Small Business Marketing Guide: Everything New and Existing Businesses

Small Business Marketing Guide: Everything New and Existing Businesses
  • Use your business marketing strategy to reach customers who might not otherwise know about your products and services. This is highly important — most customers won’t encounter your business without you trying to reach them.
  • To build out your small business marketing strategy, define your brand and identify your target customers. Then, launch a business website and set your marketing budget. After that, implement marketing tools and channels.
  • Commonly used marketing channels include email, social media, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, online networking and your business website (especially its blog page).
  • This article is for small business owners looking to market their businesses as effectively as possible.

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.

What is a business marketing strategy?

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.”

How to develop your small businesses marketing strategy

The following steps can help you develop a basic plan to use toward developing your larger marketing strategy. Here’s how to define your brand and begin engaging your audience.

1. Conduct market research.

If you’re still figuring out who your audience is, the first step is to conduct some market research.

“Market research helps you identify whether you have a viable product or service, how saturated the market is, any gaps that you can fill, and … the appropriate price point,” Jaenke said. “To do this, you should apply social listening on Facebook and especially Twitter. Join groups and find out what problems people are facing. Look on forums like Quora and Reddit, and record the questions that are being asked. Put all of these together and look for commonalities. These common questions are their pain points.”

DeMers said he uses a tool called Ubersuggest to research competitors and identify their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

2. Calculate a marketing budget.

You could do all your marketing in-house, but it might not be your best bet. Consider hiring a consultant or outsourcing your marketing efforts to a small business marketing agency.

“It’s probably best to hire a consultant, even if just for a one-time consultation, to figure out what a good budget would be to meet your goals,” DeMers said. “Budgets can vary widely based on your industry, competition, and product or service. So, talk to an expert specifically about your goals to get an idea of budget.”

In theory, you could spend as much or as little as you want on marketing, but Jaenke said that how much you spend does play a moderate role in a marketing strategy.

“Generally, we work [with] the idea that businesses should spend 5 percent of their revenue on marketing if they are bringing in $5 million or less, and 8 percent if they are bringing in more than $5 million,” he said. “If the small business only brings in $100,000 for the year, their marketing budget is only $5,000 for the year, or $416.67 per month. This really narrows down the focus on a few marketing areas, which may not be viable options at that price point. You definitely can’t outsource locally, and you can’t hire internally.”

3. Define your brand.

Defining your brand allows you to develop a consistent personality across all marketing channels, such as your website, social media accounts and email. Normally when you think of a brand, you think of the company name, like Apple or Sony. However, that isn’t all a brand means.

“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.”

4. Identify your target audience.

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.

5. Put together buyer personas

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.”

6. Create a website.

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.”

7. Set up your online tools.

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.

8. Start blogging.

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.

9. Choose external marketing channels.

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.

10. Start advertising.

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.

Key takeaway: 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.

Examples of marketing channels

Email

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.”

Social media

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.

  • Facebook: A Facebook page is a great way to talk with your customer base in real time. When you post something, people can leave comments, raise concerns and start conversations. As the business owner, you’ll be able to jump into those threads and converse with your customers on topics that are important to them. Share ideas, photos and updates about your business with the goal to create a more personal relationship with your audience.
  • Instagram: If you use an Instagram page to market your business, it’s important to be consistent in your posting habits, think about the layout and look of your grid, and have photos at the ready so you aren’t scrambling for content. Being prepared will let your customers know that you care about the way you present your business and lead to a higher-quality Instagram page. This can all increase the number of people who want to follow you and engage with your content. Instagram also allows for influencer marketing, which can benefit the right type of industry.
  • YouTube: If making videos is appropriate for the type of business you own, YouTube is the way to go. Videos of activities like cleaning carpets, detailing cars and making soap have gone viral because they are satisfying to watch and the end result is worth sticking around for. Look into channels of other businesses in your industry to gauge how well they’re doing on the platform and help you decide if it’s worth pursuing.
  • Twitter: Twitter for business is interesting because, unlike Instagram, its primary focus isn’t photos, and unlike Facebook, the goal isn’t always to start conversations. But many businesses have had success on Twitter with their witty comebacks to customers as well as competitors; think fast food chains ribbing on each other about the quality of their respective burgers. Twitter is more casual than Facebook and lends itself well to quick notes about your business. You can include a link to your website or another resource in these notes.
  • TikTok: TikTok offers businesses a way to create and deploy short video content in a more casual environment. TikTok lends itself well to brand building and audience engagement, rather than direct sales. Much like Instagram, consistency in tone and style of content is key to building a loyal followership.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

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.

Website

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 critical for every business

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.

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