Many entrepreneurs would likely admit that success ultimately comes down to how well you market yourself. After all, if you didn’t put serious effort into marketing, all the work you did to launch your business would go to waste. You must promote your business in order to let your target audience know exactly what you can offer them. This includes the notion that you, more than competitors, understand their needs and expectations.
Unfortunately, today’s small businesses have dozens of marketing tactics to choose from. And the success rate of each one varies from business to business. Welcome to the hardest part of small business marketing: spending the time and money just to figure out which one works best for you.
The good news? Some of the most effective marketing tactics will leave your wallet relatively unscathed. Countless businesses built their initial following by focusing on the cheapest strategies and couldn’t believe what they achieved for such little money.
In this guide, we’ll explain the most popular low-cost marketing tactics and how real businesses have used them to their advantage:
1. Email Marketing
The number of emails from businesses in your inbox right now should illustrate the importance of email marketing in 2019. Email campaigns allow you to stay in touch with leads and previous customers so you can promote new releases, special offers, coupons, etc. Collecting email addresses from strangers may seem daunting but it’s actually not difficult at all. You can collect emails through social media (especially LinkedIn), business cards, or your own website.
The success of your campaign depends almost entirely on your message’s subject line. What would pique the interest of your audience? As for the actual content, email services like MailChimp offer templates for different types of emails, all of which incentivize recipients to click on the link to your website and learn about your business (that’s really the main goal).
If you use the service’s basic plan, you can create and send your emails for free. So, it’s not as if you stand to lose money if the recipient doesn’t open your message.
2. Social Media
Young businesses must prioritize social media because it allows them to discover and introduce themselves to prospective customers. When people hear about new businesses, they usually go to their Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn pages to gauge their current status (growth, relevance, etc.).
In addition to studying and communicating with their audiences, businesses use social media to display their identity and success. They’ll post about their recent accomplishments and explain how their products or services can solve common problems. Social media can also act as your platform for discussing controversial, industry-related topics worthy of sharing or commenting.
Each platform has its own guidelines for successful posts, usually based on the expectations of the average user. So, to capitalize on social media, make sure the topic, length, and phrasing of each post aligns with its platform’s standards.
Users also like to see prompt responses to questions and comments. Some companies hire social media managers primarily to answer questions and respond to criticisms as quickly as possible.
3. Strong SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the process of optimizing your business’s website to maximize the likelihood of showing up for relevant Google searches. Unlike other marketing tools, you can easily learn the best practices for SEO by researching them online. These strategies revolve around using popular keywords, the length of your content, and the content’s format.
It’s all about knowing your target audience. What kind of words do they use to search for your products or services? Which keywords apply to your business, as opposed to your competitor? You wouldn’t have started your business if you couldn’t offer something you can’t find anywhere else. Well, SEO gives you the chance to address those specific needs and stand out from the rest of your industry.
4. Joint Partnerships with Other Businesses
Think of something your target audience might need that goes hand-in-hand with your business. Customers of yoga studios, for example, probably favor certain clothing stores or smoothie shops. These businesses could take advantage of this connection by advertising each other. Someone who visits one business would receive coupons or special offers from the other two.
Small businesses often partner with each other by simply giving out each other’s business cards or linking to each other’s web sites. Partnerships make sense from an efficiency standpoint as well because someone who visits your partner’s business almost certainly belongs in your target audience.
5. Reach Out to Local and Online Press
As mentioned earlier, people who start businesses believe they have something unique and interesting to offer. This could include your origin story, how you make your products, or your company culture. To capitalize on what makes your business truly special, contact local media outlets that cater to your target audience.
You could also use Help a Reporter Out (HARO), where businesses can connect with reporters looking for newsworthy stories. Most reporters on HARO work for online publications that mention growing businesses when discussing industry-related topics.
But remember, don’t contact reporters unless you know for sure that your business is worth covering. If your story keeps getting rejected, you should probably accept that it’s not newsworthy. Hopelessly contacting reporters might only annoy them to the point where they won’t even bother responding.
6. Customer Referral Program
Extensive research has found that consumers trust recommendations from friends and relatives over any other form of advertising. This partially explains why businesses put so much effort into keeping their existing customers satisfied: it makes the customer more likely to recommend them. Your existing customers essentially become your best salespeople and promote your business for free.
You can harness the power of referrals by offering complimentary rewards in exchange for referrals. Possible examples include discounts, accessories (water bottles, mugs, t-shirts, etc.), coupons, or early access to future releases (pre-ordering). It’s an endless, mutually-beneficial cycle: the customer recommends your business, you reward the customer, the customer tells more people about the referral program, and so on.
7. One-to-One Marketing
One-to-one marketing means marketing to individual current customers. You could send customers personalized emails on their birthdays, or handwritten postcards on Christmas. One-to-one marketing differs from traditional email marketing in that each message’s content varies from customer to customer. For example, when OpenTable sends you recommendations for new restaurants to try based on your previous reservations, this technically counts as one-to-one marketing.
8. Guerilla Marketing
Guerilla marketing refers to the use of public space (i.e. the sidewalk, subway cars, benches) to market your business. You could put stickers on street signs at busy intersections, or leave flyers on peoples’ cars in your neighborhood. Those people who stand in crowded areas and ask anyone who passes by if they like certain food items or activities? Yup, that’s guerilla marketing at its finest.
9. Start a Blog
Blogging gives you the chance to connect with your audience in ways you can’t find on social media. Every business owner has their own view of their industry or entrepreneurship in general. Expressing these views and experiences can help you stand out and show your desire to inspire and educate readers with valuable information. That’s the main goal of every successful blog: helping people.
Much like the subject lines of email campaigns, the success of your blog may depend almost entirely on your titles. Think of the titles of the most recent blog posts to catch your eye. Lots of people have written about this same topic, but something about the phrasing of the title made you think “This person probably has something really interesting to say.”
Blogging can also support your SEO efforts. Some companies deliberately base their titles on common questions or concerns they’ve heard from customers. When someone Googles that exact topic, your post may appear on the first page of results.
10. Invest in YouTube Videos
The growing dominance of video content suggests that it could soon become the new norm for small business marketing. Businesses have likely found more success in getting potential customers to watch videos than read ads. There’s more room for emotion and much less confusion. With video content, subjects that would sound very boring or complicated in text format suddenly come to life. You can explain things to potential customers in the same way teachers talk to students while putting your fun yet professional personality on display.
Like blog posts, successful video content addresses controversial, industry-related topics and grabs eyes with catchy titles. Popular ideas include how-to tutorials or hands-on descriptions of products.
Also, the likelihood of someone discovering your YouTube videos depends on the same factors as someone discovering your blog post on Google. Does your video have an eye-catching title that includes popular keywords used by your target audience? If you know the fundamentals of SEO, you should have an idea of how to get your videos to the top of relevant YouTube searches as well.
You don’t have to pay to publish on YouTube but professional-looking content requires additional resources. It’s not hard to tell if someone has invested in the proper equipment or services (editing, producing) associated with serious YouTube accounts. The professionalism of this content makes it stand out, just like any successful blog post or advertisement.
11. Vehicular Branding
Dedicated entrepreneurs promote their businesses everywhere they go, even without speaking to anybody. You can accomplish this with one of the oldest tools for free advertising: your car.
How many license plates or bumper stickers have you seen that promote the driver’s business? They’re everywhere. The fact that you remember these cars so clearly shows the effectiveness of this tactic. As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to promote yourself as well as your business. Putting your company’s name on your car ultimately makes it easier for people to associate the two entities as one.
12. Stay Active on Review Sites
Earlier, we alluded to the value of customer referrals, or word-of-mouth marketing. The same concept applies to reviews, both on social media and review sites like Yelp. Customers often put tremendous trust in reviews, which can suggest if the majority of your customers like or dislike your business.
Don’t get discouraged over negative reviews: even the most popular restaurants in the US have them. Besides, you can significantly mitigate the damage of such feedback by responding promptly and politely. This shows that you understand the importance of every individual customer experience. Some people just like seeing businesses apologize for their shortcomings and guarantee better service or quality the next time around. Thus, make sure to respond to all negative reviews, since they give you the opportunity to put your customer service on display (choose your words carefully).
Your Yelp business profile also contains pictures and general information (hours, location, menu, etc.). Customers tend to favor profiles that leave as little mystery as possible in these areas.
In summary, you should use Yelp to reveal everything you want your target audience to know about your business. If people want to let this single website determine if they belong to your target audience, give them all the information they need to make an educated choice.
13. Answer Key Questions on Quora
Quora has managed to stay relevant primarily because of its SEO capabilities. It’s very similar to blogging. Both provide answers to common questions about your industry. Longer content about popular topics makes the page more likely to rank highly on Google. And like blogging, viewers will quickly dismiss your content if it blatantly promotes your business.
You can certainly promote your business on Quora but only towards the end of your responses. The bulk of the content should feature detailed, non-biased information that effectively answers the question at hand. After all, you do know your industry better than anyone else, right? Quora gives you yet another opportunity to prove your expertise and expand your digital presence.
Not sure if it’s worth your time to answer questions on Quora? Google some questions your customers might have and see what comes up. If you see Quora on the first page, you might want to “claim” this question by writing the longest response, which usually gets elevated to the top of the page.
14. Incorporate Numerical Data
Any marketing expert can vouch for the effectiveness of numerical data in advertising content. Whether it’s on social media, your website, or the window of your brick-and-mortar store, people like to see businesses support their abilities and achievements with numbers. For example, you’d almost certainly generate more leads with “We’ve grown over 500 businesses” as opposed to something more general like “We can help your business grow.”
If you can’t think of any numbers to use, you’re just not looking hard enough. Remember, every business must do at least a few things exceptionally well in order to survive. This could include the amount of clients you serve or your turnaround rate for projects. Businesses with purely mediocre numbers in every possible area would have no competitive edge.
You can maximize your use of numerical data by researching recent studies on your industry. Lots of companies use this data to highlight the increasing need for their products and services or their competitors’ shortcomings.
15. Create Your Own Infographics
Researching industry-related data could uncover myriad valuable statistics. You can put this plethora of information to use through infographics, which can do wonders for young businesses looking to grab attention. The design of infographics makes them very easy to understand, largely because they communicate key information so quickly. The less time it takes to illustrate your point, the higher the likelihood of social media likes and shares.
Infographics will also cost you very little time and money to create. You don’t need any experience in graphic design, and most infographics you’ve seen likely required just one free tool.
16. Flash Sales/Sense of Urgency
You can thank social media for exposing the incredible potential of flash sales. Here’s how it works: Your company offers an extreme discount (i.e. 50-75% off) but for a very short amount of time (usually a few hours to a few days). People love saving big, especially on trendy items like clothing, technology or food. Between social media and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s not long before everyone and their mother knows about the sale.
Flash sales prove that creating a sense of urgency can make any product seem infinitely more appealing. It’s like Black Friday/Cyber Monday but only with one product. They also give you more data to use when promoting your business’s success in the future. You can now boast about how many products you sold in such a short period of time.
Businesses often promote flash sales a few weeks before they occur, which runs the risk of customers forgetting about their new coupon code. You can avoid this by announcing flash sales during your longer-term promotions, like holiday or back-to-school sales.
Understanding Your Target Audience Is Priceless
In addition to promoting your business, these low cost tactics allow you to really understand how your target audience thinks. What draws their attention? How do they spend their time? You can use this information to sculpt your business’s overall marketing strategy and double down on what works best.
The real challenge here is to learn from your competitors while staying unique. You can’t just try to beat them at their own game, but you must also heed their successes and failures. Besides, if there was any reason for a customer to choose a new business over an industry giant, it’s because you showed them that you made more of an effort to connect with their personal preferences.