If you're a small business owner, you know just how challenging the current economy is. But, it's also a very good time to be a small business. More and more buyers are looking online for the services or goods you provide and, today, it's much easier for small businesses to compete for those buyers.

How? With your website, of course. That is, if you make it more than a static brochure for your company.

To use your website to attract and engage prospects, foster trusted relationships, and demonstrate your product or service--you need to create a foundation of compelling content.

Here are two points of good news for small business owners who pursue this approach:

1. Buying behavior for purchasers of goods and services is changing. More buyers are doing their initial product and service research on the Internet, prior to making a purchase decision--and many ultimately decide whether to buy based on a company's website. In fact, in a survey of 200 buyers of professional services, RainToday.com found that 74% of buyers were greatly or somewhat influenced by a company's website when it came to making a decision to buy. Only 3% reported that a company's website held no influence with them when it came to buying.

2. Many small businesses still limit their website to static information about products, location, hours, and contact information. More surprisingly, 46% of small business owners surveyed did not have an active website, according to the 2010 Small Business Marketing Forecast published by Ad-ology Research. Talk about an opportunity! If your competitors aren't using websites effectively--or at all--that allows you a huge head start.

Create Your Inbound Marketing Platform

This approach to marketing is referred to as "inbound marketing." It focuses on allowing customers to easily find you--using compelling content as a magnet to attract the attention and interest of qualified prospects for the service or product you're selling. ("Outbound marketing" refers to more traditional methods such as advertising and cold calling where a company is focused on going out and finding customers).

There's more good news here for small business owners: using inbound marketing to attract qualified prospects and buyers does not have to be difficult and you can use it whether you're a solopreneur or have many employees.

Creating the content that serves as the foundation of your inbound marketing, however, can be time consuming and resource intensive. So, your best bet is to approach this thoughtfully and strategically.

How to get started:

  • Know what you want to achieve. Set your objectives first, then identify the content that will help you meet those objectives. For example, maybe you'll publish a blog (to attract prospects), an enewsletter (to retain customers), and perhaps a Facebook fan page (to foster community, share special promos, etc.). You can expand into secondary content (i.e., videos, audio interviews, etc.) to feed your primary content--but don't lose your focus.
  • Match the content your ideal prospect wants/needs with your strengths. Is there something you do that your prospects want to learn? Consider adding a blog to your website, like the charming Craigie on Main. The blog for this bistro features recipes shared by the chef and is a popular draw. (As is the online reservation system.) Do you have access to information of particular interest to your prospects? Joy Tarbell Realty publishes a main blog, niche blogs, related articles, and tools--all valuable content for prospective homebuyers, sellers, and renters.
  • Consider content beyond text. Additional content options include creating a photo blog, video blog, or a podcast. Cosmetic dentist Helaine Smith includes simple video demonstrations and customer testimonials on her website. These can be very effective at helping prospects overcome fear and objections. Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words.
  • Make the most of what you've got. You don't have to start from scratch--build on content you may already have. Professional services firm Rally Point Webinars is expanding its content foundation by posting articles (repurposed from their enewsletter), alongside webinars that demonstrate their expertise, and case studies that showcase customer success.
  • Keep it simple. Don't try to do it all--in addition to your marketing, you've got a business to run! As Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42, recommended when we spoke recently, most firms should focus on no more than three types of content, using secondary "feeder" content as appropriate.
  • Integrate with social media. Use your website (with it's compelling content) as your hub. Share links on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to direct traffic to your website. And, make it easy for visitors to your website to share your content with others (for example, by including retweet and share buttons). Sharing quality content is an effective way to attract potential buyers to your website and generate inbound links to support your SEO.

Creating content does require consistency and ongoing attention. However, that's also the beauty of it. Unlike a brick and mortar foundation, you don't build it all at once. Your content library will continue to grow and attract prospects over time as you build it. Block by block.


If you're interested in pursuing an inbound marketing approach and publishing content, these two books offer all the information you need to get started:

Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media) by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

Get Customers Get Content: Turn Prospects into Buyers with Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett

About Mary Flaherty

Mary Flaherty is manager of research and content development for RainToday.com. You can also find her blogging about services marketing, social networking, B2B research, and related issues at the RainMakerBlog. Follow Mary on Twitter