Your head is probably hurting right now from the sheer volume of articles you’ve read about what you need to do to make it successful.
Let’s start by quashing an assumption: You don’t need to know everything, ok? You’re going to find it far easier to start your business if you just give it a go, and learn by doing.
However, things change quickly in the online world. What worked for a business launch five years ago – even two years ago – isn’t necessarily what is going to work today. But there are some simple strategies you can adopt from the outset that will help you get a head start.
Ignore the noise. Get these nine strategies embedded in your business. Then launch and learn.
Strategy 1: Build Your Email List
Let’s start with something that has remained constant in online marketing. Email lists are still the #1 marketing strategy for the majority of online businesses. They should be your priority from the very outset.
What makes email lists so effective?
When you sign up to someone’s mailing list, you are telling them that you are interested in their services.
You have a warm customer list to market to, rather than a cold list of new site visitors. Email is your most valable asset when starting, as research shows:
Here’s what you can do to kickstart your email list:
- Get signed up to an email service. Mailchimp, AWeber and GetResponse are all good options for a beginner.
- Place an email signup form on your homepage.
- Haven’t built your website yet? Create a single landing page and put your signup form on there. Here’s a good example:
- Start building your list: advertise; blog; guest blog; network; or use social media. Whatever your preferred marketing tool is, use it now to begin growing your list from day 1.
Strategy 2: Use Video
Video has become more a mainstream marketing tool, so it doesn’t have the competitive edge it had a few years back, but it is still one of the best ways for you to get your message across to your audience. Research by Diode Digital found that 60% of visitors watch video content before they read site text, and these visitors continue to navigate your website for an extra 2 minutes after watching a video.
There are a couple of reasons why video is effective:
- It’s a faster way to build trust than words alone. People can see you (or hear your voice) and they can build a picture of the type of person you are (and the type of business you are).
- Video is an easy way for people to digest information. Technology today allows customers to view video on the go via their phones or tablets, so it’s often a nicely lazy option for busy customers than reading a lengthy ‘About’ page.
Here’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of how you can use video effectively to promote a product:
Here’s what you can do:
Think about the message you really want to get across to your audience. Do you want them to understand how your product works? Do you want to demonstrate your expertise in a particular topic?
Decide on a single key message that you want to get across to your audience and make that the starting point for your video. Check out this “How Kiva Works” video.
Message: This is exactly how your loan can help people in the developing world
Now decide on the best way of delivering that video. This is about what works best for your business. First, choose from a wide variety of video types. Some examples:
- Customer testimonials, case studies, success stories
- Product demo
- Explainer video (screen capture, presentation, animation, live action)
- Advertisement or infomercial
- Free webinar (on camera or voiceover with text)
- Free video training series
You also need to decide where you plan on promoting your video. You could choose to promote it:
- On your website, for example on:
- Your homepage
- Your about page
- A dedicated sales page
- You could also promote the video externally:
[Kyle: If you’re using the video on your site and you want people to stay there, then you’ll want to host with a company like Wistia. If the goal is to spread an idea farther and get attention then using something like YouTube is ideal.]
Strategy 3: Network
You’ve heard it before…
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
This has never been more true than today. Partnering with other entrepreneurs, networking, sharing business strategies, and supporting each other’s launches is one of the most important ways for you to get a big start in your business….even if you are a complete unknown in your industry.
Established internet entrepreneurs can open a lot of doors for you. You need to help them before they do so.
Here’s what you can do:
Join an online network or mastermind group. Here are some starting points:
- Facebook groups
- Ask your existing contacts for recommendations
- Create one of your own
There is one rule to follow if you want to network successfully: give your support to others time-and-time again before you ask for anything in return. Here’s how you can make yourself invaluable within a network:
- Share examples and case studies when you’ve experienced success, so that others can learn from you
- Give valuable advice in areas where others are struggling, particularly if it is your area of expertise (you could even host a short Q&A session)
- When someone is launching a product, ask them how you can help promote and support their launch (for example, sharing their launch on Twitter and Facebook)
If you abide by the principle of helping others, you’ll find that when you launch your own business you’ll have plenty of friends and associates who will go out of their way to support you.
Strategy 4: Launch An Affiliate Program
Launching a new business presents a tricky catch-22: you need to start marketing to an audience, but you don’t yet have an audience you can market to.
One smart strategy is to create an affiliate program. Here’s how it works:
You recruit existing website owners to promote your product to their existing audience in exchange for a share of the profits in any sale they refer. As a product owner, you would normally set the profit percentage, and those figures can vary wildly; there are affiliate programs on the market offering anything from 1% to 300% of the sale price for each customer you refer. But it can be worth the cost.
Having affiliates promoting your business in exchange for commission is like having a ready-made sales team with a ready-made audience.
Here’s an illustration of how the affiliate model works:
Start by marketing your business idea to a handful of website owners. If they believe in what you are doing, then they might agree to become your affiliate and give you an immediate platform from which to sell.
Note that I said a handful of affiliates, not hundreds. If you cast your affiliate network too wide, it is going to damage your business. You will have affiliates who are promoting your brand to people who aren’t your target customer, and who don’t value what you have to offer.
So at the start, limit the number of affiliates you recruit to a number you can comfortably oversee on a day to day basis. That will allow you to keep tabs on who their audience is, how they are marketing your product, and how well it fits your brand.
Here’s what you can do:
Search online or use your business networks to find businesses and entrepreneurs who are closely aligned with your business model. This could mean:
- They have a similar business philosophy
- They have a similar demographic of customer
- They sell products that compliment your own
Don’t cold-call these people and expect a response. You need to build that relationship over time. Find out how you can help them first before you begin discussing the idea of an affiliate relationship.
It is worth investing your time in one or two joint venture partnerships (“JV”s) before you look for affiliates. The main difference with a joint venture partnership is that it offers a closer working relationship with another entrepreneur. The relationship is mutual beneficial (for example, you could launch a joint product together).
Strategy 5: Be Authentic
Authenticity should be at the core of your brand.
Why? It goes back to trust.
Customers in today’s online market place a high value on authenticity. If you can demonstrate openness and honesty with your brand, your customer service and your product, that approach will go a long way to building trust.
Here’s an example of a company putting authenticity at the heart of their brand:
They have a very simple philosophy. For every bag you purchase, they donate a school kit to children in Africa or Asia. It is a clear premise, and their principles and aims as a business come across incredibly clear on their website.
Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid corporate speak on your About page. Instead, talk about your own story. Explain why you started your business and why you are passionate about it. Include a high quality profile picture so people can see the face of the person they will buy from.
- Understand what your principles are as a business and make them central to your brand. Remember, branding isn’t just about color schemes and designs. It is about the message you want to put in front of your customers.
- Include a behind-the-scenes look at your business on your blog.
Strategy 6: Be Brave
Successful entrepreneurs take risks. If you are launching in today’s competitive market, you have to be prepared to take some tough decisions that will make your adrenaline pump. Here are some examples of how you can be brave with your business in 2015:
Launch early and launch before you feel ready
There is always something you can be doing to improve your business. If you wait to perfect your product, website, or sales process, you’ll be missing out on precious opportunities to simply get in front of customers. Interacting with customers is going to be a better learning experience than any time you can spend “just getting everything lined up”.
These words resonate with me because they represent what many of us feel in the early stages of our business:
Invest in your business growth
You don’t have to run a business funded by a 6-figure venture capital investment to be able to invest in your idea. Even if you are bootstrapping your business, you can still use low-cost services such as fiverr to outsource to freelancers who can pick up a few of your tasks. Outsourcing things you are weak at will allow you to spend more time in your own personal ‘genius zone’.
Get out of your comfort zone
It’s natural to want to avoid doing things in your business that scare you, whether that’s selling, speaking, or spending. The sooner you take the plunge, the easier you’ll get over your fears. If there is a strategy that can help you forge ahead with your business, then have the courage to push past your personal fears.
Take a brave stance with your web design
Web design has a habit of following trends. You’ll notice this when you browse new startup business pages and see a striking familiarity with how their pages are laid out.
The problem with trends is that you tend to blend in; you become part of the noise. So if you want people to sit up and take notice of what you have to say, be brave with your branding and your web design.
Here’s an example of a website from menswithpens that on first glance, seems to follow standard design principles. If you look at the navigation menu and the overall structure of the website, it is nothing unusual. However, they’ve injected some personality, quirkiness and humor into the design and it makes it very memorable:
Here’s what you can do:
- Create a one month, three month and twelve month strategy. Decide what can be put off until a later date whilst you get your product and services in front of customers.
Investing in your growth:
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Set aside a small part of your budget to outsource your weaker tasks to other companies or freelancers.
Getting out of your comfort zone:
- Do something today for your business that you’ve been putting off. We all have fears. Once you recognise that you a scared of doing something, you can address it head-on.
With your web design:
- Good design principles never die. Trends do. So before attempting something daring, read up on usability. This will tell you about the core design principles that have stood the test of time.
Being brave means understanding what people need to get from your website and helping them achieve that in the best way possible, but doing so by adding a splash of personality.
Strategy 7: Prioritize Social Influence Over Social Presence
It is easy to get sucked into the belief that you are growing your business by having tens of thousands of Twitter followers, or thousands of page likes on Facebook.
However, gone are the days where a business could thrive simply by playing a numbers game; there is too much competition. If you really want social media to work for your business, then focus your efforts on influence rather than presence.
What do I mean by influence?
I’m talking about how engaged your fans are in what you have to say. Having a good social influence online means that people are commenting on your blogs, re-tweeting your tweets and sharing your Facebook content.
A high level of influence can be great for your business. Irn-Bru, for example, has a high engagement level on social media and far outstrips better known brands such as Pepsi. Research by Marketing Week suggested that brands with a lower-level of engagement had a much harder time reaching out to their followers on social media.
Why is engagement important to a brand?
Because customers are influenced by social signals, and if they see their friends interacting with a brand, it will increase their awareness and trust of that brand. Hubspot found that customers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on a social media referral.
Here’s what you can do
- Use a tool such as Klout to give you a benchmark in what your social influence is online, and work on improving it. Here’s a quick illustration of how Klout (and influence in general) works:
- Engage with your users with every social media post. Think about posts that are likely to get commented on and shared. Look at your past performance to give you an indication of what works and what doesn’t work with your followers.
- Never pay for followers (on any social media network). It will damage your social influence and the level of engagement you achieve with your fans.
- Understand what social medium your customers use. There is no point trying to get engagement on Facebook if the majority of your customers are more likely to be found on LinkedIn.
- Having success with engagement means understanding what works on each social network. In-depth articles work well on LinkedIn. Video works great on Facebook. High quality product images and infographics tend to do well on Pinterest. Understand the medium before you decide on how to engage your followers.
Strategy 8: Give Back
In marketing language, the technical term is the law of reciprocity. It refers to a known psychological behavior of customers when they experience kind or generous actions; they are compelled to do the same in return.
Think of this law as giving as much as you can before you ask for anything in return. If you are starting from zero and you want to build an online following, then the best way to attract an audience is to be generous with your time and your efforts, and excite them time and time again with genuine value (and without expecting anything in return).
Here’s what you can do
- Help out other business entrepreneurs: re-tweet and share their content, comment on their blog posts and offer advice and support.
- Create something free (and of high quality) for your audience, and make that part of your email opt-in. What you offer depends on your business, but it could be anything from a voucher, free video training, or free consultation. [Kyle: This is the first thing you should do.]
- As you build loyalty and grow, keep that spirit of generosity at the heart of your marketing. If you do this consistently, then every product launch will be viewed by your customers with excitement, as they will associate you and your business with incredible value.
Strategy 9: Quality Traffic Over Quantity
As I alluded to earlier, online marketing is not just a numbers game anymore. You don’t want to focus your efforts in trying to drive thousands of visitors to your website if those visitors close their browser as soon as they glance at your homepage.
Make sure your growth strategy is focused on quality over quality. Particularly when it comes to the traffic you drive to your website. You are better off having 100 high quality visitors to your website who are aligned to your brand and ready to buy, than 1000 low quality visitors who have no interest in what you are selling. High quality visitors translate into higher conversions:
- Let’s say website A achieves 200 visits to their site every day, but each of these visits is from targeted, high quality traffic. They are currently converting visitors into sales at a conversion rate of 4%. So they are achieving 8 sales a day.
- Now let’s look at an example from website B. They get low quality traffic, so much of it comes from visitors who are not aligned to their business and are not interested in what they have to sell. They receive 1000 visitors a day but only achieve a conversion rate of 0.2%. So they are only making 2 sales a day.
- Would you rather put your time and effort into driving 100 quality visitors to your site or 1000 low quality visitors?
Here’s what you can do:
- Have a clear understanding of who your ideal customer is before you begin to look at traffic. Understand what type of person they are, where they hang out online, and how they use social media.
- Monitor your conversion rates. This is simply the percentage of visitors who come to your website and convert (i.e. buy from you). If your conversion rate is low, work on improving this before you begin to work on increasing traffic numbers.
- Focus your traffic building efforts on areas where you know your customers exist. If your target customer frequents Facebook, then focus your promotional efforts there. If they are more likely to be found on LinkedIn, then that is where you should be promoting. Don’t try and promote to every traffic source without giving some thought as to whether it’s going to bring you anything in return.
It’s never too late
Don’t be stuck in the negative mindset that you are late to the party. The internet is continuously evolving, customers are buying more today than they ever have before, and there really is plenty of opportunity for a startup with the willingness to try and the originality to stand out.
Launching in 2015 is about understanding what customers expect from online businesses, and how you can use marketing strategies in an intelligent way (and avoid dead-end tactics that will cause you nothing but frustration).
Let me hand it over to you, the reader, now. Drop a comment below to let me know what you think of these strategies. Are there any you disagree with? Do you have your own predictions about what is going to work for a new business this year? I’d love to hear from you.