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4 Traffic Strategies You (Probably) Haven’t Tried

Traffic: we all want it. We all need it. Traffic creates leads, and leads create sales. But what creates traffic?

Getting people to your website is one of the biggest challenges new entrepreneurs face. In fact, it might be the number one stumbling block that holds people back from pursuing their own business.

You can create the greatest content in the world, but how in the heck can you get people to see it?

In an online marketplace so crowded with content, it can seem almost impossible to stand out and be heard. That’s why you have to get creative. You have to pull moves that other people won’t. You have to veer off the beaten path and come from a new angle. You have to give yourself the advantage of competing against fewer people doing the same thing you are.

The following four strategies are different. They take a little time and work to implement, but it’s well worth it. Because most people don’t even attempt these tricks, the results can be way, way better than run-of-the-mill SEO strategies.

So get clever, get creative, and give these untapped techniques a try!

“Affiliate” Programs

When most people think of affiliate programs, they think of an arrangement in which people sell their product in exchange for a cut of the sale. That’s all well and good, and can be a great business booster. But what about the marketing end?

What if you adopted the affiliate strategy for traffic rather than sales? Get your current audience, however big or small, to find your new audience!

It’s simple. You offer incentives (other than cash) to your current audience in exchange for introducing new visitors to your content. Contacts of yours who refer other people to your website get a free month of services, or free shipping, or an upgrade, or whatever you deem a fair price for being your evangelist.

You’ll measure your affiliate’s performance in subscriptions. For every referral that becomes a new blog or newsletter subscriber, your affiliate gets credit towards the incentive. There are some tools online just for this kind of program; e-commerce stores can use Gather for a simple, stripped-down tool. For a more complex (but more powerful) affiliate marketing tool, check out IDevAffiliate.

Write a Book

Before you scroll past this, think about it for a second.

Everyone’s writing blogs, as they should be. But not everyone’s reading blogs — and not everyone who’s writing blogs is necessarily gaining the level of credibility it takes to drive traffic. For all the SEO power a great blog has, there is an alternative that’s slightly more involved, but potentially waaaaay more powerful: writing a book.

And if you can write a blog, you can write a book.

It’s easier than ever to self-publish, especially through Amazon. It doesn’t have to be a War & Peace; a 100-page e-book can be enough to have the desired effect. It can even be an amalgam of the blogs you’ve already written, reworked and repackaged into a bigger narrative or instructional form.

It also doesn’t have to be a New York Times best-seller. It just has to reach the segment of the market you want on your website. Charge a dollar, or two, or zero! The goal isn’t revenue, it’s traffic to your site. Include calls to action or incentives that link to your website, and watch the contacts roll in.

A solid, helpful, valuable book sticks with readers in ways a blog never can. It engages the reader over a longer period and creates a deeper relationship. That relationship doesn’t just drive traffic, it lays the groundwork for sales. Book-driven contacts aren’t casual contacts — they’re essentially pre-qualified leads.

It’s a no-brainer.

Guest Edit

We’ll get to guest posting below, but this brilliant strategy is just too good, and too creative, for me to wait any longer. It works like this:

Step 1: Google the most relevant search terms related to your niche.

To use an example, let’s say you’re a travel blogger who specializes in European travel. You Google various terms like “Europe travel visa” and “Europe rail pass,” etc. You get the idea. Find the most popular blogs and articles related to those terms.

Step 2: Identify older posts that still get heavy traffic.

You’ll find that posts from years ago still rank high in the search results, despite potentially being outdated or full of less relevant information — which is exactly what you’re looking for.

Step 3: Identify which of these older posts are in need of updating.

To use the European travel example, there are tons of high-ranking posts about the European visa system from 2016, 2012, and even further back.

Since they were written, different nations have changed their rules and policies regarding visas, new nations have agreed to enter certain visa agreements with others, political realities like immigration and Brexit have changed the game, etc. There’s more to know since these posts were written, but they’re still being read, every day.

The same holds true for just about every niche. Fitness, food, ferret grooming, whatever. Times change, and that’s good news for you.

Step 4: Offer to update the outdated posts in exchange for backlinks.

Simply decide how best to make the outdated posts relevant and correct for today, then contact the author. Propose that in exchange for reworking your post, you get to include a link to your own website.

It’s a win-win. The original poster’s SEO (to say nothing of their reputation) gets a boost from being updated, you get new traffic, and readers get better information. What’s not to love?

Not everyone will say yes. But spend a day or two per month doing this, and the results can be incredible.

Traffic-Similar Cross-Niche Guest Posting

Yes, guess posting on another website is always a good move. But finding the right site to post on can be tricky, and getting them to let you put your content in front of their audience can take some convincing.

That’s why you have to think just slightly outside the box.

Instead of offering a guest post on a site that’s directly in your niche, find a website that’s niche-adjacent. If you’re a fitness coach, try to post nutritional tips on a food blog. If you’re an interior designer, try to post staging tips on a real-estate site. I once guest posted on a photography website through a guest posting service, discussing the business end for professional photographers.

A different but relevant perspective from someone outside the usual circles can be incredibly valuable. Website owners are always looking for more content, but unique content is worth its weight in gold.

The trick is to find niche-adjacent websites with similar traffic to your own. This way, they’re more likely to accept your proposal. It’s an opportunity for them to reach people they may never reach normally, just as it is for you. Go to SimilarWeb to figure out what websites in your chosen niche have roughly the same traffic as yours, and go from there.

As in every aspect of business, you have to find your own path.

To make it in an overcrowded marketplace, new entrepreneurs have to find angles that other people miss. Try these 4 strategies, and you may find that the best things come out of left field. Don’t be afraid to be an outlier — most successful entrepreneurs are.

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What Does Your Home Office Need?

Working from home: for some, it’s The Dream. No commute, no dress code, no question as to whose job it is to clean the coffee maker. No sad breakroom birthday cakes or awkward water-cooler banter. No listening to Earl from accounting tell the same story about his vacation to Cabo in ‘04.

What’s not to love?

But The Dream has a pitfall: conflating your home and your home office to the point where you don’t get much done. A laptop on the couch, friends, is not a home office. There’s a subconscious psychology to home work that you ignore at your peril. You have to purposefully, intentionally design your home workspace for maximum productivity. 

Depending on your approach, working from home can be the best, or worst, thing you can do for your business. Use the following tips to ensure that your home office is conducive to success.

Keep ‘em Separated

The first rule of the productive home office is that it has to be its own space.

Your office must be your office, and nothing else. When my business/life partner Nicole and I chose our current house, one of our first priorities was to choose where we’d work, because that room would no longer be eligible for the role of bedroom, or guest room, or workout room.

We’re not saying you have to seal yourself off like a hermit. But your working space, like your working time, has to be dedicated to a single purpose.

Your office must be behind solid walls and (closed) doors. Yes, your kitchen has a dining table. Your living room has a coffee table. But if you try to work in and among the rest of your home — even if no one else is home — your productivity will suffer, guaranteed.

The office is the office, period.

Importantly, keeping your office separate from the rest of your home doesn’t just protect your work time and space from the rest of your life. It protects the rest of your life from your work!

When you take a break (which you should, regularly), or when you’re done for the day, you need to physically “leave.” The psychological benefits of having a physical barrier between work and not-work create a more productive workday and a healthier personal life. 

In the end, you’ll find you can accomplish more in 3 hours of focused isolation than you can in 6 to 8 hours of working in the living room. You’ll also find yourself more fully relaxed in your off-time.

Work Stuff Only

Not only must your office be work-only; the contents of your office must be work-only, too.

Only objects with a specific work-related function should be allowed in this room. If it’s not helping you do your job, it goes. That’s not to say everything has to be a direct working tool (plants, for example, can’t type or code, but they’re still good to have), but you can’t allow distractions, even visual ones.

Again, this helps maintain the separation of workspace from non-work space.

If you need a coffee or a snack, you should have to leave your “office” to get it. If it’s time to work out, you should have to go to wherever you keep the exercise equipment. Wanna watch the news? Head to the living room. It’s all part of managing your mindset, so that you subconsciously enter a productive “work mode” the second you cross the office threshold.

Go Natural

A depressing workspace is just as unproductive as a distracting one.

I’ve been pretty adamant in this post about how “functional” your home office has to be, but that doesn’t mean it has to be sterile or sad. After all, entrepreneurs are supposed to enjoy work, right? Natural sunlight and plant life is key to a happy workspace. Our biology simply works that way.

There’s a reason the phrase “windowless room” is shorthand for “saddest possible place.” Our bodies get a lot from the sun (Vitamin D comes to mind), but our mental health is totally dependent on that friendly star, too. Windows with natural light help us avoid the feeling of being “trapped,” both literally and figuratively, by our work.

Similarly, plants provide both physical and emotional benefits. They clean the air in a room, and help fight the feeling of being isolated from the natural world. Like it or not, even the most hardened city-dweller is biologically wired to be soothed by organic life and green spaces.

And by the way, natural sunlight is also the most flattering for filming videos and live conferencing. Bonus.

Keep A Clean Desk

A cluttered desk, piled with papers and office gadgets, is a surefire productivity killer. If you have things you don’t need on your desk, you will get distracted, and you will get slowed down. If you have too many things you do need on your desk, you’re doing too many things at once!

Your desk, like your office, should be a minimalist paradise, a zen statement on the nature of focus. A keyboard, a monitor, a pen and pad; unless you’re using it at the moment, there really shouldn’t be anything else out. If you’re not using it, put it away (more on storage below). This will keep you focused on one task at a time.

As to the whole standing vs. sitting debate, that’s a matter of preference. Volumes of research have concluded that standing is far healthier (“sitting is the new smoking,” in terms of heart disease), but being on your feet all day has its drawbacks, too.

I prefer a compromise: a standing desk with a high drafting stool. This way, I can stand most of the time, but fall back into a seated position when I need to.

Walls Matter

Like your office, like your desk, your walls should be (you guessed it) clean and functional. Again, this does not mean plain, sterile, and sad. It just means not distracting.

A neutral, soothing color, with minimal decoration, will have the best effect on your subconscious. Some entrepreneurs use a large wall calendar, which is a good way to plot and reference long-term goals that are harder to envision on a daily or weekly calendar. Others use a whiteboard or chalkboard with tasks or goals for the day or week.

And yes, a little artwork is ok, as long as it’s soothing, non-distracting, and more of a background thing than an object of focus.

For those of us who shoot videos and video-conference, you’ll need at least one wall to use as a background. Naturally, you’ll want it to be clean and neutral (we have simple blank paper on ours), and ideally facing a window to allow natural lighting of your face.

Storage

Keeping your space clean requires a strong storage game. Again, the idea is to only pursue one task at a time, and to only have out the tools you need for that task. That’s where multi-functional furniture comes in.

Desk or desk-adjacent drawers are good, as are whatever closets the room features. In our home office, we keep a large ottoman/bench from IKEA that has space inside. There, we keep tech, cables, and various other things we use on a less-than-daily basis. When it’s time to break out things like lights and cameras for filming, we simply take them out and put them on spots we’ve marked on the floor with some gaffer tape.

Don’t fall for all the “cool” storage solutions you see in office stores, things that hold your stuff while still leaving it all visible. Clear or otherwise exposed storage creates a kind of visual chaos that won’t serve your subconscious well. Ideally, someone should be able to look into your office and not even know there’s anything in there but a desk and computer.

Music?

This one’s tough.

For some with very busy minds, music — even the fast-paced kind many would find distracting — helps focus. For others, a little light classical keeps the brain stimulated without causing distraction. For others, dead silence is the only option. I find that writing with music playing is almost impossible, but non-creative tasks are more enjoyable with a little background melody.

Research tends to indicate that music (even without lyrics) is a net distraction, statistically lowering productivity. But as with many things, what works for you is all that matters. Run an experiment, and see if you can measure how much you get done with and without music. Proceed accordingly.

When you’re ready to work at home, don’t just plop yourself down at the first flat surface. Design your home office with intent. Keep it clean, keep it comfortable, and keep it minimal. The best part about working from home, from a business perspective, is that you’re in control.

It’s up to you to create the space that gets the most done, freeing yourself up to enjoy the world outside your office as much as possible.

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Make Your Online Course Stand Out

You’ve got something to share: knowledge, experience, a skill, insights. You know it’s valuable. You’re ready to monetize it. People want to learn, and you’re willing to teach them online.

You’re just not sure how.

Whether you’re a fitness coach, a language teacher, a cook, a ferret trainer, or anyone else who can show someone how to do something, building an online course is a great idea. You won’t just enhance someone else’s skill set. You’ll evolve your own abilities, by gaining the insights only teaching offers. You’ll also grow the kind of personal reputation and branding cred that can be the foundation of a business.

But it won’t work if you’re not engaging

No matter how much you know about your field, no course can really stand out if you’re not hooking your audience, empowering your students, and creating a memorable experience. Here’s how to make your online course shine.

Engage!

I’m in a unique position to discuss education as a marketing tool. That’s because I’ve worn two main hats in my professional life. In the first phase, I was a full-time educator, teaching and working in administration at the high school and university levels for over a decade.

Eventually, I came to see both the power and the limits of traditional education. Ultimately I chose the entrepreneur’s path, creating our alternative to conventional business school, The $100 MBA. So as an entrepreneur, I’m still a teacher. Even the marketing for my other businesses, like WebinarNinja, are based on an educational approach.

As a teacher/entrepreneur, I’ve learned something: lessons are meaningless without results.

Learning isn’t relevant until it produces a tangible outcome. And the only way to produce results, to produce outcomes, is to engage students in those shared, tangible goals. If the students aren’t invested — personally, emotionally — it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how good your advice is.

Your lessons have to give your students a win. And then another. And then another, until together you reach a place where your students can do (that’s do, not know) what they couldn’t before.

The Content

The first thing to do when planning the actual content of your lesson (we’ll get to the delivery below) is to establish the course goals. You’ve got to apply what formal educators call “backwards design” lesson structuring.

Put simply, you start with the result you want. Teachers often use the abbreviation SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To). Any decent lesson plan begins and ends with the SWBAT goal. This way, everything you plan to do — talk, give exercises, demonstrate, etc. — is student-oriented, not you-oriented.

If you’re teaching an online course, start with your SWBAT. By the end of the course, your Students Will Be Able To…play intermediate-level songs on the guitar. Improve their golf handicap by 10 points. Lose weight, sink free throws, finally get their ferret to do celebrity impressions. Whatever.

The point is to establish a measurable difference between now and then, rather than just “teach them about….”

Next, break your overall course goal into smaller micro-goals, one for each individual lesson. If your overall goal is to get students “To Be Able To” build their own website, then the micro-goal of lesson one is to design an effective homepage layout. If it’s a fitness course, a micro-goal could be to master a push-up technique.

You get the idea.

Each time your students achieve a micro-goal, they get a feeling that no amount of lecturing can produce: the feeling of a win. Every win builds faith and confidence not just in themselves, but in you. Most importantly, every win improves the most important metric in any paying student’s view: the ROI on their time and money.

The Delivery

Of course, the greatest content in the world is useless without effective delivery. The course and its structure have to be engaging, but so do you!

Use the following very simple, but way too often overlooked, strategies to keep everyone awake, interested, and open to your instruction:

Interact. Don’t lecture; converse. Every course needs to have some way in which the students can interact with the teacher and/or each other. It can be as simple as a space to put comments or a chat box. A forum, a Facebook group, or even a small email chain will do the trick.

Whatever you do, make sure that you’re not just talking, but listening and adapting your teaching to the students’ needs.

 

Use visuals, and not just of your talking head. Any relevant imagery, even basic “B-roll” footage, will help keep your students’ brains engaged in what you’re trying to convey. Even basic editing skills will allow you to create lively lessons that maintain everyone’s interest. For a great example, see Brian Dean’s YouTube page, where he offers lessons on SEO. It’s a dry topic that Dean’s clever editing brings to life.

 

Set expectations. One practice I’ve never understood is when online teachers hide the duration of a lesson.

Every student should know exactly how much time they’ll need to put into each lesson, so that they can mentally commit to it. Even written content can have an approximate read time. Doing so creates a focused space around the lesson, reducing multitasking and committing the student to the shared micro-goal of the day.

 

Use examples. Engagement is all about relevance. If your students can’t connect the content to the real world, you’re likely to lose them. You’ll notice I often use the examples of fitness coaches or music teachers or trainers of various housebroken rodents. Whatever you come up with, the content needs context.

 

Less is everything, not just more. Fewer words, shorter videos, less time in front of the screen. Keep. It. Tight. If you take an hour to convey what could’ve been conveyed in half an hour, you’ve stolen your students’ time. The value of a course is in the time-to-results ratio — there’s a reason most episodes of The $100 MBA Show are 10 to 15 minutes.

Resources

Speaking of The $100 MBA Show, we’ve got several episodes specifically designed to help you build your online course. Some of them are from our early days (we’re at over a thousand eps), so you’ll have to subscribe to the show to get access via the podcast app of your choice. Otherwise, check them out on our website:

How to Create an Online Course, episodes MBA325- MBA327

Online Course Pricing, episode MBA351

Sales Videos for Online Courses, episode MBA511

Remember, teaching is a skill. It takes practice, years of it, to get really good.

Whatever your field of expertise, keep teaching. The more you teach, the more you’ll deepen your own understanding of the topic, and the more you’ll hone the skills of engagement that make yourself truly valuable to your audience.

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3 Ways to Destroy Your Small Business

I’m going to make an assumption: you want your business to succeed.

That’s usually how entrepreneurs feel. And while there’s no shortage of advice (including our own) on how to achieve that success, the vast majority of it is positive.

“Wait, what? Positive advice is a good thing, right?”

Well, yes. But so is negative advice.

Lost among the positivity and optimism are those crucial “DON’Ts.” As independent business people, we need to learn what to avoid just as surely as we need to learn what to aim for. We need to understand the pitfalls, snares, and other terrible things that can (and do) crush entrepreneurial dreams every day.

But we don’t want to sound negative, so we avoid talking about things like that.

Well, dear readers, I’m gonna bite the bullet. I promise to return to my upbeat, yes-you-can, “DO”-style advice just as soon as this blog post is done. But it’s time we talked about the monsters under the bed. It’s time we slayed a few demons that regularly slay new businesses. It’s time we faced the dark places.

It’s dirty work, but it has to be done.

There are three things I’ve seen people do that are guaranteed to destroy any business. These things won’t hurt your business, or slow its growth — they will destroy it. Permanently.

Some of these things may seem a little obvious (especially to more experienced business people). Some may be surprising. Some may be things you’re aware of, but with twists or applications you haven’t considered. Either way, burn them into your business brain. Tattoo them to your memory.

As you go forward, never forget to not do these things.

1. Neglect Your Audience

Inviolable rule of marketing: no audience = no business.

Every minute and every dollar you put into outreach is an investment in the foundation of your business. You could have the greatest product in the world, the best customer support, even the best advertising. But if no one hears it, it’s the proverbial tree falling in the woods, not making a sound.

The very first step in building a viable business isn’t necessarily creating a product. Yes, you read that right. The product shouldn’t come first; the audience should. Too many would-be entrepreneurs think that coming up with the Next Big Thing guarantees success. It. Does. Not. Period.

Instead, engaging with your audience is the first crucial move. Your business — and your product —  should be guided by a conversation, not a monologue. And that conversation starts with you giving something, not selling or advertising something.

It starts with a little thing called content.

Content is what you offer your audience, in exchange for nothing. You offer it to build your authority, credibility, and good will. Blogs, videos, webinars, etc. are the way you start the conversation that ultimately creates your following. Most importantly, content creates something to which your audience can respond.

Once your audience is engaged with your content, you’ll start to hear back from them. You’ll see what resonates and more precisely identify the problems they’re struggling with. That, in turn, will allow you to tailor your product to their needs.

Give, give, and give some more.

The more valuable content you offer, the more engagement you’ll get. The more engagement you get, the more leads you’ll get. You’ll use your content to capture email addresses, and your email contact list to generate sales. Long story short: a percentage of your audience will ultimately become your customers, so neglect that audience at your peril.

2. A Bad Price/Value Ratio

We can summarize centuries worth of marketing, advertising, and sales advice in a single sentence. You can read all the books, get the highest level degrees, and spend decades in business, but all roads of business knowledge lead to the same universal truth…

People buy products for the ROI (Return on Investment).

That’s it. Consumer or business, all purchases are about one equation: is this thing worth it? This simple truth cuts across every variable, from price to competition to cost of production, from age to gender to nationality, from Monday to Friday, Winter to Summer. People either see the price of your product as a worthwhile investment, or they don’t.

Crazy as it may seem, it doesn’t matter whether the price is high or low.

You can be McDonald’s, and sell things for absurdly low prices, or you can be Apple, charging out the wazoo. What matters is whether the perceived benefits outweigh the cost. People buy McNuggets and iPads for the same reason: they feel like those things are way more valuable than the money they’re handing over.

Apply this basic fact to your product. The customer does not care how much it cost you to produce the product. They care less than you think about what your competitors are charging. All they want is a good deal. Your profit margins are irrelevant.

For example, take our SaaS product, WebinarNinja. We base our pricing on the value that our webinars produce; that is to say, lead generation. At most product price points, if a given webinar converts even a fraction of the audience into leads, and a fraction of those leads become sales, the monthly subscription has paid for itself!

That’s the ROI. For the cost of our monthly service, a subscriber can generate several times that cost in sales. It’s a win, potentially a huge win depending on the business.

Wins are what people really buy, not products.

You can make the same argument about The $100 MBA. The ROI is in the title — you can spend roughly 12 gagillion dollars on a university business education, or you can get the training you need for less than the cost of a night out. The math does half the selling.

3. Forget Old Customers in Favor of New Ones

Speaking of ROI, we all want growth. We all want to add customers to our lists. But the ROI of chasing down new business is nothing compared to the ROI of treating your current customers well.

Your absolute, hands-down greatest sales asset is your current customer base. These are the people who already trust you, who already see the benefits of your product. Depending on the business, it can take relatively few of them to sustain a company indefinitely.

Think about the following statistic: about 69% of all Apple sales come from (you guessed it) existing Apple customers. 69%! Over two thirds of sales come from people who already own an Apple product, because of course they do. These people are already invested in the company, and they’re happy. Selling to them is like shooting fish in a barrel.

About a decade ago, a blogger named Kevin Kelly wrote a legendary blog post called 1,000 True Fans. In it, he broke down the math on customer retention and revenue. Kelly simply pointed out that an entrepreneur can reasonably expect to source $100 per year in revenue from a given customer — but only if that customer is a true believer, a die-hard brand loyalist.

Multiply that by a thousand, and you have 6-figure annual revenue.

The goal, therefore, is not to chase down as many customers as possible. It’s to build a sustainable “fan base” and keep those fans delighted, year after year. The ROI on catering to loyal customers blows the ROI on marketing and advertising expenses out of the water.

To put it another way, look at your “churn” rate, the rate at which customers leave your business. If your customer base is growing by 5% every year, that’s great. But if 10% of your customers are falling away at the same time, your business is shrinking. You’d be better off devoting your resources to retention than marketing!

Then, factor in evangelism. Your customers aren’t just your most reliable source of revenue;  they’re a reliable source of new business. Word of mouth, testimonials, and those oh-so-important customer reviews are priceless.

Now more than ever, consumers trust other consumers more than they trust marketing and advertising…by far.

There are plenty of ways to hurt your business, but the three no-no’s above will do worse than that. They are absolutely guaranteed to strangle your new business before it has a chance to reach its potential.

Develop your product, hone your skills, and continue your entrepreneurial education. But for success’s sake, remember what not to do.

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2 Way Marketing: How to Have a Conversation With Your Audience

Of all the questions we get at The $100 MBA, I’d say about 80% of them concern marketing.

In one way or another, everyone is asking the same thing: how can I build my brand to the point where buying my product is a no-brainer? Companies have been asking this question since the dawn of commerce, but recently the answer has changed. Gone are the days of “blasting” information about your business into the public sphere and hoping for the best.

Marketing is different now. It used to be a speech; now, it’s a conversation.

Marketing Now

The internet created incredible new marketing opportunities, as email, social media, and the web opened countless avenues by which to reach consumers. But for a while, marketers still used outdated strategies: blasting info into the digital space, sending countless (mostly unwanted) messages to anyone they could reach.

These were the days of “spray and pray” marketing: just yell your message as loud as you can, and hope customers hear it.

Now, that strategy (or lack thereof) will get you nowhere. If your marketing isn’t intentional, strategic, and precisely aimed at the right niche, you won’t last long.

It takes work, but intentional, conversational, 2-way marketing is very doable, no matter how small your business is. It’s just a matter of finding your specific audience, and doing the one thing truly great entrepreneurs always do first: listening.

Ideally, you start marketing before you create your product. Yes, you read that right. Your product should be influenced by your marketing efforts, not the other way around. That’s because conversational marketing is about giving consumers what they want instead of what you want to give them.

Now, if you already have a product, it’s not too late. You can still market the right way, and you can align future improvements to your products with your marketing insights going forward.

The Strategy: From Stranger to Customer

2-way conversational marketing isn’t some radical outside-the-box strategy. It’s the proven method, used by businesses big and small.

It’s often referred to as “inbound” marketing. Whatever you call it, the general principle is the same: replacing a company-centric approach with a consumer-centric approach. Stop trying to convince people to buy what you’re selling. Instead, show people what you can do for them, and let them decide to reward you for it.

Different marketers divide the stages of this approach to their liking, but generally, it looks like this:

  1. Identify consumer problems you can solve
  2. Offer consumers free valuable content
  3. Engage consumers in a conversation
  4. Educate consumers about your solution to their problem

Let’s take a look at each stage.

Identify Problems

First things first (and this is why we recommend you start marketing before you actually produce your product): get to know your audience.

In conversational marketing, listening is just as important as speaking. Join social media groups focused on your industry niche. Ask questions. Engage. Interact. Become a part of the community you want to serve, if you’re not already.

One exemplary trick is to use Amazon as marketing research tool. Go to Amazon, and search for books on the topic of what you want to sell. For example, if you’re a weight-loss coach, look for the most popular books on weight loss. Then — and here’s the crucial trick — read the reviews.

Skip the 5-star reviews (they’re not likely to mention any “pain points,” which is what you’re looking for). Skip the 1 and 2-star reviews (they’re likely just on the “hater” end of the review spectrum). Focus on the 3 star reviews. These reviews come from people who found some value in the instruction, but still have needs that aren’t being addressed.

That’s where you come in.

If you can identify a problem that isn’t being well-addressed by others in your industry, that’s your niche. You’re looking for an opening in the market, a place where you can help in ways that others can’t, or won’t. Maybe all those fitness books lacked good advice on working out while traveling, or eating well on a budget.

Whatever it is, it’s there somewhere.

There are other ways to engage in the “listening” part of conversational marketing. Create surveys on social media (easy, fun, and invaluable for gathering info on people’s pain points). Host a strictly Q&A webinar — no pitching, no persuading, just make yourself available to consumers with questions.

Set a timeframe for the listening phase. After a few weeks or even months of gathering intel on what your audience wants, you’ll have an idea of where to steer your product development and your marketing.

Offer Valuable Content

Content marketing is increasingly popular, almost standard procedure at this point. That’s because it’s the absolute best way to engage with discerning, picky, consumers who insist that you demonstrate your credibility before they’ll consider hearing a sales pitch.

Blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars: they’ve all got a single purpose. Your content should be a gift to consumers that builds trust, credibility, and good will.

Of course, you can’t just “spray and pray” your content, either. Don’t write a hundred blogs just to write a hundred blogs. Don’t clog YouTube with video after video just because you can. As in many things, quality beats quantity.

Or in the case of content marketing, specificity beats quantity.

No one cares about your general musings on weight loss, or horse training, or baking. What consumers want is help. You have to produce valuable, useful, applicable information and insights that make consumers feel informed and empowered. That means addressing the specific problems you identified in the listening/research phase.

Build your content library thoughtfully. Take a month or so, and devote yourself to producing a solid amount of blogs and other content. Then, commit to a regular content schedule. The more content you produce, the greater your reach. The more useful the content is, the greater your credibility.

Never sacrifice quality for quantity, but balance both.

Whatever medium you choose — video, podcast, etc. — don’t forget to blog. Blogging not only forces you to articulate your message thoughtfully, it’s the key to growing your reach and bringing traffic to your website via SEO (Search Engine Optimization). For now, search engines still rank sites primarily by the written word, so get writing!

Remember, you’re going to need practice producing great content. Writing, recording, and otherwise producing the good stuff isn’t something you learn overnight. Personally, I can’t listen to the early episodes of The $100 MBA Show, or read some of my first few blogs, because they’re simply awful.

Really, just awful.

Engage Consumers

Once you’ve put the content out there, it’s time to hear back from your audience. You listened in the first research stage. You responded in the content creation stage. Now, it’s the audience’s turn to take the next step. That’s where CTA (Calls to Action) come in.

CTA’s are the entire point of content.

If your blog, video, or podcast doesn’t include a next step for the consumer to take (sign up for a newsletter, download another content offer, etc), then you’ve wasted your effort producing the content! Use links, buttons, oral instructions; whatever’s appropriate and available to you given the platform. Get the reader/listener/viewer to move the conversation forward by taking action.

The most important aspect of this stage is collecting email addresses. We’ll say it ‘till we’re blue in the face: email is the most effective marketing and sales tool online.

When you send an email, the recipient has to engage on some level, even if it’s just to delete it. That means you always have at least a chance to keep them interested. A quality email list will ultimately be your primary source of revenue.

Of course, you’ll have to give the consumer a reason to trust you with their address. Again, we rely on content. It could be as simple as asking people to subscribe to your blog, podcast, or channel. Or, you can offer exclusive content that’s “gated,” accessible only to those who opt in with their email address.

Once you have that address, you have the power to continue the conversation. When they get your emails, it won’t be the digital equivalent of a flyer stuffed in their physical mailbox. It will be something the consumer asked for and has ownership of.

That’s the biggest advantage a marketer can have: engagement by choice.

Educate, Help, and Sell

Now that you have a conversation going with your audience members, it’s time to really give them a reason to trust you. Your job is to educate them on the benefits of your product or service, so that they take ultimate ownership of the decision to buy it. This is where you really demonstrate your value, before asking for a sale.

It’s critical at this stage to be specific — you should not be sending the same emails or making the same offers to everyone.

Instead, you’ve got to tailor your emails to the recipients based on how they opted in. For example, if your blogs on equipment-free exercise caught the attention of people who travel often for business, they may have opted in by exchanging their email address for an infographic on, say, strength moves you can do in a hotel room.

The people who opted in for that particular piece of exclusive content have different needs than people who opted in to get, say, an e-book on nutrition. Therefore, those two groups should not be getting the same follow-up emails and offers.

Even if you’re ultimately offering both groups the same thing — a free trial of your fitness coaching service — you should appeal to their specific needs.

Fortunately, pretty much every CMS (Content Management System) and email platform out there includes the ability to track opt-ins. Your website, CTA’s, and email systems should be integrated such that you always know what brought the consumer to you, why they opted in, and therefore, how you can help them.

In fact, “How can I help you?” may soon be a barely-remembered phrase from the distant past, because modern online marketers aren’t like floor salespeople talking to strangers. Modern marketers already have an idea of how they can “help you,” because the consumer already told them!

Whatever your industry, whatever your talent, whatever your product, remember to have a conversation. Listen, learn, and be responsive to your potential customers. That will get you a whole lot further than shouting into the wind.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Smarter Social Media: How to Narrow Your Focus for Better Results

 As General Custer learned the hard way, you should never divide your forces.

All too often, entrepreneurs think that in order to market effectively, they have to maintain a strong presence on all social media platforms. We Facebook, we Twitter, we Insta and we Snap, but we just don’t get the overwhelming results we hoped for.

We think we have to build huge followings everywhere from LinkedIn to YouTube to iTunes, yearning for that one big “viral” moment.

In truth, if you’re spreading yourself across multiple platforms and dividing your efforts across too many channels, all your hard work is going to waste. Worse, it might even be counterproductive. To create the best chance of marketing success, it’s a better idea to choose your battles, niche down, and focus on one or two platforms you can truly dominate.

The Multi-Platform Problem

Don’t “divide and conquer” yourself! Being everywhere is likely to get you nowhere. Here’s why:

It’s time consuming. You can only create so much content in a day. Creating 5 platform’s worth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what are you neglecting while you’re crafting all those clever Tweets? There just isn’t time for a busy entrepreneur to spend all day interacting across multiple channels.And before you go thinking you can just “repurpose” content for multiple platforms, think again. This is almost guaranteed to come off as robotic and insincere, which is why most content marketers eschew the practice – and why platforms like Twitter are cracking down on repurposing.Remember, genuine content beats the mass-produced kind, every time.

It creates option overload. Whenever I see the bottom of a blog, email, or business card crammed with social media icons, I’m smh. When it comes to marketing, giving your audience too many options can lead to them choosing “none of the above.”If you want them to follow you on your preferred platform, by all means include your Twitter or Facebook handle in your content — but that’s it. Do you really need to include your G+ profile? Do you actually have a G+ profile?

It’s harder to convert. It’s much easier to funnel followers from one platform to your website, rather than from 4 or 5.If you have a strong following on Instagram or Facebook, you have a great chance of drawing them into your space, which is the only real value of social media. The ultimate goal is to bring people to your website, get their contact info, and start moving them down the funnel to a sale. Speaking of which…

Keep Your Eyes On the Prize

All the “Likes” in the world won’t grow your business if your audience is scattered across half a dozen websites that aren’t yours. Your website, not Mark Zuckerberg’s, will ultimately earn you sales. It’s the content you create and the value you offer under your own domain that turns someone into a contact, a lead, a customer.

That means we should never overestimate the value of social media.

We certainly shouldn’t spend too much time chasing casual affirmations of our content like follows and likes, which really don’t move the relationship between you and your audience forward. Instead, we should focus on turning one or two social media platforms into a traffic feeder for our own URL.

Remember: effective social media marketing isn’t just about throwing posts and updates into cyberspace and stopping there. To really utilize any platform, you should do more than just post — you should interact. That means thoughtfully cultivating your following in a way that’s designed to get them off the platform and into your little corner of the Internet. You can only realistically do that on one platform at a time.

Go All In

Instead of being a jack of all platforms, we recommend you make yourself a master of one. Choose a single platform that’s best suited to your business, talents, and audience preferences. Then, consolidate your efforts there.

For example, a fitness instructor might take advantage of image and video-based platforms, dominating Instagram with before & after pics or short workout tutorial vids. A writer might offer clever commentary or interesting articles on Tumblr. A club promoter might use Snapchat. A great photographer might not want to focus on text-based platforms, while a great writer would.

It all depends on what you’re selling, and what medium you’re most skilled in.

It’s all about finding where the Venn diagram of your talents, your type of product, and your audience’s preferred platforms meet. If you’re chasing hip young millennials, you might not find them on Facebook. The opposite holds true if you’re selling to Generation X (remember them?).

Once you’ve identified the platform where your content will have maximum impact, go for it. Don’t waste your time on other platforms. Instead, cultivate your following and tailor your content for the one platform you can best excel in.

Then, move those followers onto your website, capture their email addresses, and start the real conversation — the one that goes beyond Likes and Shares.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Marketing

Why You Should Start Building Your Email List Right This Very Second

Yes, this second. Well, not this second exactly, but very shortly after reading this! Email addresses may be the most valuable form of personal information you can obtain from customers. They’re more valuable than social media follows (yes, you read that correctly), even more valuable than phone numbers. When it comes to marketing, chasing emails might be the single best use of your time.

The reason for this is simple. Email is the most effective form of direct marketing. Statistically, every credible analysis shows that email campaigns convert better than other kinds of marketing, including the consistently-overrated social media kind. Customers can ignore tweets and Facebook updates; they’re only voices in a crowd. But emails have to be engaged with. They have to be addressed, even if it’s only to delete them!

The psychology behind it is fairly straightforward. The overwhelming amount of content online conditions us to scan, skim, and mostly ignore what we see (even fantastic small business blogs). However, because our email inboxes are more personal spaces, we’re more likely to give that extra fraction of a second’s attention to whatever’s in it. Whatever it is— even advertising— it was sent directly to us, as individuals. Because we have to at least delete it (even if it’s from Google’s convenient “promotions” tab), we are forced to engage with it just long enough for it to have a chance of getting through!

As the online business world moves forward, I predict that email addresses will be worth their weight in gold. They’ll be something people are less willing to give out, as even the average consumer realizes their value. Companies, then, will be willing to pay more and more. Consider how your browsing habits are already being sold to the highest bidder, with more of that likely to come. Imagine what businesses who pay to know what you’ve Googled would pay for your email address! As an entrepreneur, you can take a page from this playbook.

How To Use The List

Putting the targeted ad schemes of big businesses aside, how can you as an entrepreneur use email addresses to your advantage? It comes down to relationship-building. By having regular email interactions with your audience, offering them valuable content (not just ads), and otherwise engaging with them directly, you can create “true fans.” You can foster the kind of relationship with your audience that sustains independent business.

In fact, building your email list should be one of the first stages of building a business— even before you build a product! Using your expertise to become a trusted voice in your industry is step one. Then, turning the people who listen to you into the people who buy from you requires two things: valuable content, and bringing those listeners to your website. Note that I say your website, not your Facebook page, not your Twitter account, not your Etsy account. Your. Website. Wherever you find followers, you’ve got to take them away from the 3rd party platforms and migrate them to your own corner of the ‘net.

Email is crucial to this. If you can get email addresses, you can have more intimate conversations. It’s the difference between talking to someone at a table in a quiet restaurant and yelling to them in a crowded club. By creating useful content and offering it in exchange for an email address, you can start the relationship. By creating useful content and emailing it along with links to your own website (and the occasional sales offer), you can convert!

Creating Customers Through Email

Start with your website. If you have a business of any kind, physical or online, you need a website. Then, fill that website with useful, genuinely valuable content. Have videos. Have infographics. Have pdfs or e-books. But above all, have text. Blogs and other written content are the key. Not only is it often more convenient to consume than other media, it’s also crucial to SEO.

Next, add opt-ins. Your website, chock full of goodness as it is, should be asking for one thing from every visitor: their email address. In fact, it’s a good idea to offer some extra content in exchange for an email address. Access to a free course or webinar, a bonus goodie like an infographic or short e-book; whatever it is, make it well worth the simple act of typing an email address. Use an email marketing service like Sumo for your opt-ins; it’s perfect for independent businesses (including ours).

Then, go out into the great wide Internet and find your audience. Engage on social media (but don’t worry too much about collecting follows). Go to conferences. Speak at live events if you can. Guest-blog on websites in your industry. Podcast, host webinars. Do it all! But whatever you do, remember the goal: to get those sweet, delicious email addresses and bring everyone to your website.

*For some truly great advice on the best “lead magnets” to offer customers in exchange for their email address, check out this episode of our podcast featuring Leadpages founder Tim Paige.*

The process of building your email list is a long one. There are strategies, but there are no “hacks” or tricks to getting the volume of qualified email addresses you’ll need to really sustain your business. It takes a consistent, long-term effort. You’ve got to make yourself valuable, credible, and worth corresponding with. My only regret regarding my email list is that I didn’t start building it far, far sooner.

The good news is that the longer you do it for, the easier it gets. Your first 100 emails will be harder to get than your first 500 or your first 1,000. It’s worth the time, and it’s worth the effort. Your product can change. Your advertising and marketing can change. Your team can change. But a purposefully built, long-standing base of true followers is irreplaceable. That’s the heart of your business.