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February 16, 2017

Debbie O'Connor of on Digital Marketing for Small Business Owners

Debbie O'Connor runs Mum's the Boss, a virtual assistant and digital marketing service that specializes in helping home-based businesses get online. She blogs at

We recently asked Debbie for her advice on blogging and digital marketing. Here's what she shared:

Can you tell us about the mission behind Mum's the Boss? What inspired you to start your business?

In 2010, I was working from home, running two MLM businesses in the evenings and weekends. My youngest son started school full time and I realized I had some time in the daytime to do something more.

One of my online contacts, Alli Price, was emigrating back to her native Australia so she sold her U.K. business, Motivating Mum to me and I bought Mum's the Boss in 2012 to add to the mix.

I realized that as an accountant in business, and later as a work-at-home mum, I had a lot of experience to share with home business owners, and as I started blogging I taught myself to do social media from the ground up and loved every bit of it. Before long, people were asking me to help them with digital marketing and so I have moved in that direction in the last year or so.

How has digital marketing evolved since you started your business? What are the biggest changes you've observed?

When I started out blogging you could just about write anything, stuff it with keywords and people would find it and read it. I also made quite a bit of money from publishing sponsored posts on my blog, which were essentially link building for the companies that advertised with me, and not necessarily quality pieces of journalism.

I'm pleased to say that Google have tightened their act up over the past few years. Nowadays you do have to think a lot more carefully about what you write and how you promote it. I don't accept link building type sponsored posts any more - instead I am making money by actively helping people to understand blogging and digital marketing.

The amount of material that is available online is growing every week, so companies have to try a little bit harder now to stand out and be noticed above all the noise.

What are some of the challenges you find home-based business owners face in marketing their businesses?

I think many small business owners are seduced by the idea that you can just put anything on the net, and people will read it and come and buy from you without you having to do much else. When my clients come to me they are often disillusioned that their websites have failed to attract customers to whatever it is that they do, despite their efforts on social media.

The biggest mistake I come across is people just posting up pictures of their products or services with text that basically says "buy me," and making no attempt to inform, educate or build trust with their readers before they try to sell. Digital marketing is quite a complicated process - it takes a bit of time to nurture your followers and turn them into fans, but the effort is well worth while.

It always makes me happy when I am able to improve viewers and customers to a small business website. I put a little bit of SEO effort into the content on a client's website and make the site a bit more attractive to viewers. I give people a bit of training as to what to post, how often and how best to promote it on social media, and then the viewers start to come, and they can hopefully be converted into customers.

Where should home-based business owners start when creating an online marketing strategy? What are the dos and don'ts?

If you are just starting out in business, I would say first of all invest as much as you can into your website. The sort of website which just has six static pages and looks like it was designed in five minutes is unlikely to get much traffic, no matter what you do. As a minimum you should buy a domain name and have somebody set up a self-hosted Wordpress site for you, using an up-to-date theme. This doesn't have to be too expensive, but I recommend people to spend as much as they can afford in this area.

Once you have the website in place you can put in place a strategy of blogging regularly - or at least updating your site with fresh and original content, bearing in mind the keywords that people might be searching for if they want to buy what you are selling.

Then the third strand is promoting your content on social media, choosing the channels where your target market are likely to hang out and which are best for promoting your type of product, and experimenting with different types of posts until you find a mix that people respond to.

What are your favorite digital tools for helping home-based business owners spread the word about their businesses? What have you found to be most useful?

The tools I would not be without in my business are the social media scheduling tools. I use Buffer (which comes in a free version which would suit a small business) and I also use Meet Edgar (a bit more expensive), which builds up a database of your best social media posts and sends them round again at regular intervals. Those two together save me so much time.

For email marketing I use Mail Chimp, which has many tools to help you capture email addresses and nurture your leads until they are ready to buy - that also comes with a free version for small email lists.

And finally I wouldn't be without Evernote, which helps me capture information when I am out and about, whether that be leads, contact details, or just ideas that occur to me when I am not at my desk. It is not a marketing tool as such, but it helps me be the most efficient in my business, and helps me to keep on top of everything.

What are the most cost-effective marketing methods you've found for cash-strapped business owners?

It really depends on what your products are. I have seen some businesses that can generate sufficient sales just from a Facebook page. Other types of business benefit more when the business owner goes out to face-to-face networking groups and makes contact with people. It really depends on your product and the target market of people you are trying to sell to.

At the end of the day it boils down to correctly identifying your target market, finding out where they go when they are looking for infomration, and then meeting them there, whether that is online, in person or in a magazine.

The other cheapest and best strategy is giving your existing customers the means and maybe a small incentive for recommending you to their friends. Word-of-mouth marketing is always the easiest, and a satisfied customer can be a walking billboard for your business at very low cost to you.

What's one piece of advice you'd share with business owners who are intimidated by digital marketing? How can they overcome their fears?

To be honest I find digital marketing a lot less scary than let's say door-to-door sales, which used to be the way many people did business not so long ago. If you compare the two then surely it would be more scary to have to speak to each potential cold lead in person than it is to put stuff out on social media. We are much luckier in the digital age.

If you hate the idea of digital marketing or you just feel nervous about it, then help is always at hand. There are so many people out there now that can help you get set up with digital marketing, either giving you advice to help you do it in the best way for your business, or for a very small outlay, taking it off your hands, so that you can concentrate on the thing that made you start a business in the first place.

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