Trevor Hatfield, CEO of Inturact: Since we started using Inbound Marketing at Inturact we have seen success throughout the journey. But we have also made our share of mistakes. The great thing about inbound marketing is that it truly can grow into a simple process, but that requires a plan, hard work, and dedication.
I wanted to give a glimpse of a few things we have learned on our inbound marketing journey thus far. I will share some mistakes we have made along the road as well as tips on how to avoid them. Hopefully a little forewarning will help put you on the path to achieving your goals quicker and more efficiently.
Inbound Marketing Mistake #1 – Starting Without Buyer Personas
The challenges we had in the beginning all stem from starting our inbound marketing plan before fully knowing our own buyer personas. Since all inbound marketing plans should be catered to your personas in some way or another, if you do not define them from the start, you are already starting down the wrong path.
Why is this a problem?
I started Inturact as a web development company almost 10 years ago out of necessity. I actually was still in school, and interned as a web design and developer, for a company called Las Terrazas and Journey’s End Resort, which is a residential and resort complex in Belize.
The internship ended up growing into enough work for me to form my own business. Not to get too sidetracked, but the point is that I fell into the situation that many entrepreneurs do with their first company. I grew fast and had to solve problems as they arose.
I didn’t need to focus on specific types of buyers at the beginning since I started my business with customers in place. By the time we made our plans to switch to inbound marketing, we had acquired over 200 web development clients spanning across many different industries.
In some ways this was a great problem to have, right? Too much business! But in reality we had to work harder to segment, which also made it more challenging to nail down the primary revenue-generating personas when we realized we needed them.
These types of growing pains can be common among new businesses, especially within agencies and web companies, but also within any business that may not be niche.
Either way, the lesson learned is to get ahead in strategically planning your inbound content in the very beginning of your company’s lifespan. Your growth will be much more strategic and you will be able to plan better from the get go.
Nail Down Your Persona
A successful inbound marketing plan should start with a clear definition of your buyer personas. There is a lot of great information about how to build personas, but it’s also important to think about what not to do.
Here are some common mistakes businesses make when creating their buyer personas:
- Too Many Personas – Try to limit them to only what is needed to have a clear definition of your target buyers. A good rule of thumb for most businesses is 3-4 personas. But make sure you define one as your primary persona that is responsible for generating the bulk of your revenue.
- Defining What You Want vs What is Best – Try not to get caught up in “aspirational personas” that are based on who you wish your business attracted. Be true to yourself and concentrate on the areas of the business that are already bringing in money. Your personas may evolve over time but you should always start with what you know is working.
- Not Telling the Full Story – Try to understand your persona by really digging into what a day looks like for them. Don’t just concentrate on their demographics such as age and where they live. Instead, try to get in their head and focus on how this type of person lives. For example: Where do they shop? Are they on mobile or desktop computers more? Do they have dogs or cats? Are they calm and laid back or super busy? Etc. This is what separates a persona from a traditional target market and will help you be more personal in your communication with them.
Establishing your buyer personas is actually very simple. And HubSpot even provides a free template for creating your personas here.
Mistake #2 – Building a SMART-less Strategy
So you’ve researched inbound marketing, you know who your ideal persona is, and your ready to take off and start converting as many leads as possible! Bring on the business!
Not so fast, partner. I was guilty of falling into the same trap as so many excited entrepreneurs do – getting a little overly ambitious about opportunities and failing to set appropriate goals.
Why is this a problem?
There are a lot of shiny objects in online marketing. For example, you may consider trying to triple your Facebook followers. That would make you look popular to potential customers, right? Maybe. But what is the goal here and how do you measure it against your ultimate goals? I.E. How many new followers does it take to get one new customer?
Set SMART Goals
One of the secrets to transcending from just marketing online to creating an inbound marketing strategy is to set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely (SMART) goals. Identify what your overall goal is at the start, make sure that it is SMART and aligned with your persona, and then work your way backwards into the strategy from there.
We created an eBook that will help with the process of laying out SMART goals, but again, there are a few things to avoid as well.
Here are some common mistakes businesses make when setting SMART goals:
- Cherry-Picking a Goal that Sounds Good – One of the worst things that you can do is just pick a goal out of thin air. Do some research and make sure that it is something that your business is actually capable of attaining. It helps to start with what you want to happen and work your way backwards. Just be sure that you have the data to back up that what you want is plausible.
- This is My Plan and I’m Sticking to It – While your overall goal should stay the same for measurement purposes, you should adapt and evolve your strategy to hit that goal over time. One easy way to do this is by trying out a couple of methods and A/B testing for the best option. Just because your goals are staying the same, doesn’t mean your strategy needs to.
- Fail to Set Incremental Goals – Your work is not done once you have your main goals set. It is important to track your progress toward these goals by setting key performance indicators (KPIs) along the way. This way you’ll know if you need to make those pivots mentioned above in order to achieve your goals. These should be even more specific than your overarching goal, drilling down to precise outcomes, such as “gaining 5 inbound links leading to a 30% traffic increase from a new infographic by the end of the quarter.”
Mistake #3 – Not Making Your Time a Priority
Online marketing is one of those industries that is always on. There are endless opportunities to grow your business and let’s face it, the internet never shuts off, so it can be hard to determine when enough just has to be enough.
Why is this a problem?
When you are growing any business you want to hit the ground running and accomplish as much as you can, as fast as you can. You feel guilty during any time that you spend away and it’s nearly impossible not to think about all of the things you could be doing. I fell into this trap quickly when I first started Inturact. I spent weekends, evenings, and practically every waking minute working.
Manage Your Time
The temptation is magnified when you start implementing online marketing because of the fact that it never turns off. There is always another customer to answer, conversation to join, or blog post to write. But you have to find a way to step away for a while. I guarantee it will improve the quality of your work.
Some common inbound marketing time management mistakes are:
- Trying to Do Everything Yourself – You are not a machine, you have to divide and conquer to reap the best benefits of inbound marketing. If you have the luxury of having other people on staff, take advantage and give out parts to everyone. Have each employee write one blog post a week, or designate areas of expertise like infographics or Twitter. If it is just you, look into outsourcing complex areas or try utilizing an inexpensive resource like Fancy Hands to help with the less-complicated tasks.
- Receiving Immediate Notifications for Everything – You will burn out quickly if you have a million notifications going off a minute. Take advantage of aggregators like Feedly to pull relevant content together in one place. That way you can stay in the loop and stay organized at the same time.
- Neglecting to Set Some Personal Time – At the end of the day you have to find some time for yourself to step away and regroup. The Twitter account will still be there in an hour or two. Making some personal time will allow you to be more productive while you are working.
Mistake #4 – Always Reinventing the Wheel
Content opportunities are endless in inbound marketing. But it can be easy to get caught up in the fear that you have to come up with something brand new every time in order to realize success.
Whether you are working on blog articles, designing a whitepaper, or optimizing a landing page, there are plenty of lessons that you can derive from your own past content, as well as that of others, to help with the content planning process.
Why is this a problem?
There is nothing wrong with coming up with remarkable, unique content. In fact, it is a great goal to have. The problem is that it is very time consuming to create. And when you are just starting out, time is of the essence.
Reuse Time-Tested Content Standbys
We had a lot of ambitious goals about the amount of new content we wanted to create when we started the inbound process. After getting some skin in the game, we learned a few tricks to streamline the process and make content generation more manageable.
Some common mistakes to avoid when planning content are:
- Avoiding Popular Headline Formats – You may worry that blogs are overusing the “listicles” and “how tos” but they are popular for a reason. It is easy for the reader to see what the article is going to be about, and once they click in, it’s an easy format for them to follow. Don’t go overboard and create an entire blog of top 10 posts, but don’t be afraid of them either. They are a concise, easy-to-follow way of presenting your content.
- Letting Long-form Content Sit on a Shelf – You put a lot of time into creating a useful whitepaper or ebook, so why not continue to make it work for you as time goes on? Dust off your old ebooks and break out the sections into new blog posts. The new posts will be useful to your readers and can even help re-promote your old content.
- Creating All of the Content Yourself – A simple and effective way to get quality content is to survey a group of experts on a topic. Compile their responses in a blog post and voila – you have a valuable piece of content that you spent little time creating. As a bonus, your sources will likely want to share their expert status with their friends and will help spread the word about your blog.
Inbound Marketing Mistakes Help You Grow
The good thing about mistakes is that we all make them. It’s how you learn and grow from them that really matters. If I could add one last piece of advice, it would be to measure, measure, measure. Inbound marketing is all about getting quality insights about your customers and creating marketing strategies based on the data.
We wouldn’t truly understand the mistakes we made if it weren’t for our ability to look back at the facts. Growth from insights is how you become great.
Have you made your mistakes along the road of learning inbound marketing? We would love to hear what you’ve learned in the comments below.