Small Business Marketing Strategies: Multiply Your ROI (2019)
It’s Monday morning.
Sipping your steaming cup of coffee, you scroll right past a cluster of questionable Facebook posts by your uncle.
Then a headline catches your eye:
Facebook Ads for Small Business Marketing: Quickly 10X Your Profits!
You know it’s an ad, but click anyway.
One click leads to another, and an hour later you look up from your phone with burning eyes — mental circuits buzzing with a thousand ideas: Should I run ads? Grow my social media following? Try to get on Oprah?
How do you market a small business?
The options are overwhelming. It’s not like you have an unlimited budget or a big marketing team. No, it’s totally up to you to make this happen.
And on top of all that, there’s no guarantee the time and money you spend on these tactics will get results. Get them wrong, and it’s like shoveling cash into a furnace.
Having a marketing mental block is understandable given these circumstances.
The good news?
Do the right strategies at the right time and you will get good results.
The secret? Some marketing tactics need to be earned before they are learned. More on that in a bit…
Before we jump into choosing the right strategies, we’re going to walk through the first few steps of creating a small business marketing plan. This will be your map, keeping you on course when things get challenging (because they always do).
Step 1: Don’t Bust Your Small Business Marketing Budget
You’ve probably wondered: “How can I market my small business for free?”
You’ll see that it’s possible in this guide, but at some point you will need to spend money on your marketing. When that time comes it’s important to have a budget and stick to it.
A small budget is not all bad. Sure, it may limit your options, but it forces you to get smarter with your resources.
Small business owners are often sold marketing solutions they don’t need. Ask yourself the following 3 questions to determine if what you’re about to buy is necessary to effectively run your business right now:
- Will I see a tangible positive return on my investment (ROI)?
- Will this provide useful knowledge about my customer?
- Will this save me time, decrease stress, or improve my customers’ experience?
If you answer yes to at least 1 of these questions, do a quick search for low cost alternatives or free trials.
Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective, but it does need to be well informed…
Step 2: Market Research Makes Reading Minds Easy
The Wild West days of the internet are over.
No longer can we run any ad campaign or throw up a half-baked blog and expect a tidal wave of leads.
Successful businesses understand their target customers on a deep level. These customer insights (C.I.) are the best long-term investment you can make in your bottom line.
Let’s have some fun with this…
Imagine yourself as a consultant working for the FBI. Your job: Gather facts, dig up clues and track down leads. Engage with customers, do interviews, get to know them.
See the world through their eyes: What are their fears? Their aspirations?
How do we find this information?
Learn where your customers hang out and go there. Join Facebook groups where they congregate. You’ll have front row seats to their thoughts, feelings, questions, concerns, and desires.
While you’re at it, draw an empathy map:
Listen to how they talk about their problems and interests. These insights empower your marketing to strike directly at their deepest pains and desires. On a visceral level they’ll feel heard and understood — something people rarely get from anyone.
Use your target customers’ exact phrases in your marketing — they’ll feel like you’re reading their mind!
Can you see the power in this?
Armed with this information you can craft a compelling marketing message. Do you know your brand’s message?
Step 3: Discover Your Magnetic Marketing USP & Elevator Pitch
You’re at an event and someone asks, “So, what do you do?”
Well, what do you say when marketing your business?
Do their eyes glaze over as you fumble for words and tell them something generic they’ve heard a hundred times?
This is a sign that your brand’s message needs some work. Start by identifying your unique selling proposition (USP). Your USP states why customers should buy from you and not the competition.
Do you know what makes your business stand apart from the rest? See what the competition is doing: Google them, read their reviews, visit their store. Find out what is working for them (and what isn’t).
Answer the following questions to bring your USP into focus:
- What is our competitive advantage?
- Why should people buy from us?
- How do we serve customers better than anyone else?
Once you’ve gained clarity about your USP, go ahead and craft an elevator pitch. Get started with this template:
Equipped with this concise and compelling brand message, you’ll know that you didn’t waste another opportunity to convert a potential customer.
Note: This version of your elevator pitch is just a starting point. I’ll be sharing a framework with you in the next section to help you iterate your way to a powerful marketing message.
Step 4: The Best Marketing Strategy for Your Small Business? That Depends…
How do you know which marketing methods are right for your business right now?
That depends on how well you know your customers.
If you don’t know them well, you’ll want to start with the tactics we explore next. These high-touch methods provide for a more personal connection — giving you opportunities to better understand your customers while honing your marketing message.
These same tactics have the added benefit of being mostly low cost or even free.
Makes sense, right?
Marketing is an iterative process — an evolution of understanding, where you refine how you attract your customers by getting feedback and then making educated adjustments in your approach.
Use the following M.E.T.A. framework like a compass to keep you oriented toward progress as you continuously learn and adapt:
Market your business with the right tactics appropriate to your level of C.I.
Engage your customer with your message
Track their feedback and behaviors
Adapt your plan, message, audience, & marketing
As we progress through the remainder of this guide, we’ll see strategies with a higher cost (and sometimes higher risk) and greater complexity that require deeper customer knowledge to execute well.
But first, let’s look at some budget friendly small business marketing tips.
Local Marketing Ideas: Earn Good Karma By Networking In Your Community
Good relationships are some of your best business assets.
Customers, other business owners, vendors, mentors, influencers — these connections can make the difference between success or failure. Networking and developing connections within your community takes time, so it’s best to start now.
Start by supporting or sponsoring local events.
These include events like:
- Conferences, conventions, & trade shows
- Farmers markets, festivals, & craft fairs
- Sporting events & contests
Hang out, get to know people. Set up a table and answer questions. Engage in conversation, and test your brand’s message. Listen for feedback. Pay attention to tone, facial expressions, and body language.
Remember to track your findings!
While you’re at it, why not hand out some promotional items? It’s an easy way to make people happy (free stuff!) while getting a ton of brand exposure.
Promotional items include:
- Mugs, pint glasses, water bottles
- Noise makers (for races)
- Stickers, window decals
- Bicycle repair kits
- Lunch coolers
Go bigger by donating your products or services as prizes during giveaways.
In a previous life I was a massage therapist. As a raffle prize for a school fundraiser, I donated a massage, giving my business exposure to all the parents who read the flyer along with the person who won the massage. Other than my time, it cost me $0.
I think you’ll agree, good marketing can be inexpensive.
Let’s look at some other low cost channels to spread the word.
Speak Up and Become The Trusted Expert
Want to be viewed as the go-to solution provider in your field?
Give a talk.
Plentiful speaking opportunities await you. Even if you’re not the world’s top expert, you definitely know more than your audience, so don’t let that hold you back.
As you improve, work your way up to larger events.
Places to give talks include:
- Local clubs
- Business networking groups
Stick around afterwards — answer questions, get feedback and network.
Be prepared to:
- Send them to a landing page where you can collect their email. We discuss this in an upcoming section.
- If you don’t have a landing page, get their contact information so can follow up later.
- Offer high-end services? Sign them up for a free mini consultation.
- Hand them your business card.
- Tip: Creativity is great when choosing your card’s design, just keep it simple, professional, and uncluttered. Avoid odd shapes and sizes that make it difficult to store in a wallet or card holder. Companies like www.Vistaprint.com and www.Moo.com provide custom designs at various price points.
Honing your message and gaining deeper customer insights should result in more email sign-ups after your talks (assuming your target customers are in the audience).
Meeting customers where they hang out is smart, but you can also bring them to you.
The Customer Experience: Memories They’ll Share
Now that you’ve learned more about your customers, why not invite them over? Connect with your community and bring in new leads by hosting fun and educational events.
This includes experiences like:
- Tours of your facilities
- Airbnb Experiences
Give customers something fun to remember and they’ll mention your business by name every time they tell the story.
Look at REI, the outdoor adventure gear co-op. They offer workshops and adventure trips year round that help promote their brand and sell more products.
Going on an REI hosted sea kayaking adventure? Better get that waterproof backpack you were admiring last time you were in their store.
Hosting an Airbnb experience is an easy way to get started. Experiences allow you to creatively showcase your products and services while attracting people looking for memorable and entertaining activities.
Payments and scheduling are all handled through their app. You can choose how often you host an experience and specify group size. Airbnb takes a cut of your fee for this privilege, so charge accordingly.
By leveraging Airbnb’s platform and audience, we’ve taken the first step in expanding our reach to attract new leads.
These personalized experiences are great opportunities for expanding your C.I., giving you the power to magnetically draw your customers in, keep them engaged, and offer solutions they desire.
We’ve given you an edge over your competition. Now let’s look at how to market your small business online.
Will They Find You Online, or Find Your Competitors?
Your customers have plenty of options.
Fortunately, you have a competitive edge (deep customer knowledge). We want to make sure that edge translates to your customers being able to find you online.
How do we ensure customers can find us?
If you conduct business locally, look into how your listing shows up in these places:
- Google Places
- Yahoo! Local
- Yellow Pages
- City Search
- Your Facebook business page
- Your LinkedIn profile
A strong web presence establishes credibility and visibility. Make sure your business information is accurate and consistent across platforms. View your listing on different devices and browsers to ensure a smooth customer experience.
Some free tools to manage your online presence:
- Google My Business (GMB) is a key tactic for targeting local customers. When optimized, it helps you rank higher on Google Search and Maps. This results in greater visibility and plenty of free traffic.
- Google Search Console (GSC) gives the data to help track and optimize your website’s performance in Google.
Your web presence should include a good website, one that serves as a base for your online marketing activities.
It’s easier than ever to create an inexpensive and professional looking site using builders like:
They all come equipped with a mobile responsive design, which is vital because the majority of visitors are browsing on their phones.
Social media is another pillar of your online presence where customers will seek you out.
The key is to know which platforms your customers frequent and how they like to consume information. Do they like sharing beautiful images? Look into Instagram. Or, would they rather read and debate longform articles? Consider reddit.
You don’t need to be everywhere; focus on the primary platform that your customers visit until you gain some mastery there. You can expand to others later.
Facebook is the most popular and a good starting point for most businesses.
Regardless of which you choose, make sure to observe these social media best practices:
- Post and engage regularly
- Keep things natural: If you get too salesy it’s a turn off
- Match the content you create with what your audience likes
Ideas for content you can share, include:
- Articles and blog posts
- Images of products
- Customer reviews & testimonials
- Behind the scenes
- Live chats
- Q & A’s
As your business grows, use tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social to manage your social presence.
Remember to apply M.E.T.A. to your online marketing efforts. As you test your message and engage through social, track feedback in the form of likes, shares, and comments.
Now that people can find you online, let’s give them a reason to become paying customers.
Get Them To Say “Okay” With Incentives
Research confirms what we already know: Incentives like coupons and free trials bring new leads in the door while getting current customers returning for more.
Letting them try before they buy removes risk for new customers, and reminds old customers why they bought in the first place. An added bonus: Thanks to the rule of reciprocity, people are more likely to buy after getting something for free.
This approach creates happy customers while promoting brand loyalty.
Happy, loyal customers?
Excellent! It’s the perfect time to ask for referrals, reviews, and testimonials. Reward them with free products, services, or other incentives for sending you new business.
Staff are another great source for referrals.
Make it easy for them to promote your business by providing the coupons, referral codes, and web links they need to successfully send you leads. Sweeten the deal by offering a special discount for customers referred by employees.
Ready for something more advanced? It’s not for the faint of heart, and you’ll probably lose money initially.
We’re talking about posting an irresistible offer on deal sites like Groupon.
The goal is to get a large number of new prospects to try your products, and it will get you more customers faster.
Don’t pursue this strategy until you have your sales and service processes dialed in.
Because it requires careful planning to execute properly. If things go poorly, you risk getting negative reviews and making a terrible first impression.
The benefits of this approach include:
- Instant access to a large pool of customers
- Targeted local advertising
- Increased brand awareness
- Gain new customers
- Potential for great reviews
- It’s fast
Does the idea of attracting large numbers of prospects via the internet excite your imagination?
Let’s look at more online marketing tactics.
Do They Know, Like, & Trust You? Content Marketing & SEO
Your customers are seeking education, entertainment, and insights online to solve their problems. This is true for real estate, haircuts, and dog toys.
When you consistently provide this value for your customers, they will grow to like and trust you. When they trust you, they are more likely to buy from you.
That’s how content marketing works.
Content marketing includes blog posts, videos, podcasts, online courses, eBooks, and more.
Here are some ways that you profit from this strategy:
- Increases brand awareness
- Drives traffic
- Converts leads
- Increases sales
Blogging is one of the most common forms of content. There are a number of formats for blog posts, including:
- List posts
- Case studies
- How to’s
- Ultimate guides
Visual content is also very popular due to the pervasiveness of mobile browsing, a format that favors images and video. Perhaps this why video is now the preferred learning medium.
Your recordings can live on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and Facebook Stories, as well as your blog.
One popular video format is the webinar.
Webinars function as a kind of online seminar, having a higher perceived value than other video content. This makes them attractive incentives to get subscribers on your email list. They can also be repurposed later as stand alone products.
Infographics are another powerful marketing asset. People love to share them, making them great for driving traffic back to your website or social media page.
You can make your own on Canva for free. Nicer designs will cost only a few dollars.
Want to go bigger with content marketing?
Get interviewed on podcasts popular with your target customers. You’ll gain instant access to the podcaster’s audience — a huge pool of warm leads.
Sounds great, right?
Make sure you have someplace to send listeners who want to learn more, preferably a sign up form where they receive something special in exchange for their email address. We’ll see how this works in the next section…
Creating great content is essential, but it’s not enough to win the internet.
That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play.
SEO is a system of rules and best practices that inform search engines like Google how relevant and helpful your website’s content is relative to the phrase a searcher has typed into the search field. In other words: Is your website near the top of page 1 when your customers google best dog hotels?
Here are a few basic tips to improve your SEO:
- Create amazing content
- Use a website builder that optimizes for SEO
- Use free keyword research tools to learn which topics are popular with your customers, so you can create content they are looking for
This is a huge topic, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. If you’re serious about content marketing then it pays to go deeper.
But attracting customers to your content is only half the battle. How do you nurture those relationships, turning prospects into customers?
Email Marketing: Stay Connected and Build an Asset
You’re clicking around a website and a box pops up offering a 20% off coupon code for your next purchase.
The only catch? They want your email, and you happily make the trade.
Every week you get messages in your inbox from this same business sharing useful tips related to their products. Eventually you take them up on more offers, becoming a loyal customer.
This is how email marketing works. Done right, it is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to reach your customers.
Email marketing has many advantages, including:
- Direct communication with customers
- Easy to track and optimize
- High conversions
- Easy to run and setup
- Easy to automate
- Easy to segment
- Low cost
Here’s how it works…
Decide what you will offer in exchange for their email. It should be something your target customer values, like:
- Special report
- Coupon code
- Digital download
- A seat at your upcoming webinar.
You’ll need a way to manage your list of subscribers before you can start gathering those emails. Companies like MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Campaigner offer this service with a variety of pricing tiers and features.
As your list grows you can send out periodic updates, trainings, discounts, and promotions. Emails are easily automated to go out daily, weekly, or monthly.
But be careful. If you overwhelm subscribers with constant promotions they will stop opening your emails or unsubscribe due to marketing fatigue.
Here are some best practices for your emails:
- Content should be relevant, valuable, and easy to consume
- Optimize content for mobile viewing
- Have a compelling subject so they will open it
- The sender address should be a recognizable business address
- Link to social media so they can join you on those platforms
- Include a call to action: What should they do next?
- Use any data gathered by your service provider to adjust your email marketing efforts
Don’t abuse your subscribers’ trust, and your email list will remain an asset, generating sales for years to come.
One of the many benefits of email marketing is the feedback and insights you gain from your subscribers’ behaviors. You can track actions like which emails they opened, and what offers they clicked on.
In fact, just about anything that happens online can be tracked. We discuss this next.
Analytics: “Big Brother” Their Data
A multitude of tools are available to track almost any action that happens on the internet.
We can look for patterns and trends to inform future marketing decisions. It’s helpful to always ask, “How can we get data from this action?” Followed up with, “What have we learned?”
What we can track:
- Conversion rates
- Likes, shares, comments
- Website traffic
- Email open rates
- Click through rates
- Page views
Realize that analytics are only as good as the quality of the data. Sometimes the information can be skewed by a variety of factors, so don’t follow it blindly. Instead, use data as one more input when making decisions.
Google Analytics is a great starting point for beginners. It measures results from Google Ads as well as website performance. It can tell you:
- Bounce rate: How quickly they click away after landing on your page
- Where they click
- What devices they view with
- User demographics
Often things don’t play out the way we expected. As patterns emerge we may need to change directions. Our business must adapt to survive. These adaptations are driven by the feedback you receive from the marketplace.
At any point in time you may need to adjust your:
- Marketing channels
- Products and services
There is power in being small: It allows us to pivot.
Maybe you’re already doing many of the tactics we’ve discussed up to this point. If so, then you could be ready to scale.
Paid Advertising: Is Your Business Ready to Multiply it’s ROI?
Ads are often the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word marketing.
With the right knowledge, skills, and budget, they are a powerful tool. But paid advertising will also cost the most out of all these strategies if you get it wrong.
For example, if you don’t have your message honed so that it compels your target customers to click or buy, and if you don’t have good processes in place to guide them along to the sale, then you’ll be in for a big disappointment.
Advertising can take many forms, including:
- Google AdWords
- Social media ads: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit
- Ads on podcasts or radio shows
- Print ads: Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, direct mail
Google AdWords is a form of pay per click (PPC) advertising that allows you to show up higher on search engines. Google gives you a variety of pricing options to fit your budget, and you can scale as much as your checkbook allows.
It works well for targeting customers and gives quick results, but it is competitive and expensive.
You can also run ads on social media.
Social advertising allows you to get your message in front of a large pool of highly targeted customers.
Facebook is probably your best starting point, but you should proceed based on your market research. You can pay to boost posts so more content gets in front of the right people, but take caution: Facebook ads can be difficult to get the hang of at first. The key is to run small tests until you see positive feedback. Then scale from there.
Facebook ads are great for advanced targeting: Sex, age, income, interest, behaviors, and more. Facebook Ads Manager makes it relatively easy to track and test these ad sets. There are also numerous 3rd party tools to help you succeed.
Instagram is owned by Facebook, and can be a good platform for businesses with a strong visual element. Advertisers benefit from Instagram’s use of Facebook’s massive data and targeting capabilities.
Other platforms offer targeting and a variety of ad formats as well. These include:
With so many options online it’s easy to forget about print ads, including those in newspapers, magazines, and direct mail marketing.
Realize that no matter where you advertise you need to be creative and target properly. All of these avenues require good headlines, copy, and a compelling call to action to produce any results.
If you’re going the route of direct mail marketing, then postcards generally give beginners the best ROI.
There’s no doubt that ads can give you amazing reach, but there’s another advanced strategy that can also expand your pool of potential customers.
Better Together: The Power of Partnerships
This is where your networking and relationship building pays off.
Partnering with complementary businesses allows you to accomplish more together than you would alone by leveraging your combined reach to get in front of more people.
Partner with businesses that you’re not in direct competition with. Try to identify any crossover between your audience and your partners’.
The goal is to create a complementary arrangement.
Joining local business groups is one way to find other small business owners to collaborate with — you can co-host a special event or do webinars and other online promotional events together.
Remember, these are relationships: Be generous and treat others how you would like to be treated. This is the secret to all great marketing in today’s world: Have empathy, connect, and treat people well. Then watch how quickly you grow a tribe of super-fans.
This is a good place to wrap things up — just a few thoughts before you go out there and get after it…
Step 5: Don’t Be Dumb, Set SMART Goals
Now that you’ve made your way through the strategies, it’s time to set some goals.
Choose no more than two strategies to focus on for the next 3 months.
I know, you want to do it all.
But don’t. Don’t get distracted by the next shimmering mirage.
How do you stay on course?
Follow the lead of other successful business owners: Set SMART goals.
You can set goals for outcomes like:
- Lead generation
- Website traffic
- Engagement rates on social media
Example: We are going to generate 50 new leads by the 1st of June.
Commit to your big strategies for the next 3 months. Then, break each one down into smaller tactics. Finally, add each tactic as an action step to your calendar.
There’s one question left for you to answer…
Will You Act Boldly on Your Small Business Marketing Plan?
We are constantly bombarded with messages to chase after the next marketing strategy-of-the-month. And, with every shiny new hope we think, “This is it. This is going to be the answer to my marketing woes.”
The truth is that most of us don’t know our customers well enough to even consider pursuing some of these marketing methods. So we become scattered and overwhelmed, playing the wrong game at the wrong time.
Sadly, this keeps us from ever gaining traction or the momentum necessary to grow our business.
Fortunately for us there is a way out of this mess.
You must become obsessed with your customers — their fears, pains, hopes, and desires. The more you know, the better you can connect with them, guiding them toward solutions. This knowledge gives you a chance to succeed where others have failed.
Do your research. Always keep learning. You can always go deeper.
If you feel lost, remember M.E.T.A.
Use this framework to orient yourself in the cluttered marketing landscape, iterating and adapting as you gain new feedback through your efforts.
Do this and you will look back in 3 months from now, not with regret, but with satisfaction — feeling confident in your ability to choose the right strategies at the right time to grow your bottom line.
No longer will small business marketing feel like a “necessary evil.” No, it will feel like an opportunity to connect deeply with the people your business serves.
This time will be different. This time is your time.
Now get out there and connect with your customers!