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Starting with digital marketing for free

When I started blogging in 2005 as a side hustle I looked for free blogging software. Who didn´t.

After reading lots of articles by bloggers that had started a couple years earlier than me I learned about Pivot.

Pivot was a free CMS that you could use to blog. Pivot needed to be installed on a Windows computer. The other blogging tools were more complicated or I had to pay for it. Blogging was a hobby so I choose the best free option I could find.

There was one issue with Pivot whenever I changed something or added a new post to my blog, I had to upload the complete website to my domain. Every single time. The internet speed was a bit different 12 years ago. A lot slooooower.

After a couple of months blogging on Pivot and uploading my website one or more times per day I switched to WordPress. In those months WordPress had evolved to a better and easier to use CMS. It was also free. WordPress lived on my domain and I could just add one post or page at a time.

Following bloggers and reading about blogging tools I learned a lot about free tools. The first paid addition I made to the blog — after 3 years — was the email software. Again I compared what the big blogs did. After some research my first paid addition to the blog was Aweber — a great tool in those years.

Later that year I also added a Dutch email solution. This service included a shopping cart. The combination of the shopping cart and the email solution was perfect for me. With Dutch clients being able to pay with Ideal and get an invoice via email.

After a lot of paperwork with the bank, technical discussions between the provider and my bank, I was able to receive payments directly to my bank account. It was a real joy to see the first money coming into my bank account. Many orders followed after that first one.

Paying for Autorespond.nl was and still is worth it.

After my first year of blogging I learned that blogging is a great marketing tool for businesses. All it takes is time, effort and passion.

Today blogging or publishing is still a great marketing tool. With many free options. It doesn’t matter in what country you live or what market your business is in.

Free is not completely correct of course. Free as in I don’t need to pay for a service. This means that I am paying with my time. My time that can only be used once.

When I invest this time in publishing, uploading, promoting and networking I can not invest it in my myself, family, clients or sales. So yes there is a cost involved but it is hidden. This time investment is early in the morning for me, when the family is still a sleep.

Another important point that I learned in the 11 years of building my own business is that marketing helps but I still need to do sales. Having conversations with potential clients, making offers and follow up is in the end more important than writing one more post.

Back in 2005 I started blogging because I was thrilled with this new tool. Publishing on the web. Blogging was a hobby and I did not see it as a business. Making some extra money with the ads on the blog was an experiment.

Blogging about things that I found interesting. The topics were all over the place. In my job I was aware that I needed to understand who my target audience is. For my blog I had not thought about it.

The first thing I would do now if I would start all over again with digital marketing for my business is spend lots of time talking with my target audience. Asking lots of questions and learn what they are looking for.

Starting a bog on your own domain requires a small investment.

Buy a good hosting package which often comes with one free domain name. In Dubai you can find this for AED 365 per year or about € 7.10 or $ 8.30 per month. No more than 2 cups of coffee per month.

Since I moved to WordPress in 2005 I have never regretted that decision. All my blogs and websites are build with WordPress. It is still free. With most hosting services there is a one click installation option available. No technical knowledge required.

Now I am build the website with these first pages:

Once this is done I can start writing and publishing posts on a regular basis. Sticking to the same time and day makes it easier for my audience.

Then there are a couple of plugins that I install right away.

A great tool that I use to optimize each page or article for one keyword.

A great tool with lots of opt in options to get email addresses from people that want to receive my updates.

A contact form that I use on my sales pages and my contact page.

In the beginning I don’t worry to much about the design. From the themes section in my blog I choose a free theme. A better theme can be designed later on.

When I started my blog in 2005 I made a big mistake. I did not start collecting email addresses for the first 3 years. Not until 2008 I started using Aweber.

Today I would use MailChimp to start building my list. Once the blog is running and the marketing is working, I switch to Active Campaign.

Building a list with contact details is really important if you want to build a relationship. One personal email every week is a good rhythm for me.

Of course you also want to measure if your investment in time is working.

The tools that I use to learn more about the visitor is Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Learn where my audience spends most of their time online. Is it Facebook or LinkedIn or another platform?

I choose just one in the beginning to really focus on. I start building a network on LinkedIn and make real connections. Have conversations so I really get to know the people in my network. I share valuable content with them.

The last tool is my phone. It is not free, but I already have a mobile phone so I really want to use it.

Video is important today and really easy to do. Recording videos with my phone and then upload the video to LinkedIn, Youtube, Facebook or Instagram.

These are the basic tools that I use today in my online marketing. The basis of making new connections and become visible in the search engines and on the social media network of my choice.

Thank you for reading

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