My “business” actually started as a hobby and passion project. I began as a curriculum creator on TPT over a decade ago. I started a teacher blog as a way to connect with other teachers and promote my resources. I taught myself to build my own website and then built a few more for friends. Word of mouth took over and… here we are. My online business now provides a full-time income, I continue to grow year-over-year, and my calendar stays fully booked. But that didn’t happen over night. If you’re a new business owner wondering how on earth to get here too, these tips can help.
Before you can grow your business, the first step to online success is getting really clear on what you have to offer. The key is to find what you’re good, what you enjoy, and what there’s a market for. In addition to my website + branding business, I’ve personally sold curriculum on TPT, digital papers and clipart on Etsy, embroidered baby blankets locally, and even took a multi-million dollar nail art detour. Where you start doesn’t have to be where you end up, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find the right fit!
Once you find your niche, it’s time to grow! How do you that? Through brand awareness. Brand awareness involves developing a presence (online and local, if applicable), connecting with your market, networking with other business owners, and effectively marketing your products or services whenever and wherever you can.
Here are some of the simplest ways to grow your business in order to turn your leads into loyal customers.
1. Understand SEO
SEO, SEO, SEO…. if it feels like I’m a broken record around here, I’m not! 😉 Yes, SEO is that important. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important ways to generate free organic leads. Every business needs a website, and every website can use SEO to boost their search results ranking to bring in more traffic. If learning SEO seems overwhelming, you’re not alone! That’s why I offer this super affordable crash course to get you started.
Mini course: SOS… SEO!
How To Help Your Website Show Up In Search Results
Take this DIY entry-level SEO course to start your website off on the right foot.
There are also plenty of easy tips to improve technical SEO that most small business owners can DIY. Having a blog on your website is another great way to increase website traffic.
Think About Keywords
Your website should target the keywords that consumers search for most often when they look for content like yours. An educator’s website might use words or phrases that include curriculum, printables, engagement, or classroom management. Your keywords should be used in the URL of your site, in your titles, in your meta descriptions, and in your posts. Be careful not to overstuff, though. Your keywords should flow naturally within your content.
Your site should have internal links to funnel traffic within your own domain. If you want to see it in action, just take a quick glance at how many links I’ve already dropped in this post alone!
Your goal should be to keep people moving around your site long enough to convert their visits into subscribes or sales. Each of your pages should contain links to somewhere else on your site whether it’s to a blog post, a product, or a landing page.
It’s also important for other high-quality sites to carry links leading back to yours. You can network with other business owners to feature your products or posts on their site and offer to do the same for them (more on that is below).
Exploring affiliates is another option. As a consumer, I’ve personally been paid very well to write sponsored posts or share affiliate links. As a business owner, I’ve shared affiliate links with some of my clients to share a portion of any sales they’ve sent my way (more on this is also below).
Search your key words, name, business name, and website on popular search engines and see how your site and pages are ranking. Be sure to use incognito mode or other private browsing for the most accurate results.
Most people don’t look past the first page or two of search results, so you’ll want your site to be within the first few options they see. If you aren’t there, use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to see where you can adjust your keywords, titles, etc. to rank higher.
2. Prioritize Social Media
Social media platforms are your friend (no pun intended)! Every platform offers you the opportunity to create relationships with your loyal customers and with potential customers. Nurturing relationships on social media means showing your face and your true self to let people see the person behind the brand.
I personally use my Instagram feed more socially than for business, but my Instagram stories actually drive a lot of business connections. I share WordPress tips, sneak previews, testimonials, and more there.
If you use social media for business, reply to all comments with sincere and thoughtful responses, take criticism in stride, and show your customers that you want to give them your best.
Engagement is a critical pillar to creating brand awareness, so don’t ignore it! Spending time on platforms, interacting with your audience, and increasing brand awareness takes a significant amount of time. You can create healthy boundaries by setting aside specific times to connect, comment, and collaborate. Then be sure to honor the time limits you set and come back to it the next day if needed.
Trends and algorithms are always shifting, but right now videos are performing well. Your audience wants fresh, engaging content that catches their eye and showcases your offers. Develop a list of ideas for live videos, stories, and reels to pull from whenever you need new content.
Don’t Shy Away from Direct Messages
Don’t be afraid to interact with your customers personally! This creates strong relationships that keep them coming back for more. People appreciate an easy way to communicate with the business owner and DMs allow them to do just that. If you catch someone’s eye on Instagram, don’t make them go to your website and use a contact form immediately. I always reply by DM and then move to email, if needed.
Social media isn’t only about connecting with your customers. It’s also great for connecting with other business owners! I’ve become part of several “masterminds” or collaboration groups because of my social media connections.
You can also get familiar with what other business owners are sharing to spark ideas for your own social media posts. To be clear though… this should be inspiration, not imitation.
3. Network with Colleagues
Instead of looking at others in your field as competition, think of them as resources. One of the best ways to gain new leads and customers is to partner with other brands who complement yours.
If there’s another small business owner who offers something that your audience would also love (but who isn’t your direct competition), ask them to promote and rave about a few of your best-selling products. When a consumer already has the know/like/trust factor built with the other business, some of that will immediately transfer to you. Then you repay the favor by doing the same. It’s a win-win!
For example, if you offer curriculum for ELA, collaborate with someone who creates STEAM activities. You could create guest posts and highlight those posts through your social media channels.
Ask To Collaborate
There’s no harm in being the first one to reach out for a collaboration opportunity! I’m going to show my age here, but waaaaay back in the day when teacher blogs were new, I reached out to another blogger of similar size and asked if she wanted to add her button to my sidebar in exchange for doing the same with mine on her blog. This way we shared traffic back and forth and created automatic backlinks, which are again a win-win.
There are so many small businesses out there that want to grow, just like you do. Put together a list of ways working together can benefit both parties. Then reach out to potential collaborators and ask which ways they might be open to. I will also caution you to be realistic– you’re looking for other businesses that are in a similar position as you are and an opportunity that will be mutually beneficial.
Collaboration is also a key opportunity with online summits. These virtual events, especially newer ones, often look for experts to present fresh ideas.
Have a local business? Collaborate with other local educators to host your own community events to offer value while collectively expanding your reach. You could host a game night for parents interested in tutoring services or find ways to work with local schools.
Networking is a long game. You’re often creating relationships that will deepen over time. One of my monthly clients now is someone I was in a mastermind with 11 years ago. She thought of me 8 years later when she was hiring for a specific role on her team. While that’s an extra long window, you also shouldn’t expect immediate results. It takes time to find your people!
4. Put Email Marketing to Work
Most email marketing providers have a free tier that you can use to get started, so this is another low cost way to grow your business. Then as you begin to see results, you’ll likely want to upgrade to a paid plan for more features.
Build Your Email List
Lead magnets help many small-business owners build their followers. These free offers include signup incentives, content upgrades, sample lesson plans, printables, etc. Think of them as hard-to-resist teasers that get customers on your email list for future marketing efforts. Not sure what to send? See this post with email marketing tips.
Keep It Interesting
Our inboxes are overloaded. I personally wake up to about 50 marketing emails every single day. Some of the emails are informational and part of trainings I’ve purchased, and a ton are for online shopping. You need your email to stand out!
Create subjects and previews that engage, excite, and pique interest. You want to stop the email scroll (or bulk delete) in order to get your email opened. Once someone opens your email, they’re likely to click a link to your site. This takes them that much closer to purchasing from you.
For ongoing marketing in a set-and-forget format, email sequences are the way to go.
5. Let Your Audience Help You
Everyone wants to know they’re making wise purchasing decisions. The positive experience of someone they know, like, trust, or follow is a strong influence on whether or not they will part with their money. Word-of-mouth and testimonials are the original ways of growing a small business.
Utilize Affiliate Marketing
I mentioned it above, but affiliate marketing is a fantastic way to grow your business.
When you have your own website store, you can offer unique coupon codes to track sales. Select a few affiliates and give each one a coupon code to share with their friends and followers. Then at the end of each period, offer a bonus to your affiliates based on their sales. You can offer a set percentage, tiers, free products, etc.
This is the ultimate free marketing! Encourage your customers to talk about and share their love for your products. Think about adding some inexpensive swag to physical products like water bottle stickers. My husband’s travel coffee cups are all covered with interesting brand stickers he’s collected.
For digital products, add a line to your information page reminding them to share and tag you on social media. Then be sure to re-share those posts out to your followers. This will encourage more customers to share so they have the chance to see their content on your page!
Ask For Testimonials
Customers are savvy… they know that companies typical share the highlight reels, so they want the real scoop. Testimonials are worth their weight in gold because they give outside opinions and validate business owner claims. Ask your customers for their experiences to share on your website. I have an entire page of reviews and frequently share on Instagram too.
Again, your customers love to be recognized and many enjoy seeing their names on your channels. It also feels really good to read the wonderful things they have to say about your business, which they might not have volunteered if you didn’t ask.
You Can Grow Your Business!
I promise these five simple steps to grow your business and brand awareness are worth the effort. And most of them are absolutely free, so what do you have to lose??
When you learn to effectively utilize SEO, social media, networking, and email marketing, your small business will shift into the next growth phase. I’ll be here cheering you on.
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