Your small business may offer the highest quality product or service, but if you’re unable to reach the market for it, you’re unlikely to achieve your business goals. With nearly half of small businesses in the U.S. failing within the first 5 years, according to the Small Business Administration, the pressure mounts on small businesses to find success early or risk becoming part of the statistic.
A recent study by Vistaprint found that the biggest barrier small businesses face in building a professional marketing presence is a lack of budget – with small businesses spending an average of $1,500 per year on marketing. With so many options available, it’s hard to tell what will give you the biggest bang for your buck, especially when every dollar counts.
If you’re starting to sweat, don’t worry. There’s still so much you can do. From free or low-budget options like social media contests and customer loyalty programs, to bigger budget items like website design and paid search, there are ways for small business owners to build buzz on budget.
Strapped for cash? There are still ways you can get your business noticed and bring in new customers for free.
Incentivized Online WOM
In today’s business landscape, being on social media is almost a given, but many small businesses have yet to take the plunge. The best marketing you can hope for comes directly from satisfied customers and these customers can directly relay their experiences to their circle of online friends with a single post. So why not leverage these interactions to their fullest? One way to get started is by creating a private Facebook group for your loyal customers. Having the page set to private or invite-only creates a community of like-minded people while developing an aura of exclusivity… that always grabs attention.
Members of the group can take advantage of benefits like member-only deals, exclusive product launches, private in-store events, and loyalty programs that give them free items for repeat purchases. In turn, group members become micro influencers by posting on social media about their experiences with your products and services. This user-generated content is ripe for the reposting. Be sure to encourage the consistent use of account tagging and hashtags so that you can find the posts easily and future customers can find you!
Give Back to Get Ahead
Nothing is better than a bit of free publicity, but how do you stand out enough to grab local media attention? Connecting with local non-profits to hold a fundraiser, drive, or special event in your business can go a long way. When a small business takes their core mission and stretches it to go above and beyond their day-to-day work, it’s not only newsworthy, it shows a deeper commitment to the greater community and creates a deeper level of trust in your offerings. Plus, holding the drive or event in your store helps to bring willing participants right to your front door.
Creating partnerships with fellow small businesses opens up opportunities for cross promotion and referrals. Having simple product displays, business cards, flyers, or posters displayed inside neighboring businesses can grab a prospective customer’s attention while they’re already in the consumer mindset and, in turn, have already made a choice to support another small business. One good turn deserves another. Small businesses that work together can make a bigger impact and share the wealth of the small business consumer community.
Marketing on a Minimal Budget (Less than $2,000 per year)
Once you’re able to parcel out a portion of your annual budget for marketing, you can take what you’re already doing for free and add in some simple paid advertising options to boost your visibility a bit further.
If You’re Not Online, It’s About Time
With several low-cost options for creating your first website or upgrading your existing site, the barrier for entry into the online community is lower than ever. It’s also important to know that creating a website is only the first step; it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it venture. Having refreshed content like product highlights and blog posts with relevant topics for your customers is essential for staying on your current customers’ radar. Plus, you want to make sure prospective customers can find you online when searching for products and services you offer.
That’s why you should make sure your site is listed on search engines like Google. There are free services like Google My Business that get your business listed on Google, and low-cost services like Vistaprint’s new Search Engine Listings Manager that get your website listed across multiple search engines, including Google, with a single submission.
From URL to IRL
To successfully build buzz, you need to be committed to being engaged online and offline. One way you can do this is by creating in-store events that entice new and returning customers to come to your store for an experience beyond your usual offerings. You can host a “paint and sip” party after hours or throw a themed “night out” with drinks, food and entertainment. Beyond the obvious sales opportunity with your guests, hosting an event will give you great content for your website and social postings for weeks or even months to come.
You can also increase your visibility by joining local boards of directors or chambers of commerce. Connecting with other business owners and community members will help with word-of-mouth marketing, providing you with multiple opportunities to discuss your business offerings with an active and engaged audience.
Pay to Play
Social content is great and having a website is essential, but if you can put even a small budget behind one or both, your reach will grow exponentially. With the increasingly sophisticated targeting options available through social platforms and paid search programs, you can focus on your most important audience and increase the likelihood of being seen online.
When creating these paid campaigns, it’s important to consider demographics, seasonality, and competition. Your dollars will go farther if you can identify characteristics of your typical shopper and focus on key products or services during a time of year that makes the most sense for your business. The big holidays are oversaturated with paid advertising online, so if you can find a time outside this window, you can make your limited budget work harder for you and likely get more share of voice online.