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Written by | April 29, 2022
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Know what every business has in common? They all have to do marketing to find customers and make money.
Whether you own a brand-new startup or a decade-old enterprise, you can’t exist and grow without marketing. Yes, even you, Tesla.
Small business marketing doesn’t look the same as medium-sized or enterprise marketing. You don’t have truckloads of revenue and investor cash to throw at the drawing board to see what sticks—you have to be intentional and data-driven from the get-go.
Fortunately, there are smart ways to market your small business.
Want to know the best, foolproof small business marketing strategy that works at every company?
So do we.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to small business marketing. What works for one company in a specific industry might be a money pit for another business in a different industry.
Instead of trying to give you a step-by-step blueprint (and failing), we want to provide you with ideas and a framework. Below, we’ll walk you through 31 small business marketing strategies. Not every tactic will work for your business, but we can guarantee at least a handful will.
But before we dive into the marketing strategies, let’s look at the benefits of small business marketing, the non-negotiable elements of every business’s marketing, and how to build your plan.
Table of Contents
Social Media Marketing for Small Business
Email Marketing for Small Business
Content Marketing for Small Business
Video Marketing for Small Business
Search Marketing for Small Business
Public Relations (PR) Marketing for Small Business
Traditional Marketing for Small Business
Small business marketing takes time and money—so is it worth it?
Without marketing, you’re essentially waiting for customers to stumble into your business. Yes, it can happen from time to time, but it’s far from a sustainable financial plan.
Marketing gets your products and services in front of people who need (or want) them. Usually, marketing convinces buyers that you have a solution to their problems. Sometimes, marketing convinces customers that they have a problem that needs fixing.
Marketing is essential. Period. Still, for argument’s sake, let’s get hyperfocused on why it matters:
Every small business marketing strategy needs a plan. Without a plan, you’re just throwing darts to see what sticks—and unless you’re a large corporation with budget to burn, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Your small business marketing strategy needs to be intentional. It needs data, validation, and return on investment (ROI).
It’s also dynamic. Last year’s marketing strategy might not work anymore, and you need to be ready to pivot before your hard-earned cash gets wasted on outdated tactics.
We could write an entire guide on creating a marketing plan (and we did), but we’ll keep things brief here so we can get to the meat and potatoes:
Some small business marketing strategies are optional. For example, you don’t need an influencer campaign or affiliate marketing program. Nor do you need billboard advertisements or email newsletters.
Do these tactics work? Yes, usually.
Do you need them? No, not necessarily.
However, there are a few must-have elements every modern-day business needs:
Read more: How to Set Up a Website in Less than 60 Minutes
32 may seem like a lot of small business marketing strategies, and that’s because it is. You can’t do them all, and that’s OK.
Find which channels and strategies resonate with your brand and audience. For example, if you own a software as a service (SaaS) business, your audience might be on Twitch rather than Pinterest. And if you own a local accounting firm, you might find more customers with a newspaper ad than an Instagram influencer campaign.
Focus on 2 or 3 strategies. Find success, scale, and boost your ROI. Once you feel you’ve maxed out a channel’s potential, then consider adding another channel to the mix.
We know you don’t have money to waste, and that’s why we worked to find you the most budget-friendly marketing solutions.
Regardless of your brand or industry, social media should be part of your small business marketing strategy. Whether you’re a plumber or a venture-backed tech startup, there’s an audience somewhere on these platforms—and it’s yours for capitalizing.
Well, with the right strategy, that is.
Sometimes, organic marketing in relevant Facebook Groups or posting content on your Instagram account will get the job done. Other times, you might have to find an influencer to convince your target market.
You have several social media marketing opportunities to explore, so let’s examine each in more detail below.
Organic social media marketing is any activity you can do on the platform for free. This includes publishing posts, writing articles, inviting users to like your page, engaging with reviews, and interacting in groups. It’s challenging to grow a large, engaged following on these pay-to-play networks without spending money, but it’s hard to discount an entirely free tactic.
Social media advertising might sound intimidating, but it’s incredibly lucrative once you learn the ropes. Plus, you get access to tons of metrics, so you always know if this strategy is earning or burning your cash. Social media advertising includes tactics like Facebook ads, sponsored posts, YouTube ads, and LinkedIn InMail.
Now, we’re not talking sponsorships with Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift—we’re talking about partnerships with microinfluencers. We do have strategies for getting in front of the influencer of your dreams, but it’ll take a bit of work—and that’s a whole other topic.
Microinfluencers tend to have 10K to 100K followers and often come off as more relatable and approachable. Most importantly, they’re more affordable while still helping you reach your niche audiences.
You can use social messaging platforms like Messenger (formerly Facebook Messenger) and WhatsApp to have 1-on-1 conversations with your customers. These conversations aren’t just for customer support, either. For example, Nordstrom used AI-powered chatbots (not as technical as it sounds) to help shoppers find the right holiday gifts.
Host a webinar or go behind the scenes of a product launch to build trust and relationships with your audience. Livestreaming is a great way to showcase your products and engage with your customers in a more personal way. It turns talk-at-you marketing into back-and-forth conversations—and experiences like that can make the difference between a one-off purchase and a life-long customer.
Want to turn your employees into extensions of your social media program? Start an employee advocacy program. Platforms like GaggleAMP and Dynamic Signal encourage your teammates to share content on their social network in exchange for points, prizes, and internal recognition. While your business’s Instagram page might only have 700 followers, your employees may have a collective 100K followers. That’s a big difference in reach.
Email marketing isn’t dead—far from it. Email has been around for over 50 years (much longer than those Meta whippersnappers), and data shows it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Email marketing generates a mind-blowing $36 for every $1 spent.
Let that stat sink in for a minute.
You probably won’t find a more cost-effective small business marketing tactic. However, email isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it strategy—nor is it simple to get started.
First, you need to gain subscribers and build your email list. Then, you’re ready to start making healthy revenue.
Regardless of where your email program is right now, here are a few strategies you can start using to market your small business:
Email newsletters are the most classic email marketing tactic—mainly because they’re simple and work. Start an email newsletter to regularly keep your customers engaged and interacting with your brand. Your newsletters could contain:
According to SendGrid research, offers and discounts are 2 of the most significant factors influencing subscribers to open emails (especially if a discount is at least 40% off). Use promotional emails to reward your subscribers and get them to visit your store or website. A “Free Shipping” coupon might be all they need to start (and maybe finish) their shopping spree at your store.
Email marketing can be a lot of work, and that’s why we like to set up automated campaigns to message the right customers with the right message at the right time. You could set up an automated campaign to send new subscribers a sequence of emails, or you might create an automation to cross-sell products to current or previous buyers.
“Content is king, but context is God.” We didn’t come up with the phrase, but we couldn’t agree more. Content is everywhere.
It’s part of your website, email marketing campaign, LinkedIn post, brand design, and even your CEO’s all-hands spiel.
However, quality content doesn’t exist without context. You can’t create a 2,500-word Tweet, nor should you have a 280-character blog post. Your boomer audience might appreciate an infomercial, whereas your Gen Z market prefers a TikTok video.
When creating content, you need to keep your audience, the platform, your brand, and the customer experience in mind.
When you hear content marketing, you probably think about going viral, but this rarely ever happens—and it doesn’t need to.
Let us repeat that: you don’t need to create viral content to do content marketing.
You can’t count on going viral, but you can plan on pleasing a small group (rather than the whole world) consistently with high-quality content.
Below are a few of our favorite content marketing methods.
If content is king, then blogging is the king’s scepter. Create content to publish on your website’s blog. While you can publish LinkedIn articles or content on third-party blogging sites like Medium, it’s best to start generating recurring traffic to your own site. Your blog content serves multiple purposes:
Expose your brand to new audiences by guest posting on other blogs. You could do a mutual blog post exchange with other brands, pay to contribute, or even just provide valuable free content to another website—it all depends on the relationship you establish with other businesses. Guest blogging helps potential customers become familiar with your brand, and it also gives you a platform to spread awareness. Remember, provide value first (lots of it) and plug your business second.
Create “free” content on your website to give visitors in exchange for their email addresses. This could be an ebook, access to a guide, a checklist, or even an exclusive webinar invite. Think of free (although valuable) things you could offer your audience to trade for their email address. Then, create landing pages and signup forms to promote your content. Next, drive traffic to those pages. Lastly, optimize those pages to convert them into new leads.
Podcasting is a relatively new content marketing strategy. While it’s been around for quite a while now, podcasting isn’t too saturated (yet). Consider the content you could provide your audience in podcasting form. Do you or any of your employees have the expertise they could share? Do you have connections with other brands or influencers who you could interview? Getting your first big interview is the hardest part (we know from experience), but then the snowball effect should keep your momentum going.
You might not be able to afford a Super Bowl commercial (who can?), but there are plenty of other affordable ways to incorporate video into your small business marketing strategy.
A simple screen share tutorial could make all the difference between your customers choosing your product or a competitor’s. And a product video might be all a buyer needs to buy your goods outright or sign up for a 15-day free trial.
Here are a few budget-friendly ways you can add a video to your small business marketing program:
Create how-to videos to teach your customers how your product or service works. For example, if you sell a new piece of gym equipment, you might show your customers how to use it. You could also create videos showing customers how to assemble your products—this is almost always more helpful than a 20-page black-and-white manual.
Market your business with video on platforms like YouTube. These videos could be 15-second long in-stream skippable video ads, non-skippable bumper ads, overlay ads, or display ads. Experiment with different formats to see which resonate most with your audience and get you the most bang for your marketing buck.
Product videos explain more about your product or service. They outline how it works, why it’s helpful, use cases, and features. Think of them as a trailer to an upcoming movie. They should be exciting and grab your viewer’s attention enough to make them click a link to learn more, make a purchase, or sign-up for a full-fledged demo.
People trust customer reviews. 93% of buyers read online reviews before making a purchase. Testimonials are a bit different from reviews. Unlike reviews, you get to control the narrative with your testimonials and use them on the platforms or channels you prefer. You might collect short one-liner testimonials for your website and long case-study testimonials for your YouTube page.
Search marketing to your business is like ketchup to french fries—it’s absolutely essential. Gone are the days of Yellow Pages and asking your neighbor for a grocery store recommendation. Now, people just whip out their smartphones and ask Google just about anything.
Phrases like “food near me,” “gas station,” and “accountant near me” are searched millions of times every year. Without the proper search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing, your business won’t appear when people are looking.
Search engine optimization is the process of improving your website, social profiles, blog posts, and product pages to rank for specific keywords. It’s a long-term strategy that takes a big-time commitment, but it’ll eventually drive free, organic traffic to your domains. SEO comprises many different activities, including:
SEM is the process of purchasing ad space on search engine results pages (SERPs). These ads are the websites listed on the top, bottom, and sometimes the side of your Google searches that have the word “Ad” next to them. You can pay to have your site show up for certain search results and get in front of your target audience.
Voice search is growing in popularity. 65% of 25-49-year-olds talk to their voice-enabled devices every day. We’re only going to hear more of “Hey, Google” and “Hey, Siri” in the years to come. However, optimizing for voice search is slightly different from optimizing for text search. You’ll need to focus on creating content that answers questions in a conversational tone. Use AnswerThePublic to find questions that your audience frequently asks.
Public relations might seem as old school as cargo pants and Billy Joel, but it still has a place in modern small business marketing. Plus, consumers trust earned media more than brands, social media posts, or even influencers.
While the best marketing strategy is to get all those sources working in your favor, here are a few ways to score your business some positive earned media coverage:
Yes, press releases. They’re still a thing, and you should still be using them. However, ditch the old-school way you learned in college. Worry less about the format and more on delivering a compelling story to a journalist who can quickly (and easily) turn it into a career-building piece of content for both of you. If it’s not something you’d care to read about during your lunch break, don’t bother a journalist with it. Focus on pitching only the most important stories. Do this consistently to build lasting relationships with gatekeepers at news outlets.
You don’t need a massive budget to pull off a PR stunt. Take EKR, for example. Every year, they host Slash Bash—a pumpkin hurling, gourd smashing, family-fun event for the community. It’s a budget-friendly event that builds brand awareness and generates press—slicing pumpkins with swords and tossing pumpkins from a giant crane will do that.
Speaking of community, get your business involved in other local events. Consider sponsoring a local baseball team or contributing employees hours to volunteer work. These things not only make the world a better place (and that’s motivation enough), but they also build your brand, expose your business to new customers, and engage your workforce.
You don’t have to do it all on your own. Small businesses make up a whopping 99.9% of all companies in the US—you have lots of company.
Most of these businesses are just like you. They strive to grow, reach more customers, make more money, and serve more people. And most can do this better by working together and involving their customers.
Here are a few ways you can partner with other businesses and consumers to co-market your small business:
Brands can work together to share customers and mutually benefit. Take beverage-serving bars and food-serving food trucks, for example—these businesses can work together to sell more without stepping on each other’s feet. Find a company that sells complementary goods or services to partner with.
Turn other businesses into resellers. Affiliate marketing allows websites, influencers, blogs, and other third-party domains to sell your products for a percentage of the sales. For example, if a blogger likes using your email design tool, they can recommend it to their audience—if someone clicks the link and makes a purchase, the blogger gets a portion of the sale. Your customer gets a great product, you get a sale, and the blogger gets a commission. It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.
Empower your customers to market your business in exchange for discounts, rewards, or cash back. TheHustle has the epitome of a successful referral marketing program. They reward subscribers with points to redeem swag, gift cards, and more when they get their friends to subscribe.
Get customers talking about your business and marketing it for you. Tesla is pro at this—they created a fantastic product that naturally compels buyers to tell all their friends about it. Or take a look at Meow Wolf. If you’ve never heard of Meow Wolf, that’s because you don’t have any friends who’ve been there—because anyone who’s been can’t help talking about it.
Traditional marketing might not be as modern or sexy as digital marketing, but it still has a place in certain industries and geographic areas. The biggest downside to traditional marketing is that it’s difficult to track the ROI, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.
Here are a few of our favorite traditional marketing strategies and how you can use them to market your small business.
Want to know why billboards still line highways and interstates? Because they work. However, unless you’re Coca-Cola or McDonalds, you can’t afford to purchase a billboard just anywhere—you need to be more strategic. Consider purchasing a billboard near the exit for your business and see how it impacts sales. We recommend keeping all your other marketing tactics the same while you experiment—this will help you isolate whether the billboard is worth the cost.
Radio is still alive and kicking. In 2020, 83% of Americans older than 11 listened to the radio at least once in a given week. Depending on your target market, there’s likely a radio channel you can tap into to reach them. Consider purchasing ads on other audio platforms, such as podcasts or Spotify.
If your audience is the type to pick up a physical newspaper, an insert, digital ad, or classified ad might be a great way to reach them. Choose your outlets carefully, negotiate rates, and spend time creating engaging content. Don’t settle for mediocre visual design or lackluster copy.
Direct mail is a great way to stand out in the digital age. Consumers are flooded with marketing messages from their screens, and sometimes a physical piece of paper (in their home) can break through the clutter and catch their attention.
Telemarketing gets a bad reputation, and that’s because most businesses do it completely wrong. Many companies use poor databases to find phone numbers to contact and waste time and money calling (and annoying) unlikely buyers. However, if you can find, build, and maintain a quality contact list, you can turn prospective buyers into customers—especially if you’re taking advantage of SMS marketing (which has open rates as high as 98%).
Ready to start marketing your small business? Well, if you made it this far, you’ve practically already started.
However, there’s still lots to do and learn. You likely have questions. Fortunately, we have answers.
Here are a few of our most popular small business marketing resources:
You can also enroll in our library of free courses.
About Jesse Sumrak
Jesse Sumrak is a writing zealot focused on creating killer content. He’s spent almost a decade writing about startup, marketing, and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped business. A writer by day and a peak bagger by night (and early early morning), you can usually find Jesse preparing for the apocalypse on a precipitous peak somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
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