In order to complete any of the tactics outlined here, you'll need to have your business plan and marketing message firmly in place. The business plan and marketing plan both help you identify the methods that will work best for your business, as well as help you to convey your message in the most strategic way.
Personal branding is a way of marketing yourself online using social networking sites. Using your company's marketing message, "set up shop" by creating a page or profile on the site's system, and then by being active on the site. To start, try these:
- Set up your profile completely in the StartupNation Community, including listing your products in the StartupNation Marketplace.
- Create a complete profile at LinkedIn, and then search for family, friends, and colleagues past and present to add to your networking list. (As a bonus, we highly recommend giving the people on your list recommendations that you feel qualified to give -- often times, the gift is returned!)
- Find other networking communities like Ryze and The Small Business Forum to set up a profile at and introduce yourself.
- Depending on your product and online needs, you may find it beneficial to also set up a profile at Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo! or YouTube. You should also set up profiles in any of the additional forums you identify below.
Mailing Lists and Groups
Nearly everyone belongs to some sort of mailing list, whether it's a list-serv, Yahoo! group, alumni group, or networking group. (And if you don't, you should!) You can use your connection with these lists to spread the message about your new site, product, service or press if you follow these guidelines:
- Send to the appropriate list
Your moms' group won't want to hear about the programming book you now have for sale on Amazon, and your accounting alumni group probably doesn't want to hear about the latest diaper covers you're making. Choose which lists you send a message out to according to the makeup of the list.
- Use the list sparingly
A good rule of thumb is to not make an announcement to any one list more than 5-6 times in a year, equally distributed over the year.
- Follow the rules
Check with the moderator or the website to make sure your content is not breaking list rules, or you may be removed from the list.
- Cater your message
Tone your message down from "corporate speak" to something more personal so that you don't come across as spam.
- Remember the rules of copywriting
Respect your readers by not writing wordy emails that they won't want to read.
- Give clear direction and follow-up
Whether it's "contact me for more information", "I'm looking for investors", or "Hope you'll join us", make your call to action and your follow-up clear in your text. Some kind of notation indicating the message is okay to forward on would be good as well.
- Don't forget your signature
You should include your contact information and your website URL at the bottom of every message. You could also include a line or 2 about your current project, a tagline, or a point of interest—but keep it brief.
Not ready to announce anything? Participate regularly in your lists anyway. By answering the questions of others using your name and full signature, you can promote your site indirectly across the list.
You can also make your own one-time list by e-mailing friends, family and colleagues at the start of your new venture, announcing your site. This can be done directly from your e-mail program, and should only be used once unless the readers opt-in for further updates.
Newsletters are a way to connect to a dedicated audience that has optioned to hear about your products and services, usually through a sign-up form on your website. Most newsletters contain some sort of informational content, combined with an advertisement. For example, you might feature an article in your newsletter as well as announce a current special or a new product.
Newsletters can come in multiple formats, and the form you choose will have a lot to do with the profile of your target market, your marketing needs, and your budget. Some of your options are:
- Offline / print newsletters that are mailed to the reader through the postal service.
- Online newsletters that are distributed through an opt-in mailing program like the one we use, iContact, or similar offers like Constant Contact and aweber.
- Online newsletters that are controlled by blogging or content-management software, and subscribed to like text feeds in the "Subscriptions" section (covered later in this step).
The important part about a newsletter is delivery: If you have a sign-up box that says the newsletter comes at a certain frequency (i.e. daily, weekly or monthly) and has a particular purpose, stick to the delivery schedule and stay on topic! Abusing your opt-in list is the best way to get all your subscribers to opt out.
Don't have your own newsletter? You can promote yourself using other newsletters by writing articles for other businesses, much in the same way you'd do a guest blog post, which is discussed later in this step.
Joining online communities and posting in forums is a great way for you to start networking and talking about your business without the pressure of in-person networking. Forums give you the chance to prove yourself as a knowledgeable person in your field, and as a respected member of the community.
Additionally, the high traffic nature of forums make them natural candidates for frequent Googlebot visits, which boosts the PageRank of your site (if you link to it) as well as provides some indirect marketing for you.
Find Forums to Join
The first step to using forums to generate traffic is to find potential forums to join. There are two types of forums to consider when creating your marketing plan:
- Forums related to the topic of your business
Is your business selling beeswax-based beauty products? Then find forums relating to beauty, beekeeping, or natural products.
- Communities unrelated to the specifics of your business
What hobbies and interests do you have outside the actual running of your business? You might want to join a mom's business forum like the Work at Home Moms, an entrepreneur forum like the StartupNation Community, or a hobby-based forum like the Civil War Reenactors Forum.
Using your business and your hobbies, make a list of potential forums by Googling your topic and adding the word "forum". For example, you could Google "beekeeping forum" if you are the person above who sells beeswax products.
Use Criteria for Efficient Time Management
If you jumped right in after the previous section and looked for available forums, you probably noticed that there are millions out there. How can you decide which ones would be the best use of your time? You can start by judging the list you created above against these criteria:
- Site traffic and frequency of posting
Give a greater priority to sites that have a higher traffic load. More traffic and frequent updates means that more people will see your message, and search engine crawlers probably visit the site more often that they would visit a smaller site.
- Page Rank
Check a site's page rank with this page rank tool, and order your list according to each site's page rank. Make sure that you have at least a few sites on your list that are PR5 or higher; a couple of PR6 to PR9 sites are worth 20 PR1 sites.
- Use of signatures
Do not waste your time on sites that either don't have signature capabilities, or that prohibit the use of company information and URLs in your signature.
While there are many positive reasons to promote your new business and network through forums, there may also be a downside. Remember, everything you post online ends up on Google and could be read by potential new clients. Keep that in mind when you're posting in forums, and remember to stick to proper forum etiquette. This includes:
- Contribute to the community as a whole
Don't just participate in threads you start—get involved in any thread you feel you can make a contribution to. Keep in mind that you are here to give and participate, not make sales.
- Read first, and then jump in
Get a feel for the site by reading through some past threads. Once you have tested the waters, join in by introducing yourself and saying hi!
- Follow the rules of the forum
- Don't spam the forum
Do: Use your signature. Don't: Blatantly spam the forum with wording and links designed to sell people something. Typical offenders start topics just for the sole purpose of linking to their latest product, reply to every thread in their area of interest with "Call me so we can talk more!" so that they can prospect directly through the forum, or reply to every thread with a marketing angle.
- Make sure your signature goes with the flow of the site
Look around to see if most people have signatures that are plain text, rich text with live links, or banner advertising, and match your signature to the rest of them.
- Stay positive
Don't get involved in flame wars online. Do reread every comment you make before posting, asking yourself, "Would I say this to someone in person?" to judge whether or not you should click commit on your response. Remember to maintain the same pleasant attitude you would take with your customers. Above all, conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Establish Your Presence
Just like any interaction, you have the ability to set the tone from your very first post. Start out positive and make it your goal to always stay that way. If you've chosen your forums correctly, you'll also have the ability to make a signature—a tagline that is attached to every post you make. Here are some guidelines to follow for making your own signature:
- Keep it short and focused
Instead of "We sell designer handbags at a discounted price. We maintain warehouses in 5 locations, which allows us to ship to any destination quickly.", try "DesignerHandbags.com - Great prices, fast shipping!" (Read this copywriting article and check out CopyBlogger for some additional help in creating a tagline.)
- Use a link
Some boards allow you to use standard HTML in your signature, which means you can link to your site like this:
<a href="http://yourdomain.com/yourpage.html">your link title</a>
Others restrict you to BB Code, which means your link would look like this:
[url=http://yourdomain.com/yourpage.html]your link title[/url]
Test your signature by viewing one of your posts to make sure it works and displays properly.
- Change your signature regularly
Use your signature to announce specials or new products. You can also use it to reflect current marketing campaigns. For example, if you were a culinary supply warehouse and your goal was to push grill supplies at the start of summer, your signature might go from "CulinaryDepot.com - Your first stop for all your kitchen supplies!" to "Ready for summer? Get your grill supplies and outdoor picnic items from CulinaryDepot.com".
Maintain Your Presence
Posting regularly is important to maintaining your status in the community. When your business, marketing plan, offerings, etc. change direction, don't forget to change your profile in the community to reflect your new status!
Having your own blog is a great way to boost your search engine and direct traffic by building good content, but you don't need your own blog to enjoy the benefits of blogging. Here are some ways you can leverage your blog or other blogs to boost your online marketing efforts:
Participate and Comment
Regular readers of a certain blog will usually have something to say about the post they have just read. This is why blogs have the ability to comment. When you leave a comment, add your opinion and make sure you also fill out the fields for your e-mail address and website URL. This allows other readers of that post and comment to find you later. By commenting on other blogs, you may find that your site gets traffic from that site, and sometimes even the blog authors come to read and comment on your own blog!
Avoid spamming, flaming, baiting, or posting offensive content in your comment. Your comment will be deleted, and you might end up getting banned from commenting on that site again or reported to your internet provider.
If you would like to comment or add something to the discussion on a blog that is longer than a paragraph or two, write it in a post on your own blog and then use the trackback feature in your blog to link back to the original post. The two most popular blogging software vendors, WordPress and SixApart (makers of VOX, LiveJournal, TypePad and MovableType), offer trackback options. (There are others, but it's not implemented as well.) To trackback to one of these sites, look for something that says "Trackback" or "Trackback URI" and copy that address. You can then paste it into the trackback field of your blog post, and the trackback will be done automatically once you hit submit.
If your trackback doesn't instantly show up, don't worry—some blogs require all trackbacks and comments to be approved before they appear. It will show up eventually.
For more information on trackbacks, the TypePad Knowledge Base has a good article called "What is a Trackback?".
No blogger knows everything about everything. That's why a smart blogger will invite others to write guest posts for them. Writing a guest post is good for you because you can provide a short snippet about yourself (including your URL) in your content while promoting yourself to an established audience. Guest posting is good for the blogger because that blogger gets to expand his/her content while taking a day off from writing!
To get started, make a connection with the author of a blog that you read regularly. Offer to write a guest post for that person, and perhaps list topics or areas of expertise that you're able to write upon. Include a few links to other things you've written. If you are turned down, don't be offended—blogs are businesses in themselves, and the author may just feel your offer doesn't fit within the blog's business model or marketing plan. Simply try again with another blog!
One rule of note for guest posting: Don't submit an article to a blogger for a guest post that you've already published in multiple places. If the blogger does due diligence to make sure this is an original piece, that person will have every right to be angry with you for submitting duplicate content. If they don't discover this reality, you can embarrass the blogger or hurt the site with your article. Either way, it's not good for building a relationship in the blogosphere, and you may look at the site and find negative comments about you instead of positive reactions to the content you submitted!
Host a Blog Carnival
A blog carnival is, according to Wikipedia, "similar to a magazine, in that it is dedicated to a particular topic, and is published on a regular schedule, often weekly or monthly. Each edition of a blog carnival is in the form of a blog article that contains permalinks links to other blog articles on the particular topic." Hosting a blog carnival provides you with two things:
- A rapid increase in Google-loving inbound links
- A temporary boost in readership
To turn that temporary boost into a permanent one, you must have good content on your site that entices the readers to subscribe and/or come back on non-carnival days. Every time you host a blog carnival, your readership will take a significant jump, and a lot of those people will come back for the regular posts after being introduced to your site through the blog carnival. Remember to take a few lines at the start of your carnival hosting day to describe your site and what readers might find there.
To get started, find a suitable carnival for your area of expertise at Blog Carnival. Once you have found one, test the waters by reading current and past issues. You can either volunteer to host one, or just submit one of your own articles for consideration if you are not ready for hosting.
If you have regularly updated content on your site, you should also offer subscriptions. Subscriptions allow your users to get regular updates on your text feed, headline listing, podcast stream, video blog, etc., through their feed reader, web browser or email program. Subscriptions are important for marketing because they help turn one-time users into repeat visitors.
We highly recommend FeedBurner for your subscription fulfillment, especially since they were taken under the Google umbrella. FeedBurner is the top service on the market today, and is what StartupNation uses for the blog feed. Once you've connected to Feedburner using their tools, be sure to use their Chicklet Chooser to add sign-up options to your website.