Many small businesses fail. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration released a 2017 report indicating that, “about one-fifth of business startups fail in the first year and about half of all employer establishments fail within five years. Only about one third survive ten years or more.”1 These statistics may persuade some to abandon their entrepreneurial dreams. Thus, it’s important that we highlight success stories amidst all this doom and gloom.
Approaching her ten-year anniversary in business is Katie Wardrobe, owner and operator of Midnight Music. Though based in Melbourne, Australia, Katie’s clients come from around the globe. And, those clients are music teachers who want to use technology in the classroom. The central focus of Katie’s business is a paid membership area on her website. Members can access a range of courses and an online forum. In the last decade, Midnight Music has grown, and is continuing to expand. So, what makes a small business like this succeed when many others fail? A large part of the company’s success is due to Katie’s digital marketing strategy, and it is that strategy which is the focus of this post.
Email Marketing Isn’t Dead
So much online chatter is happening regarding whether email marketing is a strategy of the past. However, Katie has found it a successful avenue through which to generate sales. She began using this promotional tool in her hometown to encourage local music teachers to sign up for her in-person workshops. As her business became primarily an online one, she worked hard to grow that email list. One of the ways she’s accomplished this is to offer a free download on every blog post she publishes.
According to Katie, “It could be just a copy of the blog post itself. Teachers love downloads. They love handouts. It might be something to go with the blog post and every time you download one of those, you have to submit your email address. I let them know, ‘You’re going to be on my mailing list and you can unsubscribe at any time.’ That’s a huge driver of subscribers to the mailing list.” Currently, Midnight Music’s mailing list has 15,000 people on it.
So, in addition to getting people on the email list using lead magnets, Katie sends emails to people on that list in a very strategic fashion. For example, during one of her seasonal promotional campaigns, Katie will send out a series of emails. Each email will be in a different style with the ultimate objective of getting people to sign up for a monthly subscription to her site’s membership area. So, the first email would be a testimonial from a member. The second might be a behind-the-scenes look at the membership area. The third could be a description of the offer, including a countdown timer indicating when it will expire. Katie has also noticed that when she sends her emails is important. Since she has contacts worldwide, she needs to fire off those emails so that they arrive at 8 a.m. in each potential consumer’s time zone.
Social Media Marketing for a Niche Audience
Like email marketing, social media is another way a small business like Midnight Music can reach its target audience. Katie currently has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest. In the early days, she found that Twitter was a great way to connect to others in her very specific niche. Currently, she finds that most of her website traffic comes from Pinterest. The reason for this, Katie says, is that teachers love this particular channel. They use it to pin lesson ideas, share classroom photos, etc. Katie, in turn, posts all her blog articles there. She also has a significant following on Facebook. However, again, like email marketing, timing is key when it comes to posting on social media.
“People say the middle of the day is usually really busy . . . It’s not true [for my audience]. Teachers are teaching and a lot of them have Facebook blocked at school, so actually, for me, posting early morning and evenings are the biggest times.”
Gauging the Success of Your Marketing
Katie uses a number of tools to gauge whether her marketing strategies are working. These include:
ONTRAPORT: to manage email marketing and sales pages, and to see where people have converted in the sales funnel
Facebook Insights: to check her performance on this social media channel
Google Analytics: to see what the sources of her site traffic are, and which content is most popular
In terms of her email newsletter sign-ups, Katie knows that a huge number come from the free downloads on her blog posts, so she tracks “the percentage of conversions on each download, which is super interesting ’cause then you can go, ‘they really loved that [download], so we’ll do more of that in the future.”
It is difficult, however, for Katie to gauge the success of her podcasts, a new form of content marketing she began a year ago. Basically, she can only measure how popular a particular podcast has been by the number of downloads, and the anecdotal feedback she receives. This may change, though, as she explores sponsorship opportunities, and other ways to monetize the podcast.
Small Business Owner Advice: Keep Personal Expectations Low and Automate, Automate, Automate!
When Katie started Midnight Music, she felt overwhelmed by the many ways she could market her business. She especially felt overwhelmed by her own goals for creating content like blog posts. “In my mind I’m like, ‘Sure, I can do four blog posts a week.’ That was actually a thought I had in the early days. And then, after getting through two weeks and not doing any blog posts because I had too much other stuff that was going on, I was going, ‘That’s not realistic.’ And, so, having one a week or one a fortnight even is a great thing.”
So, new business owners need to be realistic about what they can achieve in terms of marketing. Also, they shouldn’t lose sight of prioritizing the development of their own products and services. One way that Katie has found to manage all the marketing demands is to be consistent and automate the process using tools like ActiveCampaign and Meet Edgar.
“Using automation early is another thing . . . if you just have a couple of things in place, start small. Get an email list with some software, like ActiveCampaign or something. Those things I think if you start them off really early, that’s one of the best pieces of advice I think you can go with. And, then, just growing from there, and you’ll grow your tools, change tools, as the business grows down the track.”
Schaefer, Patricia. “Why Small Businesses Fail: Top 7 Reasons for Startup Failure.” Business Know-How. 18 Apr. 2018. Web. 22 Apr. 2018. https://www.businessknowhow.com/startup/business-failure.htm.