SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING IDEAS – AN INTRODUCTION
Small business marketing ideas can be found in abundance online and offline. But many are too complicated, too demanding or too time-consuming for typical small businesses. This summary includes 53 of the best, most practical small business marketing ideas we could assemble. It is based on years of providing marketing services to hundreds of small businesses and gathering ideas from thousands of articles, books and blog posts. According to recent surveys, the No. 1 concern of small businesses nationwide is to increase sales and income. We would all like to make more money, right? And the best way to increase sales and income is through improved marketing, including marketing strategy, online and offline marketing.
Marketing done right will not only increase your small business income and profits, but also improve brand awareness and customer demand, as well as increase your market share for years to come. Surprisingly many small businesses don’t do any marketing besides opening for business, hanging a sign out front and trusting word of mouth. This summary report is intended to give you, the small business owner or decision-maker, a leg up in the competitive marketplace And most of these ideas are inexpensive or even free, so you should be able to use many of them.
This brief report is designed to be easy to read and implement. It’s based on what really works to drive more sales and income. Realistically some of these are things you can do yourself, and some may require the help of a marketing agency or freelancer. But the more you know, the more you can grow your business successfully and remain in control.
The content is divided into four sections:
- Part A: Small Business Marketing Planning and Strategy Ideas – the smart way to start improving your marketing for maximum cost-effectiveness; admittedly this part is not easy or fun, unless you love strategy, so if you prefer, jump to one of the other parts
- Part B: Small Business Marketing Ideas Online – using the internet, email, social media and more
- Part C: Small Business Marketing Ideas Offline – using traditional media like newspapers, radio, TV, postcards, PR and more
- Part D: Small Business Marketing Budgeting And Control of your small business marketing program
We welcome your feedback and suggestions via our website www.Lawrimore.com. Now enjoy your read!
PART A: SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING PLANNING AND STRATEGY IDEAS
- Clarify Your Purposes
Make a list of the main things you are trying to accomplish with your small business as a whole, especially your sales and marketing, then select your top 3 purposes to focus your efforts and resources on.
- Analyze Your Company’s Strengths and Limitations
Try to be really honest about the things your company can do better than the competition, as well as some areas that need improving.
- Identify The Needs You Can Meet
What real human needs can your company meet with its strengths?
- Identify Your Target Markets
These are the groups of people whose needs your company can meet in a superior manner. Be as specific as you can using demographics such as location, income and customer needs.
- Consider The Impacts Of Market Forces
Consider how forces and trends in the economy, technology, popular culture, demographics, regulations and others, impact or might affect your business or target markets. You might want to do some online research if you are not familiar with the latest trends in your industry.
- Analyze Your Competition
Do a Google or Bing search for your business category and your main location, like “Mytown auto repair” or “Townname beauty shop,” and see which competitors come up. Look at their websites and think about their strengths – and weaknesses if any.
- Create A Vision Statement
Write down a vision statement for how you would like your company to be and operate 5 or 10 years from now if your business, marketing and operations are highly successful.
- Identify Critical Issues
These are issues which are vital to your success and achieving your vision, but are uncertain or undetermined at this time. Think about all you’ve defined so far as you do this.
- Explore Customer Needs And Perceptions
Create a short survey using SurveyMonkey or other free tool, or give customers a simple one-page survey to fill out. If possible provide some reward such as a discount coupon. Ask about their needs, levels of satisfaction, how they prefer to be communicated with, and what you could do to increase their satisfaction if anything. Get feedback on any critical issues which concern them as customers. This is very powerful, and it may be worth hiring a market research firm or freelancer to get reliable information.
- Analyze Your Survey Results
Think about what the survey results are telling you. Consider what you need to do to improve customer satisfaction, meet needs, sharpen your advantage and thereby increase sales.
- Set A Few Measurable Goals
Set a few realistic goals for your business, marketing and sales for the next 6 to 12 months. Make sure the results are measurable, like increased sales or adding new customers.
- Create An Action Plan For Each Goal
Write down some steps you can take to achieve each goal. Put a time frame on each one and decide who is going to be responsible. Consider rough costs for each action plan.
- Develop A Winning Marketing Strategy
Focus on one or more market niches that you can dominate through better performance and marketing. Do at least one thing better than everybody else. Leverage your strengths and exploit competitor weaknesses. Get clear if you are going to emphasize low cost, high quality, excellent service, innovation or some other competitive advantage. You can’t be all things to all people.
- Develop A Clear Positioning Strategy
Define how you want your business to be positioned regarding competitors. What market niche will you dominate and how then will your business be perceived? How do you want your brand to be known and described?
- Develop Personas For Your Target Markets
A persona is a symbolic person who you can describe in detail to represent each of your target markets. Give him or her a name and describe them as if they were real people. Limit this to 3 to 5 personas for best results.
- Develop A Media Strategy For Each Persona
What are the best media, online and off, to reach each persona? Your survey should have some data on that. Consider multiple media but don’t go overboard.
- Develop A Messaging Strategy For Each Persona
What messages do you need to communicate to each persona to get their attention and become paying customers? Messages may differ depending on where each persona is in the buying cycle – prospects, new customers, existing customers, former customers etc. Messages should communicate the superior value you provide compared to your competition.
- Sell The Benefits, Not The Features
Customers buy benefits – some type of positive experience – not features. They buy products because of the way they help solve a problem, meet a need or make them feel (benefits) – few buyers care about what’s under the hood or on the circuit board (features). So try to identify clearly the benefits you provide to each persona for each product or service you sell.
- Answer the WIIFM? Question
A new customer wants to know, What’s In It For Me? (WIIFM). This is another way of clearly identifying the benefits you offer in language the customer can relate to.
- Put It All Together Into A Concise Plan
Pull all your planning and strategy work into a short document, maybe just a page or two, that you can refer to often, to help you track progress and remember your original commitments. But make it a “living document” that can be easily updated if circumstances change.
PART B: SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING IDEAS ONLINE
- Invest In Advertising You Can Sustain
In the vast majority of cases, one advertisement in any media is a waste of money. Advertising campaigns are far more effective when sustained over time. Choose media you can continue to afford for months or years. There are many types of advertising – read on.
- Choose The Keywords You Want To Compete For
Keywords are the words or phrases which searchers use on Google, Bing and Facebook to find a provider they are looking for, like “Boston seafood restaurant.” Try different search terms and see which ones pull up your competitors. Narrow the list to keywords you want to compete for. Good keywords are vital for any online marketing success.
- Try Different Headlines And Wording
Google, Bing, Facebook and other online advertising programs let you try different headlines and ad words to see which ones work the best. Each provides an advertiser dashboard that will indicate which ads were clicked on – and each click means they went to your website after clicking. (That’s why this is called Pay Per Click or PPC advertising.) Monitor performance and experiment with different versions for continuous improvement. Sometimes changing just one word can make a big difference.
- Use Remarketing For Best Results
If you’ve ever noticed that after you visit a website, ads for its products start popping up wherever you go online? That is called remarketing, and it’s a great way to continuously remind your prospects about what you have to offer, thus increasing sales. You may need to hire an agency to manage this, as it can be complicated, but very worthwhile.
- Invest In A Mobile-Friendly Website
More than 80% of potential customers search for a business on Google or Bing before they buy from them or even contact them. If they can’t find you online, you don’t exist. And the majority of those prospects today are searching with mobile phones! So if your website does not automatically reconfigure itself for mobile phone viewers, you are losing a ton of potential business. If you can’t afford to hire a web designer, go to a site a like Web.com and build your own.
- Use Google Adwords To Get Website Traffic
For as little as $100 a month, you can have a Google ad campaign (those ads that show up on the right-hand side and top of the Google page). Google Adwords as they are called will drive traffic to your website when someone searches for a keyword you are bidding on. Get a marketing firm to help you structure your program or call Google for free assistance.
- Convert Your Web Visitors To Buyers
Conversion is the “secret sauce” of online marketing. Think back about your personas and provide words and images that will appeal to their state of mind and needs. Tell them all they need to know to choose your business before they click away.
- Write And Publish Valuable Content
You can get free search traffic by providing valuable content featuring your keywords. Write blog posts or hire someone to write for you on a regular basis. Content is King online.
- Replicate Your Blog Content On Social Media
A free plug-in to your blog will automatically condense each blog post and put it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social media. Free and automatic is good. Posting directly on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and more can also be effective for some kinds of business who are naturally socially oriented.
- Capture Your Web Visitors’ Emails
Use a pop-up website or blog plug-in to urge website visitors to join your email list and receive valuable content which you will share with them – like an informative free report. An email service like MailChimp.com will let you capture up to 2,000 emails using their software for free, which you can later use to send out email messages.
- Send Short Emails To Your List Regularly
Share your valuable content by sending emails to your list at least once a month, although once a week is better, and more often if you are a prolific writer. Professional emails can convert prospects to paying customers and allow the sale of products, information or services online. Keep ‘em short and sweet – long email newsletters rarely get read.
- Promote Your Website With Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization involves using your target keywords prominently on your website, making it search-engine friendly, and getting links from other websites. This is something you will probably need to outsource due to the expertise required, but it can provide excellent return on investment
- Use Videos To Attract More Customers Online
People love watching videos and often turn to YouTube to learn more about many topics. You can produce informative videos economically and upload them to your own YouTube channel. They can then be discovered by online searchers as well as embedded on your website. A good video can really draw the search traffic, and Google (which owns YouTube) loves video content.
- Add A Customer Forum To Your Website
Invite customers and prospects to share their opinions and ideas through a forum on your website. Even though there may be an occasional negative one, the vast majority should be positive, which greatly enhances your business’s credibility and helps persuade new customers. Review all comments and respond quickly when needed.
PART C: SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING IDEAS OFFLINE
- Hire A Designer For A New Logo And Stationery
A professional logo is a valuable marketing tool, one you can use on all media as a symbol of your business. Use it on business cards, letterheads, envelopes, your website and more. Actually this is something you might want to do in the beginning of any marketing, online or off.
- Promote Your Business With Public Relations
Each time your business does something new or noteworthy, provide a press release to local or national media in your niche. An agency or freelancer can write them if you can’t. Publicity is the cheapest form of mass communication and builds your brand image. Post your PR on your blog and social media too. If you are confident and have an interesting story or ideas to share, get your PR firm to pursue appearances for you on radio or TV talk shows.
- Develop An Attractive Brochure For Real Credibility
Websites are great but nothing can take the place of a professional color brochure about your business, products or services. It adds real credibility. You can get a PDF version to email to prospects as well.
- Yellow Pages Can Work For Some Consumer Businesses
Companies providing consumer services like plumbers, electricians and landscape companies can benefit from advertising in the Yellow Pages. For most businesses it is a waste – you have to consider whether your potential customers are searching for your kind of business this way. But if they are, take advantage of this tried and true marketing media.
- Direct Mail Can Be Effective If You Have The Right List
Open your mailbox any day and you’ll probably see one or more large postcards or personalized letters. Many businesses find them to be cost effective. Give them a try and see if they work for you. A company like Vistaprint can produce postcards economically but you may need professional design. You may also need to buy a mailing list if you don’t have one already.
- Slide Shows Can Improve The Impact Of Presentations
If you need to make a marketing presentation to a major prospect, particularly selling to another business, a PowerPoint slide show can be the best way to present your content. Keep it short and simple, use lots of pictures, and remember to focus on the benefits and not the features. A PowerPoint can also be placed on your website as a download or turned into an online video easily.
- Print Advertising Works For Retail Businesses
If you sell to local consumers, advertising in local newspapers or magazines can really make the phone ring and the customers come in. By all means give it a try to see how it works for you. Inexpensive classified ads also work great for many small businesses.
- TV Advertising Can Be Cheaper Than You Think
You might think TV advertising is too expensive, but if you purchase through your local cable TV provider, it can be remarkably affordable. In most communities they even provide free content for your commercial at no extra charge. Don’t give in to pressure from a single TV station sales rep until you get pricing from the cable ad folks. TV commercials can make your retail business come to life, show off your products and generate consumer emotions like nothing else. But again test carefully so you don’t waste a lot of money.
- Radio Reaches Captive Audiences
Radio is famous for reaching people in their cars driving to and from work, as well people doing housework or working at home who like music or talk in the background, there is also those who always read karaoke machine reviews because they love to sing. Again this is best for retail businesses, and the station must be carefully selected based on audience demographics.
- Billboards Increase Market Awareness
Billboards are seen by hundreds of thousands of people in vehicles on the highway. They may not make the phone ring but they strongly increase brand awareness and interest among potential buyers. Not cheap but a valuable tool in the local marketing toolbox.
- Trade Shows Allow Real Customer Contact
Depending on what’s available in your area, a trade show can be a great way to meet potential customers in person, demonstrate your product, answer questions and capture contact information for follow-up. They can work for both consumer and business target markets. An attractive booth or exhibit design can attract more prospects and enhance your brand.
- Specialty Advertising Creates Mementos And Wearables
Get your logo and brand name printed on pens, cups, caps or t-shirts and give them away to customers, prospects and valuable contacts. These promote brand awareness and goodwill year-round. A good example is The Original CommuniTee, a community t-shirt advertising program available from Logonation. Visit Logonation.com to learn more.
- Use Magnetic Vehicle Signs For Retail Businesses
If you run a retail business, adding a magnetic sign to your vehicle makes it a rolling billboard seen by many thousands of people. Be sure to include your phone number and web address.
- If You’re A Talker, Give Talks
If you’re comfortable speaking to groups, look for opportunities to give talks at local organization meetings, trade shows, professional association meetings and other events. Your local library or Chamber may have a directory of local nonprofit groups, who are always looking for new speakers.
- Have A Party Or Social Event
Lots of people like parties, especially when free refreshments are provided. Invite customers, prospects and other business contacts, and peg it to something like the anniversary of your business start date. Create memorable invitations and give mementos and door prizes to attendees.
- Create An Advisory Board
Invite people whose opinions you value – customers, prospects, local officials, friends – to serve on an advisory board and meet a few times a year for a nice lunch and conversation about ways to improve and grow your business.
- Be Active In Your Community
Join your local Chamber of Commerce and attend networking events. Get involved in a local charity and support it visibly. Show that you care about your community and its people.
- Put On Conferences, Seminars Or Webinars
Share your expertise with your customers and prospects by putting on informative seminars or events, and promote them online and off. If you sell in many areas, develop an online webinar or series to cover several related topics. This will develop confidence in and attract new customers.
- Involve Your Employees
Periodically meet with your employees to let them know what is going on with your marketing program and other initiatives. Help each one be prepared to act as a sales agent for the company when opportunities arise. Encourage their ideas and provide recognition for good ones. This enhances team spirit, morale and sales!
PART D: SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING BUDGETING AND CONTROL
How much should you spend on your small business marketing? A time-tested rule of thumb is 1 to 10% of your projected annual sales. The lower the cost of your product or service, the higher the percentage you should invest within that range. Procter & Gamble, which manufactures and sells bar soap and toothpaste, is known for spending many millions on marketing to achieve and sustain their position as a consumer products market leader. If you watch any TV, you know that car dealers advertise a lot, because every vehicle sold generates thousands in profits.
In most cases your money for marketing is going to come from your gross margin, the difference between your total income and your total expenses. But if you don’t have any margin or profits – perhaps because you have not been marketing – then where is the marketing budget coming from? You may need to reduce your own take-home pay, find a way to cut overhead, or get a small loan.
You can also do some of your own marketing for free. Set up a blog for your website, using free software like WordPress. A big web hosting company like Hostgator.com or Godaddy.com can help you get set up. Start blogging on a regular basis, using your target keywords. Use a plug-in like Jetpack to automatically condense and share your blog posts on all major social media. Set up your own social media accounts if you don’t have them already.
The more of the right marketing you do, the more income you’ll generate, allowing you to continue growing your marketing program and your business.
For more information on how to grow your business using marketing and other applications, visit the source of this small business guide, Lawrimore Inc. at www.Lawrimore.com.