NOW is the right time to work on your business – Boost your business impact now with astute online marketing
Many business owners are worried about how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact on their bottom-line in the months to come. And that’s realistic and pragmatic. But are you aware of the ways in which you can boost the impact of your business online while you have a little more time than usual on your hands?
We’ve seen alarming images of other nations, such as Italy, struggling with the healthcare and economic effects of Coronavirus; our schools have closed early for the Easter holidays, and sea and land ports in South Africa are predominantly closed to in- and outgoing travel. Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s astute address to the nation on Sunday, 15 March, we are now beginning to sit up and take proper notice of an illness that was “over there” and, now, has many confirmed cases right here within our own borders.
On a daily basis, small business owners are making decisions such as:
1) Do I go to gym to de-stress? Actually, a run around the neighbourhood would probably be safer.
2) Do I go and work on my laptop at the local coffee shop? How I miss that good-quality caffeine injection for best possible brainstorming, but working from home right now is probably a better option.
3) Do I keep my office open and risk spread, or do I turn my office into a remote working environment? The Government has asked for all of us to physically distance ourselves as much as possible, so if I can – it’s probably a socially responsible move.
4) Do I request that staff stays home? Probably best. Let’s hope the digital tools we have in place will work effectively for us over the “isolated” months ahead.
Whatever choices you make to “flatten the curve” (i.e. stick as closely as you can to community isolation measures to keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers), is vital is to keep things running as smoothly as one can within a business, and with as much stability as possible, for as long as we can.
During these uncertain and potentially quiet times, small business owners should, therefore, be pitching for as much new work as they can get their hands on (from places such as The Resource on Facebook and Bizcommunity.com, among others); and businesses, where a website presents their main shopfront, should retain their online-marketing team so that improvement work can happen behind the scenes, to best position them to streak ahead of the competition when all is well again.
What could, for example, be the impact of cancelling your search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking when you are selling a service or product online? Craig Johnston of Savvy Sprout advises that it is vital, first of all, to understand the “search landscape”. He elaborates that there are two main types of search, i.e. “organic” and “paid”, and each has its place in a company’s digital marketing strategy.
“SEO focuses on the organic search element and is a long-term strategy that requires research, planning and ongoing dedication. But, once established, allows you to get ongoing leads without ever-increasing advertising spend. It is generally understood that most people – up to 75 per cent – will not go past page 1 on Google – although that number may be significantly different for a mobile search. What this means,” Johnston explains, “is that if searchers cannot find what they are looking for with their first search, they will probably refine it with a different question or phrase. If you are not optimising for a variety of keywords, terms and phrases then you will be losing valuable search visibility.”
In other words, if you cancel it, you lose months of having built it up and will be starting from where you left off whilst your competitors may have been building and building.
So there are opportunities to be explored during this volatile time. Whereas a business owner may not normally have a glut of time to focus on their online marketing initiatives, being holed up at home with mounds of toilet paper and tins of tuna could present the perfect opportunity.
Johnston says that the following five areas are deserving of your full attention at this time:
- Industry and audience research – Filtering through all the digital data gives business owners a different and real perspective of their online audience. For example, A Savvy Sprout retail client only had three of their best-selling retail products in their top 10 online products. This indicates that very different strategies and messages are required. Furthermore, online search queries tend to differ immensely from what clients think people are searching for and from what in-store clients are requesting. Something to think about!
- Competitor analysis – This is an element that takes time but, when done properly, can provide immense value. Finding out what content competitors are focusing on, what keywords and key phrases they are targeting, and gaining insight into their linking profile, can highlights gaps and provide additional opportunities to strengthen your own SEO strategy to become more competitive.
- SEO – A downturn is a perfect time to analyse data and refine your SEO strategy for what lies ahead. Many (if not most!) competitors will not be treating a downturn as an aggressive digital opportunity, but businesses that do are likely to experience rapid results in visibility and rankings when things normalise, which they will!
- SEO content, copywriting and public relations (PR) – Content creation is one of the toughest things to push out when the wheels are spinning at full steam. So it pays to use any quiet time to brainstorm content ideas and topics. On the PR front, this can be seen as a great opportunity to create a cluster of relevant articles that can be used to aggressively market a business online; instead of starting this process only when business gets back to normal and there is significantly less time.
- Design – You can never have the latest design or something that is too “on point” with the current trends. So make clever use of this downtime to review current designs, your brand and other digital assets. Seek ideas and ask others for honest feedback. Set up a hangout call and discuss likes, dislikes and opportunities to determine if there may be ways to improve your brand’s image in cyberspace. Other things small business owners and entrepreneurs alike may be concerned about over the Coronavirus “isolation period”, is that they will not be able to work effectively with their teams and associates when everyone is working remotely; and that the digital tools they have in place to link everyone up may not be the best ones serve their purpose.
On the matter of working remotely or telecommuting, Johnson says: “Globally, there has been a big push and shift towards remote working environments and for good reason. Generation differences play a very large part, but flexibility and work/life balance are two significant drivers. From a digital marketing perspective, I believe, it really doesn’t matter where you are based or what your work environment entails. Workflows, automation and tracking can be created that allow businesses to generate leads, and have leads automatically assigned to teams, and track performance based on user input and KPIs.” He adds that the power of digital really comes into its own when one looks at data because almost everything is trackable or, at least to an extent, quantifiable to determine a fairly accurate ROI.
“While large international corporations (such as Microsoft, Amazon, Ford Motor, CNN, Citigroup and Twitter) have incredible and costly systems in place, SMEs have agility on their side and have an almost endless list of affordable tools at their disposal which they can use to make digital engagement quicker and more effective than traditional travel-and-meeting systems,” he says. “While there is always a place for face-to-face meetings, once trust has been established and projects are forging ahead, digital engagement is often far superior to physical proximity.”
With regards the digital tools needed for remote collaboration, Johnston says there are a wide range available but, to get the optimal end-to-end experience, there are only a few tools you ideally need to have in place:
- A collaborative project management tool – Asana is incredible, as well as the app Slack that offers great functionality and integration of tasks. Assigning tasks and tracking completion dates allows for control and transparency.
- A “meeting room” – Once again, the options are endless but the major ones include Skype, GoToWebinar and Zoom, with Google recently announcing that their well-established Google Hangouts app will be free for all as a result of the Coronavirus to facilitate remote working.
- Analytics and reporting – For the basics, you can get everything you need from an integrated reporting tool and even just Google analytics. Integrated analytics and reporting tools can become expensive, but are worth their weight in gold.
Once business picks up and the dynamic among us are able to fire on all cylinders out there in the real world again, those who have made an investment in their online marketing prowess during these quiet and uncertain times will most definitely be best positioned for the highest possible rankings in cyberspace; and the most successful business gains in the long term. Johnston concludes that cancelling all your retainer service providers and having to start again in two months’ time is therefore likely to be the very worst decision you could make in the time of global panic.