Figuring out how to market your business can feel like assembling a parquet floor with scrap wood from last year’s jobs. Some of the pieces are old and warped. Others are brand new. It seems like nothing fits together.
Some traditional media like print and broadcast are still relevant; Yellow Pages advertising is practically obsolete. You know you should be using social media, native advertising, content marketing, email marketing, marketing automation, digital advertising, social responsibility marketing, and whatever new trends are around the corner. But it’s a little overwhelming.
Wichita Wood Floor Specialists… Starting Fresh (and Green)
“Overwhelming” was an understatement for Jesse and Rachel Sample who started Wichita Wood Floor Specialists in 2012 with $2,500 and the family minivan. Both were working full-time jobs and raising four small children. Besides lack of sleep, their biggest challenge was marketing their new venture.
“It was very difficult. We started with yard signs. Plus, I truly believed that if you had a website, people would automatically go to it and call you and you’d have all sorts of business. That was not the case,” laughs Rachel Sample. “Really, it was a lot of knocking on doors, handing out business cards, and asking people to give us a shot.”
“We were naïve,” adds Jesse Sample.
But Rachel was determined. “I asked myself, ‘How do I find out about businesses?’ I Google on my smartphone or computer, ‘Where’s the best whatever in Kansas.’ So I started looking at our competitors and where they were on the internet.”
Rachel quickly learned that the more information she put online, the higher their Google ranking. “I hit it hard at the get-go. I put us on Google, Bing, and Yelp for free. I contacted Google and they taught me how the process works, how SEO works, and how I could put our information out there to show that we’re a reliable, good company—one that people can count on.” Wichita Wood Flooring Specialists is now on more than 30 free sites.
In their first year, they also started a blog, which has helped their ranking. “Now I have so much content, we’re listed first or second on every search engine,” shares Rachel. “The key is being consistent and updating your information regularly.”
The Samples also use Facebook Live, fun ads on public television, and produce videos for their website. Their next challenge is producing a line of professional-looking instructional and informational videos for YouTube.
Another selling tool is their NWFA certifications. “When people ask, ‘What makes you better?’ We say we’re the only NWFA Certified company around. You have to drive 150 miles to find the next one,” explains Jesse. “I’ve taken several NWFA training classes, and that’s been a huge, huge help. I learned so much. And no matter what junction we’ve been at in our business, I’ve been able to call with questions.”
At first, promoting the business wasn’t easy, especially for Rachel, a self-proclaimed nerd who (her words) “is kind of quiet and not good at networking.” But she pushed herself beyond her comfort zone, literally going door-to-door introducing herself to their neighbors in Wichita’s Douglas Design District. Now she gives talks and presentations to local business owners, sharing what she has learned and offering advice.
“We learned that there’s a little bit more to having a business than a website and a phone number,” chuckles Jesse, recalling their earlier struggles. “But now we have seven full-time employees, and I think that in itself is amazing. We’re not only able to provide for ourselves, but also provide for seven other people and their families. And that’s very rewarding.”
Universal Floors…64 Years Old and Still Changing with the Times
“When my dad started this business in 1953, you could just run a big ad in the Yellow Pages. Now everyone looks online,” shares Sprigg Lynn of D.C.-based Universal Floors. These days, Lynn has to be a little more creative.
“Today, we use more guerilla marketing techniques. For example, when we estimate a job, we put a sticker on the breaker panel, the heater, HVAC, and electrical box,” explains Lynn. Everyone who works on that house sees our name: the inspector, electrician, and every homeowner. It’s free advertising for the life of the house. Universal Floors also uses Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and a blog.
“Of course, the best advertising is good workmanship,” explains Lynn. “You can spend a lot of money on advertising; but at the end of the day, you have to do a good job. If you do a good job, you’re going to get referrals. If you get referrals, you’re going to make money.”
Universal Flooring has been recognized for their workmanship with 11 Wood Floor of the Year awards. And although they don’t talk about it much, it does matter to some customers.
“There’s a right time to pull out the awards… and a wrong time.” Lynn explains, “We don’t always do stuff that’s over the top. Our portfolio includes historic restorations, existing homes, and new custom homes. Some people might look at those awards and think we’re too expensive. But we do promote the Wood Floor of the Year awards in pictures in our showroom and our portfolio.” And for high-end customers that just may be the final push they need.
Marketing… a Wise Investment
Marketing takes time and commitment, plus a suite of communication and technical skills. The good news? Those skills can be learned from workshops, classes, online education programs, and even for free if you’re willing to invest some time finding information online.
As Jesse Sample put it, “You can’t be afraid to invest. We’ve invested a lot of time and money trying to stay up on what’s new and what’s happening—to get ideas about how we can do things differently. We’re always trying to think outside the box.”
Up your marketing game with these tools.
You know that the work is easier when you have the right tools. Below is a summary of some marketing tools, many of them free that can help streamline and improve your marketing efforts.
Online Website Builders
- Wix: This popular, free web builder specializes in search-engine-friendly HTML5 websites. It’s easy to use with an advanced drag and drop website editor, and a huge collection of professional templates. It includes free hosting, a second-level domain, 500MB storage space, G bandwidth, built-in Google Analytics, and Wix brand ads on all pages.
- SquareSpace: Slick, hip and stylish, SquareSpace is a little less simple to use than Wix, and it’s not free. But, all templates are mobile-friendly and SquareSpace offers lots of powerful capabilities like digital downloads, free SSL certification for enhanced security, analytics, and full-scale commerce.
- Weebly: Build a modern website for free with its easy-to-use drag and drop editor. The basic package includes a domain name or sub-domain, free hosting, unlimited pages, and a basic online store (with a 3 percent transaction fee).
- WebsiteBuilder.com: This free, drag-and-drop website offers hundreds of gorgeous website templates covering many popular categories. It will add a banner in the footer and give you a free sub-domain name for your website
- IMCreator.com: Creating a free website is simple with their drag and drop editor, free domain, and 50MB of storage. Templates are regularly updated and mobile friendly, plus it works well on all browsers.
- SiteBuilder: This new offering enables you to create stunning websites using free templates across several categories. It includes a free domain name or a sub-domain, drag-and-drop editor, and a blog feature. It also includes a SiteBuilder banner in the footer.
- Sitey: A new but powerful website builder, Sitey offers (free) 50MB storage, 5MB file upload, and 1GB bandwidth. It includes a mobile version, more than 100 professional templates, an image gallery, and easy-to-integrate social media links. Sitey leaves a small ad on your free website.
- Yola: Yola offers five websites instead of one, banner-free hosting, quality customer support, built-in statistics, and 1GB storage per site on a second-level domain. But there are no banner or pop-up ads as with other free services.
Email Marketing and Marketing Automation
- MailChimp: Send email newsletters with this easy-to-use interface and out-of-the-box, professional templates. It offers more sophisticated features for businesses as they grow.
- HubSpot: This service offers more-advanced marketing automation that does way more than just email marketing. It also can help with landing pages, blogging, and email marketing with a built-in CRM system.
- HARO: Get expert quotes or position your company as an expert (and get some free PR) with this service that connects reporters with topic experts.
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Find a good “hook” as you experiment with headlines using CoSchedule’s free headline analysis tool.
- Survey Monkey: Figure out what your audience wants from your content by asking them with this easy-to-use-and-manage survey toolset.
- Evernote: This note-taking app helps you easily categorize notes and find them later with a search feature. It works on every device and also takes pictures of handwritten notes.
- Trello: This flexible tool manages processes, working as a project manager, a task list, editorial calendar and more.
Design and Visuals
- Canva: This online design tool helps you build images for social media, presentations, posters, and more. It’s especially recommended for non-designers.
Pablo: A great tool for creating images for your social media posts, Pablo is purpose-built for engaging social posts.
- Piktochart: Easily present data visually or build an infographic. There’s no need to hire a designer to get excellent visuals.
- Buffer: Schedule and manage all of your social postings from one place with very
little hassle. Share social posting responsibility with multiple people.
- CoSchedule: Schedule social media seamlessly from your WordPress blog from right inside WordPress. Also includes useful editorial calendar tools.
- Hootsuite: Monitor and track your social media mentions and also manage your responses, all from one platform.
Traffic and Engagement
- SumoMe: This suite of tools and options helps you gather email addresses from your website visitors, and helps you understand how people use your webpages with heat maps and content engagement metrics. SumoMe also has tools for adding social sharing to your pages.
- Google Keyword Planner: This free tool, part of the Google’s Adwords toolset, helps you build out paid advertising campaigns and determine traffic levels for different search terms.
- Fresh Web Explorer: Track how your company and your competitors are getting mentioned online. Keep tabs on where your company, and your competition, is getting new inbound links.
Conversion Rate Optimization and Landing Pages
- UnBounce: Create landing pages without a web designer or engineers using the UnBounce customizable template library. You also can A/B test different designs and marketing copy to fine-tune your landing pages and optimize conversion rates.
- Visual Website Optimizer: This is an affordable, full-featured A/B testing tool, similar to, but less expensive than, Optimizely.
- Convert: Another A/B testing source, Convert offers plenty of features for agencies that do A/B testing, but also includes a “self-service” plan for small websites.
This is just a sampling of what’s available. With a little research, you can find more tools that work for you!
Katrina Olson is a freelance writer and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.