Companies of all sizes have one thing in common: They all began as small businesses. Starting small is a column for those just getting off the ground. Learn about how to make that first hire, deal with all things administrative, and set yourself up for success.
Customers aren’t telepathic. Sure, things would be a lot easier for marketers if they were, but people need to be made aware of your business and what you do.
Learning how to market your small business can feel like an overwhelming challenge, but it has limitless upsides. Marketing is a way to tell potential customers all about your shiny new product or service. It’s also a way to build long-lasting relationships with existing customers, and to use what you learn from those relationships to develop new business ideas.
Attracting and retaining customers is vital to survival. So how does a small business achieve marketing success with limited money and resources? In this article, we’ve pulled together a selection of creative and innovative marketing tips to help connect you with your customers.
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Why is marketing important for small businesses?
It’s tempting to think that the biggest and most well-known brands hold all of the cards when it comes to marketing. After all, they’re the ones with bottomless advertising budgets and trendy creative agencies working on award-winning, multi-channel marketing campaigns.
In reality, marketing can offer more to a small business than it can to a big one. New tools like location-based digital marketing have created a more level playing field for small businesses trying to promote themselves locally and connect with potential customers who live and work nearby.
Building connections with people through marketing is how businesses generate sales, beat the competition, and grow. Without marketing, small businesses run the risk of losing customers to rivals and running out of steam before they have a chance to achieve success.
But marketing for small businesses can pose a challenge. A lack of funds, a limited customer base, or too few marketing channels can make it difficult to decide when and where to invest your advertising budget. To help you out, we’ve pulled together 14 easy and cheap small business marketing ideas.
Easy small business marketing ideas
Create a free Google Business Profile
Google is a fantastic resource for small businesses looking to raise their profile in their local area and beyond. By creating a free Google Business Profile, you can manage what customers see when your business appears in search results and on Google Maps, by adding things like photos, menus, opening hours, and more.
You can also see what keywords people use to find your business, giving you valuable insight into customer behaviors and helping inform your future marketing plans.
Be active on social media
Social media marketing is too huge of a topic to go into depth about here. But as a starting point, you should be using platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok to connect with your customers and promote your business in a way that’s fun and engaging.
Encourage customers to share their experiences with your product. Post short tutorials, link back to your blog, respond to feedback, and source new ideas from your audience through polls.
Run ads on different platforms
Don’t dump your limited marketing budget into a single channel and hope for the best. Instead, try to place your ads across a few different platforms. Video advertising is expensive to produce for most small businesses, so a more effective strategy might be to reach your audience by advertising in local print publications and through traditional billboard and poster advertising.
Geo-targeted digital advertising can also massively help certain kinds of businesses, by advertising to customers who are physically near your store and searching for a business like yours.
Learn basic SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a technique used to help websites improve their visibility and appear higher up in search results, making it more likely that customers will take notice and click through. When done correctly, SEO is a powerful tool for boosting your presence in search without spending money on advertising.
To get you rolling, Coursera has a free Google SEO fundamentals course that can take you through the basics of keyword research, consumer psychology, and building an effective SEO strategy for your brand.
Use email marketing and newsletters
Email marketing is making a big comeback, and newsletters are proving to be an especially effective way to cut through the noise and reach customers with curated content they actually care about.
It’s not enough to just fire off an email with a bunch of offers. To grab and keep your customer’s attention for more than a few seconds, you should strike a friendly tone, be topical, and avoid overloading the message with too much information.
A well-timed customer survey serves a dual purpose. The first is pretty obvious: The questions you ask solicit valuable feedback and give you a greater understanding of your customers’ needs and their feelings toward your business.
But a survey can also be an effective piece of marketing in and of itself. People enjoy being asked about their opinions. As a touchpoint between you and the customer, a survey can create a positive interaction that leaves them feeling engaged with the work you do and the products you sell.
Make and share infographics
Once you’ve gathered enough feedback from your customers, don’t just leave that information gathering dust in a database somewhere. That information is useful content waiting to be repurposed in a blog or social media post.
If your customer surveys reveal some interesting findings about your industry or consumer behaviors, make them exponentially more shareable by framing them in a punchy, visual format.
Offer subscription services
Can your product work on a subscription basis? By offering discounts to repeat customers when they sign up to receive refills or replacements, you’re not just helping to build a reliable revenue stream. Your subscribers are your most loyal customers and will enthusiastically promote your product to their friends and family too.
If you’re shipping boxes to doorsteps, take a leaf out of the meal-kit delivery playbook: Your packaging is free advertising real estate, so make your logo big, bold, and visible from the street.
Create engaging content for your online platforms
Not everything you post online has to relate directly to making your next sale or promoting a new product. Think about the sort of things your customers might find useful or interesting and build your content marketing strategy around that.
For example, if you’re a local plumber you might consider making short YouTube video tutorials about simple DIY jobs around the home. If you’re selling protein bars, make fun videos about rock climbing, running, and other sports and hobbies your customers actually care about.
Attend industry events
Industry events and expos are not only a great way to network with potential new business partners and suppliers, they’re also a way to reach the most engaged and interested customers in your market.
An attendee at a coffee festival is way more likely to be your next customer than the average person passing by your coffee shop, so use these valuable interactions to build a relationship with your industry’s most devout followers.
Apply for business awards
Don’t be shy about nominating your company for every award under the sun. Winning awards not only boosts your business’s profile within your industry, but by displaying the award online, and in your marketing materials, you earn instant credibility with customers. Your team will appreciate the recognition of their hard work, too.
Run free webinars
Many companies are on the lookout for free online webinars, either to sample the professional services your business can offer, or simply to learn more about the fundamentals of some aspect of doing business. By hosting free webinars, you can help business owners take their first steps toward their goals, and be their first choice should they choose to continue.
For example, if you run a business that helps establish diversity networks within organizations, regularly hosting free webinars on the importance of diversity and inclusion can put you face-to-virtual-face with your next client.
Offer free trials for your products or services
This is an easy marketing win that’s as old as time. Give people a chance to try your product or service before they commit to it, and you’ll reach more customers while demonstrating your belief in the quality of what you’re selling.
Consumer psychology plays a big role here too. People place a higher value on things they already have, so by giving them the product first and asking them to pay for it later, you greatly increase your chances of making the sale.
Give cool merchandise to your employees
Your employees are also your brand ambassadors. They’re part of your team because they believe in the business, and by creating branded merchandise that people actually want to wear and use every day, they can express pride in their work wherever they go.
Try to get creative with your business swag. Lanyards and tees are fine, but try to include things your employees won’t want to throw away, like portable chargers, reusable water bottles, and even branded headphones.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.