Your products and services might be great, but that doesn’t mean people know about them. Marketing can change that. But when you’re a new or small business that doesn’t have the funds or other resources for a full-scale marketing plan, what can you do? This guide will help you implement a small business marketing strategy without breaking your budget.
Your business marketing strategy is your plan for reaching new and existing customers through multiple channels such as email marketing and direct mail. It involves determining your target customers; assessing their needs, wants and problems; and positioning your business as the best solution.
“A business marketing strategy is a set of tactics designed to increase awareness of your business, while increasing sales and revenue through new customer acquisition,” said Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of EmailAnalytics.
Your audience is out there, but they might not know about you if you aren’t marketing effectively. Steven Jaenke, founder and CEO of Digimark Australia, said people are looking to solve problems, and a good marketing campaign serves to educate them about how your products or services offer solutions to those problems.
“Without marketing, you’re reliant on hard selling,” Jaenke said. “You’re approaching people that aren’t ready, don’t know who you are and may not even know they have a problem. Marketing helps people discover the small business, identify the problem that they have and the solution that the business provides as being the solution for them, and don’t feel pressured but instead relieved.”
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Developing a brand is a comprehensive first step in any marketing strategy,” Jaenke said. “You need to first identify why you are in business. If people can’t identify with you and why you are doing what you do, you don’t have a brand. Construct a brand story, demonstrating how you came to be in business and why it started. Tone, typography and logo are also important for [defining] a brand, but not as important as the brand story. It’s the glue that holds everything together.”
Any good business marketing strategy begins by identifying your target audience, the groups of people who are most likely to become your customers. Knowing your target audience, their wants, their needs and their behavior helps you better craft a message and deploy it in the places they are most likely to see it.
“Many small business owners struggle with finding a target audience,” Jaenke said. “This is because they feel that they are limiting their options by narrowing their focus. It’s important to remember that choosing a target audience doesn’t decrease your marketing, it only focuses your attention.” [Read related article: Everyone Is Not Your Customer: That’s OK]
Once you understand your target audience, create buyer personas to get to know them better. Making up fake customers with fake lives and hobbies might seem silly at first, but the more detail you go into, the better.
“Your market research should help guide this, but effectively what this means is identifying a fictional person that represents a segment of the market,” Jaenke said. “You want to make it as thorough as possible, including more than just demographic.”
Jaenke provided an example buyer persona based on his business:
“We have Jim the accountant. He’s a 45-year-old man who runs a mildly successful accounting firm. He employs three other accountants and a receptionist and has a revenue of $500,000. Jim enjoys watching golf and working on vintage cars in his spare time. He participates in car rallies on the weekends as much as he can. He’s grown his business to $500,000 through referrals and networking but hasn’t been able to move past this mark. He’s looking for a way he can increase this through marketing.”
“If you’ve started a business already, then you probably have some idea of who your target audience is already,” DeMers said. “But it’s always a good idea to create a customer persona — a description of the demographics of your ideal target customer. This could include the age, gender, marriage status, job, job title and annual income. Get specific so you can really identify the perfect match.”
Even if you don’t plan to sell products online, it’s crucial to have a business website. When a potential customer finds a new business (whether it’s new to them, or new in general), they are going to look for its social media and website. A business website is a great and easy way to convey legitimacy to your audience.
“I recommend small businesses build their website on WordPress,” DeMers said. “You can use a popular WordPress theme like Divi and then hire a webmaster through a site like Upwork to build and maintain the website.”
Jaenke takes a different approach. He said WordPress, or a similar platform, should be a last resort.
“Often people fall into the drag-and-drop trap,” Jaenke said. “The companies that provide these make it easy to use and the monthly is affordable, but the cost does add up, and the end result is often not unique or engaging. Instead, we recommend hiring a professional web designer that focuses on the customer’s experience on the website.”
However, he said paying for a Divi subscription on WordPress is a great option if custom web development is not in the budget.
“This will provide you with a page builder similar to a drag-and-drop company, but the code will be cleaner, the end result more unique, and after you’ve paid the yearly cost of hosting Divi, it’s free,” Jaenke said. “You will also own the website.”
There are a range of online tools that can help you fine tune your marketing efforts or put customers in touch with you. A Yelp page allows customers to provide direct feedback and gives you the opportunity to respond to them in kind. Your Google Business page gives you a place on the search engine results page where customers can find key information about your business, such as location, contact information, website and user reviews.
Other helpful tools include SEO software like Semrush or Ahrefs, which can help you understand how users are searching for products and services like yours online. These insights help develop marketing content that ranks on search engine results pages and speaks to the needs of your customers.
Finally, tools like pixels can be embedded into your website to monitor traffic trends and record data. Knowing who lands on your web pages, from where, and what they do once they get there can help you optimize your marketing and advertising efforts in the future.
Once you’ve determined your audience and built your website and marketing channels, the next step is engagement. You want to interact with your customers and provide them with value before they spend money. Your business blog is an excellent tool in this respect. It allows you to educate your audience and generate engagement that fosters a real relationship with your customers. As your online presence grows, you will find that your blog can be the backbone of your SEO and engagement efforts.
Marketing channels are the various ways you reach your target audience. Email is one popular digital marketing channel, as is Facebook. Each platform you use to reach any segment of your audience is considered a different channel.
“Most business owners default to Facebook, and it is a good channel to focus on,” Jaenke said. “Most people still use it on a daily basis, it’s not likely to go anywhere, and [it’s] continually updating the options available to business owners.”
As for which one is best for your business, Jaenke said it’s best to identify where your customers spend their time, because you may find that they check in with family and friends on Facebook but look for answers on Reddit. They might check their emails once a week but check Instagram every hour.
There’s a reason advertising is one of the largest industries in the world. Ads can establish your initial contact with customers. From there, you can proceed with building customer relationships and everything else, but the ads get your name on people’s minds. This is how you open the floodgates, so make sure you’re ready.
Advertising is a great way to generate outreach, but modern marketing provides plenty of additional methods to achieve your goals. You can pay for outreach through social media platforms or text message marketing services. If you have a Facebook Business page, Facebook will offer you paid options to promote your page to many more viewers.
To develop your small business marketing strategy, define your brand and target audience. Then, build a business website and marketing budget before you put all your marketing tools and channels into place.
Email is a vital part of digital marketing, as it allows you to communicate with those who have purposely signed up to receive communications from you, whether in the form of a newsletter, discounts or general information. However, people are wary of being scammed through email, so design your emails in a way that lets people know it’s actually your business sending them.
“The online world can be a wonderful, weird, uplifting, scary — and just about any other adjective you can think of — kind of place,” said Andy Wood, digital marketing expert and founder of Evil Marketers Club. “It really is a world in which you can find just about anything you can imagine, but unfortunately, this includes quite a few crooks, scammers and fraudsters. When you’re reaching out online, you need to convince your audience that you are who you say you are, you have what you say you have, and you can deliver what you say you can deliver.”
Jaenke said email converts better than other forms of marketing. “Often, you [already] have a warm connection, as you have their email address. We use a mix of traditional marketing and digital marketing to formulate a one-two-punch method.”
With so many social media platforms available, and more popping up every day, it’s important to know which ones will actually benefit your business.
“It’s essential to focus your efforts, and so you should only choose one, maybe two social media platforms to interact on,” Jaenke said. “If you choose more than this without someone to delegate tasks to, you’re spreading yourself too thin, and your message will be lost in the noise or appear inauthentic.”
On the other hand, Laurie Wilkins, founder of Call Outdoors, is a proponent of getting on as many social platforms as you can handle. She said a Facebook page, an Instagram page, a Twitter profile and a YouTube channel are all essential to increase your range of audience. Let’s look deeper into some of these platforms.
PPC is a method of marketing that allows you to place targeted ads on pages that your customer base is likely to visit. A click on that ad will redirect the customer to your website, and all you have to pay is a small fee per click. If you are trying to branch out into a new target audience or gain a larger customer base, this could be a great channel to explore. It’s the opposite of organic traffic, but with the amount of use search engines get, PPC has the potential to increase your business substantially.
You might be wondering why we saved this one for last, when it seems like the most obvious example. The reason is that some businesses really underuse their websites. A website is usually the first thing a business owner creates for marketing and the first component of the brand customers will see. But all too often, a website isn’t optimized to bring in traffic and reach new customers. Pay attention to your search engine optimization (SEO), including keywords and product descriptions, to help your website rank higher in search results.
Marketing is a specialized field that many established businesses dedicate a whole department to, but that isn’t required. Even the smallest businesses can and must engage in marketing in order to attract new customers and keep existing customers engaged with their brands. Use the tips in this marketing guide for small businesses to start heading in the right direction.