Small business marketing and selling are two different animals. Selling is getting your customer to give you money for a product or service. Marketing is about developing your brand and demand for your product. You might be focused on making the sale but to be successful, you’ll need to get your product in front of your target customer.
The importance of marketing for small business
Without marketing, small businesses simply cannot reach the number of customers needed to become (and remain) profitable. Given the sheer number of companies in the world, even tiny local businesses in tight-knit communities may find themselves failing to attract customers if they don’t advertise what makes them special. When done right, marketing can result in several dollars of additional customer revenue per dollar spent.
17 marketing ideas for small business
Among the best marketing ideas for small businesses are those listed below:
1. Look at the calendar
Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas are the low-hanging fruit of an annual calendar. Stand out from the crowd by promoting a unique calendar observation like #coffeedrinkersday, the summer solstice or National Courtesy Month. These small marketing campaigns are creative and easy to launch.
A good strategy to get marketing ideas on the fly is to check daily trending topics on Twitter. If it’s #HugARedheadDay and you have a red headed team member, snap a photo and use the hashtag to get more eyeballs on your social media channels.
2. Cross promote
Cross promotion is all about introducing your business to new customers through a partnership with another business. The HubSpot blog has a great list of successful big brand cross promotions.
You can have success without a big budget. For example, a local bakery could offer nail salon customers a plate of cookies along with a coupon on a high traffic Saturday. In turn, the bakery could put an advertisement for the salon on receipts or in their store. Get to know the other business owners in your community and keep an eye out for cross promotion opportunities.
3. Manage your online reviews
The first stop for most consumers is the web. Online surfers aren’t just looking for products and services, they leave reviews and read reviews from real customers, forming an opinion about your business. You need to be hyper aware of what these micro-influencers are writing about your company.
To do this, claim your page on review platforms like Google My Business, Yahoo and Yelp. When you claim your page, you’ll have control over how your profile appears. Add a link to your website, high-quality photos, directions, hours, email and any other important details consumers need to know about your business, products and services.
Once you’re set up, monitor comments and address any issues.
4. Embrace social media
According to a recent survey conducted by eMarketer, customers spend 20% to 40% more on products/services by companies who engage with them on social media. A Facebook page, Instagram feed or YouTube channel are proven ways to attract and educate consumers about your product or services.
Social media content and advertising is constantly evolving and it can be difficult for a busy business owner to stay on top of everything. Facebook marketing can be particularly complex.
If you need some outside help, review the article How to Hire a Social Media Strategist.
5. Implement good branding
A big component of marketing is to develop an easily recognizable overall look and feel from colors to font and everything in between. Stay away from a generic business look. Your branding will appear on everything from business cards to your website to packaging so make sure you nail it before you start implementing.
If you want to take your branding a step further, consider a well-designed mascot. A solid mascot can easily become a small business’s best sales and marketing tool. You might have an idea in mind and can hire an artist to bring your vision to life.
If you’d like a mascot but not sure which direction you’d like to go, consider working with an outside agency or consultant who has mascot experience. This is a higher cost marketing component but can give you the extra muscle to go above and beyond your competition.
6. Start a customer referral program
Word-of-mouth marketing may be one of the most powerful forms of marketing. A good way to get this going for your small business is through a customer referral program. Consumers trust friends and family so a simple referral can go a long way. Offer free shipping, coupons, a discount, or store credit if one of your customers refers another who purchases your products or services.
No one wants to jump through hoops so keep your referral program guidelines as simple as possible. The ThriveHive blog has an excellent list of referral program examples to help spark ideas for your business.
7. Join professional organizations
Unless you live in a remote area or very small town, almost every city around the U.S. has local business networking groups. The most common example is the Chamber of Commerce. They typically have special events, speakers, workshops and other get togethers to help promote local businesses.
This is a great opportunity to learn from other small business owners in your area and promote your own business. Be sure to have your “elevator pitch” ready to clearly let others know what you do and the type of consumer they can send your way. Find your local Chamber of Commerce here.
8. Launch a loyalty program
You’ll often hear from expert marketers that acquiring new customers is significantly more expensive than retaining your current ones. This fact makes loyalty programs among the best and most effective small business marketing ideas.
Ask your customers if they’d like to sign up for your loyalty program at the point of sale. Then, use email marketing to send them exclusive discounts and news. Your customers will feel more valued and begin to form a bond with your brand. In many cases, this bond will only grow over time.
9. Use customer satisfaction surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys show your customers that you value their opinions and strive to improve their experiences with you. They also remind customers that you exist and may have just the products or services they need. Distributing your surveys will be easy, too – email marketing is a great way to get them to your customer base. So too are paper surveys you hand out in your storefront.
10. Focus on the numbers
Focusing on the numbers is a matter of showing versus telling. Saying that your customers are always satisfied is far less meaningful than promoting that you have hundreds of positive Google reviews. You can show your prowess by listing facts like these on your website and in your blog posts at no extra cost. And if you do want to pay a bit for marketing, these numbers work great in Facebook ads.
11. Get creative with guerilla marketing
Guerilla marketing takes advantage of the space around you – sidewalks, outdoor walls, windows – to make a striking impression among passersby. Visuals like stickers, and even graffiti that include your logo or other branding, are an exciting way to put yourself in front of customers, though perhaps a risky one. However, before you participate in guerilla marketing, take a look at your local laws to see what is allowed and for which activities you may need a permit.
12. Make your fleet a marketing tool
If you and your team often take company cars out on the road, your fleet can itself be a marketing tool. Take your cars to the shop to get them branded with your logo or perhaps something like those ads you see on top of taxis. If this approach is cost-prohibitive given your high number of cars, print bumper stickers with your logo on them instead. Attach them to your cars to brand your fleet at a much lower cost.
13. Run online contests
Offering prizes is a great way to engage existing and potential customers with your brand – everyone loves an incentive. Even a small prize can be enough to get people sending you their email addresses and whatever other information you need to adequately market to them. It’s not like you’re asking them for this information specifically for marketing purposes, but once you do have it, it’s common practice to put it to use. And that, for you, is a prize all its own.
14. Pursue business partnerships
If you partner with companies like yours in your sector or community, both you and your partner can reap benefits. Co-sponsoring an event, whether online or real-life, attracts attention to you both from two sets of customer bases. And since you’re partners on the event, each of you will do half the work normally required for planning and execution. Same goes for teaming up on the online contests described above. And the best part? Partnerships are free.
15. Fill your blog with content
Blog posts are sometimes overlooked in the world of online marketing, but they’re a valuable (and free) tool for growing your business. Small business owners like yourself don’t need to pay to publish blog posts, and blogs are integral to a meaningful content marketing strategy. Plus, since blog posts are rarely overtly promotional, they may appear less aggressive and thus more appealing to potential customers. As these customers read more of your blogs, they may feel compelled to explore your brand and eventually buy from you.
16. Create videos
Other than Google, YouTube is home to the largest number of internet searches. If you post YouTube videos, you stand a solid chance of connecting with new customers. However, you shouldn’t post about just any old topic – keep things relevant to the problems your company solves. Use SEO keywords as jumping points for video topics, and include these keywords in your video titles and descriptions. Doing so could bring you customers who previously hadn’t heard of you at all.
17. Rely on free samples
Follow Costco’s lead here: More people will take than turn down a free sample. Your free sample could be a tangible item if you sell products, but if you offer services instead, a free trial is more realistic. And if you’re not yet in a place where you can afford the hit that comes with freebies, steep discounts are a great alternative. The goal is to incentivize customers – when done right, sales could follow.