In the Key of Inbound

Inbound Marketing for Small Businesses: Does it Really Work?

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 15, 2017 10:00:00 AM / by Matt Jacoby

Inbound Marketing for Small Businesses: Does it Really Work?
Having been a freelance website designer for almost two decades, a lot of my clients were (very) small businesses that were based in small towns (population under 18,000), including a local single location credit union, a church, an insurance agency, a law office, a pool cue maker, a wedding planner, a wedding photobooth, a florist and a wedding cake maker.  While they were all different sizes of "small", I would have put them all in the same bucket labeled "may not be a good fit for inbound marketing". But that's not the case anymore.
 

Why did I change my mind around inbound marketing for small businesses?

Since I've been putting effort and more focus into building my own (small) business and prioritizing what will actually move the needle for my growth, "I don't have enough time for another thing in my busy schedule" is the same as saying "I'm not interested in something I don't know enough about", "I don't know the difference between being busy and being productive" or "I want to keep my business as a side gig and not interested in growing it".
 
This made me re-think that one bucket and break it into two new groups:
  • Business owners that don't want to grow (hobbyists; still not good for inbound)
  • Business owners that want to grow but aren't good at being productive (time management; need help before inbound)

As it says above, hobby business owners still probably aren't a good fit for inbound marketing because you don't see the value in it unless you are planning to use it to grow your business, expand your reach, and/or establish trust and build a community around your brand.

Whether or not inbound marketing will work for you depends solely on your attitude, willingness to accept it, and to go all in.  

Now that doesn't mean you need to throw your entire marketing budget at it, but for whatever percentage you're willing to spend on it (while spending the rest on your existing marketing channels), you need to give it 110% to make sure it gives you the results you're looking for.

 

If you want to grow your business, then keep reading

If you're still reading, congratulations!  You don't want to be a hobbyist. :) 
 
Earlier this summer, I wrote an article called "Why Inbound Marketing: How to Get Buy-In From Your Organization". It was focused on how to get your CEO and upper management bought into this thing called inbound marketing. To make inbound work in a larger workplace, you need to have the 9 Keys that are mentioned in that article. However, as a smaller business, you may only need some of them as your environment may not have or need everything a larger business has.
 
As the business owner who's already made the decision to apply inbound marketing, you already have buy-in from the top, and that's huge!  That already puts you ahead of most businesses, including larger ones who haven't yet made the leap.
 
Believe it or not, the power of inbound marketing can put you on a level playing field with larger corporations who may pose as a distant competitor, even for that small mom and pop shop selling one-of-a-kind tourist souvenirs and who promotes the "Shop Local" mantra.
 
 

So which of those 9 Keys apply to you as a small business owner?

 

1.) What is Inbound?

Whether it's just you, you and your spouse, your family, or a super small team of employees or contractors, make sure that everyone can answer this question in a super simple way. Having a grasp on the concept of being the best educator in your space is crucial to having a teaching mindset when crafting content for your customers.
 

2.) Start with WHY

Again, regardless if you have a small team or it's just you at the helm, remember to truly understand why you're adding inbound marketing to your business and how it affects you personally AND the business as a whole.
 

3.) Inbound Workshops

This one probably works better if you have a few employees and can hold a day-long workshop to train and refresh. But who's to say you can't take a few days or a week every 6-12 months to go through a series of online workshops and HubSpot Academy certification renewals to keep yourself current on the latest updates or just to refresh the material?  Don't let yourself or your employees get stale!
 

4.) The Content Manager

In the case of being the business owner, this will most likely be you putting on a second hat to drive your own content strategy and destiny.  But if you don't have an employee or two, empower them by giving them more responsibility and let them help strategize with you to contribute to your business's content.  It will balance your work load and give your staff a sense of accomplishment.
 

5.) Insourcing Your Content

Another weird one if you're the only one on the payroll, but don't let it discourage you.  This is where your commitment to time management and being more productive and focused comes in.  As a fellow small business owner, I know it can be hard to find the time, but try blocking and batching your time.  For example, your accounting tasks can be done every Wednesday from 9am-12pm.  Take a break for lunch, and then come back from 1pm - 5pm and work on content for next week's blog and social media. 
 
If you have employees, get their input as to what kinds of interactions and questions they get from customers and leads.  Allow them to write up their own blog article, even if they aren't a writer.  If you're going for quality, you as the business owner can either act as an editor or outsource editing to a virutal assistant (which won't cost you an arm or a leg).
 

6.) It's All About Sales

It may say "inbound marketing", but at the end of the day, you need to generate sales and revenue. Make sure you understand how your team (or you) can benefit from inbound marketing and use that content during the sales process whenever appropriate.
 

7.) Make it Mandatory

Just like you and your small team expect to get a paycheck regularly, your content creation process should be a required process that gets done in a timely manner too.  Any lapse in content creation can start to foster poor excuses for why it wasn't completed and then taper off until it's no longer a priority.  Make it as reliable as the clock on the wall (even a stopped clock is right twice a day!).
 

8.) Master Your Tools

You don't have to have a large platform like HubSpot to make inbound marketing work, but you do need to understand whatever tools you are using so you can effectively produce content and measure the results.
 
 

So how does all this inbound marketing grow my business?

Most of this article has shared with you WHY and WHAT you should be doing when it comes to inbound marketing for small businesses, but I haven't really given you a HOW, as in how it works and helps your business grow.  Let's fix that!
 
Inbound marketing, at its core, is based on the concept that if you write helpful, unbiased, trustworthy, and educational content, it will establish your business as a credible source for your industry.  And at the heart of that core (if that makes sense) is your fine attention to detail when it comes to who your customer is.  
 
To put it another way, put yourself in the consumer's seat. Over the weekend your gas grill died and you have identified the fact that you need a new one.  What do you do?
 
These days, most consumers start with Google or some other search engine to do one or all of the following:
  • Look for product reviews
  • Conduct product and price comparisons
  • Review "best of product/service" lists
  • Learn about possible problems that might arise from a particular product or service.  
Sound familiar?
 
It's ideal to really truly know your customers so that you can understand how they might have found you online and how you can expect others to find you in the future.  Can you produce articles in these categories that will help them in their product and service research?
 
If you content is truly helpful, unbiased and aides in their buying process, you be assured if they are reading these on your site, that your business is going to indirectly benefit from this traffic and building of trust.  Ultimately this will produce sales from those most qualified by your content.
 
 

Next Steps

 
So if you've ever asked yourself a question similar to these:
  • Is my business too small for inbound marketing? 
  • Does inbound marketing really work for small businesses?
  • It's just me and my business, so how can I dedicate any time to making inbound work for such a small operation?
It might be time to take the next step. Talk to a digital marketing consultant who can help you better understand the long-term benefits of inbound marketing. Learn how a small investment into getting an inbound marketing strategy developed to get you started might be the turning point you need to make inbound marketing working for you.
 
 
Download our 6 Keys to Planning an Inbound Marketing Strategy Book
 

Topics: Inbound Marketing

Matt Jacoby

Written by Matt Jacoby

Matt is the Chief Percussion Officer and VP of Cadence Strategy at Octave Media. When he's not helping music merchants develop an automated system to increase website sales, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two little men.