When running a small business, you may have a limited budget, which means wearing several hats. This is especially true of your marketing budget: as a business owner, you need to figure out which activities will draw the largest amount of leads for the fewest dollars.
Understanding your audience and customers is key to working out marketing; businesses need to identify what marketing methods are sustainable and get desired results. It should be noted, across the board, social media tends to be one of the most cost-effective methods of marketing.
"There are so many advertising options on social media platforms that have fantastic segmentation. Being able to target the exact type of customer you want is invaluable," said Rachael Parker, global content strategy manager at TechSmith Corp.
With social, you also can set your daily budget spend on advertising reach a targeted set of people within the budget that you set, Parker added.
John Donnelly III, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company, said that even conservative companies are thinking about spending a majority of their marketing dollars on social media.
"Social media [can] capture insights [and help you] listen to your audience about what they have to say about the product or service," Donnelly said.
That data can prove invaluable as businesses market existing products or look at launching new lines, he said. Through social media analytics, Donnelly said, "you can see what happened in the past, [discover] what [is happening] now and identify best approaches for the future." [See Related Story: Social Media for Business: A Marketer's Guide]
"Look to millennials, maybe your own kids, and see how they interact with technology, how they behave and how they consume," said Zak Brown, chairman of Motorsport Network and executive director of McLaren Technology Group. "They represent the future patterns of marketing and you can do far worse than take cues from what is all around us (i.e. street marketing)."
Traditional marketing still works
Social media isn't the only way to reach customers. Mike Boyd, franchise owner and chief operating officer of the Instant Imprints promotional product franchise, said that he and his wife/co-owner, Linda, have stuck to the methods that work best for them. That includes weekly emails, direct mailings and pay-per-click campaigns.
"For many years, we let what we didn't know about that discipline stop us from doing anything," Boyd told Business News Daily. "Once we stopped trying to figure out 'marketing' and instead did things that would make us more visible to the people who wanted to be our customers, stuff started to happen."
The Boyds have also worked at acquiring new customers by becoming active in local networking organizations, such as BNI and the chamber of commerce.
"We knew that sitting within the four walls of our shop and waiting for the next customer to find us wasn't a good plan," Boyd said. "You need to become a business leader in your community."
Changing what doesn't work
While it's good to stick with tried-and-true tactics, Boyd said small business owners can't be afraid to alter their plans when some aspects aren't working.
"All of our tactics haven't survived [since we started]," Boyd said.
For example, he said the company originally participated in a business "welcome wagon" program that introduced it to all the new businesses in the community. While this helped the Boyds meet a lot of new people, Boyd said, it never turned into actual sales. So, instead of spending money on that, they repurposed those funds to a Google AdWords pay-per-click program.
"We have had that kind of evolution," Boyd said.
"Do something, and then review and improve. It is far better to put your ideas into practice and use the feedback to iterate and fine-tune your communications, then to spend ages on a highly-considered campaign," Brown said. "You’ll learn far more in the real world from your customers than you ever can in theoretical abstraction."
Continuing the conversation
Your small business marketing plan needs to revolve around making yourself more visible to those you don't already know and keeping customers in the fold after a sale is made. Social media allows a company to reach out before, during and after every transaction and stay engaged.
Weekly emails and post-purchase thank-you notes, like those the Boyds send, are another way to do the same thing.
"That really makes an impression on customers," Boyd said. "They don't expect you to carry on the dialogue after the transaction."
"Over my career, I have learned that marketing doesn’t stop with the typical marketing channels. Marketing covers every step of a customer’s journey and every way that a customer interacts with your brand," Parker said. "By keeping that in mind, you will have more opportunities to help your customers be successful."
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl and Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.