When you’re just starting out, two things are usually in rare supply: customers and money. The answer to fixing that supply problem? Marketing. Here are 10 low-cost ways small businesses can market to start bringing sales and customers through the door.
Marketing. It’s a word starting with “m” and ending in “g”. It also happens to be the most important thing a business does.
And that goes double when you’re 1) a small business and 2) just starting out.
I was going to add a metaphor, story or analogy (maybe something like “marketing’s the lifeblood coursing the veins of your business”) to reinforce that message, but if you’re reading this, you already have some inkling of marketing’s importance.
Without marketing, you don’t get customers. Without customers, you don’t have a business.
Ignoring overly complicated dictionary or textbook definitions, marketing basically encompasses any promotional activity you or your business does. And it’s done for one reason:
To make more conversions (usually sales)
Defining the “why” of marketing is that simple. But the “hows” and “whats” – well, that’s the proverbial devil in the details.
So let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can market your fledgling business.
Some of them will require a little money. Some won’t.
Most of what we’ll cover requires time, an asset that can a little more common when you’re just starting out.
Business owners wear many hats. One of those hats is that of marketing.
And make no mistake: it’s not an optional extra.
Marketing is your #1 priority. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Without marketing, your business doesn’t get known. Prospects never become customers. And you don’t get paid. So it’s not something to do “when I get around to it”. Make time. Block out regular windows in your calendars or even entire days to focus solely on your marketing.
OK, at your desk now? Background music humming away to get your creative juices flowing?
So, what do you actually do when it’s time to market? Well, let’s explore 10 small business marketing possibilities you can use to get things moving.
1. Marketer, know thine audience
Before you touch a single promo flyer, sketch out a plan or start thinking about sponsoring the next big event in your area – learn more about your prospects, leads and people who’ll become your customers.
Know what’s challenging or motivating them. Know what they want.
That’s Marketing 101.
Obvious, you say, picking up your coffee. Of course I know my customers, you mutter into your mug.
But you need to know them beyond “they say they buy this” or “he’s called Greg”. Talk to them, however you can. Face-to-face, emails, customer surveys and even reading online forums are all ways you can learn more about those characters sustaining your business.
Go beyond what they’re saying, get to know what they’re DOING in their lives.
|PRO TIP: Ask people what they’d LIKE to buy, and they’ll give you an answer. But ask them what they last bought, and you’ll get the truth. Take movies: people might say their favorite movie of all time is “Brokeback Mountain” (because they want to be seen as a discerning, highbrow audience), but you’re more likely to find them watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” at home.|
Once you really know who you’re serving, you’ve got the foundation of your marketing map. Everything else you do from here on should be done with this customer in the front, back and middle of you mind.
2. Give it away now
Trials. Samples. Deep discounts.
Call them whatever you want, they can be a super-effective way to get people using your product or service. And if they like what they see, they’ll be back for more.
Sample and discounts are as old as marketing itself (if not older), but there’s a reason they work even today. People love a freebie. Any big stock take sale and the crowds that come with them is ample proof.
Digital or information products are especially good for this, as the price of production (beyond initial creation) isn’t connected with the number of copies you give away. 100, 1,000 or even 1 million – there’s little extra “cost” involved.
Spotify lets you try its premium version for 60 days free of charge.
This isn’t limited to products. Free “strategic sessions” or “initial consults” are an easy way of employing the same strategy for services. And while there may not be much money in this early on – and they do take up your valuable time – consults can deliver three things:
- It gets you and your business into the minds of potential customers
- It demonstrates your expertise and authority to them
- It starts building relationships that can grow down the road
3. From old things, new things grow
That blog post you spent 2 days writing. The podcast episode you worked on for a week. Or that YouTube video where you gave “5 tasty tricks to lighter pastry”. They’re all useful content you use to promote your business with.
But if you think you’re done with it once it’s published and out on the web, think again.
Repurposing content is the name of a game smart businesses play.
A blog post isn’t just a blog post, for instance. It could also be half a dozen social media posts. It could also be cut down to an email. Or it could be a chapter in an e-book.
That YouTube video doesn’t just sit there gathering views. It could be accompanied by a checklist or quiz that you combine to form a lead generation funnel.
Repurposing content allows you to build up an authoritative “body of work” online quickly and with much less effort. And with the same topic woven into several pieces of content, you can cross-promote each piece.
4. Meet and greet
If you’re like me, you might not be a fan of “networking”. So many times it just feels forced. Or maybe it’s just I’m uncomfortable in large social gatherings (probably why I became a copywriter).
Yet, it’s necessary. Every now and then I drag myself out – and funnily enough, meet some interesting people. Hear some fascinating stories. And establish some connections that may (or may not) lead somewhere.
And it doesn’t always have to be face-to-face, like a “POWER BREAKFAST”. Online forums or LinkedIn groups are a good way to introduce yourself, meet people from around the world and discuss some weighty subjects from the comfort of your home.
One thing to remember: building connections isn’t a quick business fix. It’s more a “plant the seeds” approach. But even a small, strong network built over time can be a huge help to grow your business.
It also paves the way for some unique opportunities that the shy wallflower types rarely get: chances to collaborate and multiply your marketing power.
5. Collaboration nation
There’s another potential advantage to networking: the opportunity to join forces with other businesses in your area or online.
In business speak, it’s a “synergistic alliance intended to maximize individual strength in partnership to exponentially multiply profit for all parties concerned”. (subtle plug: if you need corporate-speak copy that has the personality of a rock, don’t get in touch today!)
When you partner with local businesses that complement yours, you can do a lot together. Bundled offers, cross-promotion (e.g. free advertising in each other’s stores) or co-hosting events are just a few of the possibilities when you work with another business.
Much of my work is in the online realm, and joint ventures are perhaps even more common here. These are a few examples of what you can do with digital collaboration:
- Promote the other business’ product or service on your email list
- Interview them on your podcast
- Share each other’s social media post
- Share content creation (e.g. a white paper sponsored by both businesses)
- Include ads for the other business on your website
- Work together on… well, actual work (e.g. if you’re a designer, co-operate with a copywriter and web dev to provide full service website offerings)
For many businesses, referrals are their lifeblood (you knew after the intro I was going to use the “lifeblood” metaphor sooner or later, didn’t you?).
So when you’re working with a client, ask for a referral. Every time.
(Unless something went horribly wrong, of course).
In fact, ask for referrals several times. Jo Wiebe of Copyhackers suggests asking the client for a referral WHILE you’re working with them. If they’re not receptive at that time, follow up once you’ve finished the job.
Even once the job is a distant memory, it never hurts to touch base with old clients and periodically ask for referrals again.
You could even create a referral email template to make asking for referrals a 30-second snap. Even something as simple as this:
Hey <client name>,
I was thinking how much I’ve enjoyed working with clients like you.
Do you know 2 or 3 people who might be interested in working with me? I always treat referrals as top priority and would aim to deliver the same results I brought you.
7. Social media
Yes, you have to use social media.
No, you can’t just create an account and then do the odd re-tweet or like (my preferred strategy for a long time… and something I still lapse into).
Social media became almost mandatory for businesses years ago. Yet some businesses have dived in, others dabble their toes in it, while many just stand on the beach screaming “What about the sharks?”.
In their 2017 Social Media Report, Sensis noted that while 79% of Australians use social media (many every day), only 47% of businesses are utilizing it. The old adage “go where your customers are” is apt – because a lot of them are on social media.
If you really wanted to “level up” your social media, you could consider creating a content or social media plan that maps out all your tweets, FB posts and Insta images over the next 6 to 12 months. A content plan also helps you deliberate plan how to re-purpose your content (which we discussed in Tip 3).
8. Talk to your customers
We mentioned knowing your customers in Tip 1. But let’s talk about how you can talk to them.
Sure, you could door-knock your way around the neighborhood, but there are easier and better ways to spend your evening and weekend. Simply having a conversation when they visit your store is a great place to start. Social media’s a way to connect with a lot of actual and prospective customers. And email is perhaps the perfect place to have a conversation with many of them at the same time.
The big benefit to talking to customers is that you get to know them as people, not just prospects or purchasers. There’s more to them than a simple pain you’re trying to solve, and the more you learn, the better you’re able to help.
You might be thinking this isn’t really a marketing tip. Well, in a way, it isn’t. But understanding your customer is fundamental to everything you do as a marketer, so don’t neglect it.
|Welcome your customers onboard: Have you got an autoresponder sequence for your business? It’s a series of automated emails sent to people who sign up to your list. It’s a great way to get them up to speed with what you do, who you are and how you can help them.|
9. Pay and play
Money may be scarce – especially if you’re just starting out – but dropping a little moolah on FB or Google ads may well be worth your while.
The beauty of both of these platforms is that you don’t need to splash a lot of cash to try them out or test an idea on them. Your budget can be as low as $5 or $10 per day, which is money well spent when you’re learning or experimenting.
There’s a certain skill to writing effective ads, but that goes waaaaaaaay beyond the limits of this guide. I’d encourage anyone wanting to know more to check out Adespresso or Wordstream. Both sites have plenty of fantastic, free resources on getting the most from your ads.
The beauty of starting small with this type of advertising is that it lets you discover what prospects and customers respond to. This doesn’t mean you can just ramp up your ads to show them to a larger audience once you’ve figured it out (there’s more to it than that), but these discoveries can help power all of your marketing, not just paid advertising.
10. Silver screen it
Social media is good. Blogs are great.
But in this day and age, videos might be even better.
Video is an unstoppable trend that will soon dominate the Internet, if it hasn’t already. Cisco has predicted that over 80% of all internet traffic will be video by 2021. Even many smaller businesses have started a YouTube channel to make sure they don’t miss out.
Obviously, some businesses have products or services perfectly suited to videos. If yours is one of those, there’s no reason not to be producing your own videos.
|WARNING: just like your blogs and any other content you create, you’ve got to market the shizen out of it. YouTube’s a crowded house, and nobody’s going to notice your latest work if you don’t (gently) shove their faces in it.|
And whatever you produce, don’t be afraid to publish it across all your channels. YouTube is a logical starting point, but put it up in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well (maximize your mileage!).
Go forth and market
There you have it: a cornucopia of small business marketing strategies to catapult your business from the fallows of feasibility into the land of lucrativity.
While there are literally hundreds of things you can do to market your business (BONUS: why not do a letterbox drop of a sticker with your face and business name on it! Hey, I didn’t say they’d all be rolled gold winners…), these 10 have proven their worth time and time again.
You don’t have to do every item on the list. Pick a handful you like and give them a go. You might be surprised at what they can do for you.
1. Before you do anything to market your business, make sure you really know WHO you’re marketing to.
2. Don’t be shy in giving away discounts, trials or samples in order get your product or service out there (and snaffle more customers in the process)
3. Re-purpose your content. Use it in multiple ways. And make sure you promote it!
4. Press the flesh. Get out and meet people, build connections and see what happens.
5. Jump into joint ventures. Collaboration is the perfect way to multiply your marketing power with another business.
6. Ask each and every customer you work with for a referral.
7. If you’re not on social media yet, do it. If you’re on social media, up your game and engage more.
8. Talk to the customers. Out in the streets, on Facebook or Twitter, in emails, or in your store. It doesn’t matter where, do it.
9. Experiment with paid advertising using a small budget. Learn what works and what doesn’t, and use those lessons across all your marketing.
10. Tried using video? It might be the ideal marketing channel for your product or service.