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Small Business Marketing 101: Getting Started

Earning new customers is vital to the growth of any small business, and leveraging marketing strategies is the most effective way to accomplish that goal.

However, small business owners often have to wear multiple hats to keep their business running.

This can result in their marketing strategy falling to the wayside as they focus on the daily operations of running their business.

Thankfully, developing a small business marketing strategy doesn’t require a background or career in marketing.

Plus, it can be both straightforward and affordable.

This guide to small business marketing will break down how to create a sustainable, scalable marketing strategy that helps your small business earn new customers and grow revenue for years to come.

What Is Small Business Marketing?

Small business marketing is the process of getting your products or services in front of the eyes of more potential customers.

It consists of various online and offline strategies, but the end goal is to grow your small business revenue and expand market share.

Challenges Of Marketing Small Businesses

Small businesses face unique challenges with marketing that larger or enterprise brands just don’t have to deal with.

This is particularly true if there is no dedicated marketing expert on your small business’s team.

Lack Of Resources

Small businesses can’t always hire an in-house marketer or devote the time necessary to strategic marketing.

Marketing effectively and on budget requires time, technology, iteration, and close attention to campaign performance.

Smaller Budgets

Most likely, your small business has a strict budget that you allocate for your marketing.

Because digital marketing can be costly, it’s not uncommon for small business owners to blow their budgets.

Or, they may not allocate their digital marketing budget to the most profitable channels.

Competition From Larger Brands

Not only is your small business competing against other local or small businesses, but you’re also likely competing against larger brands that have stronger name recognition and an authoritative digital presence.

Larger brands can easily steal clicks on advertisements because of their brand recognition.

And with organic SEO, Google often prefers to rank websites with more authority and a trusted reputation.

Adapting To Trends and Technologies

The digital marketing landscape is competitive!

It can be challenging for a small business to adapt to the changing landscape of search algorithms, rising cost-per-clicks, and more.

Despite these challenges, it is possible for small businesses to successfully market their products or services with a significant return on investment.

Getting Started With Small Business Marketing

Before you start spending money to market your small business, you need to set yourself up for success.

The following steps are must-dos before you launch your first marketing campaign.

1. Know Your Audience

It’s important to understand your target audience before you start paying money to reach them.

Crafting audience personas can help you determine who your small business is trying to reach.

Also, where you can best reach them and how your product or service meets their needs or solves their problems.

Audience personas can include:

  • Demographics.
  • Geographic location.
  • Interests.
  • Budget.
  • Pain points.
  • Motivations.
  • And more!

Taking the time to create multiple audience personas sets the foundation for your marketing strategy.

It will help you choose the right messaging and channels to reach your ideal customers or clients.

2. Refine Your Messaging

Once you know who your audience is, what they need, and how your products or services solve their problem, you can do the work of crafting refined, impactful messaging.

Your messaging may involve educating customers, showing value, displaying authority or expertise, differentiating from competitors, and more.

Depending on the number or scope of your products and service offerings, you may have to craft several messages to reach your various audience personas more effectively.

3. Determine Your Budget

The reality is that marketing can get expensive if you don’t take the time to prioritize and strategize.

Some marketing channels are pricier than others.

So it’s important to determine what you are willing and not willing to spend before launching any campaigns.

Image created by author, March 2022

4. Setup Your Analytics

Before you get started on any digital marketing channel, you need to be able to measure its impact and effectiveness.

You can utilize all sorts of analytics tools, but if you’re just getting started, begin with these two analytics platforms.

As your small business marketing strategy grows, you may want to invest in an email marketing platform or a customer relationship management platform.

But for now, the two free platforms above can get you started.

Best Marketing Channels For Small Business

The biggest part of your marketing strategy will be determining which channels make the most sense for your small business and the customers you’re trying to reach.

Some channels will be more expensive than others.

Some will produce results more quickly.

Overall, there are pros and cons to every marketing channel, and no channel is guaranteed to produce revenue for your small business.

However, the below channels are often ideal for small businesses because of their effectiveness, longevity, and affordability.

Content Marketing

It’s best to look at content marketing as the foundation of your marketing efforts.

Without great content, any additional channels listed here cease to be effective.

Content includes your homepage, landing pages, product pages, blogs, social media posts, advertisements, or anything else your potential customers might engage with before purchasing.

It’s important that your content is high-quality, relevant, and meets the needs of your target audience.

Investing in good content will give you permanent assets that you can utilize across marketing channels and will help build your brand recognition, expertise, and authority.

SEO

Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing your small business website to appear in organic search results.

Most internet users turn to a search engine first to find new products and services.

If your small business website shows up for the keywords that those users rely on, it can mean more potential customers clicking through to your website.

That means more people browsing your products, scheduling a consultation, or making appointments.

SEO, however, is multidisciplinary.

Here are the aspects of SEO that are most important for small businesses to prioritize.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the process of optimizing individual web pages to rank higher for relevant keywords.

Each web page on your small business website has the opportunity to rank in search engine results.

The primary steps involve:

  • Keyword research: Finding relevant keywords you want your web pages to rank for.
  • SEO copywriting: Writing in-depth, high-quality content that explores the topic in depth. You can use content optimization software to help improve the quality signals on your pages and improve their ranking potential.
  • Meta tag optimization: Including the target keyword in your page title, meta description, image alt text, and ensuring other key meta tags are optimized for search engine crawlers.
  • Internal and external linking: Including internal links to other relevant pages on your website and linking out to relevant, authoritative sources.

On-page SEO can be implemented easily in your CMS.

Or you can outsource the work to an SEO provider or digital marketing agency.

Although time-intensive, on-page SEO is one of the easiest ways to start earning impressions and clicks from organic search.

Local SEO

If your small business has a brick-and-mortar location or serves a specific geographic region, local SEO strategies can help your website appear in the Google Map Pack and location-based searches.

Example of Google Map Pack results Screenshot from search for [clothing stores near me] March 2022

To get started with local SEO, do the following:

  • Set up your Google Business Profile: This will provide Google and users key information about your small business, including location, phone number, store hours, and more.
  • Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP): These key details about your small business should be clear, accurate, and consistent throughout your website’s content. If your small business has multiple locations, it’s important to create different landing pages for each location featuring their unique NAP information.
  • Get listed in online directories: Google wants to see consistent information about your small business wherever it’s listed on the internet. Using a local citation builder service can help you start building off-site signals. It is an affordable way (under $100) to help Google crawlers better understand your location and the markets you serve.
  • Add the local business schema: Local Business structured data tells Google about your business hours, departments, reviews, and more. Adding schema markup will require the assistance of a web developer, but it can be very impactful.

Site Speed Optimization

The performance of your small business website matters to your ability to rank in search engine results.

screenshot of PageSpeed Insights reportScreenshot taken by author, March 2022

Google doesn’t want to show slow or underperforming pages to users.

So your website needs to meet the following standards:

  • Core Web Vitals: These metrics are the primary way that Google measures the performance of websites. They include Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift.
  • Mobile useability: The mobile version of your small business website needs to be responsive, fast-loading, and high performing.
  • Security: Your website needs to be safe and secure for users. Security is primarily measured through HTTPS protocols.

Pros And Cons Of SEO

The benefit of SEO is that it is arguably the most affordable way to increase your small business’s online presence.

Also, earning top spots in search engine results can send site traffic to your website for years.

That is, as long as you do the work of updating the content and maintaining its quality and technical performance.

However, SEO does take time.

It may be a few months before you see results and start earning traffic to your website.

But that traffic is essentially free and has a wonderful way of improving marketing KPIs, like customer-acquisition costs, in the long term.

Online Reputation Management

Like SEO, online reputation management (ORM) should be an essential part of any small business’s digital marketing toolkit for its affordability and impact.

ORM is the process of building and monitoring your reputation on popular review sites, and it is, essentially, free.

Online reviews are actually a key marketing tool for your small business.

Although you cannot fully control what others choose to say about your small business, you should do what you can to influence reviews and leverage them.

screenshot of yelp profilesScreenshot from Yelp, March 2022

It’s estimated that 94% of consumers have read an online review in the last year.

If your small business does not have profiles on the popular review sites in your industry, or you don’t have reviews of your products, users may choose another service provider or retailer.

Thankfully, getting a proactive online reputation management strategy together is pretty simple.

Get Your Profiles Set Up

Look for the review sites that your potential customers are actively using and are popular in your industry.

Examples include Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, and BBB (Better Business Bureau).

Then make sure your profiles are set up and adequately describe your offering.

These profile pages are also likely to rank for your branded search results, so do your best to add high-value keywords in your profile sections.

Add A Product Review App Or Plugin

If your small business is ecommerce, add a product review plugin or app to your CMS so you can start earning and showcasing reviews on your website.

Here is a list of WordPress product review plugins, and a popular Shopify product review app.

Ask Your Customers To Leave A Review

To start getting online reviews, simply ask!

If you know a customer had a positive experience or really liked your product, sometimes all it takes is asking them to leave a review.

Incentivize Reviews

If you’re struggling to acquire customer reviews, incentivizing reviews with discounts or promotions on repeat visits or purchases can help you get reviews faster.

It also encourages your customers to return to your products or services for a second time.

Always Respond To Negative Reviews

The biggest part of ORM is managing negative reviews that you are bound to receive.

By responding to your negative reviews, you have the opportunity to repair any negative impact.

Also, you show other potential customers browsing reviews that your small business does what it can to make things right.

Pros And Cons Of ORM

ORM is a free marketing strategy and can have a huge impact on driving customers further down the conversion funnel.

However, online reputation management can work against you if your products or services are low-quality.

It’s important to ensure that your small business provides the absolute best to potential customers before you pursue any online reputation management strategy.

Pay-Per-Click

Pay-per-click advertising is the process of advertising on another publisher’s website and paying a fee whenever a user clicks on your ad.

Unlike other advertising, you only pay if the user actually clicks over to your website, guaranteeing site traffic for your ad spend.

PPC – Search Engines and Display Networks

PPC is most commonly associated with top search engines like Google and Bing.

When a user enters a search term, Google and Bing serve ads at the top of their search engine results pages.

Small businesses can bid on relevant keywords to get their advertisement to show up at the top of the SERPs.

Screenshot of search engine adsScreenshot from search for [carpet cleaning services], March 2022

Google and Microsoft also have their own display networks.

In terms of widening the reach of your small business, the Google Display Network sites reach over 90% of internet users worldwide.

Example of a display network ad on a publisher siteScreenshot from The New York Times, March 2022

Successful PPC campaigns, though, are all about execution.

If you have no experience managing or optimizing PPC campaigns, it’s best to work with a paid media manager or agency with expertise in your industry.

PPC – Social Media Advertising

Social Media platforms like Facebook and Instagram empower your small business to do what other platforms like Google Ads can’t – allow you to target your audience by demographics and interests – because these platforms have so much information about their users.

These ads will appear alongside organic posts on social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

As a career digital marketer myself, I often get served ads related to digital marketing.

Example of ad in the Facebook NewsfeedScreenshot taken by author, March 2022

Because social media ads also require a creative (rather than simply text-based search engine ads), it allows your small business to showcase your creativity and brand image even more.

Other features of social media advertising include:

  • Tracking pixels: Adding the Facebook pixel to your small business website allows you to find previous visitors to your website on the Facebook and Instagram platforms.
  • Interest targeting: Because social media users often self-select their interests through likes and engagements, interest-based targeting can be effective for reaching new visitors.
  • Lookalike audiences: Once you earn some business and have an even better idea of who your audience is, you can create lookalike audiences based on those data points. This can help you widen your reach to other users similar to your previous customers.

Pros And Cons Of PPC

The most positive benefit of PPC is that it can start driving traffic to your small business website immediately.

But CPCs are rising every year and platforms like Google Ads and Facebook are more saturated.

If you’re not careful or don’t take the time to optimize your PPC campaigns, you can max out your budget very quickly.

Email Marketing

Once you build up your list of leads, contacts, subscribers, or past customers, email marketing is a great way to connect with your audience and keep your small business at the top of their minds.

Email marketing has the potential for a major return on investment.

It allows you to drive sales of new products and services, create customer loyalty programs, and consistently promote your many content assets.

Some of the most popular email marketing platforms include:

Here are a few email marketing tips for small businesses:

Keep It Balanced

Make sure your emails are balanced between promotional and resource-driven.

Email marketing provides a great outlet for promoting thought leadership, ebooks, or other free resources related to your industry or products.

Segment Your Audiences

Blasting the same email to your entire customer database will be less effective than segmenting your audiences to one-time customers, frequent customers, or leads and crafting personalized, targeted messaging.

Optimize For Mobile

Many of your customers likely read their emails on their mobile devices.

A marketing email that is not responsive or has layout issues is more likely to be ignored or worse, lead to an unsubscribe.

Offline Channels

There are a variety of offline channels available to small businesses as well.

Although they have a much narrower reach than digital marketing channels, they can effectively gain new customers and improve brand recognition for your small business.

Some effective offline channels include:

  • Direct Mail.
  • Events and Conferences.
  • Print Advertising.
  • Community Engagement.
  • Press releases.
  • Networking.
  • And more!

4 Strategic Tips For Effective Small Business Marketing

Each of the marketing strategies listed in this guide is its own unique discipline.

The more informed and strategic your approach, the more effective it will be.

However, your small business likely can’t become an expert overnight.

So, in general, here are some of the most important strategic choices to keep in mind.

1. Balance Your Paid Channels With Organic SEO

The reality is that paid media only drives traffic to your website during your campaigns.

Once your credit card or budget dries up, so does all the site traffic.

Balancing paid channels with organic SEO is one of the most strategic decisions your small business can make.

SEO drives clicks for free and, when done well, to perpetuity.

2. Leverage Retargeting On PPC Platforms

Platforms like Google Ads and Facebook give small business advertisers the option to retarget audiences that have already visited their website but left without making a purchase.

If your small business does the work of driving traffic from organic SEO, you can leverage retargeting even further to improve your total return-on-ad-spend,

3. Target Long-Tail Keywords Through Blog Content

Adding a blog to your small business website can be a game-changer in improving the total number of keywords that your website ranks for.

It’s one of the more affordable ways to expand the reach of your small business. If you don’t have a writer in-house, plenty of freelance content marketers can help get your blog started.

Long-tail keywords are often less competitive.

So make sure your craft blogs target those long-tail questions users ask about your small business products or offerings.

4. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

The reality is that your initial marketing campaigns may not be profitable.

But as long as your analytics are set up, you can iterate on your campaigns and improve results.

Don’t take the “set it and let it” approach.

Pay attention. Make data-driven changes.

And invest in the channels with the best conversion rates that drive revenue at a cost-per-acquisition that is sustainable for your small business.

Conclusion

Developing a small business marketing strategy can have a huge return on investment for your business.

These include growing your revenue, earning loyal customers, being able to hire new employees, opening second locations, and more.

Make marketing a priority for your small business, and you will not be disappointed.

More resources:


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