When you don’t have a big budget, marketing can be challenging, but there’s plenty a small business owner can do to attract and maintain a customer base. The rise in digital marketing has made it easier for small business owners to find a way to create a presence and attract informed buyers.
When you build a business, the first thing you want to secure is a customer base. Then, with a decent printer, a phone, and an internet-connected device, you can create a reasonably extensive advertising campaign without paying for digital space. Here are seven small business marketing techniques you can use to boost your business.
- Small businesses don’t have the advertising budget of larger rivals, but there are inexpensive ways to build a customer base.
- Hitting the pavement with flyers distributed door to door (where allowed) and placing posters strategically can help get the word out.
- Follow up with customers after the first round of ads to reinforce the initial message, and don’t fear cold calls—they can be effective.
- Value additions, such as discounts or freebies for repeat customers, are a big boon once the business is up and running.
- Referrals—both from customer to customer and business to business—are also important.
- Prioritize digital marketing, including traditional websites and social media.
5 Biggest Challenges Facing Your Small Business
Before You Start Marketing
Before your business starts marketing a product, it helps to create a buyer persona whom you want to reach with your promotional materials. Once you have your ideal customer, you’ll have a wide choice of marketing methods. Most of these are low-cost or no-cost tactics (sometimes called guerrilla marketing). You may use different ones at different stages of your business cycle—or you may utilize them all at once from your business’ inception.
This is the carpet-bombing method of cheap advertising. You find an area where you would like to do business and distribute flyers to all the mailboxes within reach. Your flyer should be brief and to the point, highlighting the services you offer or products you sell and providing contact information. Offering a free appraisal, coupon, or discount can help attract your first customers.
Flyers shouldn't be mistaken for posters. Flyers are more informative, listing services or products provided, contact information, addresses, and specialties.
Most supermarkets, public spaces, and malls offer free bulletin board space for announcements and advertisements. This method is hit-or-miss, but you should try to make your poster visible and have removable tabs that the customers can present for a discount.
Make each location a different color to get an idea from the tabs where the most leads are generated. If one area is producing most of your leads, you can better target your campaign (flyers, ads in local media catering to those areas, cold calling, etc.)
Posters should feature appealing images and catchy, memorable phrasing so viewers will recall it when they're wondering where to go for whatever it is they need.
Traditional marketing methods like radio, print advertising, and billboards shouldn't be overlooked. The more channels you use, the more exposure you have.
3. Value Additions
Value additions (or value-ads) are powerful selling points for any product or service. On the surface, value additions are very similar to coupons and free appraisals, but they aim to increase customer satisfaction and widen the gap between you and the competition.
Common value additions typically include:
- Discounts for repeat customers
- Point cards
- Referral rewards
The deciding factor for a customer choosing between two similar shops might be the one that offers a point card or preferred customer card. You don’t have to promise the moon to add value—instead, point out something that the customer may not realize about your product or service. It's important to highlight the value additions when creating your advertising materials.
4. Referral Networks
Referral networks are invaluable to a business which often include customer referrals. These can be encouraged through discounts or other rewards per referral. However, referral networks also include business-to-business referrals. If you have ever found yourself saying, “We don’t do/sell that here, but X down the street does,” you might want to introduce yourself to Xs owner and talk to them about referral quid-pro-quo.
When dealing with white-collar professions, this network is even stronger. For example, a lawyer might refer you to an accountant; in turn, the accountant might refer you to a financial planner, who could refer you to a broker. In each situation, the person stakes their professional reputation on the referral. Regardless of your business, make sure you create a referral network that has the same outlook and commitment to quality that you do.
Remember that your competition is not always your enemy. If you are too busy to take a job, throw it their way. You will often find the favor returned—besides, it can be bad for your reputation if a customer waits too long.
Advertising can help attract customers, but what you do after they come in can often be a much stronger marketing tool. Follow-up questionnaires are one of the best sources of feedback on how your ad campaign is going. Questions you could ask include:
- Why did the customer choose your business?
- Where did they hear about it?
- Which other companies had they considered?
- What produced the most customer satisfaction?
- What was the least satisfying
Also, if your job involves going to the customer, make sure to slip a flyer into nearby mailboxes, as people of similar needs and interests tend to live in the same area.
6. Cold Calls
Unpleasant? Important? Yes, and yes.
Cold calling—whether over the phone or door to door—is a baptism of fire for many small businesses. Cold calling forces you to sell yourself as well as your business. If people can’t buy you (the person talking to them), they won’t buy anything from you.
Over the phone, you don’t have the benefit of a smile or face-to-face conversation—a phone is a license for some people to be as caustic and abrupt as possible (we are all guilty of this at one time or another). However, cold calling does make you think on your feet and encourages creativity and adaptability when facing potential customers.
A combination of old-fashioned pounding the pavement and modern-day pounding the keyboard will provide the best results for a small business looking to market itself.
Warm calls are an alternative to cold calls. You make calls to people you have already met or introduced yourself to through social events, email campaigns, or other activities.
7. Online Marketing
The importance of the internet in building a successful business cannot be overstated. Marketing methods have stayed pretty much the same across the last 50 years, except for the birth and rapid evolution of the internet. No company (even a local café) should be without, at the very least, a website with vital details such as location and hours. You need a point of access for everyone who searches the internet first when they want to make a buying decision.
You may also need:
- A social media presence: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter
- A content management system (CMS): Word Press, Hubspot, Joomla, or Drupal
- Search engine optimization (SEO) skills: Optimizing your content for searches, internal and external linking, title tags, alt tags, and headings
All this digital dexterity may feel intimidating at first. However, publishing technology has evolved to the point where an open-source content management system can meet all these needs.
How to Identify Your Value Proposition, Audience, and Goals
Before you begin printing and distributing your materials, it's best to figure out who your audience is and how to make your product or services valuable to them. Then, set realistic and attainable goals for your business and marketing endeavors.
A value proposition is a reason a customer should buy your product or service instead of the competition. Look for what your target audience needs from you rather than what your product has. These needs are usually called benefits, where a product's physical properties or what it does are called features.
Critical to selling your product or services is identifying what you do for people that others do not (or don't do very well). To establish your value proposition, compare what you're offering to the competition. Identify their features and benefits to yours, and create ways to describe yours that outweigh the competition.
Your top value proposition should be unique to your offering and make it appealing to your audience. For example, imagine you have a coffee shop and bistro. It's a trendy convenience found in many towns and cities, so you'll have to analyze your competitors and use your imagination to discover the one thing that makes you stand out.
You can still highlight features, but they should be backed up with a benefit that aligns with your audience's needs.
Say you've perfected bread recipes from around the world, like Pao de Qeuijo (a gluten-free Brazilian bread made from gue flour and cheese) or Aesh Baladi (an Egyptian bread), and import coffee from the countries you make bread from. You may have a competitive advantage and an excellent value proposition—you offer an experience no other café in town does.
You'll need to identify who your audience is. To do this, you'll need to research to find out who your audience is if you didn't design your product specifically for one.
You'll need to identify who you want to sell to the most and ensure your product or service caters to them. For example, if you like the idea of a global café with bread and coffee from around the world, you'll need a customer base to sell it to.
You could start talking to people and listening to their coffee concerns. Find out their ages and average incomes, see what they'd like, and ask what current issues they have getting the coffee and the experience they want. Learn as much about them as possible—spending habits, needs, income levels, hobbies, or anything else that might provide insights into what might attract them.
Once you define your audience and what they need, you can figure out the message you're going to send.
Audience is key to marketing. If you're targeting one demographic that doesn't have a large presence in your area, you may not be too successful unless you're an online retailer.
One of the best ways to accomplish something is to set a goal. However, you don't want to set one goal—you should set an end goal and several small attainable goals that contribute to the final goal. Along with the smaller goals, set up a timeline and dates you'd like to complete the small goals. This way, you have small steps to guide you and a way to measure your progress and success.
The internet, and the various technologies and platforms created using it, gives businesses enormous marketing opportunities for those who understand how to leverage it. Here are the top marketing channels used; it's likely you've heard of or been exposed to them.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is top dog when it comes to marketing. It involves structuring your website and content so that it ranks as high as possible on Google search engine results pages. Google uses a technique called web crawling that finds web pages to add to its index. When creating or adjusting your webpage or site for SEO, there are several factors to consider, such as following Google's best practices and spam policies.
Content marketing is a technique used to promote interest in your brand without explicitly promoting a product or service. You'll find examples of this on many companies' websites where a blog or article discusses a topic and how the company relates to it or works to help people do something. Generally, there is a call to action towards the end of the article, like "if you need help with XYZ, contact us today" or something similar.
Content marketing establishes expertise and gives potential customers a brand to remember.
It's been predicted that more than 4.5 billion people will have an email address by 2025. To gain access to this ocean of people, you'll need an email marketing application. You can find hundreds of email marketing applications that will allow you to create email marketing campaigns.
Social Media Marketing
We've all seen advertisements on our social media pages that seem to target us by what we've been shopping for. It's no secret that using social media increases brand exposure and generates interest, so it is in a small business's best interest to, at a minimum, create a social media profile for itself and begin posting content.
Influencers are people with a large viewer and follower base on their platform of choice. For instance, someone who regularly posts content on Instagram could have millions of followers. This person then becomes an influence in the lives of their followers—giving businesses another exposure outlet. Chances are you've seen someone talking about a product or service on their social media platform; they've been sponsored by a company to talk about that business's services. Influencers can help you generate tons of interest.
What Is Small Business Marketing?
Small business marketing is creating a campaign for your small business to generate interest and a consumer base. It involves using traditional and modern marketing techniques to develop a marketing campaign.
Which Marketing is Best for Small Business?
The most effective marketing combines social media, networking, and traditional methods like flyers, posters, and cold-calling. However, social media advertising reaches the most people the quickest.
How Can I Promote My Small Business?
Social media is the quickest method for promoting your business. For the promotion itself, you can offer discounts for referrals, promotional pricing, participate in events in your community, or anything else you can think of. Technology has created many more channels you can use, but it's up to you to figure out ways to exploit them.
The Bottom Line
More than likely, you will find that the conversion rate on marketing is very low. Even the most successful campaigns measure leads (and converted sales from those leads) in the 10% to 20% range. This helps to shatter any illusions about instant success, but it is also an opportunity for improvement. However, it helps to consider that if you convert 0.5% of 1 million leads to sales, you've got 5,000 sales.
The more exposure you have, the more leads you can generate and convert. Ultimately, this turns into sales, profits, and growth.