As long as you have a solid marketing plan in place, your small business can employ many marketing techniques that don’t break your budget. Especially for those just starting out, small businesses market themselves as cost-effectively as possible. Business owners are no strangers to maximizing free marketing tools, encouraging great word-of-mouth, or making use of guerrilla marketing techniques as they build their business. Many tools you can use for free include:
- website builders
- social media pages
- email and email marketing suites
- content creation tools (for graphics, podcasts, video, ebooks, etc.)
- services for analytics and research
- apps for collaboration and communication
- project management/team management software
- and much more
Of course, once a business starts gaining traction, a business owner may opt to sign up for the next tier of more premium services. Depending on a business’s overall needs, you can expect most small business owners to employ a mix of both free and paid marketing tools.
How Do I Do Marketing on a Shoestring Budget?
When you’re doing marketing and you don’t have much in the way of a budget, it’s important to be able to get things right from the start. Understandably, you’ll need to do a bit of trial and error along the way, but the more you have things figured out as early as possible, the more cost-efficient for you and your business.
First things first: your branding
I’ve seen way too many small businesses not taking their branding seriously.
What do I mean by that?
Perhaps it might be because they’re starting small, and they might be thinking it’s just a small operation to monetize a hobby or a trend. Or maybe it’s because they just want to jump right into building the business or making money right away.
We can get into a deeper dive of branding some other time, but suffice it to say that nailing down your brand as early as now will help you immensely down the road. You might be just starting out or maybe you’re finally getting some traction– always remember that branding differentiates you from all the other players in your space, and is very likely the reason why your customers choose to do business with you than anybody else.
When you start a small business venture, of course you have every intention of making it succeed. So treat your brand seriously right from the start, and get your branding done right. Here’s what you’ll need, for starters
- Nail down your mission and your vision, as well as your philosophies, your values, and/or core principles. In short, you’re defining what your business is all about, as well as clarifying what you are not.
- Design a proper logo for your business, as well as a tagline or slogan. Get your branding details– your color palette, your choice of fonts, your brand voice, and brand story– all figured out.
- Get a business-appropriate domain name for your new business (so your website and email addresses sport your new brand). Snap up your social media pages (ideally with the same name or a close variation of your new brand).
- Get a starter corporate branding package– just the stuff you need for now: business cards, for sure. But depending on your more immediate needs, you might need signages, packaging, brochures, office stationery, or perhaps even some promotional materials and branded merchandise.
Next: come up with a solid marketing plan
With limited resources– time, manpower, budget, and knowledge– you need to be very judicious about what you do in terms of actual marketing.
Hence, the marketing plan. The marketing plan defines your overall marketing strategy and all the activities you’ve decided to devote these resources to.
A marketing plan brings into play a good bit of market research, some brand preferences, even some calculated guesswork. The bottom line is: you certainly can’t cater to everybody, nor can you hit every conceivable marketing channel there is.
Your marketing plan:
- Defines your market. So you don’t waste time selling to folks who aren’t your market.
- Defines your goals as a business. Yes, you want to drive sales. But there are likely a lot of other metrics you have in mind (such as building up your email list or website traffic) or landmarks you want to achieve (such as landing X number of clients each month or achieving an average price per ticket).
- Identifies key market segments: it just makes sense to probably focus on a segment or two to limit your marketing activities. This also means identifying buyer personas, so you have a better understanding of your customers’ demographics, psychographics, preferences, media habits, buying habits, and other details.
- Lays out your target audience’s buyer’s journey: upon realizing their need for your products/services, how do they now research and find out about your brand, and how do they finally purchase from you? (And keep coming back?)
- Specifies the various channels that will allow you to reach your target audience (or market segment) as effectively as possible, and what sort of content or activities you need for each of these channels.
The point is: you’re not going in blind when you do your marketing. You know exactly who you’re selling to, which pain points you’re out to solve for them (via your products and services), you know how and where to find them, and finally how to get them to make that transaction with you.
Using The Right Marketing Tools
Alright, so you have your branding done and you have a more-or-less well-defined marketing plan handy. Now it’s time to pick out the right marketing tools and marketing channels.
Note: there are a LOT of channels you can use to market your business. 19, in fact, according to the book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.
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Your business website
Can you get away with using a free website builder such as AiDA, Jimdo, Mozello, Webflow, Webnode, Weebly, Wix, or WordPress.com?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, the reason why the above website builder options have been so popular is because of more entrepreneurs and business owners creating either a website, a business blog, or an online store. Being able to build and maintain a website with minimal coding or tech know-how is without a doubt, important for many.
However, as your business grows, so too will your website needs (in terms of bandwidth, functionality, or other further customization). So for me, personally, I always go for a self-hosted WordPress setup for my own business websites or sites that I manage for various clients. (Not to be confused with WordPress.com, mind you!)
Bottom line: think of your website as the most important extension of your business online– it works 24/7, it will serve as the launchpad for any and all of your marketing efforts, and it can grow to serve a number of different functions as your business grows as well.
Your social media pages
In all likelihood, your customers are mostly online on some social media channel. So it makes sense to have a presence on some of these social networks as well.
With all the many social media networks out there, you can’t possibly build and maintain a page for your business on each and every one of them. So you really have to think about which two or three you should be focusing on.
- In all likelihood, you will have a brand presence on Facebook, only because it’s still by far, the most popular social media channel there is.
- If you have B2B clients, you will definitely want to have a presence on LinkedIn.
- If your products and services rely much on wowwing new clients with visuals, you have Instagram and Pinterest.
- YouTube is great for many reasons, but only when you’re starting to build your video content. You might not have this at the start, but you’ll eventually want to extend your online presence here as well.
- Google My Business is important if you want to rank well locally on search.
Note that your branding and your marketing plan comes in to play here: with your branding, you are able to come up with consistent, cohesive, market-relevant content, and with your marketing plan, you are able to maximize the impact of your campaigns among your target audience.
Other tips with regards to social media marketing:
- Put up a suitable business page for your brand, as opposed to using your personal social media pages. Business pages have a lot more useful functionalities to help you promote your brand and learn more about your market– stuff you can’t do with a personal page.
- For now, free is good. But eventually, as your business grows, you will want to start investing in paid social ads. Organic reach is now (and continues to be) at an all-time low, so if you really want to reach folks out on social, paid ads is the best way to do so.
- For me, however, the holy grail of it all is to be able to establish an active community online. You’re not going to be able to do this overnight. It will definitely be a long-term endeavor. But when you pull it off, having a following online is one of the best things you can do to promote your business.
Your content marketing
Your website and social media are just the beginning. The more ways you can make your content available to your target market, the better. And this is where content marketing comes in.
In the old days, big retailers had catalogs printed and sent out for you to browse. Even today, many businesses still use brochures and newsletters to talk about their products and services.
Of course, these days, you now have even more options to educate your customers about your company and your various offers. Your website certainly should serve this purpose, as would your brand’s social media pages. Beyond these and your brochures or sales kits you send out to clients, other forms of content marketing may include:
- Blog posts and articles
- Email marketing campaigns
- Photo galleries
- Branded images (as visual aids), charts, graphs, and infographics
- Video content
- Reports, case studies, and whitepapers
- Presentations and slideshows
- Press releases
- Advertising- both online and on traditional mass media platforms
- Direct mail
- Giveaways, prizes, and promotions
- Mobile apps, software, and other similar services
- On-ground events, such as meetups, networking events, and more
- Trade shows, conferences, and seminars
- Virtual events, webinars, and online roundtable discussions
- And so much more
Again, the key here is to figure out just a few that you could focus on at the moment, and get the maximum returns from it as you build your brand, gain some traction, and showcase your expertise within the industry. Then scale up your content marketing efforts accordingly.
Your presence on search engines
Once you have a good bank of content going on, you can then focus on search engine marketing. That is, beefing up your visibility on search engines via:
- Natural, organic means – this is where SEO (or search engine optimization) comes into play.
- Or via paid advertising – this is where your PPC (or pay-per-click efforts), whether on Google or some other search engine, come into play.
Taxing and tedious, SEO can give you excellent long-term (even passive) gains. Your well-written, thoroughly helpful, and comprehensive pieces of content can continue to bring in leads months or even years after you’ve written these.
But it does take time. Which is why a lot of more savvy marketers design their site and content specifically with SEO in mind from the very beginning– so they can reap the benefits of good SEO sooner than later.
As far as PPC goes, this is something you should certainly consider when your business has gained a bit more traction and your sales process is ready to take on a new influx of customers. Yes, you can run ads on Google’s various ad networks, but don’t forget that you can also consider other search engines such as the Bing (and Yahoo!) Network, YouTube, and Amazon, among others.
Remember, pay-per-click advertising can really eat into your marketing budget. So make sure you always measure effectiveness and keep making adjustments to give you the best returns on your advertising investments. It’s not a fire-and-forget endeavor; always keep an eye on your spending and always keep evaluating your campaigns so you know you’re making gains (in terms of leads and bringing in new business) instead of just burning cash.
Your offline and on-ground marketing
Finally, don’t forget that your business also exists in the real world. Marketing yourself online is just part of your bigger bag of marketing tricks. There’s so much you can do offline as well to promote your brand and business.