A Small Business Online Marketing Strategy for the Rest of Us

My approach to marketing a small business online is that customers—especially your best customers—are more important than prospects.

small business online marketing - leaking bucket

Delight your customers, and they will stay with you longer, buy more from you, buy from you without being bribed, cost you less to service, and bring in more customers just like them.

Fail them, and you have no choice but to focus on prospects to keep refilling the leaky bucket.

Prospects are definitely important, but customers rule.

Where are these ideal customers and prospects? More and more, they are online.

But online marketing is hard, and it’s foreign to many small businesses. You may know how your traditional channels work, but they are getting more expensive and less effective. You may throw up your hands and say, “I don’t understand how online marketing for a small business can work for me.”

We hear this frequently from small business. You understand that you should be doing online marketing, but you may not be sure where to start.

The first thing is not to get caught up in the technology and instead to look at the big picture. Small business online marketing has two simple parts: The website is the hub, and the spokes are the various online media channels.

The Hub is Your Website

In the hub and spoke marketing strategy, all your marketing activities are spokes that rotate around your website, which is in the center of your plan.

If you own a retail store, you might think that your store is the hub. This was true previously when people considered the store as a source of knowledge and information. However, now consumers are doing their research online, so from a consumer’s point of view, the store is no longer the center.

Obviously, sales are very important. Your store delivers a functional benefit to your customers, which creates mutual value.  But your store doesn’t add value. What your store is selling and your customers are buying is functional. It’s a transaction, and probably not that different from what they can find elsewhere.

If you consider the store as a spoke and use it to build online connections with your customers, you have the opportunity to use online marketing to create value that goes beyond functional benefits.

The website is the center of this activity. It’s where even the smallest business can create incremental value that goes beyond the transaction and the functional benefits delivered by your store or product. This is especially important for your best customers who care and who matter most.

When you interact with your customers, encourage them to visit your website, sign up for your e-newsletter, and like your store on social media. When you do, you’ll be strengthening your marketing “wheel.”

Why is creating value important?

Your best customers are only a small percentage of all your customers, but they are a large percentage of your sales, and they’re especially important to your profits. Creating value is how even the smallest business can generate loyalty and competitive insulation among its best customers.

And where are your best customers?

They are online.

Online marketing and your website can capture and retain your best clients.

This makes online marketing crucial for small businesses.

The Spokes are Your Other Marketing Strategies

With an apology to George, when it comes to the hub and spoke strategy, “All spokes are created equal, but some spokes are more equal than others.”

Spokes are the activities, channels, and tactics you use to connect with your customers and prospects online. Spokes are also how they connect with your business.

Advertising is a spoke. So are social media and email.

Each spoke connects your business with customers and prospects and generates sales. Sales pay the bills, and the best way to build your brand is to have customers try your product. But you can go even further with the hub and spoke online marketing strategy for small businesses.

Use online marketing spokes to draw your best customers into your website. Use the website as a fulcrum to create even more value for your business that goes beyond functional benefits. The spokes provide a conduit to generate sales and attract your best customers to the hub, where you can deliver additional value.

How to Market a Small Business Online

Small business online marketing falls into three main categories: online advertising, social media marketing, and email marketing.

Online advertising is the most expensive and difficult to master. Social media marketing isn’t expensive, but it’s a bit arcane, and it has its own unique way of doing things. It can be very efficient, but it can also be a waste of money. Email marketing is the least expensive and when used properly the most effective of the online channels.

Email marketing is excellent for marketing a small business online. It’s especially effective for customer marketing. And marketing to your best customers will always give you your best return. Your best customers are more likely to buy from you again, spend more, and recommend you to other customers just like them.

The best email newsletters are not sales flyers in electronic form. Marketing a small business online using the hub and spoke strategy means using email marketing to drive customers back to the website where you can create incremental value.

An e-newsletter can describe, inform, entertain, reveal, and uncover new information and insights about your products and services. It’s a spoke that provides value that interests your best customers and attracts them back to your website, where you can create even more value. For example, product information and insights into usage that makes their experience better, or access to exclusive content, or advance notice on changes or promotion. There are many ways to create value beyond transaction benefits when you are engaged with your customers. Email marketing is a low-cost way for small business to do this, to engage with customers. This further insulates these high-value customers from the competition.

The essence of strategy is sacrifice — David Ogilvy

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start your online strategy with email marketing because it’s efficient, it’s focussed on customers, and it can lead to the other channels, but get email marketing right first, then move on to other things.

I’m not the only one who thinks using email marketing as the foundation is a good plan. MailChimp, our preferred partner for small business email marketing, added social media and online advertising to their platform.

Once you have email marketing down, social media marketing can be an efficient way to get a simple message out to a large audience. It can target consumers in a specific location, which makes it an efficient prospecting spoke. Why prospecting? Because advertising is an effective medium for delivering a single message to many people This is why it’s better suited to prospect marketing. Use social media advertising to draw prospects into your website.

Hub and Spoke: the Best Online Marketing Strategy for Small Business

  1. Design your small business website to attract your best customers, and make it easy for your best customers to connect with your business.
  2. You can also use email marketing to nurture and reward your best customers.
  3. Then, use online advertising to find prospects and bring them to your website.

Marketing a small business using the hub and spoke strategy takes the mystery out of online marketing. It’s no longer difficult and overwhelming. Small business online marketing is made of spokes that draw prospects and customers into your hub, your website.

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Author: James Hipkin

CEO, Managing Director

James brings over 30 years of professional sales, marketing, and marketing consultation services to the table. Serving global brands along with small businesses, Hipkin leads a highly-skilled team of full-time developers, producers and project managers who are committed to your success.

An excellent communicator and inventive problem-solver, his creative vision and bottom-line sensibility have proven successful at building productive, long-term partnerships with both employees and clients. 

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