial step before you actually DO anything is to think critically about what you want to accomplish with your soon-to-be executed activities. Getting as targeted as “Bringing in $X over the next Y months” or “Signing up Z customers to our customer loyalty reward program” will not only help hone your voice and message, but will also be easily traceable to judge your campaign’s success. When first starting your plan, throw everything you can think of into the “maybe” column and then weed through it from there to find what truly makes sense. Depending on your goals, business, and budget, a year-long campaign is a good starting point. While some aspects of a promotional campaign can very easily be undertaken by yourself, the more variables and beats you have in your timeline, the more time you will be forced to spend away from the day-to-day running of your business. Public Relations agencies are available for hire in nearly every neck of the woods, and are comprised of professionals who handle media relations, crisis management, brand awareness, and image improvement for a living. A marketing agency will carry out any marketing related activities for you as well – the line between marketing and PR can sometimes be confusing, but a good, generalized guideline is that PR opportunities are generally free, while marketing opportunities are generally paid for.
Many marketing agencies can assist in the creative aspect of the ads for your campaign, and will collaborate with you to come up with an agreeable solution. An absolutely critical element to a well-thought out promotional campaign is how much you are willing and able to spend on it. Your plan and calendar should be seen as living, breathing documents that can and most likely will be updated through the duration of the campaign. If you’re serious about running a successful small business marketing campaign, take the time (however much that may be) to create a solid plan and calendar. How can you apply this for small business owners who rarely have the time to update their social media, i guess having smart phones and social media apps will help them update their social media while on the go.

You’re absolutely right, updating social media on the spot and interacting with customers in real time is a great to way show your authenticity and dedication to building real relationships with your customers.
Assessing the market, competition, trends improves both goals and strategy and should be the first step.
As a startup with investors, or a small business with limited capital, inbound marketing just makes sense. They know they need to have a strong online presence, but may not have the time or resources to follow-through with actually creating an inbound marketing plan. Develop marketing personas, outlines of your ideal customers, and look for online trends in how those people behave online. Create your own set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that add value to the brand and supplement financial ROI metrics. For instance, search engine rankings and social media engagement will improve online visibility. Small businesses often have success with local SEO, blogging, social media interactions, and email marketing. As smart measure with full view on consumers expectation needs to be kept in notice before launching any product in the market.
For one of my clients, it only took one move to remove a link and it had a drastic effect on his website rankings.
I nearly went with Benjamin Franklin’s “If you fail to plan, plan to fail” quote, but thought it just a bit too glass-half-empty.
The best plans will incorporate elements from all three disciplines, but the specifics will vary depending on your business type, its size, its area of reach, how long it’s been in operation, and what you’re trying to accomplish for the business itself. Try to be as specific as possible – something like “increasing awareness” is obviously a good goal to have, but that is pretty broad and ultimately what all PR, marketing, and advertising hopes to accomplish at the end of the day. Also, be realistic with your goals – nothing will help your program and your skills as a small business owner feel less successful than not meeting your goals. Not only will this allow you to incorporate promotional ideas for all major and applicable holidays, but it’s a nice, tidy unit of time that will allow you to have a large enough sample pool to determine the success of your campaign. They are typically hired on a retainer basis, and that retainer can be flexible depending on the size of your business and your budget. Most marketing agencies will handle your SEO, B2B partnerships, as well as placing your advertisements for you. Stick to it as closely as possible, but don’t be afraid to call an audible or two at the line of scrimmage. I think actually updates rather than scheduled updates are more effective ways to prove that you are committed not only to your followers but to your business too. When creating a marketing plan you almost have to work backwards from your desired finishing point.
I definitely recommend all business owners do this as much as they are able to with their busy schedules. If you already have a blog, focus on writing about topics that subtly tie into your goals and KPIs. For example, if most consumers easily access your repair services page, but no one looks at your online products, you may need to look closely at why and change your online activities.
If you feel strongly that your consumers will pass over an ebook without a second glance, don’t let an outside marketer convince you otherwise.
Her philosophy is that the essentials of content marketing do not change from the small business to the Fortune 500 level, and that creativity trumps budget every time.
You cannot expect to do well if you don’t put effort into targeting and getting to know your consumers. The message from both should be clear, though – proper planning is absolutely, 100% essential in order for any aspect of your small business to succeed, and promotional campaigns are definitely no different.

Don’t make them ridiculously easy to achieve, but be honest with yourself and set reachable milestones that will make a tangible impact to your business. How is your new campaign going to dovetail into any current in-business promotions you may be already running (loyalty rewards program, email marketing, etc.)?
This calendar is going to be your best friend throughout the entire duration of your campaign. This is not to say that you’re required to have action items on 365 days for the calendar – determine what makes sense for you and add it to the calendar. But if you’re already running ragged and operating your outfit on a skeleton crew, you probably won’t be doing yourself or your promotional campaign any favors by trying to do it all yourself. They will handle all press releases you’ll put out, will secure interviews and guest-blogging opportunities, and outreach local and non-local media outlets to secure your business in trend stories, among other tasks.
You’ll still need to foot the bill for the ad itself, they’ll just handle the maintenance of it. After all, this isn’t simply going to be the same marketing tasks as you’ve done in years prior – this promotional campaign exists for you to shake things up and try new things to get your business noticed. Create a budget that will allow you to carry out some innovative and new marketing spends without taking you out of the black. Therefore starting with the goals you want to achieve and then deciding how best to go about achieving them is a great formula to use.
For example, you could highlight a customer story and link to a review site to improve consumer trust metrics. Take the time to learn a little about online success and measurement so you can make informed decisions. Is there anything in your campaign that will require you to travel or be away from your business for a length of time, and if so, will it conflict with any major beats in your promotional calendar? You will learn to love waking up and checking it first thing to see what’s on the docket for today.
And while it won’t be applicable to most small businesses, there are lots of ad agencies out there as well that will handle the creative aspects of any advertising campaign you would wish to run. You could see a new competitor open up shop just down the road that will require a different strategy. Consider outside help with your promotions if you have the money and don’t have the time (or expertise) to do it yourself. What will be your focus – earned media and PR-generated buzz such as interviews, guest-blogging, and the like, or advertising via Facebook and Google Ad Words? They tend to be pricey however, and are probably out of budget for most small business owners (think Mad Men).
The point is that while it should still be viewed as undoubtedly essential to create a detailed plan and calendar, don’t stick to it so rigidly that it cannot be changed, especially when reason dictates that it should. Proper planning is essential, and may very well take longer than carrying out the plan itself. Sync your calendar to your smartphone so you don’t have to be in front of your laptop or desktop to have access to it. Now that we’ve established how essential the calendar itself is, the question of how long it should be will depend on your campaign.

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