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How Google Ads Work

A simple way to test out a business idea or product is to run an ad on Google to see if you can generate any customers.

Google Adwords is a platform that allows you to run ads on search result pages in Google. Don’t confuse this with Google Adsense, which allows you to host ads by other people on your website.


The how-to’s of setting up an ad on Google change as updates and improvements are made to the Google Adwords interface, but the general principles of how the ads work stay the same.

1. Ads are targeted to specific keywords and specific geographic locations (if necessary).
2. Ads are written. A headline, a line of text, and a link are provided.
3. A budget and “bidding limit” is set. The “bidding limit” is the maximum price you are willing to pay to get one person to click on your ad. This can range from several cents to several dollars.
4. Ads run.
5. Customers click your ad. You pay Google for each click, and the price can fluctuate with varying traffic, relevance of your ad to the search term, and ranking of your ad. You can set a budget, such as $10.00 per day, so that there is a limit to your expenses.

How the Ads Show Up In Search Results

Ads can show up above the search results at the very top of the page, or they can be in the margin at the top of the right-hand side of the page.

The topmost ad is always considered the most valuable, as these generally get the most clicks and cost the most.

How Ads Can Rank Higher

Basically, there is an auction going on for the ad space. The ads which are most relevant to the search term get some priority, and the ads which are willing to pay the most per click get some priority. The order in which the ads show up on the page is based on an equation including both of these factors.

Google looks at how relevant your ad is to the keyword that was searched by the user, how relevant your landing site is to the search term (the landing site is the site that is visited when somebody clicks on your ad), and how much you are willing to pay to have a customer click through to your site. This is set when the ad is created, but can be adjusted.

What You Will Pay

The bidding price is important. When you set up the ad you can allow Google to adjust your bid price to optimize for the most clicks, or you can set a hard limit to the price that you are willing to pay for each click.

For an example, let’s say you set a daily budget of $5.00 for an ad. If you set a bidding limit of $0.50 you can expect to get at least 10 clicks on your ad, but it may take a while because if any ads have a higher bid limit they will probably show up higher in the ad rankings.

It is entirely possible that you will get more than ten clicks. If the competition in your market is low you might only pay $0.25 per click, meaning you will bring in 20 people through your ad before your budgets runs out.

If you allow Google to choose your bidding limit it will almost always bid higher and bring in fewer people to your site, in my experience. Google may bid $1 or $2 or even more per click for you, meaning you might only get three or four clicks on your ad before your budget runs out. There is a good chance, however, that you will get these clicks very quickly.

In a recent campaign I let Google set my bids and it burned through my $10 limit in less than twenty minutes, bringing in eight customers. I then set the limit to $0.50 per click for another $10 budget and brought in twenty clicks over the course of about one day.


It is my preference to pay less and get more traffic over a longer period of time. This allows me to react and make adjustments to the ad or to my site if need be.

Different situations call for different tactics, though, and you may have a situation in which getting traffic to your site fast is necessary and worth the expense.

The New Phone Book

Getting the word out about your company can be tough. Really tough.

It is easy to pay for advertising, but advertising costs can quickly skyrocket without an equivalent boost in sales.

For local businesses it used to be easy enough to get business by placing an ad in the phone book. Those days are over. There is a new phone book in town.

The Old Days

When we first started Picnic Table Rental in the mid-2000’s it was simple enough to put a small ad in the local phone book announcing that our business existed. It drummed up enough business to get us started, and word of mouth really carried us from there.

These days, most people do not look at a phone book when they want to find a local business. They pull out their phone or sit down at the computer and do a Google search for the right business.

Why Google Stinks

Almost everybody searches via Google today. Google owns the search market by a wide margin. If we want our business to be found online, Google is where we need to focus.

The way that the Google search results are structured there can be some major disadvantages for your business, especially if you are in a crowded market.

  1. You have to be found for the right keywords. For your business to get found it needs to appear in the search results when a customer is looking for your type of business. To appear in these results your site needs to be relevant to the phrase that is searched.

As an example, your company may provide tent rental in Chicago. Your company website may mention “tent rental” and “Chicago” many times, which makes it more likely to rank high in the Google search results for the search phrase “tent rental in Chicago.”

The trouble is, your customers could be searching with a completely different phrase to find your service. If they are typing in “canopy rental in Chicago” it is less likely that your company will show up.

There are ways to research what terms are being searched in Google using the Google Keyword Planner, but it can still be tricky to find the best phrases.

  1. The top ranking search results get all of the traffic. We know that on average the #1 search result in a Google search is going to get clicked by about 40% of the searchers. The #2 result is going to get about 20%. The rest of the results on the first page of search results will get less than 10% of the search traffic each. The second page of results gets virtually zero traffic.

If your website does not rank at the top for relevant keywords you will not be found by most customers. In the phone book it was easy to open to the page with the service that you were looking for and scan all of the companies offering that service. This does not happen online.

  1. It takes time and effort to rank at the top. Even if your website is set up well and is optimized to show up in the relevant Google searches, it takes time for Google to find your site. It could be weeks or months before Google picks up your site and adds it to search results naturally, meaning you will have to buy ad space to get your business seen.
  2. It is difficult to stand out. In the phone book it was possible to buy color ads with logos and designs to make your ad stand out on the page. Google search results do not allow this. You can alter the wording that shows up for your site, but you cannot make it jump off the page when the customer looks at it.

Why Google Rocks

  1. You can easily target the exact customers that are ideal for your company. Somebody who types in “tent rental in Chicago” has a very specific need, and they are ready to make a purchase. You do not need to educate them on the necessity of tent rental. They are already looking for it. You can get your business directly in front of these “hot” leads.
  2. If you do a great job on your website Google will make sure you are found. Google rewards well-built sites that offer a lot of value in their field. If you put effort into making a great resource for your customers you will probably get rewarded for it.
  3. If you get to the top of the rankings you can get a lot of natural traffic without paying for ads. When Google determines that you are the #1 resource on tent rental in Chicago you are automatically seen as the local expert on that topic, and you will naturally get most of the search traffic for that topic. This all leads to more customers.
  4. If you buy ads you can quickly get targeted customer leads. Even if your website does not rank at the top it is easy to spend a few dollars a day on Google ads and get your business seen (and your website visited) by customers quickly.

Get Familiar with Google

It is worth your time to become familiar with the way Google does business and filters search results and ads. Google is a vital tool for customers, so it has become a vital tool for businesses.

In the coming weeks we will dig deeper into the ways we can leverage Google and other online tools to advertise our businesses.

Getting In Front of Your Ideal Customer

Are you trying to get your business in front of interested customers?

How are you doing so? Hopefully you are not wasting money on mass media like TV ads or billboards.

Mass media is not very effective for small businesses that serve specific niches. A billboard might get your company in front of thousands of people every day, but if your target customers do not take the road past that specific billboard on a regular basis your money is squandered on useless impressions.

Before you spend money on advertising, ask yourself these three questions to make sure your ad will be in front of the ideal customers:

Where do my target customers spend their time?

Is my ideal customer typically a fitness nut that visits a gym every day, for example? If so, can I find a way to advertise my company at gyms around town?

The fact that your customers work out at a gym each day might not even relate specifically to your business, but it may be a common trait of your customers.

What do my target customers do that is related to my business?

A party rental business that often works with graduation parties might make an effort to advertise at school events. For example, they might buy ad space in the high school basketball game programs.

Many parents go to the games throughout the year and will hopefully remember your business at the end of the year when it comes time to plan a graduation party.

What other companies work with my ideal customer?

Let’s go back to the party rental example. When I was a senior in high school I remember receiving information about buying my class ring. At the same time I received a packet of information about buying senior pictures, graduation invites, and so on.

This packet would be a great place to advertise a party rental business. You can imagine the student bringing home all of the information and going through it with their parents. As they put together all of the plans for pictures, a ring, and a graduation party it will be convenient to have the information for a trusted party rental company that can help them with their party.

How can you apply each of these situations to your business to find unique, targeted advertising opportunities?

Rental Biz Ideas: Dinner Party Supplies

Large parties are expensive, so more and more people are choosing to coordinate the details of their party on their own instead of hiring a party planner. The internet and the rise of specialized rental companies have only helped spur this along.

When my sister got married the entire wedding and reception was planned and put together by the family. The reception required the most work and the most rental products of anything we did that weekend. What surprised me most was that there were no companies in the area that offered all of the pieces necessary for putting on a large dinner.

We needed place settings, table cloths, napkins, centerpieces, and serving dishes but had to rent from multiple companies to get everything.

With the popularity of outdoor and do-it-yourself weddings it would not be difficult to start your business and make it known as the go-to company for putting together rental supplies for large dinners.

The Market

The market for dinner party supplies is anchored by wedding receptions, but it can also extend out to other gatherings including reunions, graduation parties, banquets, and fundraisers. Even large family holiday parties could require the use of these products.

Reception halls that host many of these dinners may or may not own all of the products for the use of their customers. You might be able to become their contractor for any needed supplies whenever dinner parties occur. At the very least, you may be able to become their recommended supplier.

Another place to look for referral business is with tent rental and table/chair rental companies. These businesses regularly work with customers who are planning do-it-yourself parties, and recommendations from them can bring in a lot of business for you.

The Products

As mentioned, great dinner party rental products included place settings (plates, bowls, cups, silverware, etc) and linens such as table cloths, table skirts, and napkins.

Accessories and Add-Ons

Table centerpieces are also a great option for rental. I can say from my own wedding experience that putting together centerpieces for dozens of tables to add some atmosphere to the reception was a time-consuming headache. I would have happily chosen a design from the offerings of a rental company and paid to use them for the night.

Serving dishes also make sense as an offering. There is an endless variety of options in this case. Coffee pots, water carafes, platters, utensils, and many other products can be offered.

The Costs and Prices

Aside from the cost of purchasing the products, you will need a way to transport sizeable quantities of the products safely. In most cases a pickup truck or SUV will probably suffice for space, but you will need a way to protect glassware.

The other problem to solve is the cleaning of the products. Most people that rent place settings are not going to have a way to wash large numbers of dishes and silverware, so you will need a system for transporting the dirty products and then washing them.

If you offer linen rental you may need an industrial washing machine and dryer to get the linens sufficiently clean between uses.

The acquisition cost of the party rental supplies will depend upon what supplies you are starting out with and what designs you get for each.

Rental prices for dinnerware start at roughly $0.50 per piece for a basic design (meaning that each of the plates, the drinking glasses, the knives, the spoons, etc, cost $0.50). Costs go up a little for choices in color and design.

Linens can actually bring a large return on investment. It is not uncommon to see linen rental prices listed near or at their purchase price. They do require a heavy-duty washing machine to keep them in pristine, rentable condition however. You company will also need to offer a variety of shapes and sizes for linens, and eventually a variety of colors and designs.

Complementary Businesses

Tent rental and table/chair rental are potential companies to work with for referrals, but it can also make sense for a dinner supply rental company to branch out into offering these products on their own over time to create a complete solution for the customer.

The “drink service” rental market also has promise. This can include portable bars and the supplies to stock them as well as bar tables and stools.

Finally, entertainment rental also complements this business given that the setting for much of the dinner supply rental business will include music or a DJ. Lights, speakers, and a dance floor could be in high demand among the dinner supply rental customers.

As always, the best way to find out what complementary products your customers want is to listen to them. When customers call you with questions or to book a rental they will ask about products that you do not carry. Over time you will see patterns emerge and it will be clear which markets to expand into.

Considerations for Dinner Party Supply Rental

You will need down time to wash products between rentals. You cannot simply wipe down the products offered in this market – dedicated time will be needed between each rental to thoroughly clean and sanitize dishes and linens. This may limit the frequency with which you can rent out the products.

Start out with basic designs on your products and add more designs over time. The colors and designs used on the linens and place settings are important and customers will have strong opinions about them. The best way to start is with all-white designs, adding selection over time.

Start out with a basic product line and add to your product quantities before widening your selection. It is a difficult temptation to resist, but in this business it will be better to have the capability to provide all of the linens for large parties than to only be able to provide a fraction of the linens and a fraction of the place settings. If you are starting small it is in your best interest to get really good in one product offering before adding other products.

In short:

Dinner party rental is a labor-intensive business that will require some effort after-hours to keep products in good shape, but the industry has promise for business throughout most of the year and can easily work as an evenings-and-weekends business run on the side from home.


How to Set Up an Email List For Your Small Business

Our last post talked about why your business needs to have an email list. Now, let’s take a look at the mechanics of the email list.

Getting the list set up is pretty simple, but before starting it is important to know that collecting email addresses and manually typing them into the “To” section of your email is NOT the way to go.

Aside from the hassle of such a process, it can cause problems with spam laws because the recipients of the emails do not have an opportunity to “double opt-in.” The double opt-in means that the customer signs up for the email list and then confirms their interest in the list by clicking a link in a confirmation email. This prevents customers from being added to the list if they do not want to be on it.

To begin an email list we need to do four things:

  1. Sign up for an email provider
  2. Create opt-in forms for your list
  3. Get people signed up
  4. Send them emails

1. Finding an Email Provider

Signing up for an email service provider is essential. It may be difficult to get yourself to pay for a service that you feel could be done yourself for free, but there are many benefits to doing so:

-Most providers start their service with a low-price or free trial and price only goes up as the number of your subscribers grows

-The service will automate the sending of email, even if you list has hundreds or thousands of members

-The service will automatically provide double-opt ins for list joining

-They will provide forms for your website that allow customers to sign up for you list by entering their email – you just have to copy and paste the form code

-They can automatically send pre-written emails in a predetermined sequence and timing to each customer that joins the list

-They will provide statistics about the number of customers opening emails, clicking links in emails, etc.

There are many email providers out there, but Aweber and Mailchimp are the two most well-known. You can compare and contrast the two, but in the end you need to just pick on and go with it. I have used Aweber for a couple of years and I love it.

2. Create Opt-In Forms

Email service providers will help you to easily generate sign up forms for your list and will provide you with the code for the form that you can easily copy and paste into your website, allowing visitors to join your list and get regular updates from your business.

You can choose the look and outlay of your opt-in form, and which fields are included.

As you have probably seen on many websites, most forms ask for your name and email address to sign up for a list. Some simply ask for your email. Some may ask for more information.

If it is relevant to your business you can ask for more information, such as phone number or zip code. The more fields you add to the form the lower your opt-in rates will typically be (opt-in rates is the average percentage of people visiting your site who signs up for the email list). However, the opt-ins that you do get from a form with more fields tend to be “warmer” customers who are especially interested in your business and your offerings – they took the time to fill in a long form with more of their personal information because they were so interested.

Once the form is created you simply paste the code into your site. The typical recommendation is to include an opt-in form on the top-right corner of your website and at the bottom of any blog posts (if they read your posts to the bottom the visitors are obviously interested in the information you are sharing).

3. Get People Signed Up

Once the form is up you simply allow it to collect members of your email list. You should not do this passively, however.

A good way to increase the rate of your opt-ins is to test different opt-in forms. You should try changing colors, changing designs, changing wording, and changing anything else you can think of. Test two versions against each other to see which gets a better opt-in rate, and then test a new version against the winner.

Another method for increasing opt-ins is to offer something free in exchange for signing up for the email list. It works best if this is a digital product that helps lead to the use of your services, and is included in the first automatic email as soon as the customer signs up for the list.

As an example, say you run a rental company that offers concession machines. You might offer a PDF guide that explains the proper concession offerings for different party settings.

It does not have to be elaborate, just useful. The concessions guide helps customers solve the problem of which concessions are appropriate for their event, which in turn helps them decide to do business with your company. It also encourages the customer to sign up for your email list to get the guide, and as a result they will get more useful updates from you over time.

4. Write emails

The tough part of managing an email list is keeping in regular contact with your members. If you go too long between emails your customer will forget who you are or why they are on your list, and they will probably unsubscribe.

If you send emails out too often the customers can get annoyed and unsubscribe.

There are two types of emails that can be sent through your email service provider, and a little bit of planning with them will help you maintain healthy contact with your list.


The first type of email is an “autoresponder.” This is an email that is written in advance and is automatically sent out to each customer after they sign up for your list.  I like to have eight to twelve emails written in an autoresponder list. Each email provides some valuable information to the subscriber and does not ask for anything in return, except for any questions that the subscriber would like answered.

I set up my autoresponders so that the customer gets:

  • the immediate email with their free guide that I advertised to encourage their opt-in
  • another informative email the following day that gives them a quick win by helping them to solve a problem easily
  • the next email exactly one week after they opted in to the list
  • and then more emails every week or two after.

By the time the subscriber has received a dozen emails from me they should be familiar with me and trust me (and my business).

I set my autoresponders to go out on specific days each week after the first three are sent. My weekly autoresponders only go out on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which opens up the other days of the week for broadcast emails. We will get to those in a minute.

To illustrate my process: if the customer subscribes to the list on a Tuesday they will immediately receive an email with their free guide.

On Wednesday they will receive the informative “quick win” email.

The next email is scheduled to be sent at exactly one week after the initial email. The reasoning is that if they customer was free and able to subscribe to the list at 2pm on a Tuesday, they are likely to have the same schedule and be available and online at that time each week.

The remaining autoresponders are sent out once every week or two, but only on a Wednesdays or Thursdays. My goal with this is to avoid sending multiple emails to a subscriber on the same day by sending a manual broadcast email the same day that an automated autoresponder is sent.

Broadcast Emails

While autoresponder emails contain “evergreen” content that is pertinent to the reader no matter when they read it, broadcast emails are what I would call “current event” messages.

Broadcasts can be written and scheduled ahead of time, but they are sent out all at once to everybody who happens to be on your list on that given day.

The purpose of the broadcast email is to let your readers know about something that is time-specific, such as a sale that you are having, a new product that is available, or some other type of announcement.

As I mentioned above, I schedule my autoresponder messages for Wednesdays and Thursdays so that I can feel free to send broadcast messages any other day of the week without bombarding my subscribers with too many messages on the same day.

Get Started Now!

An email list is a vital component for any business in the internet age. It is essentially a list of your most interested prospects and customers.

Using a properly-planned sequence of autoresponders and broadcasts provides valuable information to your customers while building up a sense of trust in your company. This trust leads to more sales down the line.

Your email list will take time to grow. It will probably start as a slow trickle of sign-ups and will eventually grow into a steady stream. Putting it off will only hinder your ability to effectively market to your list, so don’t wait. The best day to start the email list is today.

I recommend you go check out Aweber. This is an affiliate link, meaning if you decide to sign up for Aweber after clicking on this link I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. In fact, you can try it for your first month of use for only one dollar.

Also, to see an email list in action consider joining the Smart Rental Business email newsletter by filling out the form below.

5 Reasons Your Business Needs an Email List (Not Facebook)

Among the most common regrets of small business owners is not starting an email list for their company right away.

We all have lists to which we are subscribed. Maybe you subscribed to the email list for your favorite coffee shop to know when they are having deals. You might receive updates via email from your favorite sports team or even from a weather service.

What has become obvious as communication moves online is that you need to use email to get your message in front of your best customers .

Email is More Important than Social Media

It is a mistake to believe that building a social media following, like a Facebook group or a Twitter account, provides an adequate means of keeping in touch with your customers.

Social media sites can change their rules or disappear at any time, and you could lose your list of followers overnight.

In addition, the likelihood of your message reaching your fans on these sites is decreasing as the sites become more crowded.

Social media can be an effective way to interact with your customers, but it is secondary to email.

Why is Email so Great?

We have five considerations that make email stand out over any other form of online communication:

1. Email Gets Seen

How many times do you check your email each day?

Probably at least several times. Probably even dozens of times.

Do you at least look at the subject or sender of each email? Almost assuredly yes.

This means that you are seeing just about every email that comes to you, while you are missing updates to social media even if you check it often (a typical Facebook post by a business is seen by less than five percent of the business’s followers, even though they opted in to receiving updates from that business).

Without a doubt, if you want your message to be seen by customers that are interested in what you have to offer email is the way to get it in front of them.

2. You Own Your Email List

The wonderful thing about email lists, and what makes them indispensible, is that you own them.

If your website goes down you can still communicate with your customers who have joined your email list. If Facebook shuts down your page (and you lose all of your followers) you still have your email list.

3. Email Can Boost Your Offers

The customers who have joined your email list are hot leads. They are obviously interested in what you have to offer, and if you send out an occasional deal or promotion to your email list a percentage of them will probably jump at it.

If you build up your list over time you can get big results by offering the list a deal, even if the response rate is only a small percentage.

4. Email Can Build Trust

You should use your email list to build trust, not simply to pitch products.

Email providers make it possible to set up a series of auto-responders, meaning that each time new customer joins your list they can receive a series of emails that you set up ahead of time, on a preset schedule. This can help you to make contact with your subscriber steadily over time to build a level of rapport with them.

Let’s say you have a party rental business. When a customer joins your list you might have it set up to send them an email each week. One week they receive an email with a checklist of items to consider as they prepare to plan a party. The next week you send them an email about planning guest lists and what to expect for a rate of attendance. The following week they learn how to plan the number of tables and seats that they need for a given party. And so on.

The customer receives a valuable email that is useful to them without asking for anything in return. Your business builds trust with that customer and they come to see that you are the expert in your field. When the customer needs advice or products for their party, who do you think they will go to?

5. Email Keeps You Top-of-Mind

Finally, having a customer on your email list helps reinforce the top-of-mind positioning of your company with that customer.

Your services may not be needed on a regular basis, but when they are you will be the company that the customer thinks of first if they are receiving an email from you every couple of weeks. Also, the customer is more likely to refer you to a friend that needs your type of service if you are top-of-mind.

Read the next post in this series on how to set up an email list for your rental company

Marketing Your Side Business Online, Pt. 2

In the first installment of our internet presence series we looked at the pros and cons of using social media as your main internet presence.

Now we are going to take a look at some free options for advertising your business on the web that are more substantial than a Facebook or Twitter presence.

Local Review Sites

We have all stumbled across directories of local businesses when searching for a company online. They are like phone book ads, but usually with more detail. These sites provide a platform for customers to review a company’s service, which makes them great if you are a potential customer researching the best company to do business with.

Examples of sites like this include Yelp, Manta, Hotfrog, Citysearch, Local.Yahoo.com, and Yellowpages.com.

What Is So Great About Review Sites?

Review sites are good for letting customers know that you exist, whether you provide great service, and how to get in contact with you.

A great perk is that it is usually free for your company to put a listing up on the site (although they try to get you to pay for extra capabilities in most cases).

These sites tend to rank high in the search engines, so having your business listed in a directory may help it to get found.

If you provide great service and garner positive reviews on these sites it will become much easier for your company to get found, and you may even gain a significant amount of business from traffic through these sites. We all trust the opinions of others more than advertising, which is why we look at reviews before watching a movie or reading a book, rather than trusting the movie trailer or book excerpt. Reviews have the power to develop great sense of trust in your customer base.

The Wrong Way to Use Review Sites

There may be a temptation to go on a review site and write reviews about your own business. Do not do this!

Soon after my wife and I moved to a new city we looked up some local restaurants on a review site. One of the closest restaurants scored all five-star ratings with seven or eight reviews. Each of the reviews was enthusiastic about the restaurant and the food.

Both of our meals were bland and not very good. It was a major letdown.

It did not take long for us to realize that the reviews about the restaurant were probably from people who were invested in it. Not only was our food bad, but whenever we walked by the restaurant was mostly empty. Not typical for a raved-about, highly rated restaurant.

The fake reviews left a bad taste in our mouths (pardon the pun) and we have not eaten there since.

Avoid writing reviews about your own company and embrace the occasional bad review that you might get from a customer. They will always exist. It is tough not to take it personally, but every single company gets the occasional bad review. There may be something in the review that you can take away to improve your business, and a negative review shows customers that all of the reviews were not written by you!

Why Review Sites Leave Something to Be Desired

There are some great benefits to review sites but they are not the end-all, be-all of your company’s internet presence.

For one thing, you have no control over the site. They can change their rules or their focus and dump you from their listing tomorrow. They could even close down completely.

Review sites also do not convey professionalism. The information that you can list about your business is limited, and it is not regularly updated.

When I search for a company online and I only see a Yelp listing in the search results (not an actual company website) I assume one of a couple things:

  • The company is not savvy enough to have a basic website of their own. Can I trust them to be competent at the services that I need?
  • The company could have gone out of business. Their website might be down and only their Yelp listing is left up. Is the information on Yelp still current?

Review sites leave some gaping holes in the market’s understanding of your business and offerings. You need a more robust site that can be updated regularly, like a blog.

Free Blogging Websites

A step up from both social media and review sites, and a step closer to your own real website, is a free blogging website.

When I was first thinking about starting a blog I joined WordPress.com and started a free blog. This particular blog was about a hobby of mine, home brewing beer, and I wrote about it every single day.

Over time my writing improved and I learned how to use the different functions of the blogging website – adding pictures, adding links, formatting the text, creating new pages, etc. I was able to customize much of the website’s design to make it look like the blog that I was envisioning.

My family and friends followed along, and it was a fun time. The best part was, this was all free.

Then one day I learned that I could post an affiliate link for products, such as a link to a book on Amazon that told Amazon who had sent the customer to them. If the customer bought the book after clicking on my link I would get paid a small commission, at no extra cost to the book buyer.

I realized that this was a great idea – I showed people which books were helpful for learning about a topic, they bought the book at the normal Amazon price, and I got a small commission. There are bloggers out there that make a full time living off of this.

BUT, it is not allowed by most free blogging platforms.

I logged on to the site the next day to write a new post only to find that my blog had been disabled and I was blocked from using it anymore.

Examples of Free Blogging Sites

Examples of sites like this are WordPress.com (WordPress.org is different) and Blogger.

Think of these platforms as shopping malls – you can rent out a store in the mall and customize it to your store’s needs, but you do not own the mall itself. WordPress or Blogger does.

The mall is providing the real estate on which you set up shop. In internet terms, this means that they are the “host” and they are hosting your site.

This is different from “self-hosted” websites in which you pay a company to host your site and you have full ownership and control over the site and what goes on there.

The Upside of Free Blogging Platforms

Free blogging sites are a great place to start if you are building an online presence. They give you somewhere to send your customers to learn more about what you offer, and you control the content and most of the design.

These platforms also teach you a lot about the “behind-the-scenes” of what goes into a blog. It is better to learn about blogging and website design on a site where you have little to lose – if you “break” the site you can easily get assistance from the site host. If they can’t fix the site and it is lost, at least it was free!

Downsides to Free Blogging Platforms

There are in fact downsides to free blogging platforms.

The first is the same as all of the online tools that we have talked about in this series so far – you do not own the site. If the host platform decides to change its rules it can drop your blog from its site. The host can also go out of business, and your site is lost forever.

There are two disadvantages to these blogging platforms in regards to search engine friendliness. First, you do not get a totally unique URL.

If this site were hosted on WordPress.com you would have to type in www.smartrentalbusiness.wordpress.com to get to it. Every blog hosted by these sites includes the platform’s name in the URL. This makes it very long and cumbersome. Not ideal when you are trying to tell customers how to find out more about you.

Second, it is rare to see a site which is hosted on a free blogging platform show up in a search engine. If you host your site on one of these platforms your website traffic will either come directly from people that you refer, or possibly from people who are surfing the blogs on that particular platform. It is not likely that you will be seeing people from the world’s largest internet traffic source – Google.

Finally, there are drawbacks to free blogging platforms when it comes to website functionality.

As I learned the hard way, you cannot post affiliate links. For some websites this may be no big deal, but for others it is a significant source of profit.

Also, you cannot add “plugins” which are free pieces of software that you can easily install on a website to add features to the sidebar, track your traffic, display your social media posts, and much more. This really limits what you can do to customize the site and utilize it fully.

The Final Word on Free Blogging Platforms

In general free blogging platforms are a great tool for learning how to blog and build websites. They can be a great short-term solution when you are starting out, especially if you are unsure of your market or the viability of your business.

Long-term, these sites are not as useful. They have significant limitations which prevent you from getting the most out of your company’s website.

Next: Real Websites

In the next installment of this series we will take a look at the ideal online presence for your company: the self-hosted website. I will show you how to set it up and how to get started, and I promise that it is not as difficult or as expensive as you probably expect.

Has your company utilized review sites or free blogging platforms? Share your successes or failures in the comments below.

Marketing Your Side Business Online, Pt. 1

How do you find businesses when you need a particular service or product? Do you pull out the yellow pages and thumb through them, looking for something relevant? Or do you quickly Google what you are looking for?

These days most people are searching the internet for products and services. Phone books are nearly extinct. We keep our phone book in the car – to use for kindling when to start bonfires (really).

Getting In Front of Your Market

It is clear that you are going to need an internet presence for your company if you want to be in contact with the customers in your market. This presence can take many forms – social media like Facebook and Twitter, free blogs, review websites, and official websites.

You can use some or all of these platforms to promote your business. This multi-part blog series is going to look at each one and show you what is most important to spend your time on.

Let’s just look at social media for now.

Using Social Media To Promote a Small Business

There is a huge variety of social media sites available now – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on.

Facebook and Twitter are by far the largest, so those are probably the two that most companies will focus on, but you need to go where your market is. If your target customers are hanging out on Google Plus, use Google Plus.

Companies in some industries, like the party rental business, will probably benefit greatly by posting pictures of  their work at weddings and other events on Pinterest, because that is a site that many people visit when planning a party. If customers can see and begin to visualize the benefit that your company can provide their party it will be easy for them to want to do business with you.

The consideration of whether your target market is largely using a specific social media platform is the most important factor in deciding whether to spend time using that platform.

The Benefits of Social Media

Connect With Customers

The obvious benefit to social media as a platform for advertising your business is that it is (can be) free. It is hard to beat free.

Another great feature is that social media is great for generating discussion with your market. This discussion is perfect for getting to know your customers and what they desire. Ultimately, this makes you more in tune with the needs of your customers and more able to give them what they want.

Connect With Suppliers

Social media also connects you with the suppliers for your industry. You can follow the companies that distribute the products that you use, and this allows you to stay up to date with trends in the market and new product availability.


Finally, social media can help you to connect with other people in your industry. If you own a canoe rental business you can connect with other canoe rental owners across the country (and world) to see what is working for them, and to gain new business ideas or approaches from their experiences.

The Downside of Social Media

Social media may seem to be a realm of infinite possibility, but there are certainly difficulties with advertising your business via these channels.

No Control

The first problem is your control over the platform. You do not have any. If you use a Facebook page as your home web page you are putting your company in somebody else’s hands. Facebook can suddenly change the rules and decide to drop your company from its site, or Facebook may suddenly close down and disappear all together. If this happens your platform and base of followers is gone. The same is true for any social media platform.

Decreasingly Free

Advertising on social media such as Facebook used to be free and easy. It was almost as if Facebook offered to advertise your company for free on the side of a truck that it would drive around past all of your target customers all day long.

These days, Facebook still advertises your content for free to a small extent, but it is almost as if they are driving the truck around in the countryside at 2:00 am. Almost nobody sees your content, even if they opted-in to receive it from you by joining your group. That is, nobody sees it unless you pay Facebook a bribe to drive the truck around near your customers.

As social media sites go public and have to pay investors a profit you can expect more of this. Sure, you might have 100,000 Facebook followers, but only a small fraction of them (think 2-4%) are going to see your post unless it gets a ton of “likes” and comments, or unless you pay Facebook to “boost” each post. This model can work really well if you have money to spend on advertising and know the monetary benefit of reaching a given number of customers. If you are starting out and have a low budget however, it is difficult to make work and is probably a waste of time.

So Many Voices

The other major hurdle with social media is the problem of getting your company seen.

It is easy for a company to get lost in the sea of other companies and people on a social media platform. Their search process is not as refined as a search engine’s, like Google, so customers have have a difficult time tracking you down when they search the social media site for you.

Once the customer does find you, there is no guarantee that they will see the content that you post to the site.

As we discussed, customers will probably only see Facebook posts that you pay to promote.

Twitter, the other major social media site, is similar. Twitter still shows everything that you tweet out to each person that follows you, but the large volume of tweets mean that your content gets pushed down out of sight very quickly. If you customer is not checking their feed right when you post they are not likely to see it at all.

This leads us to the problem of what to post to social media. People go on sites like Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to connect with friends and family and to see interesting stories, not necessarily to learn about businesses. To earn a spot on your customer’s social media feed you will need to find a way to post engaging content that is both entertaining and provides value.

The Verdict on Social Media

Your business should have a presence in social media, but it should not be your only presence online.

Tools like Twitter and Facebook are great for connecting with your market and for presenting your company’s story in a way that others can start to trust you and desire to do business with you.

Social media can also connect you with others in your industry that you can collaborate with.

If you put all of your marbles into one basket like social media, however, you leave yourself open to getting burned by rule changes or shifts in the internet marketplace.

So, where can you look to start building an online presence outside of social media? We will take a look at some other free options in the next installment of this series, which is now available Here.

Have you had any success marketing your business on social media? Share your experience in the comments below!