Marketing may seem complex, expensive and confusing for a small business owner. Although large companies can spend big budgets on marketing, small businesses just don’t have those sorts of funds, and trying to be seen in a competitive marketplace may seem futile.
But there are extremely effective low-cost and even no-cost ways of small business marketing. And it’s simpler than it might at first look.
So read on for a step-by-step guide through the process of marketing and a multitude of affordable and effective marketing techniques that you can adopt right now.
What is small business marketing?
Before exploring different ways of marketing, it’s helpful to define exactly what is meant by small business marketing. Many business owners think no further than advertising, but this is just one of many options.
There are a variety of techniques you can employ to get noticed, often involving little cost. You can have online and offline marketing campaigns, using search engine optimization, social media, email marketing, print, and marketing events, to name just a few.
There are tried and tested marketing techniques that have been shown to work, but no defined rules within that framework. So use the information below to get the basics right, and use originality and creativity to help your business stand out from the crowd.
Define your marketing strategy
So where exactly do you start?
You start with your marketing strategy, which is the foundation for all your future marketing activities. It includes the preparatory research and analysis to be done before you formulate a plan. It should be consistent, without changing significantly over the short term.
Research your market
The first step to defining your marketing strategy is to analyze the competition within your niche and find out exactly what competing products and services are out there.
- Who they are
- Where they are
- What defines their brand
- What they do well
- What they could do better
- Their specific target market
- The trends within your niche
Now decide where there are the gaps in the market and define what you can do better or differently.
Define your product
Next determine your unique selling proposition (USP).
What is it about your product or service that is unique? Exactly what is it that you’re selling, and what makes it different from other products or services of its kind?
Know your Audience
Be specific about your prospective audience. Who exactly are you selling to? An effective way to determine this is to create a ‘Buyer Persona’.
A buyer persona is a detailed fictional representation of your ideal customer. Consider demographics, such as where they live, their age and gender. Try to determine their behaviour, lifestyle and values, and where they hang out, both online and offline.
Use digital analytics, surveys, user testing, live chat and customer interviews to dig deeper. The information you gain during this process will later help you target your audience with pin-point accuracy.
Write Your Marketing message
Armed with all this information, you’re now in a position to write your marketing message.
A marketing message is a concise statement explaining to your customers why they should choose your product. This not only clarifies your position to your customers, it also clarifies it to you and your employees.
Your marketing message, although it should be clarified as a written statement, doesn’t just refer to the words within this statement. It also refers to the meanings and feelings you communicate to your market. Your communication with your target audience should always be informed by your marketing message.
Always keep your marketing message in mind when writing your social media posts, your website copy and your emails.
Branding will be the core of your marketing strategy, and done right will support your business for years to come. Repairing poor branding can cause unnecessary expense, confusion to your customers and damage to your business. So it’s important to get it right early on.
Most people think of branding as the logo, but this is just a small part of a wide strategy designed to convey the qualities, reputation and the feelings you want to be associated with your business. Colors, fonts, images, and other visual assets can all be used to strengthen your brand.
Given the importance of good branding, it would be wise to spend at least part of your initial marketing budget on professional help to design an effective brand.
Make a small business marketing plan
Once you have your strategy and branding in place, it’s time to look at your budget and plan which marketing channels you’re going to use.
Determine your Small business marketing budget
A reasonable marketing budget is usually defined as 5-10% of your predicted revenue. If your budget is small to begin with, use free and low-cost marketing channels, and allocate some for long-term investments like branding.
Free marketing channels such as SEO and social media can take longer to gain traction. So when you’re starting out, you could choose to pay for some advertising to get a quicker return on investment.
Your first and most obvious priority when putting your business online is to create a website. Social media accounts are useful marketing channels, but you don’t own or control them. So create a space on the web which is yours alone, and make it the hub of your online marketing network.
More than half of website traffic now comes from mobile devices, so make sure your website is mobile friendly.
Make the most of your website by:
- Using content marketing to attract visitors and make sales
- Starting a podcast
- Creating campaign specific landing pages
- Creating a webinar
- Using search engine optimization (SEO) to attract visitors to your website and blog. SEO can be hard to get right for newcomers, so get some training, or hire help.
Put an opt-in form on your website where people can subscribe to your emails. Offer a free gift to encourage people to subscribe such as:
- An ebook
- A free sample
- A webinar
- A class
- Some valuable information
Your email list is a precious marketing asset so treat it accordingly:
Social media marketing for small business
Social media is a cheap and often very effective marketing channel. Don’t try to use all social media platforms, but decide which ones are best for your business.
Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter may work best for direct interaction with the general public, LinkedIn works well for business to business networking, Pinterest and Instagram are great for visual content and TikTok may be a good choice if you have a primarily younger audience.
Ways in which social media can be used include:
- Engaging directly with your audience
- Promoting your blog or website
- Getting customer feedback
- Running polls
- Providing customer service
- Encouraging customers to share their experience of your business
- Staging a contest or giveaway
- Connecting with social media influencers
- Tracking your online reputation
If you’re really lucky, you might create a post that goes viral gaining tons of interest and followers within a short space of time.
Be certain to share links to your social media accounts on your website.
Video is popular and a great way to encourage visitors to stay longer on your website. This is important as it helps your ranking on Google. Upload interesting and informative videos to YouTube to reach new followers, and embed the video on your website.
The sorts of video you could include are:
- Instructional videos and how-tos
- Product demonstrations
- Behind the scenes of your business
- Interviews with staff or industry experts
Forms of online advertising include:
- Google Ads
- Facebook Ads
- Other social media ads (such as Instagram or Pinterest)
- Joining an affiliate marketing program
- Buying ads on another website
Advertising programs such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads sometimes offer free credits for new business sign-ups. Take advantage of these to get some free advertising and run experiments to find out what works best for your business.
Small business marketing automation
Many of these marketing techniques, such as blog posts, social media posts, email, data collection and running adverts, can be automated. There’s a ton of marketing automation software to help you with this and many other tasks. So once you’re up and running, it won’t take as much of your time as you might at first imagine.
How do I market my small business locally?
If you’ve decided that much of your potential market is local, then be sure to target your local audience.
Some Local marketing ideas:
- Brainstorm some marketing event ideas for your small business. For example, you could stage an opening event, a conference, a pop-up shop or coffee morning. Inform your local paper, or radio station to see if they’ll run a feature.
- Run some local adverts, for instance on local radio or TV, newspapers or billboards
- Get an article published in a local community magazine
- Use direct mail using names and addresses you’ve already collected from existing customers and contacts
- Print some professional looking business cards or flyers and distribute them to other non-competing businesses, and any prospective contacts or customers
An array of well-designed marketing materials can really enhance your brand. You could Invest in a few items for local marketing such as:
- Business cards
- Leaflets, brochures, pamphlets
- Promotional products
- SWAG such as branded T shirts, notebooks, tote bags and pens
- Flyers which you can place on community bulletin boards
- Sales letters
- Branded Uniforms
- Car stickers and magnets
Always collect information about your audience, and data to determine the success of your marketing. For instance you could:
- Use a simple database to store information about your past, present and potential customers
- Use marketing analytics tools to monitor your marketing data. Some tools monitor your data for one particular channel (such as email) whilst others aggregate all your data across multiple platforms
- Measure customer satisfaction with surveys and other requests for feedback
- Run marketing experiments such as A/B testing, analyse the results and tweak your marketing tactics accordingly
- Calculate your return on your marketing investment (ROI)
Nurture your loyal customers
Existing customers are often repeat customers and can also be powerful marketing allies, so it makes sense to value and look after them.
Communicate with them regularly via social media, blogging and emails. Make sure to provide them with an excellent service or product, and ask for reviews, referrals and testimonials.
Take your customers’ concerns seriously and use feedback and complaints as opportunities to improve. First class customer service is key for your customers’ experience, and will lead to more positive feedback, so make sure your staff are trained to provide the highest standards in customer care.
Provide service with a personal touch, for instance:
- Send birthday cards
- Give holiday gifts to your best customers
- Have a ‘Customer of the Month Award’
- Give discount coupons to your frequent buyers
- Set up a referral program, where your customer gets a reward for recommending your business to friends and family
- Follow-up on sales by thanking them and hoping they’re happy with their service or product.
Build relationships with other businesses and collaborate with them where appropriate. Collaborating can grow your audience, increase engagement with your audience, expand brand awareness and drive sales. Partner with businesses that have shared values and audiences, but don’t directly compete with your own. Collaboration can be as simple as sharing website links and social media posts.
Other ways of networking:
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce
- Join business associations in your sector
- Donate branded prizes to fundraisers
- Sponsor events
- Run classes appropriate to your niche
- Get into public speaking (this might seem daunting, but can be particularly powerful for making contacts and increasing your visibility)
- Attend trade shows
- Apply for business awards
- Hold marketing mastermind groups with other small businesses
Hire small business marketing services
More small business marketing tips
- Use some unconventional tactics to create a buzz about your business using Guerilla Marketing
- Recruit some Brand Ambassadors to spread the word about your business. They could be friends and family, employees, or loyal customers
- Get an article published in a magazine your audience is likely to read
- Connect with a journalist who might be interested in your business on Help a Reporter Out
- Use Newswire to distribute a press release campaign
- Design a Business Mascot
Now you have a ton of small business marketing ideas to work with. As we’ve shown, always start with the preparatory work first; the research, the branding and the planning. Once you’ve nailed this, you can choose from the many marketing channels and ideas listed above.
You don’t need to do them all, just choose a few to start. Then you can tweak and amend as you learn what works best.
As you can see, marketing doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t need to be expensive. There’s so much you can do with a limited budget and some creative thinking. So book a brainstorming session with your colleagues, get started on your strategy and look forward to skyrocketing sales in the months to come.