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10 Best Small Business Marketing Strategies for 2018

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The success of your small business depends on your marketing. Basically, marketing covers everything that has to do with getting and retaining customers. This seems to be the primary challenge among small business owners. According to a survey from Capital One, 41-percent of small business owners have trouble identifying and reaching prospects. Once you’ve solved this challenge, you’ve overcome the main hurdle of running and keeping a profitable business.

Small business marketing strategies
Marketing covers everything that has to do with getting and retaining customers. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

For small business owners, it helps to lay out solutions in the form of a marketing plan. With a marketing plan, you can easily evaluate, schedule, and measure your tactics. It includes your sales goals, your description of your target customers, as well as the small business marketing strategies you'll use to reach these goals and find these customers.

If you’re just getting started with your small business marketing plan, here are some tutorials that can guide you through the process:

In this article, we summarize ten of the best marketing strategies for small businesses. We'll also point you to some other resources that may help you as you put together your own small business marketing strategy.

The Best Marketing Strategies for Your Small Business

The following marketing strategies are ideal for the typical budget range and goals of small businesses. Here's a list of small business marketing strategies that work:

1. Email Marketing

Email marketing involves gathering the email addresses of leads and customers, sending them emails regularly, and getting them to open those emails or click the links in them. 

This strategy is suitable for small businesses because of the minimal cost — usually, you only need to pay for the email marketing software — and the high returns. Email marketing is the strategy that delivers one of the highest returns on investment (ROI), even more than social media or direct mail. Statistics from the Direct Marketing Association show that there’s roughly a 122-percent ROI on email marketing. In other words, it'll be very profitable for a small business to include email in their marketing plans. 

ROI for different marketing channels
Email marketing has a high return on investment when compared with other marketing channels.

Because email works best when you already have a small following, it’s best for nurturing relationships with leads and customers, converting leads into sales, cultivating recurring customers, and increasing sales. If your primary goal is to increase brand awareness or introduce your business to potential prospects, it's best to try other small business marketing strategies first.

If you don’t have list of leads yet, start building your email list. But if you've already gotten started with building your email list, you can use the following guides to improve your email strategy:

You can find some great email templates that are easy-to-use for small business marketing on Envato Elements and ThemeForest. 

2. Content Marketing

Unlike directly advertising your products and services, content marketing aims to reach your target audience through informational or entertaining content. The idea is that when your target audience is attracted by this content, they’ll learn about your business as a result. The content you use can come in any of the following formats:

  • articles
  • videos
  • audio
  • illustrations
  • infographics
  • eBooks
  • whitepapers
  • case studies
  • testimonials
  • and website copy (such as your homepage text or "About Us" page text).

Because content marketing doesn’t directly ask for the sale, it works best primarily as a brand engagement strategy rather than a sales strategy. Research from Content Marketing Institute found that while nearly 80-percent of marketers could show that content marketing increased audience engagement, only 58-percent could show that it increased sales. By complementing your content marketing strategy with more direct approaches like email marketing or advertising, you’ll be able to ensure that your branding efforts also help your sales efforts.

Effects of content marketing
Content marketing can increase leads and sales, but it's more effective for engagement.

You can get started on your content marketing plan using these tutorials:

3. Blogging

For businesses, blogging means regularly posting new updates to your blog or website. Although blogging is technically part of content marketing, it often requires a separate plan since it’s a recurring project. Blogs need to be updated regularly, unlike whitepapers, case studies, or your “About Us” page.

Because you regularly post new content on your blog, it’s typically best for building brand awareness, recall, and loyalty. A blog can get the attention of new prospects who will hear about your business for the first time, as well as remind current prospects and customers of your business. These branding efforts then bring in more leads. Perhaps this is why, regardless of company size, According to HubSpot research businesses that blog more tend to get more leads.

Blogging frequency statistics
For small businesses, the more they post, the more leads they get.

Start your business blog right by applying the following ideas:

  • List the common problems your target customers face, especially the ones that you help them with. Then, write a blog post about each problem and present a simple solution. For example, an online store that sells aromatherapy oils might list the top five oils that help reduce stress.
  • If your business already has a blog, look at your existing blog posts. Do your individual blog posts have images every 100 words? Research from Buzzsumo found that articles with images every 75 to 100 words get twice the number of shares than articles with fewer images. The more shares your blog posts get, the more people get to see them.

If you want to take your business' blog to the next level, the following guides can help:

4. Social Media Marketing

Using sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Pinterest to market your business means that you're using social media marketing. 

One of the challenges of social media marketing is that it can be difficult to know if it's working. An Econsultancy study shows that as many as 60-percent of marketers report having difficulty tracking ROI. In fact, marketers see social media primarily as a driver of brand engagement. Since you can include photos, graphics, video, sound, and emojis in your social media posts, this makes it a good channel for expressing your brand values in a variety of ways.

Social media challenges
Measuring returns on investment can be a challenge when running a social media campaign.

But this doesn't mean that making sales has no place on social media. In fact, Pinterest drives a lot of sales traffic to ecommerce sites. Research from Shopify shows that 93-percent of online shoppers use Pinterest to plan purchases, and Pinterest is also the second most popular source of website traffic to online stores. Facebook and Instagram also have online shopping features, so it's just a matter of using the right social media site and the right features for increasing your sales.

Plan your social media strategy right with the help of the following guides:

5. Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay per click (PPC) advertising is simply a form of online advertising where you pay for the clicks you get on an online ad. Usually, these are the ads you see when you type a keyword into a search engine and look at the results. But PPC ads are also present in other websites and even in some social media sites. Google Adwords and Bing Ads are two examples of networks that allow businesses to buy PPC ads.

The success of your PPC ads relies on choosing the right keywords, bidding the right amount, and having high-converting copy. Because the cost of these ads is determined by the number of clicks on the ad, the best place for them in your small business marketing plan is for gathering leads or making sales. Here are some approaches you can use with your PPC ads:

  • Set up your PPC ad so that it leads directly to a landing page or a squeeze page designed to gather leads. 
  • You can also direct your PPC ads to specific product pages when you're using keywords that are targeting customers who are ready to buy.

If you want to get started on PPC ads, these tutorials on Google Adwords can help you become more familiar with how it works.

6. Posters and Flyers

Displaying posters or giving away brochures and flyers is essential for small businesses that need to market within a specific location. This is because they're typically displayed and distributed in a particular area. For small businesses where location matters, flyers and posters should be an essential part of their small business marketing plan.

One challenge that comes with this approach is that it can be difficult to measure success. To overcome this, make sure your incoming leads from flyers and posters are easier to track. You can include coupon codes in the content or, in the case of flyers, you can even include tear-away paper coupons. That way, you can tell if the cost of the design, printing, and distribution was worth the returns.

To get started on flyer marketing, you can use the following resources and templates:

7. Print Advertising 

One of the more traditional marketing approaches, print advertising is simply about buying ad space on printed media such as newspapers, magazines, newsletters, direct mail, or yellow pages. While this might sound “old school” compared to online marketing strategies, there’s a reason why they exist — they’re still effective.

Research shows that print newspapers command the most attention when compared to other media such as short online videos, websites, or social media. Even among millennial consumers, a study found that 82-percent read direct mail and 49-percent use print coupons. Given these findings, print is clearly still relevant.

Media attention score
Online doesn't necessarily mean better. Newspapers and magazines still command deep attention.

Since print advertising tends to cost money, it’s best to make sure that they lead directly to measurable results, such as an increase in sales, customers, or leads.

8. Referral Marketing

As the name implies, referral marketing is about getting new leads and sales from referrals. These could be from your existing customers or other people who simply know about your business. If you’ve ever participated in a “tell a friend” program, where you get a discount or a freebie by recommending a product or service to your friends, then you’ve participated in a referral marketing campaign.

Referral marketing campaigns are very effective for making sales and getting new customers. Research from Nielsen shows that 77-percent of consumers are more likely to buy based on recommendations from family and friends, making referrals more persuasive than paid advertising and expert recommendations. It also drives five times more sales than paid ads according to a WOMMA study.

Here are some examples of referral marketing campaigns:

  • In 2016, Tesla ran a referral marketing campaign that allowed customers with the most referrals to get invites to a tour of the Tesla factory, invites to a grand opening party, discounts, or get a new Tesla model that wasn't available to the public yet. These referrals earned 42 times more on every dollar spent on the campaign.
  • Harry's, which sells shaving products, was able to gather 100,000 leads from a referral campaign for the launch of their business. Leads who signed up on their homepage could get free products depending on the number of new leads they referred. Five referrals entitled them to a free bottle of shave cream, while fifty referrals entitled them to a year's supply of new blades.

You can use the above ideas and change them depending on the needs of your small business. With or without incentives, as long as your customers are happy to recommend your business to family and friends, your business will be in great shape.

9. Event Marketing

Small businesses, especially those that have a storefront or serve a local community, can also benefit from hosting simple events that appeal to their target audience. This approach is known as event marketing. The idea is that by creating an event, your target customers will be gathered together in the same space. In this space, they can buy your products or at least become aware of your brand. Here are some examples of event marketing:

  • Apparel shop Miss Me regularly goes on a “summer tour” where they've got a mobile roadshow of their products. The roadshow includes a photo booth, a contest, and a charity component.
  • Lean Cuisine’s “#WeighThis” campaign asked women on-location to measure their accomplishments instead of their weight. These were then painted on a weighing scale and display them in an art installation in Grand Central Station.
  • Sensodyne hosted “The Great Sensitivity Test,” which had a variety of activities for potential customers, including dental exams, games, and product samples.
Event marketing example
Lean Cuisine made an interactive art installation based on target customer stories

While the above examples might seem costly, you can create more scaled down events for your small business. The important thing is that you get your target customers in the door, and that your event is noteworthy enough to make it to local papers and blogs. For example:

  • A stationery store might invite a local artist to teach a calligraphy class in their store, with relevant products featured prominently on the shelves.
  • A dog groomer might set up a booth giving away free dog treats for people walking their dogs. The groomer’s flyer or business card could be included in the packaging of the treats.

Because of the costs and planning associated with events, it’s best to make sure that you get to capture leads or make sales. It'll help to measure any changes in sales or customers in the area as a result of the campaign.

10. Business Partnerships

To make your small business stronger, sometimes it’s best to look for other small businesses and band together. This could be in the form of cross promoting each other’s products, bundling some of your products together, or co-hosting an event for your target customers.

Find your prospective partners by starting with your target audience. Apart from your products, what other products are they likely to need? List these products and look for small businesses that provide them. These small businesses are the natural partners, and you can start approaching them to see if they’ll be open to a mutually beneficial promotion or event. Here are some examples of these natural partnerships: 

  • If your business sells organic sunscreen, you can find a business that makes eco-friendly swimwear and bundle your products together for a summer promotion.
  • A lawn care business might want to partner with a cleaning service and offer a joint full home spring cleaning service.
  • A wedding photographer can partner with other wedding-related businesses such as a baker, a printer, and a wedding accessories provider and host a bazaar for brides-to-be.

By pooling together your resources, audiences, and skills, you can help each other grow. 

Find the Best Marketing Strategies That Work for Your Small Business

It's important for small businesses to find and test different small business marketing strategies to see which ones work best for attracting prospects and increasing sales. While you don't have to use all the above techniques, you can start by pursuing on from the above list that best fits your budget and goals. With the right strategy, your small business can be bringing in leads and sales just like a bigger business would.

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