The Ultimate Guide to Small-Business Marketing

Small-business marketing plans typically include a website, social media and email campaigns, but can also involve traditional and experiential marketing strategies.
Lisa Anthony
By Lisa Anthony 
Edited by Christine Aebischer

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Creating a small-business marketing strategy can help you reach, develop and maintain relationships with your customers. Online marketing — including a business website, social media profiles and email campaigns — can help a small business reach a larger audience. Traditional marketing tactics such as print ads, billboards and flyers, as well as “experiential” workshops and pop-up events that allow customers to experience your products and brand, can help broaden your outreach.

Your marketing strategy will depend on your goals, customer base, market niche, budget and personal preferences. Here’s how to get started.

Define your marketing goals

First, decide what you want to accomplish with your marketing campaign and how it can help you reach your business goals. Identify your unique selling proposition, or USP. This is what makes your business stand out from its competitors and should be highlighted in your marketing materials.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The business plan you developed when starting your small business can be a valuable resource as you build out your marketing strategies. Chances are you’ve already done some of the legwork by conducting market research and outlining a plan for the marketing and sale of your products or services.

Use numbers (e.g., website visitors, leads generated, customers gained or revenue grown) when defining your marketing goals so you can more easily track and measure your results, and ultimately evaluate success.

While each business will have its own marketing objectives, here are a few metrics you may want to measure:

  • Lead generation.

  • Website traffic.

  • Engagement rates for social media content.

  • Conversion rates from browsers to buyers.

In addition to measurable goals, effective small-business marketing also contributes to brand recognition, or people’s awareness of your business. Over time, your marketing initiatives can help you establish a positive reputation and customer loyalty, which can be key to thriving over the long term.

Understand your market

After you determine your marketing goals, define your target audience — the group of consumers who are most likely to buy the products or services your business offers. One way to identify this group is by reaching out to your existing customers. This can be done through phone calls, emails, online surveys and in-person interactions.

Find out what they like about your business and its products or services, as well as what could improve. This is also an opportunity to gather data on your target audience’s demographics, such as age, gender, geographical location, education level, household income and size. Also ask what platforms they use most when shopping and discovering new brands, then be sure your business has a presence in those spaces.

Online marketing for small business

For many businesses, online marketing is a major area of focus in their marketing strategy. Having a digital presence is a low-cost and highly effective method of reaching customers.

Build a business website

At the heart of your small-business marketing strategy will be your business website, where potential customers can learn about your business and the products and services it offers. Depending on your type of business, you may want to create an e-commerce website to sell your products online. Your website should also include ways to contact your business and, if you have a brick-and-mortar location, the address and hours of operation.

Another important reason to have a website is so your business can appear on the results page for web searches. Whether someone searches for your business name specifically or the types of products or services you offer, you want to ensure your website is in the top results.

Optimizing your business website can help improve its visibility. Consider an e-commerce website builder that prioritizes search engine optimization, or SEO, best practices and be sure to use the appropriate keywords when describing your business and what it provides.

Website analytics tools, including Google Search Console and Google Analytics, can provide information on how visitors interact with your website, how many views your page receives, how long visitors stay on your page and more. These metrics can provide insights into how you can optimize your website to better suit your customers’ preferences and browsing habits.

Create social media profiles

According to an October 2022 NerdWallet survey, 42% of Americans use social media platforms to find the small businesses they support. Creating business accounts on popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more can help customers find your business and provide an opportunity to engage with current customers.

Choose social media platforms that make sense for your business, that you can manage on an ongoing basis and that your target audience uses. You’ll also want to create business profiles on Google, Yelp and other similar platforms.

Here are some tips on how to manage your social media strategy:

  • Share high-quality images of your products, behind-the-scenes moments with your staff and video stories and live chats about your business.

  • Share exclusive and special discounts, as well as updates on upcoming events.

  • Carve out time to respond to comments and DMs.

  • Encourage customers to post about their experience with your business — and tag your business account — so you can repost it.

  • Use a content management platform such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social or SocialPilot to manage all your social media accounts from one place.

Launch email marketing campaigns

Even with the rise of social media, email has remained a mainstay of a well-rounded marketing strategy. A well-executed email campaign can be cost-effective, with estimates of around $36 of return for every $1 invested.

To get the most out of this marketing channel, create a plan that addresses the following details:

  • Frequency: Daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly or another frequency. You may also want to let recipients choose the frequency or types of emails they receive from your business.

  • Campaign type: The information you want to share will determine the type of email campaign that makes the most sense. Some examples are newsletters, drip campaigns, product updates, abandoned cart reminders and sale announcements.

  • Email service provider: MailChimp, HubSpot, ActiveCampaign and Drip are some popular marketing software providers.

  • Building your email list: Leverage your existing customer base, leads from your website or social media accounts and in-person sign-up sheets at your store location.

When writing your emails, craft a subject line that’s compelling enough for your recipient to open the message. Use conversational language and keep your email concise and relevant to the subject line. Also, include links to your social media profiles and use a call to action to direct recipients to your business website or storefront.

Consider paid advertising

Paid online advertising can take many forms. Some common methods include:

  • Buying ad space on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • Sponsoring a podcast.

  • Partnering with an influencer to share your products or services on their own platforms.

  • Using pay-per-click advertising where you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your online ad, up to a predetermined budget.

Other marketing tactics for small businesses

A well-rounded small-business marketing strategy leverages more than online campaigns.

Traditional marketing

Traditional marketing strategies can draw in buyers from your local community, especially when you own a brick-and-mortar location and foot traffic contributes to your monthly sales. Examples include:

  • Direct mail campaigns using postcards, brochures or letters.

  • Trade shows, fairs, farmers markets and other events.

  • Print advertising including magazines, newspapers, coupon books and billboards.

  • Broadcast advertising using podcasts, radio and television.

  • Open house at your store location with free food and swag.

  • Promotional merchandise such as pens, keychains and tote bags.

  • Flyers and business cards.

  • Joining local business communities to network with other entrepreneurs in your area.

  • Incentives such as flash sales, giveaways, free trial periods and discounts for customers who provide reviews or testimonials.

Experiential marketing

The goal of experiential marketing isn’t necessarily to sell a product but to raise brand awareness and ultimately establish brand loyalty. The goal is to provide the consumer with an experience that connects them with your brand in a positive way and encourages them to tell their friends, family, coworkers and social media followers about you, too.

Some events that fall under the experiential marketing umbrella include workshops, tutorials, tours of your facilities, competitions, concerts, pop-up shops and giveaways.

Caroline Goldstein, a freelance writer, contributed to this article.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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