Marketing brands, products and services aren’t limited to multi-national conglomerates. There many tools, systems and venues available for small businesses to promote themselves. Whether you’re working with a reasonable marketing budget or no budget at all, and whether you have a small marketing team or are doing everything yourself, you have options.
Small Business Marketing Goals
The first step when figuring out how to market your small business is to define your goals clearly. What do you want your marketing efforts to help you achieve? Once you know your goals, you’ll have a better understanding of how you can leverage the options available to get you there.
Marketing goals include building brand awareness, creating brand loyalty, selling more products and services, acquiring more new customers and re-engaging existing customers. Marketing can also help small businesses increase market share, improve relationships with stakeholders and partners and enhance customer relationships.
Once you’ve determined the goals you would like to achieve with marketing, define the metrics you’re going to use to measure your success. Figure out what numbers matter to your business, and begin tracking them on a regular basis before, during and after your marketing campaign. This way, you can see whether your marketing efforts are working, and where you need to make changes to achieve your goal. Set a clear timeline for meeting your objectives.
For example, if a small business makes and sells small-batch, home-style food like soups, stews and casseroles, their main goal in their marketing efforts may be to acquire more new customers. If they get 50 new customers each month before their marketing efforts, they may set a goal of acquiring 125 new customers each month after their marketing strategies are in place. They can plan to create and execute their marketing plan for six months, measuring their progress each month. If they have reached their goal on or before six months, they may choose to discontinue their marketing plan, or they may keep doing it to exceed their goal.
Creating Your Small Business Marketing Plan
Once you know the goals you’re trying to achieve with your marketing efforts, it’s time to develop a marketing plan to help make your dreams a reality. Your marketing plan should be designed specifically with your goals in mind and should have activities geared towards attaining success metrics.
Your marketing plan should include your business's mission statement and the goals of your marketing plan. Also, include the metrics you will use to measure the progress of your efforts. Include your target market and where you stand in your competitive landscape. Pinpoint your top three-to-five competitors and note how your business is different from theirs.
Develop a pricing strategy for your products and services and note how it will be affected during your campaign. Will you be providing discounts or incentives? Will you offer bundles and bulk promotions? Establish your promotional plan, and note whether you will use advertising, public relations, direct marketing, personal selling or sales promotions to achieve your goals. Outline how you will use each promotional tactic. Lay out clear execution strategies step-by-step, so you know what you need to do.
Outline how much money you will spend on each marketing effort. Determine whether you will be able to achieve a return on your investment by achieving your goals.
Understanding Your Target Market
One of the most important parts of your marketing plan is to define your target market clearly. Who are the people you’re trying to serve with your products and services? These are the people you’re trying to help. Your product or service is designed to solve a specific problem they are having.
Create a detailed persona for your ideal customer. Figure out their demographics: are they primarily male or female, young or old? What is their annual income? What do they spend their money on? Find out what they value as important. Learn what they fear most. Determine whether they put the most importance on quality, time or price.
For the small business owner who sells small-batch, home-style food, she may determine that her ideal customers are moms in busy families. Her target customer has a full-time job, a few young kids and a disposable income. This audience puts importance on healthy, hearty, home-cooked meals but doesn’t have the time to cook them because of a busy schedule. They fear their children will become unhealthy by eating fast food on a regular basis.
Differentiating Your Product or Service
Once you know your target market, you can start developing your marketing message to entice them. To do that, you need to have a clear understanding of where you stand in the competitive landscape. Who are the other businesses that do what you do? What do they do better than you? What do you do better than them?
Define what it is about your business that makes you different. This is called your unique value proposition. When you’re able to differentiate yourself from the rest of the market, you’re able to give your ideal customer a better reason to choose you over them.
For example, the small business owner who sells small-batch comfort food likely has a lot of competition. There are many small restaurants and cafes in town where her ideal customer can order meals. What makes her different is that she cooks comfort food: soups, stews and casseroles. Her meals are not made on demand like in a restaurant. She cooks a small batch of one kind of comfort food every day, and her customers need to order it in advance. She delivers the food to her customers in time for dinner each day. The food is made with market-fresh ingredients without any added preservatives. Everything is made from scratch. For her target market, this business is appealing because it replicates what is important to them: classic, home-cooked family meals.
Her differentiating factor is that she makes the kind of food people like to cook and eat at home. Plus, she delivers the freshly made food to the families in time for dinner. That is a bonus for the busy moms she serves. They don’t need to think about dinner. They can order the tuna casserole in the morning, and receive it on their doorstep when they get home from work.
Establishing Small-Business Marketing Budgets
Another key element of small-business marketing is creating your budget. For many small businesses, a marketing budget is almost non-existent, or a nominal value of a couple of hundred dollars. While others have sizable budgets and marketing teams, many small business owners do everything themselves, including all of the marketing for the business.
Be realistic about what you can afford. If you really can’t set aside funds for your marketing budget, don’t panic. Several strategies don’t cost money. While you will have to put in some time to execute your marketing plan, you can successfully market your business for a small amount or for free.
The small-business owner who sells small-batch food does not have a large marketing budget. For example, her annual marketing budget is $500. Through her research into her target market, she has determined that the busy moms she serves spend a lot of time in local Facebook groups. The small-business owner joins the same groups as her customers and promotes her business on the days when self-promotion is allowed. She also asks her repeat customers to post testimonials in these Facebook groups. They also refer her to their friends on Facebook. This kind of promotion is free.
The small-business owner also sets up some Facebook ads to target her audience, narrowing in on their age, location and gender. She spends $250 every six months on those ads. She also reaches out to the local newspaper and establishes a relationship with the food columnist. As a result, she appears in the paper as a culinary expert a few times a year. This promotion is also free. Through these low-cost efforts, she’s able to effectively reach her target base and increase her new customer acquisitions.
Small Business Marketing Strategies
The marketing promotion vehicles of advertising, public relations, direct marketing, personal selling and sales promotions are tried-and-true tactics that both large and small businesses use to achieve their marketing goals. However, there are some creative strategies that small businesses can implement to maximize their marketing budgets and reach their objectives without spending too much time or money on marketing.
When developing your marketing budget, learn from your competitors. What have they done that has been successful? What have they done that has failed? By looking at others in the same line of work, you may be able to learn from their mistakes and piggyback on their successes. While not everything your competitors do will apply to your business, there might be some aspects which you can learn from to ensure you get a return on your investment.
Don’t be shy about asking your customers for referrals. When you have happy customers, they are usually eager to tell their friends and family about your business. Ask your customers to mention your business to people who are in your target market. You can also ask for testimonials. Write them down and publish them on your website, blog, emails and brochures – anywhere where potential customers will see them. This kind of social proof is vital to establishing trust with new customers because they can see that other people like them have used your business and are happy with their experience.
Creating goodwill in your local community is a marketing strategy that benefits small businesses. Get out of your store and visit local events that cater to your target market. Consider sponsoring small local events like fairs or holiday lunches. Network with others in your industry to build more contacts and learn new strategies. Establish yourself and your business as an integral part of your local community by being present at important events and developing meaningful relationships with your neighbors.
Be the expert in your industry so that when your target market is considering purchasing something, they immediately think of you. Write articles for leadership blogs and publish them on your website and social media. Offer free classes in your area of expertise to your target market or speak at local industry events. Develop relationships with people in the media and offer to consult on articles related to your industry. Speak to local libraries about giving talks on your area of expertise. By developing a reputation for yourself as the leader in your industry, you not only set yourself apart from your competitors, but you also increase your brand awareness in the minds of potential customers.
Another successful marketing strategy for small businesses is giving away free samples to attract new customers, show appreciation to existing customers and build brand loyalty. When you give your target market a free product or service, they are more likely to be loyal to your brand in the future because they have tried what you offer at no risk to them. Giving away a few things for free can help you build brand ambassadors who help you acquire new customers and increase your revenue. Just be sure to set up limits for yourself on how much you will give away for free. Determine the amount you feel comfortable with and think of it as a marketing investment.
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.