“If you build it, they will come.” Well… not always.
If you want to grow your business, you need to market it. But, as small business owners, tight budgets can hold us back from flashy ads. When I started my freelance business, I knew great marketing would help me stand out from dozens of other writers in my area. I just didn’t have the budget to spend big bucks on small business marketing.
Fortunately, there were quick, simple things I could do to gain visibility, mostly online. I also took advantage of business partnerships and events. The end result was a successful business that still thrives today.
Here are 8 marketing ideas that worked for me — and will give you the most “bang for your buck.”
Whether you sell a product or a service, you need a website or you could be missing a huge opportunity.
Consider these eye-opening statistics:
If you’ve ever wondered just how important a good website is to small business marketing, talk to a few small business owners. Here are some key benefits of having a good online presence:
More people can find you - Think about your own experience for a second. When you’re looking for a good hairstylist or the best place to find kids' clothes, your first step is probably to grab your laptop or smartphone.
Without a website, people will have a hard time finding you. This is especially true if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence. And even if you've scored the best high-traffic location downtown, it’s only in one town. A website can bring in business from around the area, the country, and the world.
It does a lot of marketing heavy lifting - Along with providing contact information, you can use your website to host photo and video examples of your work. It also can be a place to share customer testimonials, press reviews, and other third-party comments.
A well-designed website can capture visitor information to help create more leads for you.
It builds your credibility - According to research, 75% of people have judged a company’s credibility based on its website design. A poorly designed website could quickly send potential customers to one of your competitors.
It saves you time and money - Think about all the calls you get from people asking simple questions, such as when you open, if you provide a certain service, or if you carry a certain product.
With this information on your website, customers and prospects get what they need without taking you away from any of the many other tasks you have running your small business. It can also make for a better customer experience. They don’t have to wait while you hunt for information or return a call or email.
While you certainly work a lot of hours, your website is working 24/7. That makes it a great tool for posting updates and announcements. Offering a new service? Carrying a new product? Closing for the long weekend? Your website can keep your customers up to date.
How is your website performing? It might be time to take it to the next level. The good news is that site builders, like Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify make it easy to build a website at a low cost. They offer beautiful templates that you can customize without knowing code.
For a more customized site, you can use Wordpress. First, secure your own domain (the name of your website) and purchase hosting space (where you store your files). Finish by building your site using a Wordpress template. The costs of site builders are minimal:
Squarespace: $18/month (basic website); $26/month (e-commerce site)
Wix: $14-39/month (basic website); $23 - $49/month (e-commerce site)
Shopify: $29 - $299/month (e-commerce site)
Wordpress: Anywhere from $100 to $3,000+ (depending on your domain name and template)
We can even offer you some help here. Check out this useful article on what to do and not do on your small business website.
When was the last time you made a purchase without researching it online? Today people use Google to find everything from hardware stores to accountants. That’s why you need to make sure your website appears in search results.
To help, try blogging. Make a list of your customers’ most common questions and concerns. Then write posts about these topics. Choose blog titles that mimic what your customers search for online.
For example, if you own a landscaping company, you could write the article, “How to permanently get rid of weeds.” If you’re a contractor, you could cover, “5 tips for living in your home during a renovation.”
Not a great writer, or just not comfortable writing? I can relate to that. I do this professionally and I know it can be a little intimidating, especially when you’re staring at a blank screen.
One of the great things about blogging is that you don’t necessarily need to follow all the rules of formal writing. You should write for someone the way you would talk to them.
Start with something you know well and feel comfortable talking about, like those topics above. Then just write. Start with a sentence or two. Don’t analyze them. Just get some words down on paper or the screen. You’ll go back and fix them later.
You can do it. Even really good writers don’t always get it right the first time out. Ernest Hemmingway wrote 47 different endings to “A Farewell to Arms” before choosing one to include in the book.
If you’re not already using social media, sign up now. These free media outlets let you promote your business and learn insights about customers. They’re also a great way to find out what’s happening in your field or area of business. And they provide an easy way to see what your competitors are doing.
First, find out where your customers congregate. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are the most common social media sites. But, if you have a brick and mortar location, try Foursquare.
And don’t forget YouTube. This site is perfect for hosting “how to” videos. Grab your mobile phone and record a 2-minute video to educate your customer-base about a topic.
Then promote your channels, publish content, and keep engaging! Send out links to your blog, create a poll, or use Piktochart to design an interesting infographic. Keep in mind, people want helpful content. Stay relevant and keep it a 2-way conversation. If someone complains, respond with thoughtfulness and kindness.
A quick break here. Social media can seem like a lot to wrangle, especially when you consider the many different channels and platforms. Not to worry. We can help here.
If you’re new to social media, or just looking for some tips, we’ve put together some guides to help with social media. They’re part of Simply U, our small business knowledge and resource center.
Below are links to some social media articles, but you'll find a wealth of useful information on Simply U covering nearly every aspect of starting and running a small business.
Nearly all social media sites provide space for you to include a short description of what your business does. Take advantage of this. It can help you stand out among businesses in general, and more importantly, among your competitors.
A popular term for this bit of information is an “elevator pitch.” This is a short prepared statement that you can use in print or when you talk with someone. It explains what your business does in a couple of clear, easy-to-understand sentences.
It’s worth spending some time on because you can use it in almost any marketing or sales situation — including the ones covered in this article. We can even help you create and polish your elevator pitch to inform and captivate.
Really? Having business insurance is a way to market a business?
Absolutely. Having the right insurance and using it in your marketing efforts can show customers, vendors, and lending institutions that you’re serious and committed about what you do — whether that’s cutting hair, cutting lawns, or cutting lumber.
Plus, business insurance can help protect all the growth being driven by your marketing. Not exactly the circle of life, but it’s still a mutually helpful relationship.
A good business insurance plan usually includes general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, or both.
A brief explainer: General liability insurance can protect you from costs and claims associated with third-party damages and accidents, while professional liability insurance can cover the costs associated with being accused of negligence while performing your work.
At Simply Business, we specialize in finding general liability coverage for small business owners for as little as $19.58/mo.* We shop for top-rated policies from leading insurers. And we can do all that in just 10 minutes.
You can get a quote anytime online. Or one of our friendly small business insurance pros can take care of you on the phone. Give us a call at (855) 869-5183, Monday-Friday, 8am-8pm ET.
The bottom line? Get insurance. Even the best marketing won’t be as effective for your business if you have a setback.
Email is still a top way to market your business. But, you’ll need to think through it first. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day!
To break through the clutter:
Create a helpful piece of content and promote it on your website and social media sites. Keep it hidden behind a form that website visitors must fill out first. People love e-books and tip sheets.
Create 3 to 5 emails that automatically get sent based on how someone responds to your email. For example, if someone downloads your e-book, follow-up with more tips about the same topic. Then, if they open your second email, send a coupon or an introduction to your sales rep.
Personalize your emails with your customers’ names. Keep them brief, creative, and useful. And don’t sell too hard too early.
Finally, you know your customers best — send out emails during times they’re online and choose a frequency they’ll find helpful, not annoying. And test your emails on a mobile phone. Your email software should help.
If you have people visiting your website and (even better) if they’re willingly giving you their email address, you’ve got small business marketing gold.
While they may not be customers yet, sharing their email address shows they have an interest in what you have to offer. Using email can be a great way to turn their interest into additional business for you.
Stay in touch with prospective customers by sharing information they can use. For instance, if you’re an accountant, you could send out regular emails with helpful tips, such as, “How to get your tax information ready,” or “Tax law changes that could affect you.”
If you’re offering coupons, discounts, or other promotions for your small business, send them out to everyone on your email list. You can also encourage people to sign up for your email by making these offers exclusive to people on the list.
If you’re a landscaper who also does snow plowing in the winter, send an email to your lawn-cutting customers to let them know about snow plowing, and vice versa.
If you’re a barber who now offers services such as treatment for gray hair and professional shaves, letting your current clients know with an email can get more people in your chair.
There’s a wide range of email marketing software that can make email more productive and easier to use. Many programs can help with nearly every part of a good email campaign:
To gain visibility on TV without the cost of an ad, talk to a reporter. If your story gets covered, you might see your business’s name online, in the paper, or in an industry magazine. Services like Help A Reporter (HARO) let you pitch stories to reporters or respond to media inquiries for sources.
HARO is free to try out, but if you want to receive email alerts with media opportunities specific to your industry, it costs just $19/month.
Here are a few tips on pitching your small business:
Have something to talk about - Present an idea that’s topical or relevant, like whether a deck or a patio is a better choice for your home. Make it a topic where you have special expertise or can offer some unique insight.
Find out who to talk to - Not everyone will be interested in your idea, but that’s OK. Look for media that focuses on your topic. Is there someone at a local TV station that does home improvement stories? That would be a good contact for your deck vs. patio pitch.
You can look beyond TV and radio, as well. Consider videocasts and podcasts. These tend to be more targeted to specific audiences, so you may have better success pitching your idea.
Know who you’re pitching to - Find out what journalist covers your topic and check out some of their stories to get a better sense of their style and what they look for in a story. This will also help you avoid pitching an idea they’ve already done. Then, adapt your pitch to fit.
They say there is strength in numbers, and it’s true. Business partnerships are cost-effective and can quickly bring in new customers. As a freelance writer, I’ve partnered with marketing consultants and graphic designers. It’s a win-win. My clients enjoy it — and my business continues to grow.
If you’re an interior designer, partner with a contractor. If you’re a financial advisor, work with an accountant to offer advice after the tax season. And, if you’re a massage therapist, try promoting a coupon at a hair salon. The options are endless.
You may want to consider expanding partnership ideas to include local charities or non-profit groups. For example, are there ways to offer a discount or a free service as a prize in a benefit raffle?
Event marketing doesn’t have to involve expensive trade shows. You can get visibility at a local charity race or by sponsoring a youth recreation league. Bonus: you’ll support your community too. Want to stay online? Host a webinar and promote it via social media. Try GoToWebinar for as little as $49/month.
Also look at checking events in your area, such local town days and other celebrations where you can meet your neighbors and introduce them to your business. You’ll not only be gaining a valuable opportunity to show what you can do, you’ll be building goodwill in your community, which can go a long way toward building future business.
By now, we’ve covered a variety of ways you can market your small business for little or no money. If you haven’t done any marketing before, it can seem a bit overwhelming to launch and manage all those marketing tools.
Here’s some good news, and the first secret: Start small. Pick one marketing idea that you feel comfortable with. It could be as simple as a monthly or quarterly email. Brainstorm some topics (you can even see what your competitors are doing for inspiration). Pick a few send dates, and get the email ready.
Congratulations, you now have a marketing plan.
Once you get comfortable with emails, think about doing something else, like a blog or a local event.
Here’s secret number 2: Stick with your marketing plan. If you dedicate just a few hours a week to blogging and social media, you’ll quickly see results. And, if you truly don’t have the time, find a talented marketing intern to help. If you start today, could you see new business right away. And that’s worth it!
* Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on January - December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated insurance carrier by AM Best. Harborway Insurance is a brand name of Harborway Insurance Agency, LLC, a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California license #6004217.