Are you marketing your small business to its full potential? If you are, then nice job! However, I am willing to bet that the majority of small business owners reading this are not. In fact, I would venture to guess that most of you want to do more marketing but may have not had success in the past and now you’re stuck in paralysis by analysis mode and fearful of throwing good money after bad. Or, maybe you feel there’s no available budget for marketing. The good news is these days there are a variety of marketing strategies for small business owners that are low cost and effective.
In this article, I am going to hopefully shed some light on the various marketing mediums and some popular local business marketing services that you can begin to implement, even if you’re on a shoestring budget.
My Introduction to Marketing Strategies for Small Business
I got my first taste of marketing back in 2002. I just switched from working as a business development representative for a multi-billion dollar IT company to a mortgage broker on straight commission. While I had the sales experience, my marketing experience was sorely lacking. I never had to worry about branding myself in the corporate world, but in the mortgage business, branding was everything.
Needless to say, I learned a great deal during that time. First and foremost I learned that people like free stuff! And that’s not a joke. Give someone a little trinket and you can make his or her day. But more importantly, I learned that marketing works if it’s done correctly.
Many realtors are great at this. How many of you have a fridge magnet or something similar from your realtor? I bet that when you need a realtor the person hanging on your fridge is whom you’re going to call. You most likely receive postcards from that realtor and other top-of-mind reminders. This is branding at it’s finest.
Similar methods can be applied in the digital world.
Recently, I was conducting research on assisted living facilities. I needed to locate a few that met certain requirements. I completed the project and that was the end of that. Later, I was perusing YouTube and clicked on a video. If you’re experienced with YouTube you probably know that when you click on a video an ad or two come up first. Guess what, the advertisement that came on was for an assisted living facility. And happened to be one of the ones I was researching. To this day, there’s a strong chance that when I go to a YouTube video the advertisement for the same assisted facility center will come up. Even more, their name is ingrained in my mind. Should I ever need an assisted living facility, theirs will be the first I call. These are paid advertisements that any small business can implement.
What’s great about both of these examples is that neither are expensive to implement, yet can reap huge rewards. The downside is that it takes some work, consistent effort, and some patience. Most marketing strategies do!
Let’s jump in with the 4 main types of marketing mediums. All marketing strategies for small businesses will fall into these categories.
4 Types of Marketing Mediums
There are four types of marketing mediums: Broadcast, Print, Digital, and Social Media. Within these mediums, there is a great deal of sub-types. Let’s look at each:
Broadcast: Radio and television.
Digital: Website, email, video, digital newspapers/magazines, etc.
Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
A great marketing strategy for small business owners is to find a healthy (and cost-effective) balance across all of the mediums.
However, finding that healthy balance can sometimes prove to be a challenge. Of course, if you have the money to hire a public relations or advertising firm, no big deal. But if you were like me, there was no way I could afford one. I had to do things myself.
I spent a great deal of time and money learning what I could about marketing and a lot of trial and error. Over the years I have tried each of the marketing strategies for small business options mentioned. There were both successes and failures along the way, most of which came down to me either spending money on the wrong type of marketing medium or not sticking with the marketing strategies I implemented.
So, where do you begin?
Plan, Plan, Plan
First and foremost before you spend any time or money on marketing you should develop a marketing plan. A marketing plan can get very detailed and complex. When I meet with clients we get pretty deep and discuss a huge range of topics related to their business in order to best determine the best marketing strategies. For example, we discuss the value and unique selling propositions, distribution plans, digital strategies, previous marketing successes, failures, etc.
However, you might not have experience in creating a deep dive marketing plan, and that’s ok. You can still start with a basic plan.
Only you know your business. So, take the time and create a sound marketing plan.
A good marketing plan should answer a few key questions:
- What is the goal for your marketing?
- Who are your target customers?
- How many sales revenues do you want to generate from your marketing efforts?
- How many customers will it take to generate that revenue?
- How many new customers can you handle in a month?
- How much can you afford to spend each and every month for the next 6-12 months?
- What can you offer potential customers?
- What is your competitive advantage?
Again, these questions just scratch the surface, but it’s a start. You can always take it further. A simple Google search for ‘marketing plans’ should give you some great examples of other objectives to include in your planning. All the marketing strategies for small business should be included in your marketing plan. Regardless, by having the answers to the above questions, will give you a base to work from.
Next, we need to look at which small business marketing strategies will work best for your marketing plan.
Marketing Strategies for Small Business Research
As we shared earlier, there are four types of marketing mediums and within each medium is a plethora of marketing options. For example, in print marketing, there are newspapers, magazines, direct mailers, etc. We need to find which works best for your business type and your budget.
Unfortunately, this is not an exact science. I have yet to find a ‘one size fits all’ approach to marketing for every small business. But at the same time, it’s also not that complicated. It just takes a little effort.
The best way to market a small business is to find the best, most cost-effective marketing strategies for your business and implement them. One of the best places to start is with your competitors.
Understanding where your competitors advertise will give you some good clues for your business.
Start by taking the four mediums mentioned above and seek out your competitors. Do you hear them on the radio? Are they in the local newspaper or community magazines? Are advertisements for their services with your daily mail? Do they have a website? Are they on Facebook? Perform a Google, Bing, and Yahoo search and see if you can find them easily?
Once you have an idea of your competitors’ marketing strategies, it’s time for you to make a list of them. At the same time, keep your eye out for other possible places to advertise. For example, local sporting events usually sell space to place a banner. There are free and paid classified advertising sites. You can also contact direct mail companies and ask their suggestions; you can look to the Chamber for advertising opportunities, local clubs, etc.
The opportunities are endless when you put the time in to find them.
I only suggest monitoring your competitors’ advertising strategy because it’s quick and easy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better or more effective ways to advertise.
Next, comes the time-consuming part. It’s time to begin gathering prices and relevant data for each of the strategies you’re competitors advertise and those you found on your own.
For example, if your competitor has a radio ad, call the radio station and get a rate card. If you saw them in a local publication or newspaper, call and get the advertising rates.
With this, you can begin to compare the various marketing costs to your budget and narrow down some strategy options.
Keep in mind; these prices are not going to include any set up, design, printing costs, postage, or other ancillary expenses.
So it’s important to perform your due diligence and know the total costs and compare it against your budget to help in the decision-making process.
Now it’s almost time to start marketing! But first, we need to make sure you have a foundation to start from.
Marketing Strategies 101
An effective marketing strategy should consist of a healthy balance across as many mediums as relevant for your business over a consistent period of time.
With marketing, you are going to have fixed costs and recurring costs. For example, a website is a fixed cost. Once a website is up and running, there won’t be any hefty additional costs. Yes, you have to pay for hosting and domain renewal, but those are very minimal costs.
However, a print or digital ad in a newspaper or magazine has recurring costs, meaning there’s an ongoing fee to keep your advertisement showing. Most small business online marketing will fall into this category, as well.
For those just starting out, we recommend starting with the fixed marketing costs first. This means, signage, business cards, website, etc. underway. Most of these will ensure those looking for whatever it is you do can find your business. Next, and as your budget will allow, will be to focus on expanding your efforts to increase customer traffic via other marketing methods.
Let’s look at putting together a strong creative and message.
Marketing Creative Must Have’s
There are some key pieces of information that should be included with most marketing strategies. I say most because when it comes to website copy that tends to differ somewhat.
The goal of any marketing plan is to convert potential customers into actual customers. This is true with websites, as well. However, with a website, you have the ability to include a plethora of information, versus a print ad in which you might be limited to just a few brief sentences.
This doesn’t mean there is no rhyme or reason to website copy. In fact, a one-page website page and a simple print ad still have the same objective – convert quickly.
Whether it’s a website, print ad, or any other type of marketing strategy, you have just a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience.
To have the best chance of getting your products and/or services in front of the correct audience with the highest chance of converting this audience to a customer, there are a few key pieces your marketing creative should have to make your message as powerful as possible.
Creative must have’s
- Your marketing message should align with your customer’s needs, not yours.
- Use a strong headline
- Use creative imagery, but don’t overdo it. Make use of white space, but don’t try to cram everything in:
- Keep copy short and to the point
- Use headings and sub-headings as a way to chunk text copy so readers can skim the content
- Keep taglines, font types, colors, etc. the same across all mediums
- Use a clear call-to-action (CTA). The best CTA should be kept short with strong action verbs.
- Call now for more information
- Schedule your free consultation
- Shop now for great bargains
This is a great start for DIY marketers. Again, there is a wealth of information online and many marketing courses available for those who want to learn more.
Take your time with this. Really put the effort into coming up with the best creative you can. When it comes to creative imagery, pictures, and any other design features, if you don’t have experience with design, you might want to look at some freelance sites. Many freelance designers can provide a few mock-ups inexpensively.
Next, we’re going to look at the follow-up and measuring results.
Measure Results, Testing, and Follow Up
As I already mentioned, marketing is not a one time, set it and forget it revenue generator. Marketing takes consistency and work on your end.
With that said, it’s important that you do everything you can to make the most out of every type of marketing strategy you undertake to determine your return on investment.
This means testing and measuring results.
Regardless of the marketing strategies you choose, you want to make sure you test four main areas: audience, offer, message, and the creative aspect.
The more you test the more you narrow down the people or businesses that are going to buy your product or service. Thereby decreasing the marketing cost while increasing ROI. It makes sense when you think about it.
The two most important to test first are usually the audience and offer.
Let’s look at the audience
Is your target audience male or female, single or married? What is the income of your target audience? Are they homeowners or renters?
You can spend a great deal of time and money marketing to the wrong prospects. So really narrowing down who the best audience is for your product and/or service is vital.
The same can be said for the offer.
What about the offer?
Do you get better results by offering something for free or a buy one get one for half off? Or, what about buying one and getting the second item of equal or lesser value.
The same is true for the message and creative. Test different messages, different visuals, and even different colors to see which combinations reap the most rewards.
Does this make sense?
Now you might be wondering; “well ok, this makes sense but how do I make the most out of marketing if all I am doing is testing and possibly wasting time and money on ineffective campaigns?”
That is a valid question. What we suggest is to do as much testing in-house before ever launching a campaign of any sort.
Let’s look at some ways we can test for the audience and the offer?
Testing for Audience and Offer Without Spending Time or A lot of Money
No matter what, gauging the effectiveness of a marketing piece will require money to be spent on testing. At some point, different creatives testing various audiences, offers, messages, and imagery will need to be sent into the marketplace and its effectiveness measured.
However, if you can get creative, think outside of the box, you can do some preliminary tests on these different parts that won’t cost you a dime.
If you own a retail store, ask your staff, customers, even your business neighbors for their input and suggestions.
When it comes to determining the most promising audience, think about your past and present customers as a base for similar audiences whom you can target.
Make a note to staff to keep an eye out for the cars your customers drive, the types of credit cards they use. Are they flipping out AMEX black cards or high-end platinum cards? And of course, getting to know your customers can always help answer a lot about your target audience.
You can use the same methods for testing an offer, creative imagery, and everything else. Give your customers a couple of choices for potential offers and messages and ask their opinion on the various parts you want to test. People like to help and if you ask they will share. Obviously, you want to be respectful of their time, but there’s no harm in asking.
If you don’t have a retail store ask family and friends, and even your neighbors. If none of that works, you can always look to Facebook ads and test audience types and habits there. Unfortunately, that’s a course in itself and can’t touch on it here, but I will say that Facebook is a great way to test audiences, offers, creatives, messages, etc. and it’s inexpensive for testing. Once you have the ‘perfect’ audience, FB ads can get more expensive.
Lastly, it’s important to touch on the marketing budget
When it comes to a marketing budget, there is no exact science, at least that we’ve seen.
I was taught to apply 15% of earnings to marketing, and this is what I preach. However, someone new in business that doesn’t have any earnings will need to make a decision on the amount of money they can realistically afford to spend for 6-9 months. And of course, you can always spend more than 15%.
Because life happens: equipment fails, slow times, and other emergencies arise, it can be very easy to push off marketing and use that money in other places. I’ve done it, and I am sure many others have as well. Now, in the short term that might make the most sense, however, in the long term not marketing will only hurt the business. So, it’s important to make marketing a habit.
I found the key to making marketing a habit is to save whatever amount you decide each week. No matter what! The money comes off the top and is immediately put away.
In addition, if at all possible, as the fruits of your marketing labors begin to pay off, try to reinvest any additional business earnings back into marketing. Remember; try to make 15% the goal, but if you can do 20% or 25% is only going to help you in the long run.
So, let’s say you start with a $500 marketing budget and from testing, you see traffic is slowly trickling in, use all of the earnings from that newfound traffic and reinvest it into more marketing.
Eventually, by doing this your marketing budget will pay for itself from the traffic generated. It will take time, but since marketing is a long-term, permanent piece of business, so what.
We hope this overview of marketing strategies for small businesses sheds some light on marketing basics. As we’ve said a couple of times, this is meant to serve as an overview. There is much more to implementing a successful marketing campaign. And for someone willing to put the time in either through trial and error or online classes will learn a great deal.
For those who feel their time is best used doing other things, we have the experience to help you with your marketing efforts. From marketing strategies for small businesses bundled product and service offerings to a la carte services, we can help create and put a marketing plan into practice. To learn more, visit our website at boxsendbusinesscenter.com and head over to the ‘marketing strategies’ tab.
As always, feel free to contact us with any questions.