Good outreach needs a plan. You have to engage your audience with a strategy. Often this makes engagement challenging and very time consuming, but the reward is also far better. As a small business owner you're probably going to do most of the work, so in this article I'll show you how to develop a solid approach. Think of them as guidelines.
They won't (and shouldn't) work every time, but it will give you something to start with. Remember, each and every outreach opportunity is unique and important no matter how small. Always organize your outreach strategy to fit within the given medium.
How To Find Sources
A "source" refers to an engagement opportunity. Maybe it's a local newspaper, a blog, a forum, a radio station, or a TV channel. If it is a medium that could potentially give exposure to your brand, then consider it a source. Let's go through a couple of the common ways you can find sources for your small business.
Start here. It's the most basic way to look for a source. In my own research, I use Google to find out what's already important for my niche. For example, if I was a karate instructor, I'd be searching for things like "karate in [county]", "[city] karate schools", or "[state] martial arts". In this situation local search would be very important to my overall strategy, so I included location keywords as well. But basically you want to search for your primary keywords. Search for keywords that directly relates (overall) to your products, services, or brand.
Google spends a ton of money and time making sure that only the most relevant, popular, and genuine sites come up for any given search term. So by doing this basic research, you should find what's most popular at the moment for your niche, including all the mediums I described earlier and some insight about established competitors as well.
You know a medium. It's a well respected medium. Now you need to find out whether or not it's a source. Go ahead and search through a given medium, (like a local newspaper's website), and see what type of content they already have on your topic. Is there anything at all? If there is, what kind of stuff are we looking at here? Did the content get a lot of comments, social shares, and other engagement?
Maybe you think a medium would do well with your product. For example, maybe you're selling a new energy drink and you think that your product would do well in a particular comic book store chain. Source browsing in this case refers to gathering contact information. Setting up an excel sheet with all the potential sources you've already had in mind and finding out their contact information.
Your competitors will know sources. They've probably already got their own outreach strategy in place, so finding out who's doing what in you niche will definitely give you the advantage. Think about it, if you knew that a competitor was actively involved and getting a lot of engagement from a particular forum, then doing the same would probably yield similar results.
Once you have a competitor in mind, go ahead and input this in the search bar:
Inurl:[competitor name] or Inurl:[competitor website]
"Inurl" is a way to determine websites that have a specific term within its URL tag. From there you can see just who's talking about your competitor and where they have social sites set up. It's a fast way to find viable sources that have already been proved credible by your competitors.
Here's a quick way you could possibly find a CEO or business owner's email address if it isn't listed. Download a free software program called Rapportive onto your web browser. This works alongside your Gmail account to give you all the relevant information about who your emailing. So if the email is linked to other accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the person's profile will pop up alongside the email address. If you know the name of the CEO of a company, you can guess their email address using Rapportive. Simply do a few trial and error guesses for the person's email. Usually it's something along the lines of [first name][last name]@site.com, [first name]@site.com, or some combination using their first and last initials. If the email is legit, the person's profile (linked to social media accounts) will pop up on the side and you know you've got a winner. Be very careful in doing this though. Read on to find out the proper practices for emailing and engaging your sources.
Best Outreach Practices
The next step is to reach out to your sources. You want to make sure you stand by a set of rules beforehand though. Here's what I mean.
Many times people will blindly engage sources using all kinds of tactics that really will not interest the source at all. Email, phone calls, meetings and other communication channels should all be done appropriately with the right attitude and at the right time. Whether your pitching a guest post, a collaboration, a sponsored ad, or any other marketing project, you need to have a good approach. Think of it like doing prep work. It's like pre-workout exercises before going for a run.
Do your research
People have a six sense for knowing when someone doesn't have a clue what they're talking about. It isn't very hard to spot. Don't engage someone without knowing all the details of your project. Don't contact a source without knowing everything about them either. Actually look through their website. Get a feel for how they do things. Given their material, user base, and available contact information, what would you conclude is the best course of action for engaging that party? Would it be appropriate to phone call that source or email them instead? Do you have to set up an appointment?
Also, what exactly makes your think that your compatible with that source? What evidence are you basing this assumption on? Take your time and really put together a hard case for why this source should work with you.
Every outreach attempt should also include information about who you are, what you've accomplished, and what you have to offer – in that order. Don't get straight into the pitch. Don't assume the source will know who you are. Don't expect them to read your fancy email signature. You can add some quirky hooks and informal subject lines to capture your source's attention if you think it's appropriate (again do your research). But don't forget to touch on those three points.
People need to know who you are. It's amazing how many clients I've worked with in the past that forget entirely to mention themselves and a little background information on their company somewhere in their outreach email. If you want to point them to an online profile or a landing page, do so with a link in the email. But always explain briefly in the email what they're about to click on and only add it as supplementary material.
Don't mess around here. There's nothing worse than being 5 months into a marketing project with a source only to find out that they misinterpreted some small piece of information and then have the whole thing come crashing down because of it. Be upfront with your goals and what you'd like to accomplish with an outreach source. Highlight how they would benefit from the exchange. You don't want to damage something your building, so there's absolutely no benefit to leaving out any information or openly lying about it as well.
What not to do
Every outreach attempt is unique. You have to do your research and approach it from a slightly different angle each time. There is however a lot of ways you will always mess an outreach attempt up. Let's go through a couple of big, absolute no-no's for outreach.
Do not make grammar mistakes. Outreach emails should always be proofread. It takes 20 seconds tops. Nothing turns people off professionally than a misspelled word or misused punctuation. Don't get cocky in the subject lines either. An informal email subject line could pay off and capture your reader's attention, but you have to do your research and make sure it's appropriate for the source in question. Using colloquial language is a big risk. Only use it when necessary.
Do not announce that you are speaking on behalf of your superiors. You are speaking directly to the individual. If you say that you're reaching out in place of your boss, it just sounds like you're telling the source that they're unimportant right off the bat. This may sound like it conflicts with the idea of being truthful, but the reality is that you are the actual person speaking here. Take charge and address the individual from your point of view.
Do not offer money in an outreach email. This is bad karma on multiple levels. It could potentially ruin your brand image, cause a PR nightmare, and possibly even get you into some legal trouble as well. The last thing you're going to gain from this is a successful outreach attempt. There are some cases where financial compensation is appropriate and obvious. For example, hiring a designer to do a new email layout or work with you on a new project would obviously mean paying them money. But don't discuss numbers right off the bat. See if they're interested, describe a little about the project, and then get down to talking about money.
Always have a strategy. It could be any medium. Outreach involves careful planning, meticulous research, and a really good idea to back it all up. Next time, we'll get into the various outreach methods including:
- Guest posting
- Phone calls
I'll show you some interesting strategies behind it how to approach each of these methods (and more). For now, start gathering your sources. Find out who you want to contact and prep your pitch. We'll touch next on how to approach each of these outreach channels along with a few insider tips as well.