If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you’re either running your own business, or this is a goal for the not-too-distant future. In either case, you probably know that social media offers huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. It can help position you as an expert in your field and attract your ideal customers – all without any financial outlay. There is a lot of information on how to improve your presence in social media. We have some tips to take your social media to the next level.

But, it’s also easy to waste time on social media, or focus on the wrong things. When you’re a one man (or woman) band wearing all the hats in your business, wasting time is the last thing you want to do!

Thankfully a little intention, focus, and planning can make a huge difference in your social media efforts. It can also mean the difference between a presence that falls flat and does very little for you, and one that opens doors, lands you customers and helps you achieve your goals.

Here are 8 simple tips for crafting a killer social media strategy for your business

Know your audience
The key to success on social media is to start with a crystal clear picture of who your ideal audience is. What type of person/business do you want to attract? What are their interests and needs? What problems do they have (related to your expertise) and how can you solve them? What websites do they read daily?

Understanding your audience is fundamental to creating content that they’ll find ridiculously valuable (the name of the game!). Keep this picture in mind at all times; it should inform every decision you make about the content you create and share.

Once you’ve figured this out, you can then start to think about which platforms it makes sense to invest your time into. Which leads on to my next point…
Quality over quantity
Don’t feel you have to be on all of them! A carefully thought out, consistent presence on one or two platforms that your dream customers use and love will serve you better than a haphazard, diluted effort across five or six.

Different platforms have different advantages, features and user-bases (research last year found that 92% of all pins on Pinterest are created by women, for example), so ask yourself which ones will showcase your strengths and provide the best opportunities to connect with your target audience.

For instance, an independent artist might want to prioritize one of the more visual platforms, such as Instagram. That could involve sharing work or work-in-progress shots, or creating a challenge to encourage engagement from others – such as Miranti Kayess’ #52HandLettered project.

Experiment, do your research and learn, then prioritize the platforms that work best for you. Also, be mindful of the metrics you monitor. I’d take 500 super fans who engage with my content and generate referrals over 5,000 who are indifferent to my business any day!
Share relevant, quality content
OK, so you’ve figured out who your audience is and where they like to hang out. The next step is creating and sharing content that’s epically valuable to them and relevant to your expertise.

If you’re a graphic designer, this could include articles on what makes a killer logo, beautifully designed inspirational quotes that showcase your skills, or tips on what to look for in a freelance designer. Think about ways to use your channels to inform, educate and inspire. Not only does this help position you as an expert, it’s also the type of content people want to consume and share.

Experiment with different types of posts and mix things up a bit. Rather than always pushing links back to your own site, you could ask questions, share a behind-the-scenes picture of your workspace, or take advantage of the social aspect to ask for ideas, feedback and input. Get creative and keep things interesting for your followers.

I’d always recommend seeking and sharing the best content from others too. As well as helping to build trust and relationships, this helps your channels become a destination for people looking to learn and be inspired.
Be generous
Unlike other forms of marketing, on social media people choose to follow you. In other words, you have to offer value.

Sure, you want to announce your new launches and offerings, but try and keep promotional posts to a minimum. Many people recommend a ratio of 80:20 or even 90:10, in terms of helpful, generous content versus promotional posts. Or, as author Gary Vaynerchuk puts it: give, give, give, then ask.

A lot of content marketing comes down to building trust and goodwill before you make the ask. Be generous with your knowledge so that when the time comes, people are falling over themselves to buy from you!
Be yourself
Keeping your audience in mind at all times definitely doesn’t mean sounding like a machine. As an entrepreneur or blogger, your personality can be your biggest asset, and the reason people buy from you over anyone else. Think about the type of updates that encourage you personally to like, comment and share. A more natural, conversational tone encourages people to join the conversation.

Social media is also a great place to share a little more of you, whether behind the scenes shots or sneak peeks of a new product you’re working on. Trust is a huge component of the buying process; letting people in a little helps your readers feel like they’re trusted, which in turn helps them to trust you too.
Find customers and influencers
A good place to start when thinking about what to post/share is to identify the key influencers in your field (who have large, relevant audiences themselves). You can do this using tools such as Buzzsumo, Google or social networks’ own search functions.

By following them and engaging with their posts by liking, commenting and sharing (without overdoing it, of course) you put yourself on their radar and may well find that they’ll reciprocate later.

Most networks also have groups you can join or other features to help you reach relevant communities, whether through Twitter chats, Facebook groups or shared Pinterest boards. And of course, there’s always the option of starting your own!
Use (relevant) images
Research by Twitter in 2014 found that tweets containing images average a 35% boost in retweets, so it pays to think about how you can incorporate images within your posts. Don’t just add a random stock image for the sake of it; think about what your brand stands for and what will add value to your post.

Also, make sure your images are the right dimensions so vital info doesn’t get chopped off. I use Canva for this; it’s a simple photo-editing tool that has ready-made templates for different image sizes, whether Facebook header pics, Twitter posts or Pinterest pins.
Think dialogue, not broadcast
And finally, as mentioned earlier, if you’re only ever sharing your own stuff and never take the time to engage with others, it’s natural that people will be less inclined to share your posts when you’re launching something new.

Think about paying it forward. As well as responding to messages, be proactive and start conversations. Congratulate people on their achievements, comment on and share relevant posts and offer your input when someone asks a question. Seek to add value and make meaningful connections. Doing this has not only helped my blog and business, it’s helped me make new friends too!

social media to the next levelSteph Welstead is a business journalist and former editor of Startups.co.uk. She now runs The Collative, a blog for creative freelancers and entrepreneurs. You can find her over on Twitter and Instagram.