How much do you invest in marketing your small business? If you're like most small businesses, your budget for marketing is tight. My guess is that you've got somewhere between $300 and $500 per month allocated toward things like email, local advertising and other forms of digital marketing. A budget that tight calls for some cheap marketing techniques.
I've pulled together some marketing activities that you can do when you have more time than money. Then as your business grows, I've got marketing activities you can do when you've got more money than time!
When You Have More Time Than Money
1. Develop your message and an offering.
Resist the temptation to get out there and sell without having a clear marketing message and an offer. You will look desperate and people will run away from you instead of running toward you. Take time to identify specifically who your ideal customers are, what's important to them, and the frustrations that they encounter when they are thinking about what you're selling. Then create an offer based on solving their specific frustrations.
Here are two quick and easy marketing activities to help you get started.
First, take some quiet time and answer these five questions:
- Who is your ideal customer? Complete the sentence “People who…”
- What is the problem they are trying to solve?
- How have they been solving this problem in the past? (Make a list)
- How do you believe they should solve this problem?
- What reward will your customers get by using your solution?
Armed with a decent marketing message, create a marketing kit that serves as a new customers' startup kit. Once your offer is more concrete and exists outside your head, you will feel more confident and your customers will be able to experience what it will be like to work with you and buy from you.
2. Write a blog article at least twice a week.
I'm not advocating marketing activities like writing a blog because it's hip and cool. I'm encouraging you to do it because it's a full page, keyword-rich advertisement for your product or service.
Be sure to have a place for readers to give you their email addresses in exchange for information that will help them be better consumers.
If you're struggling with what to write, start by collecting as many customer questions, frustrations and challenges as you can and then answer them.
3. Build an email list and engage with your subscribers.
Email marketing is a simple direct marketing activity that has been largely ignored by some small businesses. This is costing you money that can go straight to your bottom line, because you would be selling to existing customers.
Start by finding and using a simple email marketing program.
Next, upload your customer database (at least first name and email). Then start the conversation by sending a single simple email with a question like “What is your biggest (insert industry or business here) challenge today?
Here's a sneaky tip: Ignore the email marketing fancy templates, create an email that looks like it came directly from you. You can create an image or just copy and paste your email signature at the bottom and then write a personal email. This can help get the conversation with your customers started.
4. Write endorsements for customers, suppliers and experts on LinkedIn.
Reciprocity is a powerful trigger. Leave endorsements and testimonials on the profiles of customers and suppliers. This may prompt them to do the same for you. Use the opportunity to start a conversation about them and what they have been up to. Always lead with asking how you can help—they may respond in kind. And this is when it pays to reference the offer you developed earlier.
5. Create a closed or private Facebook Group on a topic or challenge your company solves.
Facebook is a powerful marketing tool if you know how to use it. One little-used marketing activity is rather counterintuitive, but it can create a flow of new customers like no other: a private Facebook Group. That means that people have to be invited to the group and they have to be approved by an administrator.
The first step is to create a group based on a common topic or challenge that your company solves regularly. Make it broad enough to attract prospects and specific enough to attract customers who want to learn and engage around this topic. For example, I'm a member of several online marketing groups created by companies whose products I use. I visit regularly to ask questions and to get tips on common marketing challenges. Having this community makes me a loyal customer and gives me access to other experts.
6. Look for industry sites, magazines or blogs where you can become a contributor.
This is an ideal choice of marketing activities when you have more time than dollars. Connect with editors and journalists from industry press and see what ways you can contribute and help. Many publishers are starving for good content and will be open to chatting with you. Once your business grows, they will be a valuable PR asset.
7. Get listed on outsourcing sites.
If you are in a service business, consider putting your company on UpWork—or if your business is a retail location consider Thumbtack. These sites aren't just for individual freelancers, a wide variety of organizations and teams participate as service providers. These sites serve as referring directories who match you and your company with customers who are looking for someone just like you.
When You Have More Money Than Time
8. Conduct webinars and livestreams.
Leverage your connections to create an audience and a referral stream for webinars. You can provide free content and use the webinars as a lead generator or actually charge for content and make it a revenue generator. If you've ever given a speech or presentation—or trained someone how to do something—then you have all the skills you need to do webinars.
One disadvantage of webinars is that it can be difficult to get registrations and live attendees. The way to solve that problem is to do a livestream. Don't be afraid, it's easy. I use the Zoom.us platform that gives me the ability to do a webinar and a livestream at the same time. While the platform isn't free (to do webinars and livestreams) it is very affordable. What's even more exciting is that it can help expand your audience tremendously with little or no additional time and money spent.
9. Sign up your business for pay-per-click advertising.
Most SEO experts will tell you that generating leads and traffic comes from a balanced approach between organic search (that you create with your blog) and pay-per-click advertising that targets and attracts customers that are most interested in what you have to offer.
10. Get pro versions of automation tools.
If you're already using tools that help you automate your marketing, such as your social media accounts, one of the marketing activities you can look into trying is paying for a pro account. Now might be the time to invest in the professional versions of these tools to help you manage your social media accounts in one place.
11. Invest in image and design.
Design and image matter. Customers will form opinions about your company based on how professional you look. Check out a design marketplace like 99Designs or crowdspring. For a fixed price, you post your projects and designers submit their design concepts.
12. Hire SEO professionals.
If you have less than 5 percent of your audience signing up for whatever you're offering, it's time for getting help from an SEO professional. Before you talk to a pro, be sure to have a clear call to action on your site that leads to a sale so that you can get the most from their advice.
13. Outsource the administration and management.
If you've used outsourcing sites to get customers, now you can use them to keep customers. If you've followed this checklist, you will have developed a system for getting it done right. Now you can transform these tasks into instructions and delegate them to virtual assistants, writers and SEO experts.
Don't be afraid to invest in the time-intensive marketing activities. It's the old “sharpen the saw” philosophy. By investing the effort in these marketing activities up front, you'll gather data and experience what strategies and tactics are most effective for your business. In the end, both your time and your money will be well spent.
A version of this article was originally published on September 8, 2011.