Updated Feb 12, 2021
Your small business is finally up and running.
All in all, you’re doing pretty well.
Now it’s time to take it to the next level, which requires a small business marketing plan. But, just thinking about it makes you crazy.
You want to do whatever is necessary but have no idea where to start.
You’ve read about small business marketing online, you’ve talked to your friends, and you’ve been thinking about it a lot.
One thing is clear – there are many directions you can go, but some of it is expensive.
How can you launch a small business marketing plan with practically no marketing budget?
Between your inexperience with marketing, your confusion about the best path to follow, and the potential cost, your inclination is to do nothing and hope for the best.
But, you know that’s not an option if you want to grow your business.
If only there were a magic bullet for small business marketing.
There Is No Magic Bullet, but There Is Help!
There are small business marketing services available if there’s room in your budget, but if not, there are other options.
It is easier if you approach small business marketing as your friend – not your enemy.
Think of it this way – it is nothing more than another challenge that comes with running a small business.
Let’s explore some key small business marketing ideas for you to consider that won’t break the bank.
As we review them, look for the best fit for your small business and your marketing budget.
Take it one step at a time, do your homework, and make smart, informed choices.
The purpose of this guide is to demystify and bring into focus how a small business can use various marketing channels.
Sound good? Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Small Business Marketing Tips to Establish Brand Identity
Your business identity is how you present yourself to customers and clients.
It projects the vision you have for your business; and highlights the products and/or services you provide.
Purpose of Brand Identity:
- Gives your business a professional status
- Makes you stand out in a crowded marketplace
- Positions you in the customer’s mind as offering higher quality than your competitors.
Check regularly to ensure that you are holding steady with your vision and maintaining the integrity of your brand.
This is essential.
Use the Following Small Business Marketing Tips to Keep Your Brand Identity Consistent
1. Choose a Business Name that Connects with Your Customers
A clear, well-chosen business name can be a powerful tool in your marketing and branding efforts.
The business name should embody and harmonize with your business’ identity because it is often a customer’s first impression of your company. It can draw customers in, or push them away.
Picking the right business name is not an easy task, even for the most creative people. It is a process and can take time to get it right.
In some cases developing a clear understanding of your audience first will help you find a dynamic name for the business.
2. Know Your Audience
Do enough research to ensure you are targeting the right audience for your brand and product/service.
Study your competitors and analyze their targeted audiences. What marketing messages are they sending, and how are they sending them? Is your audience different or the same?
How can you make your messages more effective for your audience?
Understanding your audience is the key to success. It will give you direction when developing small business marketing ideas. It will also help you personalize sales and marketing messages.
With the information you gather from your research, you will be able to answer the followinng questions:
- What are your customer demographics (age, gender, geographical location, education level, marital status, household income, occupation, and hobbies)?
- How can you help them do what they do better?
- What are their pain points?
- What products or solutions are they looking for?
- What would they talk about if they talked to you and asked you questions?
- What appeals to them, scares them, or excites them?
- What kind of website and marketing materials would appeal to them?
Using your answers, create a customer persona. This will be a description of your ideal customer.
3. Identify Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
Your USP should reflect your special knowledge, skills, products, and services. It’s what gives people a reason to buy from you rather than your competitors.
M&M Candy – The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand!
FedEx – When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
Here are a few questions that will help you define you USP.
- What makes your products or services high quality and unique?
- What special knowledge or skills do you offer your customers?
- What sets you apart from your competitors?
- What benefits will customers enjoy when they buy your products or services?
- What do you highlight when describing your business to strangers?
4. Carefully Design Your Marketing Material
Your marketing material is often a person’s first experience with your company. A potential customer decides within a few seconds to stick around or click away.
Your designs should communicate the value you offer.
Good design will grab their attention and create confidence in your business.
Print Style and Color Palette
Use a style and colors that reflect your brand, your personality, your industry, and your product and/or service. These should be consistent on all marketing pieces (print or digital).
For example, if you were a small business connected to hiking, camping, or wilderness activities or products, the palettes below from Adobe Color would be good choices.
A well-designed logo will reflect your business, brand, and style. It is important because you’ll be using it on all assets (print and digital).
You can hire a marketing agency to create your logo if your budget allows.
Or, there are DIY options online if you have a small budget (see example below from Canva.)
5. Build a Website
In the digital world, every company (big or small) must have a website. It’s a company’s digital home base – the center of your online presence.
A well-designed website increases your visibility, has a wider reach than any other form of advertising; and is much less expensive.
It provides the opportunity to tell potential customers who you are and why they should trust you.
Looking at a company’s website is the 21st Century method that consumers use to check a business’ credibility and trustworthiness before they decide to become a customer, or not.
Most people will research your company online even if they have heard about you because it provides your location and business hours. If they cannot find that information quickly, they will go elsewhere.
In today’s digital world, it’s difficult to grow a business without a website.
So, what are you waiting for?
On your mark . . . get set . . . go!
Step One – Select a Domain Name and a Hosting Company
If you are just starting out, this article can help: How to Choose a Domain Name: 32 Tips from the Pros. It covers everything you need to consider when choosing a name.
Domain names can be purchased through your hosting company or any domain name source. Some reliable options can be found in: The Best Domain Name Registrar 2021.
Step Two – Select a Website Platform and Build Your Website
There are many choices of website builders, but the following two are time-tested and widely used.
- WIX makes the process easy for beginners
- WordPress, the best-known website builder, is also user-friendly.
There is no charge for either platform; both offer free themes and step-by-step instructions.
Keep your style and color palette in mind as you choose artwork, images, and colors.
Building a website is fairly easy if you take it slow.
Have the following information/items available when you start:
1. A registered domain name,
2. Headshot and full body shot – 300 dpi (professional shot is best, but not necessary)
3. Your logo (designed and ready to use)
4. Long and short biography (edited and proofed).
5. ABOUT US page (Examples).
6. Contact information: Business email address, business address (if local), P.O. Box (if digital only), social media links for the business.
7. Photos (300 dpi) that promote your business (shop/office, products, services, staff, etc.)
8. Well-written descriptions of products and services.
Important Additional Steps:
- Be sure to install Yoast SEO Plugin – The free version is a good start. Purchase the Premium Version when you have the budget for it.
- Track your site with Google Analytics.
- Consider including a blog. It’s is a good way to establish your authority on your topic, product, or service and increase traffic.
Quality content and blogging also help with ranking on Google.
BONUS TIP: If your budget allows, Smart Blogger’s, Freedom Machine Course, will teach you everything you need to know about being an effective blogger. (They even build a blog for you,) Click To Tweet
Develop a Small Business Marketing Plan
When the above steps are complete, the basics will be in place. You will be ready to create your small business marketing plan.
There are many moving pieces to marketing a small business. It is impossible to wing it and have beneficial results. A solid marketing plan – even a simple one – is essential.
Here are seven basic steps for building an effective small business marketing plan:
1. Determine Where You Are in the Business Cycle
There are five stages of small business growth. Your business may or may not go through every stage.
Each stage has different challenges, advantages, pitfalls, and steps to move forward.
It is important to know where you are in the cycle so that you can focus on the right things at the right time.
The Five Stages of Growth:
- Start-up (Just getting established)
- Growth (Trying to break even and finally make a profit)
- Expansion (Ready to move to the next level)
- Maturity (Stable, can survive challenges)
- Decline (Losing business – time for new growth)
Your marketing strategy for you smalll businesss marketing plan will be based on where you are in the business cycle.
2. Develop a Budget for the First Year
A small business marketing budget is essential.
Many small businesses have limited budgets, and every dollar spent must count.
As a general rule of thumb for an established business, your marketing budget should be between 3% to 5% of your expected annual turnover.
For a start-up, you may need to budget more in order to build your business identity.
Be sure to include the following:
- Weekly time budget for marketing – use the time wisely.
- Spending budget – even if you have little or no money. There are some low- or no-cost marketing ideas. But, as a rule, small business marketing requires at least a small investment.
- Measurable goals for the use of both your time and money. Track your results. Evaluate and adjust quarterly.
- A boatload of patience. You must be in it for the long-haul. It takes time to see results from all small business marketing ideas.
Steps #3, #4, and #5 below are more applicable if you have already started marketing your small business.
They can be difficult for an inexperienced marketer. It may be wise to get help from a trusted friend or a company offering small business marketing services
3. Analyze Where You Stand in the Three Critical Areas of Marketing
To be successful in marketing, there must be a measurement framework in place. The most common one includes three critical areas: Awareness, Engagement, Conversion.
AWARENESS: Marketing starts with building awareness. Your targeted audience must know of the existence and availability of your product or service in order to buy. Are you reaching the right people with the right message?
ENGAGEMENT: Engagement is the point of interaction between the message and the potential customers. if you reach them, is your message resonating with them? Do they engage? Measuring engagement includes collecting data such as, “Likes” on Facebook, “Opens” on emails, etc.)
CONVERSION: After potential customers become aware of the product or service and engage, the next step is their decision to follow the call to action (make an appointment, buy a product, request more information, etc.)
All three areas must be tracked and analyzed to determine if your marketing efforts are successful. Then, adjustments made, as necessary.
4. Identify Your Marketing Challenges
Some small business owners have the expertise to do this themselves.
If not, an advisor can help tremendously by taking a close look at the numbers, provide an outside perspective, and help you identify problems.
For example – some common problem areas are:
- You need to reach more new people every month.
- Your reach is doing well, but people aren’t opening your emails or engaging on social media.
- People are engaging, but no one is buying or following the “call to action.”
5. Develop Your Marketing Strategy
Once you have identified the biggest problem(s), you must choose the most effective marketing strategy to address the issue(s).
For example – small business marketing ideas to solve specific problems
1. Build Greater AWARENESS
a. Set up an email service – download the business cards you’ve been collecting, and build your list.
b. Create an optimized-for-traffic website and/or blog.
c. Set up a Facebook Business Page and actively engage with followers.
d. If you have budgeted for advertising – use Google AdWords.
e. Start using GROUPON – When managed correctly, it can reach many potential customers. This can create early, long-lasting loyalty.
2. Find More Effective Ways to ENGAGE
a. Study similar businesses who use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest) to successfully engage with their customers. Read their posts, notice how they tag users, follow their lead, and measure the results.
b. Be sure your website is user-friendly and engaging. Again – observe similar businesses’ websites for ideas.
3. Find Innovative Ways to Increase CONVERSIONS
a. Make your call-to-action (CTA) simple and beneficial, such as offering an awesome bribe or benefit for contacting you. Make the CTAs obvious on every page – people will not hunt for them.
b. Test, test, test, and make adjustments. Be sure to measure before and after results, which helps you make steady improvements.
6. Prioritize Your Marketing Tasks
Schedule time for marketing. Keep the process flowing.
It may be easier to ignore marketing tasks or let them slide, but that’s a mistake.
Use the following steps to keep your marketing tasks prioritized.
- Make a list of everything that must be done for the week.
- Prioritize the tasks.
- Post the list where you can see it for easy reference.
- This is your weekly “ACTION PLAN.”
- Use it as your guide – follow it faithfully.
7. Follow the Plan, Measure Results, Adjust When Necessary
The only constant in life and business is CHANGE! Priorities may shift, and you must shift with them.
You will stay on track if you follow your small business marketing plan, measure your results monthly, and adjust when necessary.
Having clear goals and measuring the results of your marketing efforts will help you discover what’s working best and allow you to refine your approach over time.
The key to marketing success is to maximize the ROI of time and money. Measuring and adjusting will help you do that.
Online Marketing for Small Business
Small businesses cannot ignore the marketing potential offered by the Internet. For example: having a website, leveraging social media, building an email list, and buying online ads.
Develop a Social Media Strategy
For all small businesses – local or digital – it is important to develop a social media presence.
You need as many methods as possible to communicate with your customers. Being active on the platforms where your audience hangs out can be an excellent source of leads.
The real-time operation of social media platforms allows your business to engage with your customers in a timely manner.
Choose two or three social media platforms that are strategic for your business.
- Be selective. Don’t try to be everywhere.
- Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram offer excellent opportunities to share your blog posts, other content, and promotions.
- These platforms are an additional way for customers to find you online.
- Once your platforms are in place, you or a member of your team must post regularly, monitor the sites daily, and respond to any comments or questions within 24 hours to maintain your credibility.
- Facebook and Twitter can be used specifically for customer service. If you set it up, be sure someone checks it daily and responds immediately.
Develop and Implement an Email Marketing Strategy
Email is the cornerstone of digital marketing. It is the digital channel with the highest conversion rate for interacting with leads.
Once people are on your list, you can provide valuable content that will display your authority and enhance your credibility.
Select an Email Service Provider and Build Your List
A small business email marketing strategy requires a service provider. There are many choices, and everyone has their favorite. Do the research and find one that fits your needs. Popular choices for newbies are MailChimp, Mailerlite, and AWeber.
Take advantage of your service provider’s seminars, training videos, and tutorials. They will help you build your list. If you follow their instructions, stay focused, and work on it daily, your list will grow.
Most people who land on your page will not buy immediately. The goal is to capture their email address (by using a lead magnet people can’t resist), which will give you the chance to stay in touch and build a relationship with them.
Segment Your Email List
When you know your audience, you can segment your email list by their needs and wants. Then, send quality, targeted messages based on where each segment is in the buying process.
A repeat customer or one who is ready to buy requires a different message than a new potential customer who needs nurturing. It is important to have the right conversation at the right time.
Communicate with them on a personal level. Show them you understand them and care about their wants and needs. This approach is far more effective in building trust and long-term customers than bombarding your entire list with sales pitch after sales pitch.
People buy from people they trust! So, instead of constantly pushing your product or service, put your energy into providing information, insights into their business, and maybe even a laugh now and then.
Be patient as you guide them carefully through the buyer’s journey.
Take Advantage of Small Business Marketing Automation
You have so much to do. No matter how hard your work, you can’t get it all done. If you drop the ball, your business suffers. One of the best small business marketing ideas is email automation, which is offered by most email service providers.
Email automation is the ability to send time or action-triggered emails to subscribers with relevant information. It will save you time and money, keep your business front and center in your customers’ heads, and maximize customer retention.
Online Advertising for Small Business
You must let the world know you exist – who you are, where to find you, and why your product or service is better than your competitors’.
- Advertising can be extremely effective, but it takes basic know-how and an adequate budget.
- There are many options. But, there is no one type of advertising that works for every business.
- Explore the choices, try them out, and find the types that work best for your business.
It would be wise to start with well-known advertising platforms such as Google Adwords and Social Media Advertising. Below is an introduction to each of those.
Google AdWords for Small Business Marketing
Google AdWords has been around for a long time. It is Google’s advertising service that gives businesses the opportunity to display their ads on Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs).
These ads can be expensive, but they can be very effective. It is the only type of advertising that can get your business in front of 40,000 pairs of eyes every second.
AdWords allows you to target specific geographic locations, making it a good choice for local businesses.
Through the use of keywords, AdWords can also target types of products or services. Select a few quality keywords, rather than trying to focus on many.
AdWords offer flexible pricing options, which gives you the ability to control your spending.
Before you choose this path, educate yourself on how to use Google AdWords so your money will be put to good use. Click here for a beginner’s guide on how to use AdWords.
Social Media Advertising for Small Business Marketing
You may ask, is social media advertising a good idea for small business marketing – especially with a budget that is stretched thin?
What types of ads would be most effective for a small business? Which platform has the greatest potential reach?
Only you can answer those questions for your business by educating yourself through research and study.
The article, Social Media Advertising for Small Businesses, and the step-by-step guides found through the following links are a good place to start.
Buying ads can eat-up your budget quickly, so be diligent in your investigation.
Once you feel fairly well informed, start small, test the options, and over time you will find what works.
Local Marketing Ideas for Small Business
Owning a small business can be challenging. Local markets may be saturated, it is in an increasingly globalized economy, and you have to wear many hats just to keep the business going. The pressure can be enormous.
But, there are strategies you can implement to improve your competitive position. Three things to always remember are (1) to market yourself online and locally, (2) always continue to improve your relationship with customers, and (3) never be afraid to change.
Here are three tips to help you with the local marketing:
1. Don’t Ignore the Importance of Digital Marketing in Attracting Local Customers
Even if your business is primarily focused on a local customer base, you still need an online presence. According to HubSpot, “97% of people learn about local businesses online more than anywhere else and nearly 46% of all Google searches are seeking local information.”
Here’s what you need to do:
- Build your website and keep it up to date. The chances are slim that consumers will make an effort to do business with you, if they cannot find a website.
- Be sure your website is optimized for mobile devices. Most consumer searches are done on their phones. If this is not a feature built-in to your Website theme, there are free plugins available that simplify the process – especially for WordPress sites.
- Host a webinar and embed it on your website. It builds credibility and establishes you as an authority on your product/service. This can be done with no skills, no stress, and no budget.
- Embed “how to” and informational videos on your website.
- Do what is necessary to get a high website ranking on Google. Study this report from Backlinko for information on the most important ranking factors, including relevant keywords and their placement on your site.
- Manage your reputation. Request reviews on Yelp (and other similar sites) from happy customers. Online reviews are not only highly visible; consumers trust them as much as referrals from friends. They also increase your online authority and page rank on Google.
- Launch a Business Page on Facebook for location and hours.
- Claim your business pages for free on Yelp.
- Claim your listings on local search directories, such as Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. These are free and help local prospects find you when they search online for the products and/or services you sell.
- Hold online contests. The prize does not have to be extravagant. Offer a free product, a free consultation, a heavily discounted one-time service, etc. Embed an Opt-in box on your Website. Your Email Service Provider should have directions on how to do this, or hire someone from FIVERR to create the form. This is a good way to gather emails so that you can keep in touch with them.
2. Create Local Awareness and Establish a Strong Network
This begins with being visible and present in the community and participating in local networking events.
Become a member of your Chamber of Commerce. Studies show that If a consumer knows a business is part of its local chamber, it will have a 63% increase in the likelihood that the consumer will shop with them.
Always be willing to engage with others and to recognize networking opportunities whenever they appear.
Be prepared with the following:
- A well-rehearsed elevator pitch – short, informative, and to the point. It must be delivered naturally in the conversation. Avoid talking too fast and sounding like a robot.
- A well-designed business card, primarily for networking, but nice to have whenever you meet someone new.
3. Think Locally – Be a Good Neighbor
Be involved! Be kind, cordial, and pleasant – avoid coming on too strong when you are talking about your business. The goal is to build relationships.
People buy from people they know and trust. A good reputation in your community builds brand awareness and makes it easy to ask for referrals.
Here are some steps to take:
- Continually nurture loyal customers – create a customer loyalty program.
- Volunteer to give speeches at meetings, events, local clubs, schools, churches, etc.
- Sponsor a little league team, a non-profit event, or any good cause.
- Join business associations and other active community groups.
- Giveaway useful SWAG – coffee cups or baseball caps.
- Give away t-shirts to your best customers – they become walking advertisements for your business.
- Collaborate – find a team of like-minded synergistic, non-competitive business owners, and agree to cross-promote.
- Offer coupons, discounts, or free trials on a product.
People support businesses that are owned by individuals who care about their neighbors.
People Also Ask . . .
How can a small business get more customers?
- Take care of your customers – the word gets around.
- Happy, satisfied customers are your best ambassadors.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals (customers, friends, other businesses, etc.)
- Be friendly, helpful, and kind – you can be your own best publicist.
- Network, network, network – digitally and in person.
- Having weekly or monthly drawings for something of value.
- Offer discounts and incentives for new customers only.
- Stay in touch with old customers – let them know you haven’t forgotten them.
- Be sure your website appeals to your targeted customers – and keep it up to date.
- Be active in the community – host an event/give a speech.
- Partner with complementary businesses.
- Be the best at what you do and promote your expertise
What does marketing mean in business, and why do small businesses need marketing?
No business can survive and thrive without it.
You may have the best product or service in the world, but if no one knows what you have to offer, you will not be successful.
Marketing tells the world who you are and what you do. It connects you with potential customers and lets them know what you have to offer.
Without a good marketing plan and active engagement with customers, your reach will be limited. Your name may be mentioned occasionally among friends, but soon your presence with be nothing more than a vapor in the air that quickly disappears.
Without marketing, your business cannot have a lasting impact. It will die before it has a chance to grow.
It creates healthy competition with other businesses. It builds your reputation and brand recognition. It increases sales and helps establish a customer base that will allow you to make your mark on the world.
How can I market my small business for free?
- Network on Linked-In – be active in your industry groups.
- Volunteer to speak at a professional and industry conferences, the local chamber of commerce, or a community event.
- Ask satisfied customers to share their good experience with your business on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Develop a sharp elevator pitch and use it every chance you get.
- Offer free consultations.
- Get testimonials and use them on your website.
- Write guest posts on blogs that are relevant to your business.
- Network locally.
- Be active in community events.
- Develop a reputation for fairness.
- Take good care of your vendors and contractors.
What is the best marketing strategy for a small business?
There is no one-size-fits-all small business marketing strategy.
The purpose of small business marketing is to connect your business with the right customer base.
The right customer for your business depends on many variables, See the information in the “Know Your Audience” section above.
Questions similar to those above will help you determine which marketing strategies will be viable and the most effective for your business – or a complete waste of time and money.
Know who your customers are and what they want. Then, you can choose the best marketing strategy for your small business.
You Can Succeed at Small Business Marketing
You no longer have to cringe or shake your head in despair.
Granted, small business marketing is no small task. It may seem daunting, but it is doable even with a limited budget.
Even though you have a long road ahead of you, you now know where to start.
Always focus on consistent competitive branding.
Remember the professional marketer’s “Rule of Seven.” People need to hear or see your message at least seven times before they take action. You must be seen and heard as often as possible.
The main reason people do not buy from a company is that they don’t know it exists. Do not let that happen to your business.
Start where you are today. Do what your time and budget allow – and stay with it.
Take it one step at a time, slow and sure. Remember, it takes time and patience to build new skills.
When you have the basics in place, including a complete small business marketing plan, you can move forward with confidence.
Take a deep breath and start today. You can do it!
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