How to do marketing for free

This is a good subject for start-ups and very small businesses who don’t have a large budget to work with..

The first free marketing method is networking. Go to as many meetings as possible, particularly the free events or those that don’t require a big entrance fee. But to make these successful you must arm yourself with a good pitch, both 10 and 60 second versions, the first to grab attention to yourself, and the second if you get a chance to address the whole room. If you can create something that is different, easily understandable, poignant and relevant to your listeners’ needs, then you have a head start above many others.

It is important to get yourself as visible as possible in the business world. There are two possibilities: blogging and social networking group pages. It is very easy to create a free blog, and social networking sites allow you to create groups or fanpages which you can devote to your business.  In these you must regularly post up information about your business, and then, as with the blog, use RSS feeds to inform your followers of your new posts, or email through the social networking system to your followers that you have recently contributed new material for them to read.

And then there’s Twitter, equally free, which is an excellent way to promote your business, not forgetting that you can feed your blog to it, and now your posts can be automatically replicated on your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.

Writing articles and publishing them around the net is another way to spread your expertise. Make sure the resource boxes direct the reader back to your website, blog or social networking profile pages, so they can find out more about you.  Take advantage of keywords to improve your search engine optimisation, and careful attention to the headlines and first paragraph will increase the likelihood of a response.

If you do have a website, get as many links back to it as possible from other websites and web directories. The more high profile the link source, the more respect search engines give your website, not to mention providing more portals for the spiders to crawl over your site and report back pages for indexing.

Create a good signature for your emails, to publicise your website, blog and social networking profiles. Don’t forget that the space at the bottom of your communication is just waiting to be filled with promotional written material and links, and everybody you write to will get a chance to see them.

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RSS simply explained

When I asked for feedback on what people wanted to know about blogs and blogging, many of them wanted to know about RSS. The main question being what is RSS?

So here is an explanation of those who do not know:

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is easily recognisable through the orange square icon found at the top of most blogs’ sidebars.

It is like a subscription service, enabling your followers to receive any new material you’ve written as soon as it’s published. It saves you time and makes it easy for you to keep up with new stuff without having to search all your favourite blogs for it.

Think of it like subscribing to a magazine: the new post (or message) gets delivered straight to you, either via email into your in-box, or into search engine readers if you’ve subscribed via that method.

RSScookiesA search engine reader provides pages with links to newly available posts, or individual ‘cookies’ on the search engine homepage which lists the last three posts of that blog through headline links.

Apart from allowing your followers to keep track of your new material, RSS also has other uses, mainly through social media.

When you publish a new blog post, it can be ‘fed’ into your social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. This means that each new message appears as a link automatically in these sites. The RSS feed delivers your new content in this format for your followers to read.

In Facebook the whole post is published in the Notes pages, and your Homepage or Status page shows the headline link (known as a permalink) with perhaps the first few lines of the post as a taster.

In Twitter your post is listed as the title and the first few words, followed by a tinyurl (or reduced link) to the blog post. As a Twitter message uses only 140 characters, there will not be room for the whole permalink, so various methods are used to shorten it.

TwitterfeedsRSS is important if you wish to increase your readership or encourage more interest from search engines. It is a piece of software that encourages the search engine spiders to follow your blog, and automatically spreads your news throughout the web. Without it your blog would appear lifeless as only those who are invited would get a chance to read it, and only if they bothered to visit it regularly. RSS automatically delivers your messages without effort, saves time and encourages a new readership, especially through social media.

If you want to find out how to include RSS into your blog, I have written a blogging visual e-course on the subject, called “Setting up a RSS feed = how to set up RSS feed so others can follow your blog posts”. You can view it from my blogging pages, and will be available to buy, along with the other e-courses, from September, so watch this space!

Alice Elliott of Design Your Marketing has created a series of visual e-courses to help you set up and maintain a blog from WordPress.com. They are designed to take you through the blogging journey either completely from the beginning, or to allow you to dip into those areas you are unsure of, or would like to know more. They should be ready to purchase from September 2009.

How are blogging and teeth similar?

Blogging as like flossing your teeth, you need do it fairly regularly to maintain your oral hygiene (or marketing awareness). It doesn’t need to be done everyday like brushing your teeth (or working on your marketing strategy), but you need to keep it up if you want a nice smile (or well marketed business).

Nobody likes looking at yellow teeth (neglected blog) or being subjected to bad breath (badly composed posts). Fluoride in your toothpaste (sharing your expertise) will encourage a broad smile (widely promoting your business) which will attract friends (more customers).

Your body, like your blog, needs good nutrition (interesting and valuable content) to result in a healthy disposition (frequently read blog). And regular exercise (internet research) will help you find suitable material, as both stimulate the brain!

How aware are you of the power of the picture?

I’ve just finished my blogging package ‘The Power of Pictures’.

This is just one of my series of blogging packages I’m creating to help women (and men) towards creating their own successful business blog. The first ones of the series are scheduled to be ready towards the end of July, so watch this space!

I like it when I see pictures in a blog. This isn’t only for photographers and those whose business survives on imagery such as arts and crafts, jewellry and silver-ware, stationery and cards or whatever. I know I am guilty in the fact that I don’t put enough pictures into my blog, but it certainly does make a difference, not ony because it is colourful, but because it enables those who thrive on the visual side of comprehension to understand your point of view better.

But there are a few pointers that you need to know before submitting an image to your blog.

First, do you have copyright? So many pictures are ‘stolen’ from the web, both consciously and unconsciously, but it is a crime. This also includes scanning in images from books or whatever, just like photocopying music, which carries a heavy fine. Please be careful about where your pictures come from.

I generally create my own, or otherwise I pay for my pictures from the web from special websites that provide imagery, usually at very reasonable costs. I’m very much aware of copyright, since my mother said she fell foul of this practice in the beginning of her freelancing days, and had to pay the author more for his picture than her commission for her work. It truly isn’t worth it, as it’s very easy to be found out.

OK, so you have your picture, then it needs to be adapted for the web. I use Photoshop because as an ex-graphic designer I have it to hand. It sizes my pictures by centimetres or pixels (whatever you are used to), transforms the image into RGB which is the correct form for the web (as oppose to CYMK for printing), and can create a myriad of file types that are acceptable for uploading.

And once you’ve created your pictures to the exact specifications, it’s very easy to pop into your post – but to find out how you’re going to have to buy my ‘The Power of Pictures’ blogging package that’s available at the end of July!

Forget your blog, forget your readers, forget SEO

There is nothing worse than setting up a blog and then forgetting about it – like someone said in a Twitter post, “a blog with no new content is like a cheese sandwich”. Although this made me smile, he is right. An inactive blog is the same as a brochure website, looking pretty but with no search engine optimisation activity it is worth nothing.

The answer? Get off your backsides and start contributing.

How? There is lots of material all around you. Look at your old articles, e-newsletter material, past emails answering questions from your clients, stuff you may have read from other blog posts or whatever that you would like to put your own slant on it, articles from business magazines, overhead conversations at networking events, general gossip: this forum is full of it!

How often? Regularity is better than frequency. Michael Martine of Remarkablogger stated in a recent post that he now blogs less than before, but his posts have a much higher value in their content so his SEO impact is higher, as well as the quality of comemnts. See what he says in one of my posts: http://www.designyourmarketing.co.uk/2009/07/blogging-less-can-be-effective-too/

What should you say? The aim is to provide value for your readers, give them something to think about, provide solutions to their problems, pose a question to encourage comments: comments are treated as new material too, so getting lots of these is also good for SEO.

Create an editorial diary so you can draft a number of posts in advance and come back to them later to spruce them up for posting. If you’re really clever, or if your original post is too long, split up a subject into many installments: this will keep the audience’s interest going, and incorporating cliff-hangers will encourage them to look out for the next post. It also will make it all the easier for you if you know what you are going to write next.

Don’t make your posts too long. People don’t have time to read huge articles on blogs, keep it down to five paragraphs, or more if they are short ones. Short, snappy and sweet is my motto. It makes it quicker to write them too.

If you get an idea, write it down in a notebook, or if you’re online, create a quick draft and go back to it later. Once you’re creative juices are following, why waste them?

Constant contributions are more important than making your blog look wonderful, stuffed full of imagery and widgets, but with no content. Get writing – the more your readers, and therefore potential clients, get to know about you, the more likely you are to do business with them.

Oh, and another thing, try and put a purpose into your posts. Blogging aimlessly about everything and anything is also a waste: there must always be an ultimate aim in whatever you do.

My purpose for this post? To raise awareness of who I am, you’ll follow the link to the post above, and you’ll realise that I want to help women to blog successfully to further their businesses by visiting my blogging pages.

Never give up on your marketing

I read somewhere that small businesses really ought to spend 40% of their time doing marketing if they want to survive. 40%! That’s quite a lot, especially if you’re a sole trader or only have a few employees, but if you think about it, a lot of what you do would be already considered as marketing without you really knowing it.

Write down all the marketing activities you already do, and I expect you’ll be surprised. Certainly contributing to a blog is one of them. Writing your newsletter, answering questions from clients, writing a sales letter, updating your website, writing the words to advertise your next promotion, getting new literature printed, networking, thinking of a new elevator pitch – I could go on and on.

Next, split up these tasks into their respective areas. By reducing them down to their bare elements they become less oppressive and more manageable. Concentrate on what you enjoy doing the most, and see if you can farm out the less deletable to someone who does enjoy doing them or knows more about it.

Set up a marketing system – mark out on a calendar your tactics ahead, focusing on next week or month or even a year. Work out how they will be achieved systematically and automatically, planning in advance so that nothing is missed out and you know exactly what the end goal is. In fact, why not work backwards from the final product? This method will certainly sort out the time factors much more easily for you.

Try new marketing methods – there may be new ones you haven’t thought of that might make a big difference. Do lots of research and ask others who may already be doing it before you take on any large projects, but certainly dabbling won’t do you any harm. It’s always good to keep in the know.

And don’t forget to keep asking questions to make sure you are on the right track. Do a poll or a questionnaire, find out where your target market is hanging out, what they need and want, and what solutions will be the best thing for them. Be able to adapt your business accordingly – you must keep up with changes.

And remember, marketing is not a quick fix. It does take time, because what you are aiming to do is to gain the trust of potential clients. It can take several months for a marketing cycle to produce results, so don’t get despondent if nothing seems to be working immediately. A watched kettle never boils, but you will get your cup of tea in time.

An example how visibility adds to practicality

This is a good example of how design should not take over from being practical. Visibility is the key to success, and it certainly wasn’t applied here:

Has anyone looked at the train signs on the London to Brighton line recently? Last Saturday I was travelling late in the evening, and as the train stopped at Haywards Heath I looked out of the window to see where I was.

Having searched for some time I finally found the station name plate, only to find it was so illegible I could hardly read it. This was because the background was a dark green and the words ‘Haywards Heath’, although written in white, consisted of a slim typeface rather than a clear bold one.

This effect may look fine during the day, but becomes totally impractical by night, as the dark green became black, and the slim words melted so they could hardly been seen. Totally impractical for passengers who are unable to recognise the shape of the station buildings to know where they are.

Don’t succumb to the trend to reverse design around. Books have black words on white paper for a reason. A dark text on a pale background is so much better because it is both practical and more visible. Don’t alienate your customers through lack of proper visibility.