By Karen MacKenzie
It’s overwhelming. Small business marketing is a broad topic you could easily get lost in.
You understand the importance of learning about marketing. But you only have time for practical marketing ideas, not theory.
You don’t exactly have an unlimited budget either. The best ideas need to be low cost but still effective. Because every dollar in your marketing plan needs to work as hard as you do.
So how do you decide which ideas are best for your business? Start with a marketing strategy. Let me explain why and how.
You Got This- Small Business Marketing Strategies
The word strategy may invoke thoughts of corporations and their five-inch-thick binders full of dense analytics. Feel free to leave the overstuffed binders to the corporate folks.
Instead, think of strategy as providing the “why” in your marketing plan. Doing this work first will guide you to make the best decisions you can when creating your plan.
Small business marketing strategy starts with research; understanding your market in detail. Find out everything you can about your customers and your competitors.
Let’s get started.
Who is your ideal or target customer?
When you understand your target customer, you’ll be able to craft messages that resonate with them. You’ll also identify the best outlets for those messages.
To create your customer avatar, determine:
- What is their geographic location; where do they live?
- Who are they? What are their demographics- their age, gender, education level, occupation, income?
- What are their interests? Their habits?
- What is the problem your product or service solves? Or what is the pain point that your product or service relieves? Knowing this is central to your marketing message.
For example, a dog trainer who specializes in calming leash-reactive dogs. The pain point of their clients is the embarrassing barking and lunging behavior of their dogs on leash. The trainer’s service relieves that pain point by teaching dog owners how to keep their dogs calm.
Showing your client that you understand their pain and how to relieve it forms an emotional bond. It helps you tailor a message that clearly demonstrates the benefit of choosing your business.
- How do they search for solutions to their problem? Do they ask other people, search online, ask in social media channels?
Knowing where to find your customers (or be found by them) makes it much easier to choose marketing tactics that work.
What does your competition look like?
Research your competitors. What are their areas of strength? Can you offer something similar? For their areas of weakness, is this something you can do better?
Search for gaps in the marketplace that you can fill. How could you delight customers by offering something your competitors are missing?
Develop your USP (unique selling proposition)
Your USP is a brief statement that describes what makes you or your company different than your competitors.
You need to find something to differentiate yourself, to set you apart. Ask yourself why a potential customer would choose you over your competitors? Do you have special skills or services that your competitors lack?
Once you determine your USP, clearly define it and use it in your marketing materials.
Create a brand for your company
A brand answers the question of “What kind of company are you?”
Are you a professional, no-nonsense firm? Or is your style whimsical and fun? Developing a brand that resonates with your target customer helps to form an emotional connection.
Your brand is defined by your logo, the colors and fonts you use, and your tagline. Creating a brand gives you the guidelines for consistent messaging. That consistency leads to familiarity, which eventually leads to trust.
I know all this strategic planning requires a bit of work, but it will pay off when you begin to create your marketing plan. But first a quick word about budgets.
Make ROI Your Friend- The Small Business Marketing Budget
As a small business, you have a limited budget, especially as you are getting started. Some tactics cost more time than money so you may want to begin with those.
Determine in advance how much you have to spend and focus on higher ROI (return on investment) marketing tactics.
But don’t start implementing tactics without first creating a small business marketing plan.
KISS the Small Business Marketing Plan
You don’t need a complicated marketing plan. It’s better to “keep it simple silly” as you are more likely to carry out a simple plan, especially at first.
Not all goals are easily measured, but use numbers wherever you can. Get familiar with the performance metrics related to different marketing tactics. Some examples are the number of leads generated or the number of sales conversions. Tracking metrics allows you to focus your plan on what is working and where your limited marketing dollars generate the most return.
We’ll cover this later, but use web analytics tools to track website traffic. They’ll help you measure the success of various online marketing tactics.
Start small, then refine and add to your small business marketing plan over time. To confirm that you are making progress, review your plan, at least quarterly.
So how do you build this small business marketing plan? Look through the ideas below to select the ones that make sense for your business.
Online marketing for small business; tactics that don’t cost a fortune (with one notable exception)
Create a website or improve the one you have
Even if you only sell to local customers, odds are they will look online first for your product or service. Have at least a one-page website as a bare minimum.
Some technical tips:
- Make your website is mobile-friendly. An article on the Google Developers website states that “The majority of users coming to your site are likely to be using a mobile device.” Not having a mobile-friendly site could result in lost opportunities.
- Confirm that your website has a fast loading time. A site that has a slow loading time will cause potential customers to look elsewhere. Google’s search engines will penalize your site as well.
- Use Google Search Console to track how your website performs via search.
- Use web analytics tools such as Google Analytics to measure results.
- These tools track the behaviors of visitors to your website. They provide information such as how visitors are finding you, what devices they are using, their geographical location, how they navigate your website, and how long they spend on each page (dwell time).
- They measure your ROI (return on investment) if you use Google Ads.
- Use Google My Business. If you have a physical address and serve your customers face-to-face, this Google listing gives local customers a way to find you when searching online (like the Yellow Pages, for those of us who remember them). The best part, as of now this service is free!
- Optimize your profile and collect reviews to rank higher in the listings for your business type in your area.
- Do keyword research (keywords are the terms your prospects are using to search online). Develop an SEO (search engine optimization) strategy. These work together to drive website traffic from potential buyers searching online. Having an SEO strategy helps you rank on search engines for those keywords.
Explore Content Marketing
What is content marketing?
Effective content should be:
- Valuable – providing information, entertainment, or ideally, both combined.
- Relevant – content that your target market will benefit from.
- Consistent – decide in advance how frequently you will produce new content and stick to it. Make sure that you have the resources first.
Content needs to be optimized for SEO so your target customers can find it. The technicalities of this vary by medium, but you need to know the keywords your target audience is using to search for content.
For our dog trainer example, they’d create content demonstrating ways to help a reactive dog calm down, either through a blog article or a short video. The content should contain ideas that someone could actually use; making it valuable. By optimizing the content for SEO, the relevant audience can find it, i.e., people searching on how to calm their reactive dogs.
At the end of the content, there may be a short blurb, “If you like this, we offer an online training course.” or “Subscribe to our YouTube channel of dog training videos.” Value is provided first before mentioning a service or product.
The three main content categories to provide that value are:
- Blog posts- Provide solid advice that readers can take action on. Short, vague articles offer little value to the reader.
- Videos- Create helpful instruction videos. Shorter videos are typically better, although the ideal length depends on your audience. People have limited attention spans, so if you have a longer video, consider breaking it into several shorter videos.
- Podcasts – Discuss topics or interview experts relative to your niche or industry. People can listen to podcasts while commuting or working out; engaging potential customers even though they have limited time.
When a target customer visits your website, you’ll want to get their email address to develop a relationship with them.
How? That’s where email marketing comes in.
Begin Email Marketing
Email marketing has an excellent ROI. A Direct Marketing Association study from 2015 showed an average return of $38 for every $1 spent.
But people are hesitant to give out their email addresses. They need an incentive, and this is where you need a freebie, opt-in, or lead magnet. It has to be valuable enough to your web visitors that they will trade their email for it. What would your target customer value? Some ideas are e-books, detailed how-to articles, checklists, videos, or mini-courses.
Once you have your lead’s email address, send an introductory email to welcome them to your company and to explain the benefits and value they’ll get from being on your list.
To make this tactic work, you need to send emails on a consistent schedule. Always provide value; links to new blog articles, a newsletter, or product/service updates. At the end of each email, show subscribers how to benefit from what you have to offer; provide a call to action, either to get further information or how to purchase.
How do you get started? First, select an email service provider. There are many to choose from, for example, you can get email campaigns started for free using MailChimp.
Try Social Media Marketing for small business
Social media is excellent for building brand awareness, gaining followers, and increasing your web traffic. It gives you lots of ways to interact with both target & existing customers.
But before you spend time creating your social media profiles, confirm that your target customers use that platform. For example, Facebook is best for B2C or marketing to consumers versus LinkedIn, which is better for B2B or business buyers.
It’s tempting to be on every platform out there, but it’s far better to concentrate on a few platforms where you’ll be active. For the best results, keep your profile updated and stay engaged.
Budget for Online paid advertising
Using social media platforms and relying solely on organic traffic may not produce the results you want. So there is the option of online paid ads and boosted posts.
These allow you to set a budgeted amount to spend each day or month. For example, you could limit the spending to $50 month for Facebook ads.
Social media sites use the data they collect on their users to help you target your ideal customer (the one you identified in the strategy section). For example, with Facebook, you can select an audience based on data such as their location, demographics, interests, behavior, and connections. Your ads or sponsored posts are then served directly into the feeds of this audience, your ideal buyer.
At the bottom of the Facebook Advertising is a 15-minute course explaining further how this works.
Google AdWords can get your website displayed at the top of search results for a particular keyword or keyword phrase; potentially generating a lot of business.
For example, when I type in dog training, a local company displays at the very top of the page.
Warning! This could be an expensive option depending on the keyword chosen. You can protect your budget as Google allows you to cap the expense, for instance, at $200/month.
If you are interested in more detail, there is an informative article on HubSpot: The Ultimate Guide to Google Ads for 2019.
To fit these strategies in your budget, look for discounts or coupons for paid Facebook or Google ads. Your web hosting provider may offer a discount on Google ads.
This is great for online, but what can you do in person, and how do you market your small business locally?
Read on for more!
“Real-World” and local marketing ideas
The Elevator Pitch or Positioning Statement
Make it part of your marketing plan to have a 30 second or less story of what your business does and the benefits you provide to your customer.
If you are introverted or shy, practice saying this in front of a mirror until you can say it with confidence. You never know who you might be meeting and the leads they may offer you.
After delivering your elevator pitch, have a business card ready to hand out to people who show interest. Carry these with you wherever you go. Create several versions and experiment to see which cards actually get follow-up contact.
Meeting people is a critical part of marketing your business; especially if your potential customers are local. Using your elevator speech and business cards, let people know what you have to offer. Some ideas for networking opportunities:
- Chambers of commerce
- Business associations/ local business groups
- Local meet-ups
- Industry or niche-specific groups
This tactic may not cost a lot (or any) money, but it does take time. Don’t forget to follow-up on any leads after the event. For the introverts out there, make it a goal to attend at least a few events and give yourself a nice reward for doing so.
For the extroverts, here’s the next tactic (which brave introverts can do too!):
Public speaking is an excellent way to stand out and build credibility and authority in your field. Organizations of all types look for people to teach or present useful information to their members.
Events or Classes
For local businesses, offer to host an event or give a class to get people in the doors. Post on community bulletin boards or contact your local newspaper to let people know about it.
Buying a booth at a local trade show can be a great way of becoming known in your community. For example, we have a “Made in NH Expo,” which is crowded with people looking to support local businesses.
Local Sponsorships and Donations
These build both brand recognition and goodwill. Many people will go out of their way to buy from a local business that is active in the community.
Some ideas are:
- Sponsor a local team, like a Little League team.
- Sponsor non-profit events such as a 5k charity walk/run.
- Donate products to a local non-profit for raffles.
Check into the demographics reached by your local niche paper. If you have a local business, this may get you noticed by your target customers.
Local Brand Awareness
Car magnets, bumper stickers or window decals
An easy way to build local brand awareness. Make sure you or anyone driving the car is a good driver. If you are prone to road rage or texting while driving this is not for you!
Flyers and brochures
If appropriate, these could be good to pin up on local bulletin boards.
Branded merchandise that you give away
Otherwise known as “SWAG”; print your company name and logo on pens, keychains or other small items. Give them away for free or as part of a purchase.
So we’ve covered small marketing tips and ideas for the online and offline worlds. What about everything else?
But wait, there’s more: Small business marketing tips and ideas
Partner and Collaborate
Partner with a non-competitive business. If you are in the same industry or niche, you could give each other exposure to your respective audiences.
- Add reciprocal website links, or give each other referrals. Customers benefit as well. For example, a real estate agency referring customers to a trusted mortgage broker.
- Participate in a web conference. This gives you access to the audience of the host in return for an interview of typically an hour or less. Share valuable information and have a free gift (lead magnet) that you can offer in exchange for an email address.
- Join bundled promotions. As a participant, you’ll offer a free course, video training, an eBook, or a discount on your product or service. It is another way of getting your company in front of a new audience.
An offline example: A local restaurant offering 2 free tickets to a local movie theater if your bill comes to $50 or more. A great date night package.
Depending on the industry, referrals can be an excellent way to grow your company. Don’t forget to ask!
If you have employees, rewarding them for referrals can be a smart tactic.
You could also offer a small gift or discount to your existing customers in exchange for a referral, although that may lower the quality of the referrals you get.
Offering a guarantee is a powerful marketing idea. A 30-day money-back guarantee can help a potential buyer overcome their fear of handing over their credit card number.
When possible, let the customer “try before they buy.” Give a free consultation, a free trial, or a free sample. You may have a small percentage of people abuse your offer. However, they are proving that you wouldn’t want them as customers anyway!
People love to get a deal, so if you want to boost your sales, here are some small business marketing ideas.
- Flash sales/ limited-time discounts/ coupons. Temporary discounts can motivate purchases.
- BOGO (Buy one, get one free) or a bundling offer. Throw in “special bonuses” to increase the perceived value of an offer.
It’s Your Turn Now
Developing a small business marketing strategy is simply a matter of understanding what you offer and how it fits in your marketplace. And once that is clear, you can create your marketing plan. Start with a few simple tactics. Measure results where you can to discover what works, and refine your approach as necessary.
To stay motivated while you work on this, think of how you would feel if you had all the business you can handle. Your store full of eager customers. Orders being placed for your products. So many prospects, you can select the best as your clients.
Think of how it would feel to have your product or service helping or serving as many people as you possibly can. That is why you went into business, right? To make money, yes, but also for the satisfying feeling of making a difference in the world. Small business marketing helps you get the word out so you can make your difference.