If I Were Launching a New Small Business Website Today (2013 Version)

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, Small Biz Marketing by Matt McGee on April 12, 2013 27 Comments

You just launched your new small business. Congrats!

But now what?

You’ve got a great website and you’re ready to start selling widgets or generating new leads. You’re ready to start making money. You know the internet is gonna be a huge part of that. You know you need to be visible online where potential customers can find you.

But how?

Four years ago, I wrote a post for Small Business Trends with a suggested process for launching a new business and marketing it online. It’s time to update that post and talk about…

How To Start Marketing Your Business (A 3-Month Plan)

I’m not really starting a new business right now, but if I were, here’s how I’d do it.

First, Some Assumptions

Let’s assume the following:

  • My website is fully developed. I’m gonna have a hard time marketing with “under construction” signs on my site.
  • My website is attractive and is user-friendly. I’ve taken care of the basics of usability.
  • I’ve done the appropriate keyword research and my page content reflects that.
  • My website has great content for my target audience (and for search engine spiders).
  • I’ve done at least the basics of SEO across the site. Crawlability isn’t a problem. Page titles and meta descriptions are relevant and unique, etc. I haven’t gone overboard because SEO requires a light touch these days.
  • I’m on a tight budget. I can’t spend more than $3,000 over the first three months for both online and offline marketing. (Four years ago, I allowed myself a $2,500 budget; consider this the effects of inflation.)

Ready? Let’s launch this small business website!

FIRST MONTH

analytics-target1. Have metrics in place. I’d sign up for Google Analytics. It offers more data than some small businesses need, but you can’t beat the price. You need metrics in place at the beginning so you can track all your upcoming marketing efforts.

Cost: Free

2. Create a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising account. There are two benefits here:

  1. PPC advertising is a great way to get instant visibility and immediate traffic. Geo-targeting can be particularly effective for small businesses, and allows you to advertise with a smaller budget.
  2. Even if you set an ultra-low monthly budget, you’ll still have access to actual search counts for your keyword terms. (Something that’s often blocked in organic search by Google Analytics.) This data can be invaluable for future marketing and web site development.

Cost: $500/month (My actual cost will vary based on budget limits that I set.)

social-media-conversation3. Setup accounts using my business name on the primary social networks. This is as much of a defensive move as an offensive one. Even if I don’t plan to use all of these accounts, I want to make sure that no one else is able to register accounts in my name. In a perfect world, I researched available names on these primary social sites before I even named my business, because it would stink to have a business name that someone else is already using online.

At minimum, I’d manually setup accounts (or Pages, etc.) on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr. But to be really safe, I’d use a service like Knowem to automagically claim my username across dozens/hundreds of sites. Knowem offers several different packages with different price points. I’m on a budget, so I’ll stick with the “Essential Plan” for $70.

Cost: $70

4. Start planning and writing blog posts. I’d create an editorial calendar to plan out my articles, and I’d aim to post two articles per week. I’m not going to start publishing anything until next month; this first month is just for writing. My goal is to get about 8-10 articles written and ready to go — that’ll help make sure the blog launch (next month) is smooth with lots of consistent, quality content being published.

Cost: Free

5. Start an email list. This is a highly underrated commodity. If I have an email list of dozens or hundreds (or more) people that want to get updates from me, it’s marketing gold. There are several options available to get started with basic email newsletters and email marketing — Constant Contact, Mailchimp and Aweber are just a few of the options. The cost depends on things like how many subscribers you have, how often you plan to send out emails, and so forth. Since I’m just launching a new business and don’t have an existing list, my initial fees will be quite low — somewhere in the $20/month range.

Cost: $20/month (estimate)

local-search-globe6. Take advantage of Local Search opportunities. I’d start by using GetListed.org to check my local listings on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and a few other primary local search sites. If my business is the kind that Foursquare users are likely to check-in to frequently, I’d use the business tools that it offers to add my business and begin offering specials to regular customers. The same goes for Yelp.

Cost: free

7. Write and distribute a press release(s). This will be a business announcement, and I’ll want to focus on my USP (Unique Selling Proposition). What separates mine from similar businesses? That’s the story I’m telling. Since I’m on a tight budget, I’ll have to write this myself. I’ll use many of the same SEO copywriting techniques I would for a web page — using appropriate keywords to describe my products or services, but not overdoing it. Moderation in all things where SEO is concerned.

Once it’s ready, I’ll spread my release both online and offline.

Offline: Many local newspapers have announcement sections for new businesses. Some towns have business-specific newspapers that will be more likely to consider your new business launch a newsworthy event. If your area still has a locally-owned radio station, check if they have a news department and/or if they accept business announcements.

Cost: Free

Online: There are several online sources of press release distribution. I’m on a budget, so I’ll use PRWeb, which offers packages ranging from $159 to $500 per release. I’ll go with the second-level up, which is called “Advance” and costs $199.

Cost: $199

8. Start monitoring my online reputation. As I start this marketing effort, I’m hoping to get people talking and writing about me — hopefully saying positive things! But I know not everything will be sunshine and puppies. Either way, I want to know what’s being said about me and my company online.

There are numerous options for reputation monitoring with a wide range of prices from free to big bucks. I’m going to spend some money on this because free services aren’t guaranteed to be around six months from now and usually aren’t very strong. Two services that have affordable monitoring options are Trackur and Mention. Their low-end plans are in the $20-$30 per month range, so I’ll compare the two via free trials and make a decision based on that experience.

Cost: $25/month

Total Costs, First Month

One-time: $269

Monthly: $545

SECOND MONTH

9. Review my analytics. One month won’t give me a ton of insight; my website is too new. But now’s the time to start getting in the habit of looking at how things are going on a regular basis. I’d use the email function to setup a couple important reports and get them sent to me every day, or at least once a week.

Cost: Free

blog10. Add a blog to my website and start publishing. Search engines love a good blog and they’re a great way to have an ongoing conversation with customers. I’d use WordPress because it’s great, free, and my hosting company probably supports it with a one-click installer. I’d setup my blog at mydomain.com/blog because that’s best for SEO reasons. In month one, I already wrote at least 8-10 articles and I have an editorial calendar helping to make sure I stick with the plan to post regularly.

Cost: Free

11. Be active in the blogger community. I’d use an RSS reader (like Feedly) to track at least a few other trusted blogs in my industry and I’d be active in commenting on them (not spamming them, commenting on them). Joining conversations on other blogs is a great way to gain exposure and make connections.

Cost: Free

12. Be active on the right social networks. I know it’s important to be where my customers are. It might be too soon to get a sense of that using analytics, but I can learn about the demographics of several major social networks and plan accordingly.

Wherever I decide to be active, I’ll start my activity by observing and/or listening to what’s being said, not by cranking up the promotional machine to 100%. I’ll setup the necessary alerts to help me learn about what’s being said about me online.

Cost: Free

13. Join my local Chamber of Commerce. Small businesses rely heavily on networking and word-of-mouth for survival. The CofC is a great way to do both. I’ll ask for a link from the chamber’s web site, and/or a mention in their newsletter. Cost: ~$500 (Actual cost will vary by location, number of employees, and other factors.)

Cost: $500 (estimate)

Total Costs, Second Month

One-time: $500 (estimate)

Monthly: $545 (continuation of Month One costs)

THIRD MONTH

14. Investigate local offline advertising options. Sponsoring high school sports teams, Little League teams, etc., is inexpensive and gives me at least a couple months of exposure, not to mention plenty of goodwill with parents and the community. Ditto for partnering with local charities, schools, etc.

Cost: $500 (estimate)

social-media-200px15. Get more active on social channels. By now, I’ve been blogging for a month and have 8-10 quality posts published. I’ve also been using social media as a listening platform, replying when appropriate, and I’m ready to be more active. I’ll start posting (not just links) more often on my Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+ or wherever I’ve determined my audience is active.

Cost: free

16. Sign up for HARO. That’s the acronym for Help A Reporter Out, a free service that connects journalists and publishers with story sources/experts. I’d sign-up to get the daily email that gives me a big list of journalists that need to find sources. The reason I’d wait until month three to do this is that the journalist/publisher/blogger is going to want to see some proof that you’re an expert on the subject that s/he’s writing about — and by now, I’ve got that early batch of blog posts and articles I can refer him/her to see my expertise.

The combination of a great blog and PR opportunities via HARO is a great way to build authority and get great links from media websites, blogs and the like.

Cost: free

Total Costs, Third Month

One-time: $500 (estimate)

Monthly: $545 (continuation of Month One costs)

FINAL COMMENTS

That’s my three-month plan for marketing a new small business. Going forward, I’d give these ideas a couple of months to see which ones work and which don’t. At about the fifth or sixth month, I’d start focusing on the ones that do and eliminating the ones that don’t.

Let’s see how I did in meeting my marketing budget:

Total Costs, Three Months

One-time costs: $1,269

Monthly costs: $1,635 ($545/month)

TOTAL: $2,904

Whew! I’m a little under budget.

Note that $1,000 of the estimated $1,269 one-time costs are for offline expenses. Take those away and you really see how inexpensive online marketing can be if you’re willing to invest the time that it takes to make up for being on a tight budget.

I didn’t name a specific product or service in this article. There are additional marketing opportunities that may be effective depending on the size of your small business and what you do or sell. Ultra-small businesses, for example, may be able to market effectively with something as simple as printed flyers distributed around town. Other businesses may find branded publicity materials (calendars, magnets, etc.) to be effective. And some may find that it makes sense to spend money on Facebook or Twitter ads, and other online opportunities.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for small business marketing. I hope that the ideas shared here will help you put together the right game plan for launching your small business!

Comments? I’d love to know what ideas you would’ve added to or removed from my list above!

(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Comments (27)

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  1. Mike Byrnes says:

    Great article. I plan to share it with my small business startup clients.

  2. OMG, Matt. What a thorough, clear and wonderful post. Like the other commenter here, I’d be tempted to give it to my clients, but they don’t want to DEAL. They’re paying ME to get all this stuff done. I may turn it into a checklist and laminate it for my own use to keep myself on track. If I get the checklist done, I’ll email a Pdf to you. Feel free to post it; you’ve given me so much . . .
    Suzanne

    • Matt McGee says:

      Thx for the kinds words, Suzanne and Mike. Much appreciated. :-)

      • Adam says:

        Hi Matt, what about trying to rank your site in Google for search terms with real traffic?
        Because here in the UK our local search volumes tend to be very small, although this varies according to location.

        • Matt McGee says:

          Hey Adam – this post isn’t about SEO, so much as about the general launch of a website. As I say up in the beginning, I’m assuming the website is in great shape, SEO is being done, etc.

  3. Hi Matt,

    That is a great list. I was searching around for local links and found a variety of opportunities with small local booster organizations for shcools, swimming clubs, specific local charities and the like. That is like the Little League team sponsorship, which I think is great local branding.
    I found them by doing city/county + charities boosters sponsors searches.

    Kris

  4. Bob Brotchie says:

    Wonderful helpful article Matt, well done. I could certainly have used this when I started!
    One of my biggest cash guzzlers were service providers I approached to put out PR! I wanted just an ad-hoc arrangement but pushy sales encouraged me to sign up for an annual account. This was wholly inappropriate and hugely disruptive to my business – and budget! After three months of this I complained that this deal was unfit for purpose and they eventually agreed to a pro-rata refund.

    The offline marketing that was paid for was hugely useless for my business needs. I spent considerable sums spreading across various mediums including local radio, newspapers and magazines, to name a few! Editorials for local press was helpful, but every other paid medium ‘offline’ was a waste for me. With hindsight, I would have approached competitors from outside of my local area and asked them what worked for them. This can save a huge amount of trial, arrow and investment.

    Thanks again, I will definitely be sharing this on.

  5. Gregg Zban says:

    Very detailed list. Impressive! I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Ezine Articles, and PR Web to get the word out on a consistent basis. Two sites that come in handy to build backlinks and traffic are Onlywire and Hootsuite. Both are very affordable and save you a lot of time posting your content.

    Google Adwords is something I use to sell info products but I never considered it for just driving traffic to a new site to get it up and running. That is a great idea and one that I will put to use soon.

    Thanks for the great tips!
    Gregg

  6. Josh Combs says:

    Great article! I’m glad you decided to put this back out. I recently started a web design firm and will be working mostly with small businesses. I would love to share this article with them.

    Would you mind if I posted a reprint of this article on my blog, with full author credit and link to your site and the original article?

    • Matt McGee says:

      I like that search idea, Kris – thanks for adding that knowledge to the article. And thanks to all for the kind feedback.

      Greg — kinda surprised to hear you mention Ezine Articles. Is that actually helping? Those kinds of sites were hit hard by Google’s Panda update. I’d stay away from that kind of thing at all costs.

      Josh – sorry, but I do mind about other people reprinting articles in full. Please don’t. Feel free to write about the article if you want, but I’d ask that you not repost it. Thanks for understanding.

  7. What a comprehensive article. One that I will share for those businesses that need a guide. This is great, thanks Matt.

  8. I would add to this list “do some How-To-Get-The-Word-Out creative thinking; Here are two ideas:

    1) I’m soon attending a business conference this year that I attended last year. The conference has an on-going blog leading up to the event. I wrote an article “10 Reasons To Attend XYZ Conference,” with my byline and offered it to the conference planner as a promotional tool. The article is going to be published on the event blog this week. Their email list is thousands. It’s free advertising for me.

    2) The comments about offline marketing aren’t so positive above, especially because it often costs significant dollars. But there’s a way around this. Determine your offline target publications and contact the reporter that covers your subject. Send this person your bio, and periodically, updates going on in your business (to keep you top of the mind). The goal is that when the reporter is writing an article on “your” topic, he/she will call you as an expert voice. When the reporter’s article published with your name in it, the article itself may not attract customers but, you can use the article as a marketing vehicle, i.e., send the link to your clients/prospective clients; the majority of offline publications also have a website but if they don’t you can scan the published article and email it to your contacts, add it to your bio to give you greater crediblity, write a blog about the same subject and state/show that you were quoted in the respective publication with the link.

  9. Ishwor Singh says:

    Matt@ This would be one of the best article I have ever read since I am learning SEO. You have completely made the entire marketing plan short and crisp which definitely gonna help me optimizing or marketing sites of my clients and blog. The tactics that you have suggested to use is the ethical way of optimizing the site that falls under the quality guidelines of GOOGLE. This is my first time that I have come across your website to read an article via Search Engine Land and hats off to you sir this is an amazing piece of article that I m going to share among my people.

  10. I love what you have put together, but what if your budget is even smaller than what you have laid out here? I have two sites, mainly affiliate websites, where I am trying to raise money for our church. When I start to make some “money” 20% will go to our churches building fund/altar servers./clergy gowns fund. I am already hosting the parish website out of my pocket and my husband and I are trying our darndest to get this off the ground. Our funds are small, he is a retired person working at being the full time Deacon of our Church and I make minimum wage on a part time basis, so I’m not kidding when I say funds are small. I would love to know that this is a possiblity to help raise funds for our church, without that much of an investment.
    Any advice for us who are struggling?

  11. tom martucci says:

    I think there is some great ideas and plan to share them with my associates

  12. Andy Beal says:

    Wow, what a great blueprint for any small business–and not just because is recommends Trackur.com (thanks, btw).

    You should put this in a PDF and sell it for $10 a shot. Easily worth that to any small business. ;-)

  13. Bradley says:

    Great article. Just starting my freelance business so this has some great takeaways for me to help get started.

  14. Great post! I just want to say for the people that can’t pull out enough capital for their initial marketing costs that dogged determination can serve as a (less-effective, but still temporarily adequate) alternative to PPC. Just engage with as many people as possible about your business. Be enthusiastic, and ready to respond to anyone who bites the bait.

    • Matt McGee says:

      Thx again for all the kind words, folks.

      Olivia – if you eliminate the more spendy items on the list, you should still have some opportunities available to you. But affiliate sites are a slightly different beast because you’re often competing against dozens (if not hundreds) of other sites all trying to make a couple dollars by indirectly selling the same stuff you are. This article wasn’t really written with affiliate marketing/sites in mind.

  15. Dave Eddy says:

    Great post Matt. I think sometimes new business owners really just need some clarity and direction to help them get started (especially around local online marketing). Your article has provided just that, great job!

  16. Ken Fagan says:

    Thanks, Matt, for this very helpful post.

    Subject to you granting permission I would like to summarize bits and pieces of it (N.B. ONLY the bits that are applicable to SMBs here in France) in French, for my 100% French audience here in France.

    Also (assuming that you haven’t done so already — apologies if you have), would it be possible to do a similar post, but for Social Media only, i.e. something like, “If I Were Launching a New SMB Today and Had Limited Time and Money To Dedicate to Social Media”?

    Many thanks

    Ken Fagan
    [Independent Local Search Consultant, Paris, France]

  17. Hi Matt, I came across a link you left to this post on the Google+ community ‘SEO for Small Business’.

    I just wanted to thank you for such a clear and detailed post, its extremely well written and informative, and will be of immense use to me in starting up our business.

    So glad you gave the time to put all these points down in such an easy to follow style – makes the whole thing less confusing!

    Thanks again, I’m a definite new follower of your articles :-)

    Regards, Philippa Wynn
    Gold Sense Limited, IT Support & Sales

  18. Mike Wilson says:

    Matt,

    To echo what others have already said – what a great check list!

    All to often its difficult for start-ups (or even existing businesses) to prioritize their marketing – what needs doing, when and how much it will cost, so this is a fantastic resource that I’ll be sharing.

    Many of my clients are small and medium businesses that just need a gentle nudge in the right direction and it’s this sort of genuine, useful information that I love to point them to.

    Keep up the good work,
    Mike

  19. Philip says:

    OMG. You just provided a business plan template to the masses. Fabulous stuff. It’s tough times for small businesses. This is actionable, concise and within the capability of many… I just got motivated. Thanks Matt. You really provide awesome stuff.

  20. Crystal says:

    Thanks – i will refer back to this post frequently. so glad i found your blog.

  21. Joey Ambrose says:

    This is a nicely done article for just starting out. I was tempted to offer other suggestions, but the fact is there are so may variables and methods that you could customize this list for everyone you talk to! Nicely done.

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