Startup Basics: Shortcuts to Effective Online Strategy

15 Mar

Starting your own business is no mean feat, and we’re luckier than ever to have the privilege of the internet at our fingertips. Quicker, cheaper, and more accessible than any marketing channel ever before, the web can be a fountain of opportunity for any entrepreneur, allowing for effective advertising, networking, and instant client interaction at the click of a button. While the more advanced features of Google AdWords, Facebook Ad Manager, and Twitter for Business are best left to the pros, there is plenty of groundwork you can lay that will ensure stronger brand recognition and a more clean-cut, professional company profile.


Anna Downey is one of east London’s most valuable marketing specialists, having spent the last 13 years working with some of the UK’s best-loved artists, musicians, and brands. Her current project - the quirky, Hoxton-based marketing shop “Buzz Bar”, developed with tech lead Paulo Ricca - is the product of a genuine desire to see small business owners playing a more active role in the formation of their company’s digital presence, and taking more direct steps to ensure that they are fluent in the absolute basics of self-promotion.


Sitting down with her in between client walk-ins and back-to-back phone calls, we identified what she considers to be the most important aspects of a successful online strategy:


Website


A simple, uncluttered and fully responsive website is an absolute must, serving as the digital front door to your business or shop. Attractive designs aren’t the only way to attract potential customers; it’s also crucial to ensure that all products and services are clearly on display, with informative descriptions and logical site navigation. Visitors who don’t fully understand what it is you do, or have trouble finding what they’re looking for will quickly turn to someone else.


Of course, a beautiful website is no good if it can’t be found. All content and descriptions should be SEO-friendly, containing frequent mentions of keywords that are relevant to your business (e.g. photography, portraits, pictures, wedding, etc.) This is where it’s best to use the services of a good copywriter, who can supply you with natural, engaging, and SEO-optimized content in just a few hours, giving you more time to focus on what you do best. A copywriter will also insert well-placed and relevant Calls to Action on your pages, encouraging visitors to interact with your mailing list, product features, and booking options, giving your brand a lot more sticking power.


Last but not least, good reviews go a mile. Ask all satisfied clients (even friends & family) to write a quick testimonial that you can publish on the site, serving as a seal of approval for all visitors and potential customers. With permission of the client, these testimonials can also be shared through the brand’s social media accounts and mailing lists.


Social Media


An effective social media presence may take time and devotion, but as the old saying goes; you reap what you sow. Uniform branding (including taglines, @handles, logos and colour schemes) is a must, giving your image the solid foundation and unshakeable core it needs to build a loyal following. Twitter, Facebook & Instagram are your three musketeers, but depending on products and business style, Pinterest and LinkedIn might be valuable additions. It’s all about targets, as you’ll soon see once you start posting.


A good salesperson knows who to sell to, rather than what best to sell. The latter is not always as flexible as the former, and most (if not all) your decisions will be influenced by your chosen market. Draw up a demographic profile of the perfect customer, including things like age, gender, profession, interests & location(s), which will save you a massive headache once you get started with paid advertising efforts. It’s also good to know who you’re speaking to when you post, as all social media conversations are two-sided by design. Your tone of voice should adapt to the listener, just like in real-world interactions.


Digital strength lies very much in the visual, helping your message to stand out from walls of text and blatant corporate advertising. Keep photos and graphics high-def and clean, with a distinct creative style that trains the reader’s eye to recognise your material before they even start to concentrate and interpret. This can be achieved with a standardised filter layer, producing images that are bright and colourful, laid-back and faded, or black and white entirely. Brand recognition is the aim of the game, so try to stay away from contradicting visuals and content.


All of this strategy and scheduling can be a lot to stay on top of, especially if you’re trying to manage your own feeds while also handling product management, investor pitches, and public relations. Hootsuite, Canva, Buffer, Pablo - these free online tools can be your best friend when it comes to planning, design & image selection, making it easier than ever to knock together a quick link pic or infographic without turning it into a full-blown graphic design project. Hootsuite and Buffer are fantastic ways to plan your weekly content streams, letting you schedule posts across your entire social media spectrum in just a few minutes. Efficiency in these secondary areas leaves a lot more time to focus on sales and development.


Networking


The key to successful, holistic marketing lies in your ability to take advantage of low-hanging fruit (or “low-flying fruit”, as Anna excitedly calls it). Join interest groups, engage the local community, and, simplest of all, mobilise your family and friends to give you that crucial early support to really get your reputation off the ground. From product testing and unboxing videos to online reviews and blog posts, any complimentary PR you can get in the beginning is worth its weight in gold.


Early B2B marketing efforts can be leveraged using an exchange of services, whereby you provide partners with free or low-cost products & services in exchange for promotions, referrals and SEO linking. Slowly but surely, these steps will pave a way towards successful brand recognition, relevant search engine results, and a dedicated social media following that will take you and your business to the next level. Never underestimate the power of startup privilege - sometimes it can win you the kind of support that bigger firms are happy to pay through the nose for.