If you run a small business, you obviously don’t have the marketing budget of Coca-Cola or Ford Motor Company. Super Bowl ads are not in your near future. But, obviously, marketing is a big part of small business. Most small business owners list attracting and retaining customers are their top objectives for their marketing plans. But many set aside only minimal budgets for all of their marketing functions. It’s a double-edged sword of sorts, and, as the old adage goes, it takes money to make money. Luckily, there are many ways to market your small business without breaking the bank.
1: Marketing Budget
While a marketing budget may seem arbitrary or confusing, it doesn’t have to be. As a small business owner, it is important to decide what types of marketing you will do throughout the year and to allocate enough funds to those marketing channels to make an impact. Spending thousands of dollars on television campaigns may not be feasible, but advertising in a school or church bulletin may give you just the exposure you need. Remember that attracting and retaining customers is really your number one priority. In order to do that, you will need to do some marketing. You will want to earmark enough money for marketing so that you can attain all of your marketing goals. Keep in mind, though, as the year progresses, that you will need to revisit your marketing budget. Take a look at from where your best results are coming, and what channels are not working as well for you. Then you can adjust where you are using your precious marketing dollars to get the best return on your investment.
2: Social Media
Keeping up with social media, or even which social media channels to use. Think about your target audience and find out what social media channels they use. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are some of the most popular channels to interact with potential customers. Keep in mind, though, that one of the biggest mistakes small business owners make in the way of social media is using it to simply push their product or services. The 80/20 rule applies to social media in a unique way. Your use of these channels should consist of 80% non-promotional interaction. People do business with people they like. That is a basic rule of marketing. Interact with people. Answer questions. Congratulate your followers when you see one has had a new baby, found a new job, graduated from college. Send Happy Birthday wishes. All of these things are important in social media interaction. When your followers realize you see them as people rather than faceless, nameless customers, they are more apt to buy more often and to recommend you to others.
3: Build a Simple Website
Your website does not have to be a million dollar project to be effective. But it should reflect the brand you are trying to build and what you stand for. Take a look at what keywords people are using to search for businesses like yours and use that language on your website. Include your contact information so people can get in touch with you or stop by your business. Your website is also a great place to use testimonials from prior customers. You may also link to sites where reviews of your business can be found. While social media is usually about your customers and what you can do for them, your website is all about you. You still want to talk benefits more than features, but this is really your time to shine. Be sure to include links to your social media presence as well, so people can interact with you there, too. Once you have your website done, think of how it will look on a mobile platform such as a tablet or smartphone, too. Most people will be accessing your site from a mobile device of some sort, so you should have version that is optimized for mobile.
4: Email Marketing Campaigns
Email is a very targeted medium by which small business communicates. Getting email addresses from your current customers is fairly easy, especially if you occasionally include a special offer in your email. Mail Chimp and Constant Contact are both great platforms that will help you to send mass emails to your customers on a regular schedule, and the cost is minimal. Remember that the title of your email, in this case, is absolutely everything. How many emails do you get every day that you do not even open? The same can be said for you customers. A great title will lure them in. Once they open it, be sure to load it up with great information that applies to you business. For instance, a restaurant may send out recipes or tips for a great summer picnic. Then talk about your products or services and any special you may have going on. Your emails will remind your customers about your business, even if they are not in the immediate market for your services or products. This will also place you as an expert in your field, and people will start to recommend you to their friends and family.
5: Local Organizations
Get involved in local organizations. Local organizations are full of people who could be potential customers. Find an organization that you are passionate about and join in. You can either simply donate to a cause or join an organization and donate your time. You might even think about running an organization. Showing that you are interested in local causes will bring attention to your business, and it’s a great way to network. Again, people do business with people they like, and those who see you donating your time and expertise will fall into that category.
6: Run a Contest
Contests get people involved. They give your business top-of-mind awareness in the minds of your customers and potential customers. Running contest by requiring individuals to simply drop a business card into a box or “fish bowl” is also a great way to get contact information for people. People love contests and they will often enter just to see what might happen, giving you a lot more contacts for your newsletters and emails. Make sure not to spam people, of course. Send an introductory email letting them know they will be receiving periodic emails from you and they can feel free to opt out at any time. Share your contests and winners on social media. You can create a big buzz without spending a lot of money or having an exceptionally huge prize.
7: Get Involved in Local Events
Whether it’s a parade for a holiday celebration or a dog walk for the local animal shelter, community events are a great way to get in front of people, and a great way to network. Local events always create a good feeling with those who attend and are involved. They are a perfect venue in which to showcase your business and you as the owner of that business. Most of these events are free to get involved in, or have a very minimal cost.
8: Run a Podcast or Create Instructional Videos
You have information that your customers want. Talk about your products and services in a biweekly podcast. The software needed to make a podcast can be downloaded for free. There may be a small learning curve with some of the software, but it is worth the time to get to know how it works. Small business owners can also create a channel on YouTube quickly and easily. This is great place to put up all of your instructional videos that have to do with your product or service. You can give tips or valuable information that you want your customers, or potential customers to know. This puts a face and a name to your business and makes customers feel as if they know you before ever contacting you. Both podcasts and instructional videos are a great way to build clientele.
9: Manage Your Online Reviews
Surveys show that people will believe online reviews from others who have used products and services over most other types of marketing or advertising. While no business will please each and every customer each and every time, those who manage their online reviews show others that they are more than willing to come to amicable arrangements with those customers who are unhappy about some aspect of the interaction. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the positive reviews, too. Small business owners that show they are engaged with their customers leave people with a positive feeling. You should find out where reviews from you business are being listed, and respond to every review, especially answering questions in a timely manner. Doing this will improve your business goodwill, and all it will cost you is a small amount of time.
These are some great marketing tips that won’t break the bank. While small businesses still need to allocate some money to a marketing budget, there is much that can be done with little to no investment. Many take no more than your time and dedication. Once you have put these marketing tips into place, be sure to look back on your results from time to time. Find out where you are getting the most new customers or generating the most repeat business. Spending more time in those areas make the most sense, and it may free up more time or money to spend on others things, too.