Just like personal investing, you must build a diversified portfolio of online marketing and advertising tactics to generate positive results for your import/export business.
The first marketing ploy is the easiest and cheapest: Participate in online import/export groups. Whether you post frequently on social media platforms or talk (and listen) to people in groups or associated with import/export websites, always present yourself professionally. Social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, allow you to speak to a world of people. But rather than seeking out other importer/exporters, seek out folks with whom you can discuss your product(s). Just be subtle and don’t “sell.” Provide information and prove that you’re the expert.
It’s not necessary for you and your company to be active on every social network. A smarter strategy is to pick the two or three networks that are most popular with your market and establish your presence on them and not worry about the others. Here are some tips:
- Project the positive. You’re the public face of your trading company, so act like it. If you feel the need to post something negative, do so in the most professional manner possible.
- Become an expert exporter. Offer quotes for news articles, post useful information on social media and show what you know. Answer questions and make your presence known.
- Check that grammar. You don’t need to be Shakespeare to have good, solid, basic grammar skills.
- Be someone who wants to help others.
- Teach. You can also provide a free online course or webinar to a group or association. Ask them for their emails to send them more information. Then send them a list of tips or of books, or anything that can help them in business. People are appreciative when you give them something -- they’re much quicker to respond positively to you.
Creating a website
“To be present on the web is a key point for any small business,” says John Laurino, an import/export business owner based in Brazil. In the years since he launched his site, the Brazilian trader has signed on many clients who found his company through a web search.
Luckily, website creation and maintenance today are cheaper than ever. For the price of a Netflix membership, you can create and manage an online presence that will be available to potential clients worldwide. And no, you don’t need to know a lot about web design or maintenance to make it happen. Software programs make it easy.
Most website design sites offer a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) approach to design. Using templates created by the hosting company, you simply enter text and post photos or images to your site and change these as often as you like. You can choose colors, graphics and fonts that best express your company and what it stands for. A simple site, with a few pages that tell who you are, what your company does and how to reach you, is the fastest, easiest and most polished-looking approach for the absolute beginner. Keep in mind, however, that a simple site may not offer all the features of your favorite online sites: visitor counters, encryption or e-biz capabilities. If you want those features, you can get a professionally designed website.
Advertising and marketing
There are two primary ways to get your message out there: One is by marketing, meaning getting your name out to people by writing blogs and guest blogs for industry publications, as well as press releases to get journalists and reporters to work you into their stories. You should send press releases featuring interesting news relating to the world around you (not inside information about your company) to editors, writers and anyone in the media who can do a story about your business. Don’t forget to have a unique angle, and keep a press release short and to the point. Press releases are free to create (minus your personal labor cost) and free to send out to any organization, be it professional or news-oriented. Consider taking time once or twice a month to compile a press release about big news in the industry or current trends on which you can comment as an export/import expert.
Create an address and email list from attending trade shows, conferences, conventions and by networking. Buying lists can be costly and ineffective -- you don’t know how the list is compiled and how many addresses are no longer valid. Plus, if you get email addresses from people who didn’t give permission to have their email address given out (or sold), you’ll then be spamming them.
Once you start building your list, use your email-management program and fire off the release with one click. Boom! You’ve accomplished several tasks -- positioning yourself as an expert, reaching a free audience, saving time -- in one shot. Also, make sure you get the name of the right person to send it to. Perhaps they can set you up to be interviewed or, if not, they can give you a lead to someone else who might be interested in writing about you.
Hint: Whenever one door closes, try to get a new door to open.
Essentially, marketing means finding ways to get news your business out there without having to pay the higher costs of advertising. This can also include simply using promotional pieces with your company name on it, handing out business cards at chamber of commerce meetings, or sponsoring local events -- again, this is often a lot less expensive than advertising.
If you have money in your budget for advertising, you’ll need to start with a plan. Start by doing some research for places in which you can buy selective ad space such as a trade magazine or a website that your customers are likely to visit. Advertising can be costly, so make sure you’re reaching your potential target market. Also, advertising is far more successful if you advertise several times. And remember, people want to know what’s in it for them, not only about you. A short ad that features your competitive edge and gives them something to think about may just get them to reach out to you.