The Art of Marketing
Last month I covered the topic of setting a budget to cover the most essential marketing items that you need. This month we will review creating achievable goals. Once your core strategies have been set, you’ve completed your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, and you understand your true competition, the next step is one of the most important to developing your plan—setting business goals.
How much time did you spend last year setting specific goals (other than sales) for your business? If you are similar to most small businesses, probably not very much. So, the good news is that you’re in the same boat as the majority of the competition. You have a much better chance to improve your business results if you spend more time in this area.
Set and track against goals. Be diligent in your marketing and strategize to acquire new business. You must hold yourself accountable to set and to achieve quantifiable goals. One example might be to contact ten existing customers or potential new customers each week. This simple technique has proven very successful for many small businesses. You are simply playing the law of averages, and you do not need a large marketing budget to make something very positive happen.
Start now and develop short-and long-term goals for your business, taking into account your key challenges. It’s critical that you set targets and track against those targets. This helps you determine the amount of time and energy that you might need to allocate to achieve each goal and also provides you with a continued indicator of success. Each goal must be able to be tracked and to be attainable. For example, you shouldn’t set a goal to make more money this year than you did last year; that is not specific enough!
You need to state exactly where you would like to finish your year or you’re likely to underachieve. Setting very specific quantifiable goals is critical. This will allow you to allocate your resources appropriately. Make sure your goals take into consideration where you are now as well as where you would like to end up next year so you can focus on closing that gap.
You should have goals for sales volume and profitability as well as qualitative goals, such as to increase the awareness of your business and gain what we could call “share of mind” amongst your target audience. A helpful acronym, which has been taught to millions of marketing students over the years, is SMART. This represents the need to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time framed.
A specific goal is one that clearly identifies an end point. “To increase sales by 20% and profits by 10% by the end of the year” is an example of a specific and measurable goal. It provides a way for you to know if you have hit your target.
Can you really increase sales by 20%? If your market is saturated by significant competitors and growth is limited in terms of new potential customers coming to you, that goal may not be attainable. Even if your goal is attainable, it may not be realistic. For example, even if that growth of 20% increase in sales is attainable given your market area, competitive environment, and anticipated consumer demand, if you plan on spending the summer in the south of France with friends, then the goal might not be attainable this year.
Finally, goals need to be time sensitive. Setting goals by calendar year is a good way to cover it. I always prefer annual goals, but if you need something shorter to keep on track, then I suggest quarterly goals.
Establishing SMART objectives will help to ensure that your expectations are reasonable and well thought out.
Once you’ve set your goals, now you need to achieve them. You must develop strategies and tactics. Strategies define your course of action; tactics define how you go about taking that action.
For example, one strategy might be to quantify how much you sold through each of your marketing activities last year (ads, shows, store, etc.). You need to define your tactics, such as reviewing sales and expense receipts and understanding the true cost of each activity, so you can determine a return on investment (ROI) for each one.
It’s important to be realistic when formulating strategies and tactics. There are many activities that you might try to achieve your objectives, but some of those activities may be out of reach because of budget restraints. You should start this process by brainstorming all of the various activities that you might initiate. Prioritize these activities based on the potential of each activity and the potential cost. The trick to this step of effective marketing is to make sure that your time frames are reasonable. Marketing, like exercise, may not always produce instant results; it’s the repeated practice of trial and error and learning from your mistakes that helps you to achieve your ultimate goal. Don’t make the mistake that so many people make of implementing your new marketing strategy for a few months and then abandoning it because “it’s not getting results.” It may need a reasonable amount of time to succeed.
This question is referring to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Wikipedia defines SEO: “Search engine optimization is the process of affecting the visibility of a Web site or a Web page in a search engine’s ‘natural’ or unpaid (‘organic’) search results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page) and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users.” This makes your Web site and its content more attractive, relevant, and visible to search engines and your customers’ Web searches. SEO can be the key tool for a business owner to get more traffic to his or her Web site.
There are ways in which you can improve your search engine ranking for little money, but nothing is without cost, and all take a lot of work, if you are trying to do it yourself. One of the most important aspects of SEO is “link building,” getting other Web sites to link to yours. You would probably use “anchor text” to do so.
Anchor text is the text used to link your Web site to another company’s Web page. When requesting or paying for “backlinks,” you should pick a few keywords that you would like to associate your business with and use them as anchor text for incoming links. These words must be relevant and specific in order to have the most positive effect on your search ranking. For example, you may use words such as “folk art” or “marine antiques.”
The best targets for linking to your Web site are Web directories such as Yahoo! Directory, Google Directory, DMOZ, and Best of the Web. I’ve found it best to stick to a few high-quality directories, rather than submitting your site to every directory out there.
Press releases are yet another source of backlinks. Every public company communicates with the press whenever possible. Your business should also consider sending out press releases and optimizing them for the Web by including links to your Web site and submitting the release to the news wires.
Another source of backlinks can be on-line bloggers who write about things related to your business. You may want to develop a relationship with one or more bloggers and provide them with content such as interviews or expert articles in exchange for their backlinks.
Another important part of the SEO equation is “on-site optimization,” which references how your Web page is constructed. This involves writing timely, pertinent, keyword-laden copy; managing the use of meta-keywords; and properly utilizing title tags in html—sounds easy, right? Here are the step-by-step instructions:
Pick specific keywords that will cause your Web site to rank well. Write copy that includes these words as frequently as they make sense, but don’t overdo it. If it’s obvious you are overusing particular words, the search engines will penalize you.
Web pages include what are known as meta-keywords, so be sure the keywords that you have selected also appear in the meta-tags. The same is true of title tags. Title tags appear at the very top of the Web browser and are titles that describe the content of the page.
Internal linking is also essential for on-site optimization. Link to content across your site using the keywords/keyword variations that you have selected.
What you have probably figured out by reading this is that SEO is a highly complex skill and most likely something that you can’t do yourself. Search engines are constantly changing the way they rank Web sites, and if SEO is done incorrectly it is easy to do more harm to your Web site than good. You should be able to utilize a standard framework to manage and update your own Web site; however, if you wish to make the most of SEO, hire a professional!
Feel free to e-mail me <firstname.lastname@example.org> if you have potential topics you would like me to address, or if you have comments.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest