Let’s go back to 2018.
There is no pandemic.
There is no recession.
As they say, ‘things are business as usual’.
Many businesses were not even considering growing, nor starting, their digital side of their brand. Websites for small-town brands were a ‘take it or leave it’ subject. And, the internet was good to use, but not essential.
Fast forward to now…
More businesses are doing business remotely. Online sales are up in every industry. Doordash and food delivery are normal icons on people’s phones.
Things have changed.
If your business isn’t doing something in the digital world, with even the most basic social media profile and website, that business likely is not doing enough business. Scaling up means using the internet, and the brands that have adopted “online” are the ones still breathing in 2021.
I’m from New Castle; I still live here.
Even in a town of about 22,000, COVID means “digital” for businesses trying to stay alive and grow during the pandemic.
Today, I’m going to show every business that has not yet adopted at least the most basic form of digital marketing or online branding how to actually successfully do it. You will learn about the most foundation parts of being a business in the digital age and what actions YOU can do without breaking the bank.
The bad news?
They might cost you some time and money.
The good news?
They are going to make it all back, and then some, for your small-town business!
Let’s get started…
Start with the nucleus of your digital brand – your business website
When I say your business needs a website, what do you imagine?
When I’ve said this in the past to business owners, I can see the obvious physical reaction take place…
A face is made.
A deep inhale.
Leaning back against their chair.
“I just can’t. It’s too expensive…”
Look, I get it. In the past, you would get a website that cost $2,500 or $5,000 or even $10,000 for a custom website. And you might not get that spend back in new business for a few years.
In the past, your website for your business was a simple brochure to create brand awareness.
In 2021, your website can do a lot more.
What, you may wonder, does your business website do?
- Build brand awareness
- Facilitates new information and builds authority
- Contact point
- Main lead generation source
- Brand mapping point (sends users to all platforms upon which you have a voice)
- Direct sales hub
Yes, all of the above and more.
Costs of business websites (and how to know what works for you)
If you are wondering about the tiers of websites and costs, here they are.
Now, a quick word of caution before you read this – every person, company, private designer and template designer, all have varying costs. I’ve tried to give a general overview and average for each. Even for myself, these are not my normal prices I charge.
First, the cheapest tier involves a free or nearly free service. This tier of cost many business owners turn to. For a one-time fee, or a low-charge, they get a website, a domain name and some web hosting.
Pros and cons? The biggest pro is in the cost – it is nearly free to own and run your business website. The cons are a lot more. Namely, you don’t usually “own” your website. As well, you cannot easily move your website when you need to. Finally, the biggest con, you are limited to content, pages and any features you put onto your website.
Some examples are using websites like Google Business sites.
COST: $0 – $15/yr
Next, the online marketing tier offers yearly and monthly fees for a domain name (.com), website hosting and a vast array of templates and designs to choose. This tier uses page builders, and pre-programmed templates or designs for your business to use. You more or less fill in some content, add some pictures and you’re done.
The biggest pro for this tier of business website pricing is that it is very painless. You get a good looking website, with some features that you want, but only have a low monthly overhead of a few hundred dollars.
The hardest hitting con of this tier? You feel like you own your .com and can leave at any time, but you don’t own anything here. You don’t own your website content, nor do you fully own the domain name in some cases. The last unexpected item is the cost. Specifically, if you are in business longer than 5 years, paying for a custom design actually is cheaper than this tier!
COST: $150/m – $600/m
The next tier involves paying someone to customize a template in a CMS like WordPress, but adding in plugins, features and a lot of content as necessary. In this tier, you control the hosting (through NameCheap you can get a year of unlimited for about $50), and you control and own the domain name (.com, .net, .whatever). Basically, you own and control everything.
The largest pro concerning this tier is that you have full control over nearly everything. You keep costs low with an existing template that you pay someone to alter. Another pro is that you can actually have an email@example.com instead of a GMail or Yahoo email.
The worst con is that more things are happening that you control. Meaning, you have to pay for the hosting, the yearly domain name renewal, you have to take care of the content, updating software and admin’ing your website in general.
COST: $1000 – $2500, plus $70/yr for web hosting and domain name
The final tier is the “you get whatever you want, need, hope for and wish for” tier. In this tier, you pay for a custom design that matches every need that you have for your website. This could be made for a CMS like WordPress, or plain HTML files.
The biggest pro is that you control every single thing going into this website and going with it. You own all of the content, the features, everything!
The biggest con is that this control comes at a steep price tag – both in the form of money and time-to-live. Some custom websites take up to 6 months to create (depending on features and needs), and can be $10,000, $25,000 or even more!
COST: $10,000 – $25,000+, plus $70+/yr for web hosting and domain name
My recommendation to every business owner, no matter the industry or the need, is to always start with the customized tier (tier 3), and move onto the biggest tier if needed. When starting building your business’s digital brand, you don’t need to spend time and money on something so big that it might overshadow the business itself. But, you also need to OWN the website!
You need control, with an affordable approach, and faster deployment.
Use local citations for quality, initial link building
Google has two main factors in ranking a website (a brand).
- Link Strength
Great content, providing well-picked keywords of relevant content that builds a focused context is a requirement. Multiple links from specific sources that are related to the website’s main topic and industry is a requirement.
How do you do this without spending a ton of money and time?
Use local citations to kickstart your link building efforts for your business’s website.
What are local citations?
A local citation is a directory used by people to find businesses in a certain category, region or both together.
Yelp is a local citation. Manta is a local citation. Facebook can be considered one. Porch is a local citation. Google Business is a primary one.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of local citations and directories for various industries and regions that you can use for your business.
Let’s not focus on how many citations are possible, let’s just focus on getting started.
Creating local citations for your brand
Local citations use information about your brand. To start, record multiple details about your brand to stay consistent over all of the platforms.
Information that you will need to use (and re-use):
- Business name
- Business ownership
- Business phone number
- Business address
- Business email
- Business category
- Business website
- Any business social media links
- Business pictures (logo specifically)
- Business description
- Business motto
- Business history (think an ‘About Us’)
- Business citations or awards
- Any other business-centric links like blog posts, news mentions, etc.
Record this because you will be entering this again and again and again.
To claim a business listing, just visit the website. Run a search for your business. If the business is seen but not claimed, there will be a link that says something to the effect of “claim this listing”. Click this, signup (only for free websites), and claim your listing. Once you enter your data the website will likely need a verification (either in the phone or an email or a phone call to you).
The citations and listings to claim start with the following:
- Google My Business
- Yahoo! Local (via Yext)
These citation sources are enough to usually get 6 links built, plus a few more dozen created as a residual on those actions.
To go further, you can use Whitespark’s curated list of the top local citation sources by country.
The final websites to consider are any sites that offer reviews or business listings or directories. Many local newspapers, chambers of commerce and community groups offer these listings – so take them!
Social media can be your business’s best friend
Social media is the new “word of mouth” that marketers have used for years and years. The idea that a platform like Facebook or Twitter could cause small trends to happen like a boycott or a fundraiser, or large-scale events like a stock market fluctuation says a lot about the potential these platforms have for your business.
If these platforms are so good at spreading information, why haven’t more businesses used platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in their business marketing?
The answer is fairly simple…
Because making all that content is daunting enough. Knowing what content works, building a community around that page and getting people to actively engage, discussion and participate on the page seems like “too much”.
How to use free tools to get solid returns and growth on social media
Depending on the brand, social media is likely a daily practice – but, it actually doesn’t have to be one!
Here’s the TL;DR for you…
Use pictures that you pull from your cell phone or from your employees’ cell phones doing work. Upload them into Canva. Add text. Add your branding in the form of your logo.
You now can very quickly, and instantly, get a bunch of social media posts.
For every image that you make, add a few lines of text.
Finish this with either a) a CTA (a call-to-action like ‘visit our website for more’ or ‘call us to get one here’) or b) ask a question to start a conversation.
With Facebook, you can schedule an infinite amount of posts for your Facebook page. With Hootsuite you can schedule posts for Instagram and Twitter.
Now, to maximize your efforts, block out three hours and make a few days or a few weeks or months of social media posts.
BONUS TIP: Advertise on social media for initial brand awareness. For instance, with Facebook, I always spend $20-$50 on a brand’s new Facebook page to gain followers. Choose only the demographic of the service region, and all adults. This will give you an initial 50 to 100 new followers. That, with all the content that you are providing, will likely mean new leads and customers from minimal efforts.
Copy (and content) are EVERYTHING in small-town marketing!
Two skills that will push you far in life were never mentioned to me while I was growing up. These two skills can be taught, but can also be learned (for the good and bad) just in life.
Now I could talk for days and days about sales.
But I’m going to focus on writing, copywriting and content creation. This is primarily how people will see and identify with your brand. For most small-town businesses, you cannot take calls 24/7. But you CAN have a website available 24 hours a day, and a social media page available 24 hours a day, right?
Good copy can bring in new visitors to your website, and create conversations on social media to promote more traffic and business. Great copy converts these people into customers without spending valuable time in the traditional process.
Perfect copy pays for itself.
Make better copy, without wasting time
Writing doesn’t have to take hours and days.
In fact, to perform some basic writing for your website and for social media, you only need 5 minutes.
“No way!”, you say.
Here is how…
First, think of the topic about which you would like to write. Topics for your website need to match the main topic and relevance of your website.
So, if you have a business that is a bakery, and your website is filled with delectables and desserts, you wouldn’t write about garbage collection in your hometown. Conversely, if your business dealt with sanitation, you wouldn’t write about the best cheesecake you have ever eaten.
Makes sense, right?
Next, you need to list 10, 20 or 50 keywords that mean something directly related to the topic, or are children or siblings of the topic. If your business is in roofing, and your main topic is “affordable roof repair”, writing about shingles, wood, gutters and flashing would make sense. Writing about gardening wouldn’t. Snow removal and roof maintenance would work, but plumbing might not.
Next, make an outline. Outlines can be very simple, or as complex as you need them to be. My recommendation is “simple is better”.
I. 3 Tips for more affordable roof repair
A. Maintenance and snow removal is essential
B. Where the shingles meet the wood
C. Choosing the right professional when you just can’t make the climb
Simple outline. Title of the article is first, and three headings (or divisions) of the article are next.
Now, if you are in the roofing industry, could you write a paragraph or two about A, B and C? Then, add an introduction into the article above A, and a smooth call-to-action below C.
Great! You just wrote a blog post for your website.
This section took me about 3 minutes to think and write for you. Imagine what you could do in an hour or two. You could block 1-3 hours a weekend, and have a dozen or more articles for your website each week.
BONUS TIP: Change the title to attract more targeted traffic from Google. Instead of “3 Tips For More Affordable Roof Repair”, use a regional-specific and time-specific title. Something like “3 Tips Every New Castle PA Homeowner Should Know For Affordable Roof Repair In 2021”.
Ok, everything’s done… now what?!?
So, you’ve got your website, you’ve got your initial local citations, your social media profiles are growing daily and you’re actually writing more than you ever had (and people are ACTUALLY reading it)…
These steps in creating your brand are, in many ways, the same steps in growing your brand. Now that you have a website that is of quality, you want to focus on SEO (and local SEO) to grow organic search traffic. Now that your social media community is growing, you likely will move into experimenting with video, contests and paid digital advertising on those platforms. Your local citations are providing links, but you can get more links over time via community outreach and answering queries on places like Help A Reporter Out (HARO). And, finally, you are writing more than ever, but you can extend these articles into email marketing, lead magnets and more.
Sometimes it helps having someone navigate these new phases of your brand’s digital side. If you think having someone help you is the right fit, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free brand audit and free consultation – no obligations, no harassing follow-ups. Or, you can give me a call to schedule a free consultation today.