If there’s one thing I’ve learned about marketing online, it’s that “just winging it and hoping it works out” is not a good strategy for attracting clients and building a sustainable, scalable business. It requires implementing core marketing strategies and then applying plenty of focus, patience, and consistency in the execution.
Below are six core marketing strategies that’ll help you grow your business online. Each one of them has tremendous benefits on its own, but together they’re exponentially more powerful because they work as a system. (I like systems ’round here.)
For example, one of my core marketing strategies is to create written content; I try to write a new blog post once per week. And you should know I’ve converted clients directly from blog posts: “I read your article about ______, and I need some help with that.”
It doesn’t always work like a magic bullet like that, but it can. However, if I didn’t have a traffic acquisition strategy or visibility on social media, they would never have visited my blog to begin with.
So let’s dive into the core marketing strategies that you need to build your biz online…
Core Marketing Strategy #1
Master Your Message
For me, it all starts here. If you don’t have a clear marketing message that describes what you do, for whom, and the “special sauciness” that makes your offer different from others your potential customers are considering, it’s going to make any marketing tactic you employ exponentially more challenging.
If it takes you more than 5 seconds to explain it? They’re gonna click away or keep on scrolling.
If they can’t see themselves in the message? They won’t convert.
You’re going to need a Unique Value Proposition, an “elevator pitch” (“what you do, how you do it differently, and who it’s for” in the time it would take you to explain it to someone between floors in an elevator) and a grounding purpose statement.
As a brand strategist, this is the work I help my clients with and I know it’s foundational because when you have brand clarity — for your audience as well as yourself — it “makes marketing work.”
Marketing, after all, is just the way to spread your message and build your brand.
See: The Brand Story Blueprint if you need to fine-tune your message. (It’s based on the work I do with clients to create foundational brand messages, but you can definitely give it a go on your own.)
Core Marketing Strategy #2
Build A Referral Network
Your potential clients are skeptical. They may like your message but it takes more than clever copy for them to trust you. Referrals are, by far, the most powerful way to attract clients because the information conveyed about you in a referral is trusted. (Basically, you’re piggy-backing off of the trust someone else has established with this person.)
There are two types of referral networks: allies and raving fans (clients).
BUILD YOUR ARMY OF ALLIES
Offline, this means networking with people in complementary industries and referring clients to one another other. I suggest this as a “short game strategy” when people need clients fast because online marketing is a long game.
It works the same way online — only you’ll have to work a bit harder to make this work. First, you’ll need to find people who can become client-referring allies via social media or search, and then you’ll need to build a relationship and establish trust with them.
Since I’m a location-independent business (my clients are primarily from the USA, the UK, and Canada and I’m in Europe), I do outreach — relying on search and social media (where I aim to be, you know, social, rather than JUST to broadcast my marketing messages).
When I see someone doing great things in complementary fields, I reach out and invite them to a “let’s get to know one another” coffee chat via Zoom. I might also invite them to write a guest post on my blog or participate in an “expert roundup post” as a way to provide immediate value to them.
CREATE RAVING FANS
Creating happy clients who are so pleased with the transformation that happened as a result of working with you means you’ll build an army of raving fans who’ll be THRILLED to spread the word about you.
Creating a great client experience is simply a matter of fulfilling your brand promise.
But, you’ll also want to make it clear that you want referrals…
So when your work together is through, don’t just say “thanks!” and peace out, have an “offboarding” process planned out.
I recommend sending them a little something unexpected (it could be a physical gift or a simple digital document with helpful resources) and ask them to fill out a feedback survey.
Ask for testimonials, ask them whether they’d be likely to refer you to others, ask them for feedback on how you can improve your service. Ask, ask, ask.
Another thing you can do is invite them to a “debriefing session” via Zoom. Invite them to ask you any lingering questions they may have and make sure they feel set up for success. Then, you can ask them face to face if they know anybody they could recommend to you — let them know you appreciate their referrals.
You can also ask them to say a few words on camera (you can hit “record” at any time on a Zoom call and it will automatically save to your computer) and get a video testimonial. (Video testimonials are the most credible because they’re impossible to fake.) Then, you can share that testimonial on your services page and social media.
Core Marketing Strategy #3
Build Your Audience On Social Media
Duh, right? We all know that we need to be visible on social media to be considered a legit, credible business and for people to have a way to interact and engage with us that’s convenient for them. But social media is also the place where things can go terribly wrong and derail everything — especially if you’re managing it on your own.
Your most valuable business asset is your time and social media is a notorious time suck. By design. Every platform wants you to stay engaged and keep coming back for more more more because that’s how they make their money-money-cash-dolla-bills yo.
So my advice here is to figure out which channel is the sweet spot between where your audience is and what you enjoy (what’s sustainable for you?) and then focusing on that one channel as your “social media home base.” Then, once you get a handle on that, you can round out your social media presence on other channels.
Entire businesses have been built on Instagram. And Facebook. In Facebook groups. On Twitter. On LinkedIn. YouTube. You don’t need all the strategies, but you do need ONE strategy. Then, focus, focus, focus.
Whatever you do, don’t dabble. Don’t wing it. If you don’t know how to make social media work for your business, take a foundational course. Learn how to build your audience, create your content strategy, and automate whatever you can.
Core Marketing Strategy #4
Content, Content, Content
There’s no way around it. If you want to build an online business you’re going to need content. Content is what replaces face-to-face networking — it’s the way to build your authority, establish trust, and build brand awareness.
Personally, I think every serious digital entrepreneur needs a blog. It’s the way to get discovered in search and provides you with opportunities to get visible on social media and drive targeted traffic back to your website.
If writing is not your thing, create audio content (a.k.a. a podcast) or video (a “vlog”).
That’s your “top of funnel” content and it’s an important step on your value ladder and helps you meet people where they are in the early stages of your customer’s decision-making process (they don’t trust you yet and/or they’re not ready to buy).
You’ll also need some “middle of the funnel” content too (which I go into more detail in my Client Attraction System Masterclass).
That means having an opt-in freebie, an intro offer (a low-priced offer designed to change the relationship from “audience” to “customer” and cement trust), and nurturing emails.
Think about the customer journey to make that decision to make a purchase or hire you and consider the content you’ll need that will meet people where they are in that process. Visually, it looks something like this…
Core Marketing Strategy #5
Create “Conversion Tools”
I’ll admit this is something that took me awhile to catch on to, but without a “conversion tool” it’s very challenging to help members of your online audience to that next level where they feel confident enough about you to sign up for your premium offers.
Conversion tools are offerings that meet people where they are in the FINAL stages of decision-making and answers the questions:
- Are you the one for them?
- Is this the right solution for me?
- Is this going to solve my problem?
For service-based businesses, the easiest conversion tool is the “free initial consultation” and that’s a great place to start.
That said, I have mixed feelings about those. I offer them from time to time when I’m interested in working with someone and want to make sure we’re a good fit, but generally speaking, they’re also a time suck (I’m big on protecting that most valuable asset — time).
Instead, I prefer using introductory offers and lead offers which shortens and monetizes your sales process. (Again, something I go into more detail in the free masterclass if you want to check that out, you can also read my post about creating a value ladder which goes into more detail about creating a lineup of offers that naturally guide your audience toward your premium services.)
You can also create a 1-to-many conversion tool like a free email course, a challenge, or a webinar at the core of your marketing funnel. There, you’ll solve your audience’s problem a little bit of the way and naturally guide them to a more premium offer.
Core Marketing Strategy #6
Create a Traffic Acquisition Plan
How are you going to get traffic to your website? What most people say — what most people do — is share their content to social media and call it good.
While you definitely DO want to be sharing your content on social media, I consider this to be more of a brand-building or visibility exercise, it’s not so great for traffic as a rule. Here are the problems I see with that…
First, people are distracted and bombarded with noise and marketing messages all day long. They can’t possibly click on everything. I post to Twitter and Facebook and sometimes LinkedIn multiple times per day thanks to the magic of SmarterQueue. But here are the results of my traffic from social… pretty dismal.
Twitter didn’t even register on the graph so I had to dig deeper to find it…
The moral of the story is, you can share links on Twitter all the livelong day or you can create a smarter strategy. Always go back to the 80/20 rule (80% of your good results come from 20% of your efforts) and focus on that 20% that’s making a big impact.
This is not to say sharing content to social media isn’t important, it is, but I consider it a “visibility tool” rather than a traffic tool.
- Twitter has been invaluable for me — it’s where I network with colleagues and grow my referral and collaboration network.
- On Facebook, I regularly receive direct messages from potential clients inquiring about my services.
- Instagram is a channel I mostly just use for personal expression but it’s an amazing platform to connect and engage with your audience (if I had more time in my day, I’d focus on this more, but I can’t be everywhere)
- LinkedIn in is where people go to “vet” me and make sure I’m a legit business person in the world
Let me be clear: YOU NEED SOCIAL MEDIA. But you’re going to wear yourself out if you use it as a traffic acquisition strategy.
Plus, algorithms are constantly changing… they’ll encourage you to build your business on their platform but they minute they have an engaged (addicted? lol) audience, it’s pay-to-play time, baby. You may have experienced this yourself on Facebook, where organic reach plummeted after they made a change to what shows up in people’s feeds.
In other words, it’s hard-won traffic if that’s what you’re depending on it for. The minute your link isn’t at the top of their feed, you’ll have to repost it and repost it forever (which isn’t so bad when you’re using a scheduler but again, I don’t consider this an effective strategy for traffic.)
A better traffic acquisition strategy is one that allows your content to be discovered when people have the problem you solve and are actively looking for solutions. This happens (you’ve probably guessed it by now) in search.
Search is higher quality traffic and it’s more “set it and forget it” too.
Now let’s look at where my traffic is really coming from…
By the by, if you’re interested in looking at this report in your own Analytics account, click here to get my custom dashboard. If you’re logged in to Google Analytics it’ll install automatically, and you can always find it in the left-hand menu under Customization > Dashboards > The Client Machine by Endeavor Creative.
Sorry, as I was saying…
My traffic primarily comes from either Pinterest or Google, both are search engines.
Actually, Pinterest is hybrid social/search — some Pins get clicked on when they’re seen in the feed or in Tailwind* and some are “evergreen” because Pinterest is one big ol’ visual search engine. If you optimize your Pins (using keyword-rich descriptions, titles, etc.) they can potentially drive traffic forever.
*Tailwind is a scheduling tool that allows other people (in Tailwind “Tribes”) to share my content to their audience. Not only that, but many of them “click-through” too — because we’re in the same niche and my content is relevant to them. If you’re interested in exploring Pinterest for traffic, I recommend a basic course that’ll walk you through the basics of optimizing your Pins (this is a great one, I went through the whole thing on a long lunch break and got a great overview without feeling overwhelmed). When you get a feel for how it works, get yourself Tailwind* as fast as you can — it’s freed up hours and hours of my time each week “feeding Pinterest” my content.
Now, I spend about 15 minutes per day on Pinterest-related activities and I’m pretty happy with the payoff!
Note: If you don’t think Pinterest is relevant to your niche there’s a quick way to find out — go to Pinterest and type in some keyword phrases that relate to your niche or industry and see if your competitors are already there. You would be surprised how well Pinterest works for all sorts of niche topics — and it’s not just women either, more and more there’s a diverse audience of people actively looking for information and even shopping!
And then there’s the mac-daddy of them all: Google. SEO is the most important strategy I have in my arsenal to drive targeted traffic to my website.
Both Pinterest and Google traffic convert into sales and clients for me because they’re actively looking for what I sell.
I consider Pinterest “fast traffic” and Google “evergreen traffic” — and the brilliant thing is? When people share my content on Pinterest and people start visiting my blog posts, it signals to Google, “Hey, check out this content that everyone is flocking to!” and it helps me rank faster.
If you’re in a niche that people aren’t searching for information on in Pinterest, you may focus hard on Google and call it a day.
Now, your traffic acquisition strategy may look different…
YouTube is one of the biggest search engines on the internet and like Pinterest, people don’t normally think of it that way. If you are a video blogger, you’ll want to focus more on optimizing for YouTube search which in turn will help your content to rank on Google.
But my best advice for creating an acquisition strategy is to forget about “chasing clicks” and focus on making your content “discoverable” when people are looking for what you sell. It takes longer to work so until you start earning Google’s trust you’ll need to focus on Social Media or Pinterest, but in the long run, it’s much more valuable traffic.
The core marketing strategies to build and grow your online business are to 1) get clear about your marketing message 2) build a referral network of allies and raving fans 3) get visible on social media in a focused way (protect your time!) 4) content, content, content 5) create a smart traffic acquisition strategy.
Let me know if you have any questions in comments! If you’d like some help putting together a marketing system, get in touch and I’ll send you the details about my DIgital Empowerment coaching packages. I’d love to help you create a strategy that works for you and empower you to grow your online business by focusing on the right actions.
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.