Yesterday, I was reminded by David Cummings, via his daily blog, that there are some very basic elements to starting up the sales and marketing of any business and specifically a technology startup. I refer to these basic elements as blocking and tackling, or things you simply have to do in order to be even marginally successful. If you don’t do them, your organization will struggle at the most basic levels. If you do these things at all, you will find some success. When you knock these basics out of the park, you’ll set your organization up to compete very well in your space.
David defined these elements like this:
It is the second of these steps that is the easiest, relative to the other two, especially if you are not adept at sales. Before we dig into the tools and steps of inbound marketing, here’s a solid definition of what “inbound marketing” means, via Hubspot:
A really good example of a specific inbound marketing campaign is Startup Picture Day, a free service provided by Polar Notion, a local web development shop. At SPD, they set up a photo station, and invite everyone in the building (ATV, ATDC, Switchyards, The Garage, Techsquare, StrongBox West, etc.) to come for a free headshot (you know, for your “Team” page LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). Polar Notion is creating and giving away content that is perfectly appropriate and valuable to these startups. Guess who is Polar Notion’s target audience for their web dev services? That’s right: startups. See what they did there?
Now let’s break down inbound marketing into a few different blocks, which any individual can do by learning the basics.
Many people struggle with this whole concept of “content”. I prefer to keep it simple. It’s you telling the story of your organization or creating something of value for your audience. You’re not going to win a pulitzer prize for anything you create, but if you don’t tell your story, nobody will ever hear it. Here is a Baker’s Dozen starting points for what to blog about. To do that, you’ll need to deploy these tools:
- Website / blog – We use WordPress for all our marketing websites. Here is a WordPress 101 tutorial for anyone to go from “I’ve never heard of WordPress” to “I just published my 3rd blog post this week!” in just a few hours. Yes, hours. It doesn’t have to be WordPress. You can use Wix or SquareSpace or even Tumblr or Blogger. The point is all the tools are there, free, and you can and should learn to use them.
- Graphics & images – Canva…have you heard of it? Guy Kawasaki – yes that Guy – is the chief evangelist for Canva. He knows what he’s doing, and Canva is out to make all of us into graphic designers. No, you won’t ever make a living creating and selling Canva stuff, but you can absolutely create beautiful graphics for your blog – for free! – on Canva.
If you write a blog post and don’t tell anyone about it, Google will still index your site (especially if you follow the SEO and Google Search Console instructions in the WordPress tutorial) and someone will eventually find it. But no entrepreneur sits and waits for Google to send them traffic. You have to tell people that you have a story. That’s called content distribution, and these are the free tools that everyone can and should use for that purpose:
- Social networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are the big 4. Most of the world (including your ideal audience) are somewhere on these channels. Share every blog post you write on all these channels. WordPress lets you do that automatically, and Buffer (free version) lets you schedule future social posts. When you get adept at this and want to really crank it up, invest $50/month in MeetEdgar, the social post jukebox that pushes your content out to all your social networks (except Instagram) nonstop 24/7 forever.
- Email – It’s slightly more difficult to get someone to give you their email address than it is to shove a social post into someone’s timeline, but if your content is good (it will be, with practice and repetition), then people will want to receive it regularly. Here’s an explanation of how you can require an email address iin order for your audience to get your content. An email subscription using Mailchimp is the simplest way to do that. If even Mailchimp scares you, WordPress does it even more easily through the Jetpack plugin. Both are free; Mailchimp starts charging you when you have more than 2,000 subscribers.
- Landing pages: A landing page is the sign on the door for your visitors to let them know that they have indeed come to the right place. For every campaign, you need a custom landing page. It’s ok, “custom” in this sense doesn’t mean “send it out to a software developer”. Products like Unbounce and Leadpages have made creating beautiful landing pages so simple anyone can (and should) do it. Each campaign should have its own landing page because each campaign is different. Yes, it’s more work than just sending someone to your home page, but this internet welcome mat has been proven over and over to get results. That means “conversions”, and in the most basic sense, that means email subscribers. Those email subscribers are warm leads. They have given you permission to reach out to them. (Update: Mailchimp now offers FREE landing pages. Not sure how anyone else in this space can continue charging $50/mo for the same service, but we’ll see.)
- CRM – Just that term alone is enough to scare anyone away, but you don’t have to be a Salesforce Certified Developer to create and use a basic CRM. Hubspot’s CRM is free, and they have amazing tutorials and videos to help you get setup and create great workflows to force you to stay in touch with your prospects and, more importantly, your customers. It is shocking how many people I meet every week who do not speak to their customers…ever. Using a CRM is the most basic method of maintaining contact with the people who pay you money.
If you don’t measure it, you cannot manage it. If you don’t measure it, how do you know if it’s working? When you start working out with weights, do you just randomly throw a couple of 45s on the bar and go at it? When you diet, do you weigh yourself on a regular basis? Internet marketing is no different. Everything is an experiment. The things you think will bring a million people to your website flop and the things you toss out there on a whim make your blog explode. But you cannot know what works if you do not measure everything.
- Google Analytics is the free and awesome tool of choice. In that WordPress primer I mentioned earlier, there are explicit instructions for connecting your blog/website to Google Analytics. Now, Google Analytics is still free, but it is not easy. However, Google wants you to learn it, so they have a fantastic video channel full of great tutorials from start to certification. That’s how I learned Google Analytics well enough to get certified and teach the certification class. If I can do it, so can you.
- Social Analytics – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (for business accounts), and LinkedIn all offer free analytics. Use these tools to see which social posts get the most impressions and engagement.
These are the most basic tools of the inbound marketer. All are free, to a point, to get you started. If you put “marketing” on your resume, you should be able to execute a campaign with tools like these.
There are many, many other tools to add to your repertoire once you master these. In becoming a master of these tools, you will undoubtedly and necessarily find and learn other tools. Share those with your team, and get everyone to be part of the inbound marketing effort.