Small businesses around the country face a constant barrage of information, new tactics, the latest strategies, and a whole slew of garbage when it comes to modern marketing.
Whether it’s the latest snake oil salesman trying to convince a business owner to part with $5,000 of their hard-earned profits for an ad, or a $2,000 monthly contract for managing all the social media, it’s just too much for many entrepreneurs.
While we’re fans of innovation, we’re also well aware that not every business out there needs every new tool available.
News flash: You don’t really need to be on every new social media platform to do build your small business.
So, where should you focus when marketing a small business?
The answer is, of course, it depends. It’s not a simple answer. It depends because the answer should be tailored to your brand, your prospects, and your goals.
One quick note to start before I get into the 9 tips to marketing your small business (and the bonus ½ tip!) is this: Make sure you have a website.
In this modern era where digital rules, if you don’t have a website where your prospects can find you and learn about you, you are missing out. And no, you can’t build a business solely on social media. When a giant like Facebook changes the rules and you lose out on your reach, you’ll pull your hair out trying to keep up. So make sure you have a website.
Now, let’s explore some ways you can “do marketing” for your small business today. Keep in mind that these are all suggestions that you should test, but not necessarily jump into all at once. That’ll kill you. Figuratively, not like literally end your life. Probably.
How do I Market my Small Business Today?
1: Use Local Media– PR Versus Ads
Some of the most powerful sources of information for local audiences remain traditional, local media outlets. Your local TV news station, local newspaper (even if they only print once per week and live mostly online), and local radio still hold a lot of power.
While the days of popping an ad on these local outlets and getting a run on new customers may be gone, partnering with them for brand awareness and PR can help your business.
Maybe your business offers some unique event over the summer where a local crowd can gather. An interview on a morning TV or radio show could drum up interest. Then, when the media outlet puts the interview online, you’ll see the digital benefit of a link to your website and social media exposure.
I’ve personally seen this work well with local nonprofits. I once helped run an Honor Flight program, flying WWII and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorials. We would promote the flight itself, the community connection with welcoming veterans home, and fundraisers with interviews in all of our local media. This exposure was one tactic of many that helped us bring hundreds of people together (about 2,500 each time) for events and raise more than $1,000,000 over 3 years for our mission.
2: Use Social Media Locally
If your small business relies on local customers or clients, connect on social media with your local audience. Maybe it’s a city-focused hashtag. It could be a local social media group. However it looks in your community, finding local people on social media to connect with will help build your audience.
Picture having a restaurant where you’re closed every Sunday. What would happen if you opened up one Sunday each month for a brunch with a jazz quartet? You could find fans of local music, community members who love jazz, or just people near you who share posts about brunch. Putting paid Facebook ads to work could get you in front of these prospects so they see your event, bringing a new audience to your restaurant.
[BONUS RESOURCE: 7 Restaurant Marketing Tips]
Also, when local residents share their experiences with your business, make sure you’re thanking them with likes, favorites, reshares, and other social media interactions.
Finally, simply connecting and networking as the business owner can go a long way for your small business. People do business with those they get to know, like, and trust. Taking the old-fashioned networking strategy of making friends with your community online can be powerful.
Pro tip: Don’t connect and then spam people. Be authentic, be social. Share and comment with a genuine interest in your local social media community. If that’s not in your wheelhouse, grow beyond your comfort zone, find help with it, or skip this step. You don’t want to be spammy and constantly talk about your business. And for the love of everything… don’t tag people to get their attention or to gain access to their audience. That’s just tacky.
3: Facebook Groups
We recently shared thoughts on how Facebook’s 2019 changes and focus on Groups could impact how businesses use the social media juggernaut. Read more about that here: How Facebook's New Focus on Groups Could Change Your Marketing.
The bottom line is that Facebook is placing emphasis on Groups right now. Could you start a Facebook Group for your small business that brings an engaged audience to you?
For instance, at Impulse Creative, we have a brand called Sprocket Talk where we teach people how to use HubSpot. Our Facebook Group for Sprocket Talk is full of active users helping each other, looking to us as a thought leader in the space, and building awareness for our HubSpot tutorials and trainings.
Another way to use Groups connects back to the point above of going local. A lot of local communities have various local Groups in Facebook where community members connect. You, as the business owner, and even team members or staff, could join these Groups to connect and serve the community.
4: Local Networking
Whether it’s a Chamber of Commerce event, your local Rotary, or a BNI group, local networking still holds power. Face-to-face interactions beat digital communications in most cases.
Marketing doesn’t have to be an advertisement or a campaign. It can simply be getting people to know, like, and trust you.
Or maybe you can sponsor or host a local networking event. That leads to the next tip.
5: Sponsor Local Events
Beyond sponsoring networking events, consider sponsoring local festivals, events, shows, and other opportunities to get your small business in front of your community.
Of course, make sure the event aligns with your brand and your intended audience. You may not want to sponsor an art night in your downtown if artists and fans of art have no reason to know who you are.
If your small business has ties to your local community, be there. If your business goes beyond local and reaches regional or beyond, or has a specific niche audience, find those events to sponsor and take part in as a business. I’d suggest looking for an opportunity as a sponsor beyond just giving money in exchange for logo placement. Ask about speaking opportunities, placing information or gifts in bags if they have them, and other ways to reach event attendees.
6: Partner With a Nonprofit (That Makes Sense)
A great way to show your support for community is also to find nonprofits that align with your mission.
Maybe your progressive hotel hosts weddings, and there’s a Pride Month event coming up. You could have a booth there with support for LGBTQ couples getting married.
Perhaps your business hires veterans. You could partner with a VFW or American Legion hosting Bike Night or a horseshoe tournament.
If your brand aligns with pet shelters, can you donate a portion of every sale to a different shelter each month?
I personally love the example of a local ice cream shop that takes tips each month and splits them between the employees and a local nonprofit. It’s a great way to spur conversation, new partnerships, and build community.
7: Keep your Google Business Listing up to date
This one isn’t as shiny as nonprofit partnerships or as cool as a viral social media post. But this “boring” marketing tactic is critical. Your Google Business listing will drive traffic, contact points, and even social sharing for your brand.
The Google listing is that result that pops up on the right side of Google when someone searches for your business. It also comes up for results like “pizza near me” or similar searches. If you want to be found for that local kind of search, this is for you.
Basically, you just need to sign up for a Google account to start telling the world’s largest search engine about your business. After you’ve logged into the platform, it’s easy to add your site to Google by building your online profile.
Make sure you have your hours of operation, your contact information, your website linked, and your address all there.
Read our in-depth look at how to manage this here: How to Get Your Business on Google’s Right Sidebar “Knowledge Graph”
8: Empower Word of Mouth
Whether you call it your Talk Trigger, your Pink Goldfish, your Purple Cow or simply your unique differentiator, turning that thing that sets your business apart into a word of mouth gem is vital to today’s marketing.
Allowing your happy customers to share your story starts with your website. Can they find you? Having social media accounts helps, too. If you’re able to at least monitor your profiles, have simple, recognizable social media handles so that customers can easily tag you.
Make your differentiator easy to remember and share. Maybe it’s an over-abundance of fries like Five Guys. Maybe it’s a stock-market-like feel to prices and market crashes like the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. Whatever your unique thing is, it has to be memorable and shareable.
When you empower those happy people to share and tell their friends about you, you’ll have word of mouth marketing that sets you apart in this modern marketing age.
9: Try Something Traditional
Okay, we’ve covered some great new-world marketing tactics and strategies here. Some of them, simply new twists on old ideas.
But here’s the thing: Not everything old is dead. Just because we’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean it’s terrible. (It doesn’t mean it’s great either.) “We’ve always done it this way” should cause you to investigate the tactic. I know, it can seem confusing. I’m just saying that traditional marketing deserves a look.
For instance, I’m personally not a fan of outdoor advertising. But electronic billboards can offer a new way of looking at a traditional tactic. Or using a local billboard that hasn’t changed in years as a short-term test that will probably stick around long after your contract is up could bring you long-term benefits.
For local cafes, maybe placemats still work for advertising other local businesses. Even traditional handouts or trifolds from a brochure maker might work.
You won’t know unless you test and measure.
Don’t be afraid of using a mix of what’s worked in the past with something new.
BONUS 9 1/2:
Know your audience. Define your personas. Go where they are. It makes no sense to support a local high school lacrosse team if your buyer personas aren’t parents. Start with your audience.
This is where you’ll have to take time to investigate. Ask your current customers questions about where they spend their time, how they research for purchasing decisions, and where they find information and recommendations for businesses. Ask them why they love doing business with you. You may discover new talking points for your brand along with some ambassadors!
Find out more about buyer personas with our ebook below. And as always, let us know your questions in the comments! Oh, and feel free to share your small business marketing tactics in the comments, too!
Small business coffee photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash
TV interview photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash
Pride Detroit photo by Enrique Martinez
Bike Night photo by Talons Out Honor Flight
Puppy and cat photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash
Old ad photo by John Cameron on Unsplash