Coming up with marketing ideas for small business can be a challenge. With the wide array of options available, it is important to invest time and money into the most effective marketing ideas to bring the highest returns.
This list will provide great strategies for any small business, while being mindful of the major changes that have been occurring in the online world - in particular with Google and the rise of mobile.
In addition, the Internet offers great options to market effectively without requiring a big budget. The trade-off, of course, is that you have to invest time and effort instead. However, the rewards for well implemented small business marketing initiative can be huge.
Our original 5 marketing strategies
Let's start with a few interesting facts:
- Despite the enormous potential of the Internet to reach people anywhere in the world, "local" search is becoming more and more popular - especially for small business
- Mobile Web traffic is more important than PC for almost everyone
- Google is now open for product placement bidding above organic search results
With these major changes in mind, here is my list:
1. Local advertising
Google has started to put more emphasis on the local influence of content. One of the best strategies for online growth is to "conquer" small pockets of the overall target audience.
Going local helps to focus your efforts and make your startup more relevant to the people who are exposed to it.
- Claim your free business listing on sites like Google Places and FourSquare.
- Become a member of the local chamber of commerce, and network like mad.
- Find and list with local search directories.
- Get reviews on sites that focus on localities, like Yelp.
- Learn to localize your SEO efforts.
2. Mobile advertising
More and more Web traffic is flowing through mobile devices. That trend is set to continue and quicken pace as more and more people start using tablets for their on-the-fly convenience.
Fortunately, you don't have to worry too much about redesigning your website from the ground up. Smart mobile devices are getting better and better at rendering normal web content, so users can still have a good browsing experience. But it doesn't hurt to check, right?
- Check your website or blog on a range of mobile devices. If conversions are compromised, consider upgrading for mobile with Google's guidance.
- Build a database of SMS contacts and use it to pass on great deals and discounts direct to customer phones for great engagement. Be careful to avoid spamming people.
- Use QR codes to get people to important landing pages. QR codes can be scanned by mobile devices and lead people to your "Deal of the week" page, or Twitter account.
- Social media is easily consumed by mobile devices. Ramp up your social media profile and get people tweeting with you from their phones.
- Don't forget about Bluetooth for some close proximity marketing.
3. PPC Google ads
Google will now allow merchants to advertise their products above organic search results with their PPC ad network called AdWords. This offers a great opportunity to get in front of customers before they even have to look at search results.
Find the right keywords that match user's intent with your offering at a profitable bid price.
It's not easy to compete effectively with PPC. Often it takes a bit of trial and error, a bit of practice, before you learn which keywords are more valuable and whether or not you can drive high converting traffic at a price that leaves some profit left over.
Think carefully about the value of appearing in google search ads, and what it means if you don't... and your competitors are. Placements are bid upon by advertisers, so there is some fierce competition for pole position.
4. Blogging (content marketing)
Blogging might not sound as "sexy" as local and mobile marketing, but bear in mind that the vast majority of all Web traffic still originates from search. By maintaining a great blog, you will help to drive long lasting, highly qualified traffic.
Small business blogging is difficult to get the hang of initially. There are often little to no returns at the start. Be prepared to learn a lot, and persist, and it will likely become your most effective tool. In particular, content gives you a platform to engage with influencers in your niche and these relationships can be very valuable in the long run.
Here are some great articles that will teach you all you need to know:
5. Modern brochures, pamphlets, fliers
The last time I tried to print some fliers I nearly had a heart attack. Printing high quality double sided fliers was prohibitively expensive. Ok, so that was a little while ago...
Now printed materials can integrate with Internet based campaigns - like email marketing. By including QR codes on your posters and signs it is easy for customers with smartphones to sign up to your mailing list.
I've also been seriously impressed with some of the modern printing and design services that are available online. In some cases you can get a 24 hour turnaround time, and all of them offer quality guarantees too.
If you've been thinking about getting brochures into strategic places, or even about customized branding, then it's worth checking out what's on offer:
There's my top 5 ideas. Now it's your turn....
Bonus marketing tips & ideas
Wait, hold on. Plenty of readers and marketing gurus have shared other ideas, so I thought I'd update this with a few of my favorites. Enjoy.
6. Email marketing
Email has been around for a long time - and with good reason. It is one of the most profitable and high converting forms of Internet marketing, and has survived the rise (and some would say, fall) of social media.
What makes email such an attractive strategy for SMEs is that it can integrate beautifully with content, as well as traditional stores (via signs and QR codes), and social media.
Building a mailing list takes a bit of time and effort (as does creating quality content), but there is very little that can beat the sheer positive ROI (Return On Investment) of a highly engaged, opt-in email list.
Email marketing integrates well with any other content based strategy.
Fortunately, implementing an email campaign is very cheap, and very easy, and requires no technical skills whatsoever.
Read our email marketing intro to learn more about why email services are important, and a comparison of the leading service providers in this field.
7. Understand user intent
One of the main reasons, in my opinion, that social media has brought such poor returns is that companies ignored "user intent".
On paper, reaching the right person in your target audience with the right message is all that is required from a good campaign. But that's not quite true. It is also important to reach people at the right time. Any potential new customer has times when they are open to your products and services, and times when they are not.
This is why organic search traffic is so valuable - because, for example, someone who types "Where can I buy a hairbrush" into Google search, is probably looking to buy a hairbrush.
It is a lot easier to determine user intent from organic search phrases.
The same is not true for other methods of online marketing, that reach out to people to deliver a message. Someone who logs into FaceBook probably wants to catch up with friends, and may not want to buy a hairbrush at that particular moment.
Spending more time on delivering the right message to the right people, at the right time, will help drive higher conversion rates.
8. Keep learning & adapting
Cracking the Internet marketing code and driving plenty of high converting Web traffic is not a once-off thing. The Internet is constantly evolving. Strategies that work one year may not be as effective the following year.
It is important to understand that your strategies need to constantly adapt to meet changes. For example, the current migration to mobile has meant that savvy businesses could get the jump on competitors slower to adopt the new medium.
To stay current, it is important to spend some time immersed in news and culture online. Read articles, join communities, and contribute to the debate. It is time consuming, but it will protect you against being caught unawares when the next big evolution happens.
Often, making use of leading tools and services have the additional advantage of introducing the latest technology and techniques to their clients because they have to stay at the cutting edge to remain competitive.
9. Contribute to other people's success
One of the most powerful ways to build alliances and partnerships that will help your own business grow, is to pro-actively become involved in what other people are doing.
If there is a site or blog that regularly posts great articles why not reach out and offer to write something for them too? Or, write an article about why they rock on your own blog, and share it with them.
Everyone loves to hear that their work is appreciated, and, if you do something to help them reach a wider audience they will surely appreciate it.
Devote time every day to strengthening ties with influencers in your niche by talking about them. Even if they don't do the same for you, at least it will put you on their radar. This may lead to great opportunities down the line.
10. Attend hangouts and meetups
If you have suppliers, partners, or clients who offer interactive online (or offline) meetups, make an effort to participate.
You may not drum up sales from this, but you will be afforded the opportunity to build closer relationships. The next time you want to organize an event or meeting, it's far more likely you will get buy-in from people you have interacted with.
It's also amazing how many people in any given group can be extremely valuable to your enterprise. But, you'll only find out if you're there.
11. Create high impact business cards
Business cards are a crucial part of any corporate networking strategy, and it is important to give some thought to the their design.
However, provided your business cards remain functional (i.e. make it clear who you are and what you're about), the sky is the limit when it comes to how creative you want to be.
A clever business card costs very little but can have a huge impact.
For example, an SEO company might wish to make their cards look like the top result in Google search (sends the right message, no?).
It's super easy to have completely unique and creative cards designed, printed and delivered online (for you, or your entire business) using MOO - the leading dedicated business card printing specialist.
12. Share newsworthy press releases
You believe in your venture, right? You do it because you love it, and/or because you're good at it. To be really successful, there must be something cool about what you do. Work out what it is that you do better than anyone else, and tell the world about it in a press release.
A good press release, distributed to the right people, could end up getting air time on local radio or TV, or possibly coverage on something bigger.
There's a lot that goes into creating the perfect press release, and no doubt, if you haven't had some experience, you will need some help. Check out how to write a press release (and actually get publicity).
13. Share socially
Social media marketing is generally great at promoting one thing - itself. On the whole it's proven very mediocre at driving sales and revenue for eCommerce. With that said, provided your expectations of how social media can be an effective promotional tool are realistic, there is no reason not to dedicate some time and effort to it.
Social sharing is a valuable way to gain influence and authority. By encouraging readers to share your content (another reason why content needs to be of good quality), it is possible to reach a wider and differentiated audience.
People are also more inclined to read content that has been recommended by people they know, via a social network. But the vast majority of people have little to no social influence, so in order to be effective, you must target social influencers in your niche.
Getting people with real influence to talk about your business, and share your content, will help to establish you as a recognized and trusted player in your industry. Plus, the potential benefits derived from a tweet or back link from a well-known blogger, journo, or other social influencer are huge.
Spend time establishing relationships and making connections with thought leaders in your niche, and you could, potentially, benefit out of all proportion. The keyword here is potentially. Be realistic and play the long game.
14. Don't be shy (promote yourself)
There is very little point in generating lots of great content and not following through. Don't be afraid to tell people how great you are (without spamming). In particular, customers are far more likely to trust a link from you if they know who you are.
On the flip side of the coin, networking and making new business connections is the quickest and most effective way to building up plenty of trust and authority (collectively, social influence). But it won't happen unless you get in front of those people and let them know who you are and what you can do.
15. Cast a wide net (to capture new leads)
On any given day, most visitors to your site won't be on the hunt to buy something, or use a service. But, those same people might be in the market next week, or next month.
It makes sense then to try to find ways to ensure that they stay within reach. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage them to use your RSS feed, or sign up to a newsletter or mailing list (as mentioned in the email marketing section earlier) via your blog/content.
Content isn't the only game in town. I think good ol' word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways to find new leads. But it means coming up with a proper strategy for getting existing readers or customers to talk about you.
Social media also offers a wide range of opportunities for creative marketers to find new customers. Be careful to choose the right platform to go after leads. There's not much point in trying to spam people who are trying to catch up with friends and aren't interested in buying stuff.
16. Don't let go of existing customers
I've made the case time and again that word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways to get qualified business leads. A customer visiting your site on the strength of a friend's recommendation tends to convert much better than other first time visitors.
Make sure you have processes in place to find out what customers thought of your products and services, and encourage them to recommend and share their experiences with their network.
Even if the product you are selling has a lifetime guarantee, there should be no such thing as a one time buyer. Actively seek ways in which to add value after a purchase. It could be anything from offering free online advice and support, to offering a free newsletter.
Pulling people into your community means that you stay on their radar; and this will naturally lend itself to higher levels of trust, and more referrals.
17. Don't self-promote all the time
When it comes to creating awareness around your startup, there is nothing more effective at turning people off than spamming. Using social media as a platform to talk about yourself is at best a waste of time, at worst, actively harmful to your brand.
Instead of writing articles about how great you are, and tweeting them to anyone who will listen,
Talk about how great other people in your niche are.
I recently received a tweet from a small business blogger suggesting I take a look at how innovative and useful his blog is. Well gee, that's great and all but I have better things to do with my time.
If he had written an article about how much he liked my blog and tweeted that, I would most likely have read it, retweeted it, and connected with him. He might not have made a sale out of me, but he would have built some trust and visibility with someone else in his niche, and this would no doubt have value down the line.
So while promoting your company is important, there are more subtle and effective ways to go about it. Don't try build an empire in one day. It takes time to find and nurture valuable relationships.
18. Don't focus solely on customers
It might sound strange but marketing directly to consumers is really difficult. The big platforms, like social networks, PPC (like Google AdWords), and direct advertising (on popular sites) are extremely expensive.
It's difficult to compete with large companies with large budgets when you are starting out. Advertising, in particular, is a fool's game when you have little experience and even less money to make mistakes.
Instead, go after relationships with other companies and organizations who have access to your target audience. For example, one of my services essentially doubled in size overnight when I partnered with an education site that recommended the service as part of their course.
In fact, so much business began flowing in through these referrals that a new employee was hired to focus solely on building these types of relationships. After all, the only cost to me was to offer the service free to the people running the course (so they could try it out for themselves to see if it would help their clients).
Often it can be difficult to think of ways to get your foot in the door with other organizations. The only advice I can give is to be creative. Find a way to give them something of value for free - that doesn't bankrupt you in the process.
You'll find that building your business in chunks (via the relationships you build with other organizations within your niche) is much easier and reliable than going after everyone at once.
19. Refine the sales funnel
Many companies fail to refine and improve their on-site SEO, landing pages and general conversion rates. Take stock of your traffic patterns and conversions and work on a plan to generate a higher ROI (Return on Investment) with a proper sales funnel strategy.
Check out Sales funnel marketing strategy for bloggers to learn more.
20. Offer a free eBook
Yes, creating an eBook takes a bit of time and effort. But, by creating a brilliant, useful, engaging and highly valuable resource for customers, potential clients, or strategic partners (or any group you care to target), you stand to gain trust and authority, which can be converted into market share.
Small businesses don't necessarily have the time and resources to devote to creating a professional eBook. However, there are some tricks you can use to make things easier.
Read 5 reasons why everyone should offer a free eBook to learn more about making and offering free eBooks
21. Give freely
The world of business is changing from the old model of companies telling consumers "You consume the products we offer", to consumers telling companies "We'll buy from whoever we like".
One of the best ways to get potential clients to like and trust you is to offer them something of value for free. Fortunately, the Internet is the perfect medium to facilitate the offer of free goods and services in an affordable way.
There are many different ways to incorporate free stuff into your business model. Check out 5 top ideas that use free stuff to sell online for more information.
22. Be a sponsor
The great thing about sponsoring people and events (especially if they are local) is that they are almost irresistible human interest stories to news media and are far more likely to garner decent media coverage than anything else you push.
Oddly enough, this type of marketing can be very cost effective in comparison to, say, advertising.
Sponsorships don't have to involve huge sums of cash.
The more coverage the story generates, the more your involvement as sponsor will get spread around. It's not hard to draw up a decent press release sharing the story and linking to your own content about your involvement.
Online media companies tend to link back to original sources of their stories so this strategy can often end up generating a lot of valuable organic links, which are always welcome from an SEO perspective.
What great marketing ideas have you used for your business? Have you had great success? Found some methods to be better than others? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments.