Being in the hosting industry, every one is aware of how tough and crowded the competition is.
Marketing your company and standinging out of the crowd is never an easy task, especially if you're a small operation and have to balance your marketing efforts with actually running the company.
I have reviewed a lot of unique ideas that have been posted in this forum over the past few years and added a few of our own on how you can advertise your company on a relatively small budget.
This article won't discuss the obvious techniques, such as word of mouth, pay per click search engines, and advertising on hosting directories - they've been talked about quite a bit as it is, but rather will branch out in the less-talked about methods.
I. Public Relations
A lot of companies underestimate the power of PR and have a misconception about how much it actually costs to hire a PR specialist. If you go to a job search website, such as guru.com, you will be able to find a PR expert to work for you for around $500/mo.
Obviously, in order for the PR campaign to be successful, you need to sit down and think of a newsworthy story. The important thing to constantly ask yourself is - would anyone else be interested in this story besides yourself?
If you're on a tight budget and don't feel comfortable spending $500 on a PR specialist, go to Amazon.com and purchase a book that will tell you how to do it yourself. My personal recommendation would be "Full Frontal PR: Getting People Talking about You, Your Business, or Your Product" by Richard Laermer & Michael Prichinello.
II. Affiliate Program
Contrary to what you might believe, it isn't enough to simply set up an affiliate script, post a link to it on your site, and wait for the referrals. Affiliate marketing is an incredibly powerful tool, but takes a lot of patience and work to take off the ground.
I think it's important to think of your affiliates as your business partners. One of the companies that we worked with had a dedicated affiliate manager that constantly sent out promotional materials, press releases about the company, monthly incentives, etc. to his affiliates.
If you help your partners, constantly motivate them to do better, provide them with all of the resources they might possibly need (up to the signature text they can use in their eMails to promote your products), they will return the favor by bringing new referrals to you on a constant basis.
An important thing to remember is that not all affililiates are created equal and while some people may argue with me on this, I think that you should offer extra attention and care to the affiliates that actually deliver on a regular basis, instead of spreading your time even among all of them.
There is a good, free publication on affiliate marketing called Revenue - http://www.revenuetoday.com/
- that covers affiliate strategies, techniques, etc.
When you are setting out on a path of building your client base, it's important to understand that one of the biggest factors that plays a role in the decision making process of the prospect is if they trust your company and consider you to be reputable.
I would highly recommend you that you set a goal to release a new article or "research study" on your industry's niche (whether it's forum hosting, eCommerce hosting, etc. - don't be too general) every month. If your writing skills aren't the best ones, do what we usually do - hire a writer to do the articles for you. Generally, you can get a good 750-1,000 word article for ~$200.
When the article is ready, go through every webmaster/web hosting content related website you can find, even including other hosting companies, and ask them if they'd be interested in reprinting the article, while keeping a small "author's box" at the bottom.
If they agree, ask them if they'd be interested in receiving future articles when you release them. This way, you can build up a list of 100-200 websites that will publish every single article you release!
It will help you with search engine rankings, brand awareness, and will establish you as an expert in that particular niche.
When we were looking for a PR firm to help us spread the word about our company, we stumbled upon an article that spoke about the basics of PR. It was written by the CEO of a PR company and guess what... we liked the article so much, that we decided to give the company a shot!
It really works. People will trust you more if they see an article written by you. Of course, you got to keep the article interesting and helpful, as it will portray an image of your own company.
While this technique may work better for companies that already have an established client base, you might consider it for yourself for the future.
USPS.com offers a service where you can print and mail full-color postcards with custom text and even a logo for just $.79c a piece. Imagine what kind of an effect it would have on your clients if you sent them the postcards thanking them for their businesses and asking them for referrals (or you can simply imply that you have an affiliate program where you pay $X/referral).
In this day and age, a postcard from a hosting company would be considered unusual but very, very classy. It just associates your company with professionalism and the fact that you really care about your clients and are willing to go above and beyond to make sure they are happy.
V. Search Engine Optimization
Let's face it - if you're on a tight budget, you won't be able to hire a firm to put you in the top 10 results for "web hosting" and if you're drastically short on time, you won't be able to do it yourself.
If you noticed, hosting directories have much more luck in getting listed well on search engines, rather than regular companies. Whatever reason may be behind that, you have to develop a creative approach to SEO, as otherwise you might be dissapointed with the results.
My personal recommendation would be to create a detailed resource section on your website (better yet, put it on a separate domain), where you publish a few original guides and articles on web hosting.
At that point, hire a professional SEO freelancer (I believe that in these cases, it's better to work with freelancers than full-featured firms, as their overhead is significantly lower which can be passed on to you) to optimize that section for you. The visitors that will come there are much more likely to convert into paying customers for the reasons described in Section III of this guide.
The thing about partnerships that you need to constantly keep in mind is that both parties have a similar goal - gain new clients. When you decide on who to work with, choose carefully.
You can attempt to get in touch with web site monitoring services, bulk traffic services, promotion companies, etc. I believe that it's better when your products are in the same range as your partners', as it will be easier to promote each other's services.
On a final note, I would like to mention a few more things.
Advertising and marketing is never guaranteed, as the industry works out in a different way for every company. When it comes to marketing and advertising, you just can't force people to signup. There are so many factors that will either make or break your marketing campaigns. Sometimes, you'll have great success, while other times you may fail.
The important thing is to carefully approach and test each new advertising opportunity that comes your way. Make sure that you track the ROI of each campaign and know exactly how much you spent on it and how much revenue it brought in. This way, you'll be able to continue to invest into successful advertisements without wasting your budget on ineffective ones.
Finally, my biggest recommendation would be to... read. Make an honest effort to read books on marketing, advertising, public relations, search engines, branding, etc. The more you know, the better decisions you'll be able to make and the better off you'll be in the long run.
There are a lot of other ideas that I haven't mentioned, such as advertising in PayPerClick search Engines, hosting directories, local advertising, etc., however, I would like to encourage other companies to keep adding on their unique ideas and techniques themselves.
I hope you found this little HOW-TO useful. Have a great day!