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Market Your Business on the Web
Web marketing isn't just about buying ads anymore. Learn how social networking and blogging can bring the world to your doorstep.
What do all of the 2008 presidential candidates, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, and thousands of small business owners have in common? They all have profiles on MySpace, the popular social networking website. More than ever before, social networking sites such as MySpace are important resources for entrepreneurs seeking to market their businesses on the Web. Along with weblogs, social bookmarking sites, and wikis (essentially comprehensive how-to guides), social networking sites are a part of "Web 2.0," a term that refers to the recent surge in reader participation and collaboration in the creation of Internet material. Spending even minimal amounts of time marketing yourself in these ways could be massively beneficial for your company, resulting in a higher search ranking for your business and potentially much more income.
Daniel Barbalho and Bart Sasso, former college roommates at Georgia Tech, believe in the marketing power of MySpace. The pair owes much of the success of their small business, Atlanta-based Esperanza Clothing Company, to their MySpace profile. They originally tried selling their edgy Atlanta-inspired T-shirts to small stores and at local music shows in person, but they soon realized that they needed a cost-effective way to reach a wider audience. In August 2005, with virtually no money for advertising, the pair decided to set up a profile for their business on MySpace with a link to their company website. "We could tell which website visitors used to find our company website and the majority of them were coming straight from our MySpace page," Barbalho said.
Shortly after creating their profile, Esperanza began receiving messages from happy customers who had bought their shirts online from as far away as Australia, Brazil, and Italy. Today, Esperanza has about 1,500 MySpace friends from all over the world, and over half of them have purchased their T-shirts.
Deciding whether or not a social networking site like MySpace can benefit your business really depends on your target market. Contrary to the myths, MySpace is not just for kids. In fact, of the more than 114 million global MySpace users, the average user is in the mid-30s. Best of all, these users are all potential consumers. While social networking sites might not benefit a plumbing company, business owners in the fashion industry or local photographers could see positive results.
Another free Internet marketing tool that has helped the Esperanza team is the blog that they added to their company website around four months ago. A blog feature is included with a MySpace profile, and there are many free independent weblog sites available. Esperanza, for instance, uses WordPress, a fully customizable blog interface. Other business owners might want to check out Blogger.com and Vox.com. Barbalho said he and others at Esperanza try to update their blogs daily and include posts about their new line of T-shirts or events they are holding for a local charity. "Blogging has really helped us because it really helps us focus on our target market," Barbalho said.
Blogging also worked for Jo Carter, owner of Portland, Oregon’s Physical Element, a store that carries urban fashions for women. For example, she recently received two calls from people in New York who were interested in purchasing a particular coat that she had mentioned in her blog.
When it comes to writing a blog, Carter says, business owners should be sure to update it periodically. She added that blogging is easy and helps move you higher up in the search on websites like Google. "Search engines for some reason tend to find my blog posts more effectively than they find my store website," she said.
In addition, some of your more popular blog entries could be effective traffic generators if you list them on social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Reddit, or StumbleUpon. Remember, content is king.
In order to stay ahead of her competition, Carter remains in regular contact with her customers through an e-mail newsletter. "About two to three days after I send out an e-mail newsletter, I’ll usually have a noticeable increase in sales," she said. She also came up with an idea to attach a printable coupon for select merchandise to the e-mail newsletter, which is helping to reduce her inventory of items that will be phased out in 2008.
When using an e-newsletter, Carter suggests, you should only send it once a month so as not to bombard customers with e-mail. Also, she says, keep it quick, informative, and to the point. "Make sure you put a personal touch on it as well. As a small business, you have the advantage of being friendlier with your customers."
Marketing your business on the Web through social networking is a new twist on finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. The more places you have your needles, the more easily people will be able to find your business.
"Marketing your business online is not terribly time consuming and it is an inexpensive way to get noticed," Carter said. "I’ve spent zero dollars on my Web efforts and the return that I’ve gotten has been tremendous."
About the Author
Lynn Celmer is a staff writer for America’s Best, the official publication of America's Best Companies, one of the fastest growing small business associations in the country. America’s Best Companies works delivers advice, tools, and information, to help small business owners start, run, and grow their businesses more successfully. Visit www.americasbestcompanies.com.