Small business owners often avoid creating a marketing plan, afraid of the cost. It can be harmful, however, as marketing is an important part of the growth and stability of a small business.
Small business owners who ignore marketing and don’t make it a part of their yearly goals and budget are setting their business up for a stagnant year of potential profit regression. If you’re intimidated by marketing and assume you can’t afford to put a strategy or budget in place, it’s time to get creative.
To see a steady growth, create a few simple and inexpensive ways to please customers and make a name for your business.
Here are three things to remember when developing a marketing strategy:
1. Do some research.
Before you decide what’s important to include in your marketing plan and what can be skipped for the year, you’ll need to define the characteristics of your target consumer. According to Inc. Contributor Mandy Porta, “Small businesses can effectively compete with large companies by targeting a niche market.”
Learn where your repeat customers come from and cater your marketing plan to the mediums that will gain you the most exposure. If you find out that your target customers are reading a local newspaper, you should consider running an advertisement that highlights one of your products. If most of your potential customers are on social media platforms, a sponsored social media ad or a giveaway may give you the most exposure. Learning about your target market, where they look for products and what types of products may interest them, will ensure you won’t have to spend a fortune on multiple ads on unprofitable platforms.
“Target marketing allows you to focus your marketing dollars and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you than other markets,” writes Porta. “This is a much more affordable, efficient, and effective way to reach potential clients and generate business.”
2. Implement low-cost marketing concepts.
There are many ways to gain exposure without spending any money at all. Since word-of-mouth is one of the most effective ways to gain new customers and referral sources, networking events can be worth attending.
Kevin Stirtz of Business Know-How recommends business owners to set a time and budget each week or month for networking:
“Plan to attend a specific number of meetings or events where you can network. Make sure your other tasks and responsibilities fit around these meetings. It’s best to balance networking with your other lead generating activities. This way you can measure the value of your networking leads against the time spent acquiring them.”
Most events are inexpensive — making them easy opportunities for networking with other business owners (as well as potential customers). You can use networking events to encourage people to visit your website and learn more about your business.
3. Get creative with free and valuable resources.
With your expert knowledge of the industry you operate in, you have a lot to offer. By hosting seminars, writing blog posts or spreading helpful information on social media, you can get potential customers to start thinking about you (and your business) as a thought leader.
Additionally, you can create a referral program to encourage your current customers to talk about your business more.
“Referrals are more likely to translate into more clients than leads generated through other marketing methods,” says Jonathan Long, VIP Contributor for Entrepreneur Magazine.
You can offer a referral program to current customers and reward them for referring friends and family members to your company. Long also recommends establishing yourself as a thought leader, publishing case studies and your client list, and honing in on your niche to boost referrals.
Contests and coupons also help you gain exposure and add value to your small business without spending a fortune.
Look how much more attention Falken Tire got from its free daily giveaway than its engagement post (363 retweets and 144 likes vs. 3 retweets and 16 likes). See how far something as inexpensive as an inflatable ball can go for increasing brand awareness…
4. Maximize Social Media
Social media is one of the most inexpensive and effective ways to market your business.
If you want millions of social media users to learn about your company, engage with your brand and eventually become customers, you need to show off your business online. Here are five inexpensive ways to use social media to boost your sales.
- Don’t write off Facebook.
While Facebook has taken a lot of heat lately for sharing user data, it’s still worth your time. It doesn’t seem that Facebook users are going anywhere, so neither should you.
As an example, here’s McDonald’s Twitter post for its recent Uber Eats cross-promotion:
And here’s McDonald’s Facebook post for the same promotion:
Notice how Facebook has 213 comments, 52 shares, and 203 likes vs. Twitter’s 67 comments, 34 retweets, and 157 likes.
Facebook has some of the highest numbers of users when compared to other platforms, so be sure you spend time sharing versatile content for your business. This should include videos, polls, photos, webinars, articles, and infographics that are interesting and engaging.
- Stay available and present.
How to engage your followers on social media platforms? It involves conversations instead of one-sided advertising.
When customers reach out to your brand on any platform, whether it’s positive or negative attention, it’s important to respond quickly and thoughtfully. Engaging in conversations with customers through social media makes them feel connected to your brand. Then it’s more likely they’ll recommend your product or service to friends and family.
Your tone should be assisting and engaging. Respond to your customer’s need in less than twenty-four hours and solve their issue. Introducing yourself also adds a personal touch to the response.
- Keep an eye on your competitors.
You shouldn’t mimic everything that your competitors are doing on social media, but you should definitely keep tabs on them.
See how Disney crafted an on-brand post for #NationalIceCreamDay, then Universal Studios posted one shortly after?
There’s nothing wrong with using your competitor’s social media post as an inspiration. Take what your competitors are doing online and try to do it better so you can win over more users and increase your following.
- Tell followers what to do with calls-to-action.
While you should never be bossy or demanding, call-to-actions should be present in your blog posts, videos and posts. Always provide followers with direct instructions for what you want them to do. For example, in the above LinkedIn post, TAB asks followers to register for an upcoming webinar as straightforwardly as possible.
- Assist and engage.
Social media isn’t the place for hard sales, but it’s the perfect place to build relationships with your customers and provide helpful content about your business.
It’s important to be available for customers who need assistance with your product, want to learn more about what your business does or who are trying to get information about your industry. If your business is a resource of helpful information and real-time answers, you’ll build a larger following of social media users who are likely to turn into customers.
Create a good strategy and market for less.
Before you write off the concept of creating a marketing strategy for your small business again this year, take the time to consider these four ways to create a plan within budget. Your marketing doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. By using your creativity, knowledge, research, and resources, you can satisfy your customers and gain new leads in fun and inexpensive ways.
Author: Jodie Shaw is The Alternative Board (TAB)’s Chief Marketing Officer. She brings over 20 years of B2B marketing and 10 years in franchising to the role. Prior to to her work with TAB, Jodie served as the CEO and Global Chief Marketing Officer of an international business coaching franchise, serving more than 50 countries.