These 10 small business tips can help you market your company on a shoestring— without getting tied in knots.
The Internet is the great equalizer in that it gives small businesses marketing opportunities on par with their larger competitors. It can still cost money to market online though and, if you aren't careful, the total costs can totally blow your budget.
The good news is that a number of inexpensive small business marketing methods can help you achieve your goal—and some are even free. We surveyed small business owners to find the top 10 tactics for marketing your business on a shoestring.
Small Business Marketing Tips You Can Afford
1. Post videos online
"The main marketing problem for any business these days is getting found, and online video is the solution," says Alfred Poor, who owns The Center for Small Business and is the author of Power Marketing for Small Business: How you can boost sales with low-cost video.
"Video has been shown to move an existing site to the first page of a Google search within 30 minutes of adding it, and move it into one of the top two positions within a day, says Poor.
He adds that video also helps your business even after prospective customers find it online. "A study found that customers who see a video on your site are 172 percent more likely to buy your product or service."
Poor says you can make the video yourself or you can hire a professional to make one for $500 or less in most markets and about $350 in NYC. "Nothing delivers the same bang for the buck."
2. Post case studies on your website
"One inexpensive practice we use is to create case studies of our happy, successful clients," says David Render, chief operating officer at AccountMate Software, a small software company.
"We conduct a short phone interview with the customer, and then fill out a standardized template, which we then post to our website," said Render. "It would work for a business of any size, and if you have an in-house person with writing ability, it doesn’t cost anything."
Render says case studies don't have to be extensive, but they do need to contain useful information. "It's a matter of explaining the customer's particular problem, how your product or service solved that problem, and then be sure to include a quote from the client about their satisfaction."
3. Use your blog to reach out to prospects and customers
"We use our blog to share news about our company, news about our clients, awards we have won, and other content like our videos on YouTube that we're pushing out," explains Hassan Bawab, founder and CEO at Magic Logix, an interactive digital marketing agency.
Don't have a blog? Well, it's easier than you think to start one. "Businesses can set up a free account with WordPress to launch their own blog," says Bawab. "The blog is a great tool to position us as thought leaders in digital marketing. When combining high quality content with a strong social media presence, we extend our reach to media and clients."
More Affordable Small Business Marketing Tips
4. List your company on Google Maps/Local
"A company presence on Google Maps/Local is as extremely important, and it's completely free," says David Hudson, managing director at EasyClear, a family run house clearance business in London.
When it comes to small business marketing, Google Maps/Local presence is important for many reasons, he says. It directs customers to your establishment when they are in the area, and your business typically appears higher in Google search rankings. "Finally, because customers can review the company and leave comments, it is also a tool to evaluate the efforts we made, and it helps us to understand customers better."
5. Search forums for customers
Mark Rushworth, head of Search at Blue Logic Web, an IT support and network solutions company, recommends using forum search services such as BoardReader.com, BoardTracker.com and Omgili.com. "They let you search for individuals who are interested in your products and services and respond in kind," says Rushworth. "One other tip—don't sell online: offer a solution and make sure you're replying to new or recent topics only."
6. Share information all over the Web
"The most inexpensive way to promote small companies nowadays is to share what you do and what you love," says Tomasz Smykowski, CEO at Websoul, a small social media marketing agency in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
"You have a new project completed? Write about it—on a blog, on Twitter, on Facebook or on whatever. You took a new great photo? Post it. You are reading articles about your job to get better at what you do? Recommend them to others on the Internet. Have you found out something new and surprising for you and for your clients? Write about it and post it publicly."
While Smykowski says he knows it sounds crazy and fruitless, he insists that the opposite is true. "It will help you become better at what you do, and it will inspire and help people find you and your company," he said.
According to Smykowski, he used this strategy for years when he first started a career as a software developer. "I got many clients without spending a single penny on ads. Moreover, all my contacts were strong and long lasting, which is better than any I could get through cold calling."
7. Use content curation to drive interest in your products
"My favorite inexpensive marketing strategy is content curation," says Robert Melton, founder of Funtober, an ecommerce company that sells Halloween costumes.
"We're currently compiling information about every Oktoberfest, corn maze, pumpkin patch, fall festival, haunted house, and ghost tour in the U.S.," says Melton. "People are looking for the information. It only costs our time to put them together and hundreds of thousands of people come to our website looking for the information in the fall."
More Small Business Marketing Strategies
8. Use online services to re-target lost sales and to list products
Steven Bessellieu, vice president of operations at BackInStyle.com, a small online fashion boutique, offers this small business marketing advice: use services offered from specialty marketing sites.
For example, at Lexity.com, you can choose apps to get your business noticed according to your own specific needs. "Lexity manages 'apps' for your online shopping cart," says Bessellieu. "Apps can list your products on Google, TheFind, Shop.com, and Facebook, as well as manage your adwords campaigns, and even put incentives on your site to Like, Follow, +1, or subscribe to your newsletter.
Lexity is a free service that's very easy to manage, says Bessellieu. "The apps cost between $19 and $399 a month and they're backed with a large, attentive support staff."
9. Use Facebook's sponsored stories
"Ever since Facebook changed its EdgeRank to allow only about 10 percent of your page's followers to see your posts, using sponsored stories has become more and more important," says Jayme Pretzloff, the online marketing director for Wixon Jewelers, a high-end, luxury jewelry and watch store in Minneapolis.
"Sponsored stories let you show your post to a larger audience than you would if you did a regular post," says Pretzloff. "We have seen huge spikes in engagement with our fans by using promoted posts."
This marketing strategy offers more than direct sales, he says; it's also a powerful tool to increase awareness and word of mouth advertising. "Facebook can be a powerful advertising tool if used correctly," Pretzloff says. "Try out some ads, test them, and then figure out what works for your organization.
And no, it doesn't have to be expensive. Pretzloff recommends allocating $50 to test the marketing vehicle and to start out spending between $5 and $10 a day. "I think you'll be pleased with the results and ROI of your $50."
10. Use online services to get the media's attention
Every news story that features you or your company amounts to free publicity. You can sign up for free at HelpaReporterOut.com (HARO) and answer source queries posted by reporters from top publications there. The service emails you with a list of reporter questions several times a day making it easy for you to spot opportunities.
You can also get the word out to media through a variety of inexpensive online services such as PRWeb.com. "PRWeb is an excellent resource for publicity and improving brand awareness," says Bessellieu. "A basic press release costs only $99, and we plan on releasing all the latest company news, sales, milestones, etc. once every quarter."
Not every marketing tactic listed above will work well for every company, but a combination of several of them—or adaptations to any of them—should be helpful to just about any company.