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Published 19 February 2024
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6 Steps to Marketing on Social Media

Owners of small businesses who have a limited marketing budget should consider using social media to build brand awareness. Discover how you can use social media as a free or low-cost marketing tool to help attract new customers.

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If you’re considering cuts to your marketing budget to absorb rising staff costs and other increasing overheads, here are six steps to help you switch to social media.

To help you get started, NerdWallet shares tips from a social media expert and a business owner who uses social platforms as a cost-effective alternative to traditional marketing.

1. Learn from others 

With higher numbers of consumers making their purchasing decisions online, the rising cost of traditional marketing methods and the difficulty in measuring return on investment, business owners have been shifting their strategy toward social media. 

In fact, research by telecoms company BT Group, found that just over a quarter of firms surveyed in the week leading up to 5 January 2023 were generating most of their sales through social media. 

If you’re considering cutbacks, you won’t be the only one weighing up the value of traditional marketing and wondering whether do-it-yourself social media could be a way to save money. 

While it may be tempting to hire a social media marketing consultant to overhaul your Facebook and Instagram pages, their fees could set you back £500 per month. Instead, seek free advice from business owners in your network who have grown their audience on social platforms.

2. Dream big, but keep it real

Social media can be a powerful way to build brand awareness, and there is a lot you can accomplish for free, without having to carry the costs associated with producing printed posters, distributing leaflets or paying for TV or radio ads. 

Saffron Saunders is CEO of Startup Croydon, a charity that supports local early-stage founders. She would love to explore putting adverts at local tram stops, or on billboards, but, like many of the businesses it works with, Startup Croydon doesn’t have a big marketing budget.

“There’s so much we could do, but we’ve got limited resources,” Saunders said. 

3. Empower your in-house experts 

Fortunately for Saunders, she has a talented receptionist who takes care of social media – a decision that has not only reduced costs compared with outsourcing to a professional, it’s also made it easier to post timely, relevant content. 

“She’s on the ball and can see it happening, so she knows when to put things out,” Saunders explained. To date, Startup Croydon has not paid for any social media advertising but the team is planning to explore Google Ads as a way of promoting its new Creative Digital Lab, a virtual podcast and video production studio designed to enable other small businesses to bring their digital content to life.

4. Seek help when it gets ‘too techy’

For all its benefits, social media marketing remains daunting for many solopreneurs, and mature business owners may be reluctant to move away from traditional methods.

“For some people [social media is] just a complete minefield for them and there’s absolutely no way they’d do it themselves … that does come down, generally, to the age group,” Saunders explained. “A lot of older people just feel … it’s just far too complicated to get your head around.”

Scott Goodacre, founder of Scott Digital, delivers digital marketing training to businesses of all sizes, and founders of all ages, many of whom are eligible for fully funded places on his workshops, through local business support services. 

Goodacre told NerdWallet that the aspect of digital marketing most likely to put people off doing social media themselves is measuring and monitoring performance. “The main thing I see go wrong with [digital marketing] campaigns is they don’t know how to have the tracking set up … Some of that’s a little bit technical,” he said. 

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK), it’s “more important than ever that marketers know how their spend is delivering”. Industry benchmarks are available, showing average click-through rates, cost per click and cost per lead, but the only way to know whether social media advertising will work for your business is to try it. 

With budgets being carefully guarded, now may not be the time to start experimenting on your own. Creating a website (or optimising your existing site) and setting up Google Analytics can be outsourced if required.

5. Customers make great content

The answer, according to Goodacre, is to use real-world conversations with your customers to generate content. “Talk with the people who buy from you … find out how they found you, what their motivations were … All of that is ammunition for your social feed,” he explained. 

Goodacre encourages businesses to think of organic social media as the top of the marketing funnel, rather than expecting to convert customers via social posts. Social media channels are a proven way to make your business more visible, in the same way as a costly billboard advert or leaflet drop would. But if you can use your posts to inform, educate and entertain visitors, you’ll increase the likelihood they’ll engage with your business, without paying a penny.

With the right training, social media skills can be acquired at any stage in life, at very little cost to your business, so it’s never too late to start. 

“Don’t let age or lack of experience be a barrier…The most important thing is that you understand your customers and you have a passion for what you’re promoting,” said Goodacre. 

6. Hone your social skills for less

Social media courses are available online at a variety of different price points, ranging from an in-depth social media expert course from Comms Creatives at £1,499 +VAT to workshops run by local enterprise support agencies such as Startup Croydon for just £20 per day. 

To find out about free or funded social media training near you, search for business support services in your local area, or contact your nearest Chamber of Commerce. 

For those itching to start learning straight away, free social media tutorials are also available on YouTube: the only investment required is your time. But, since time isn’t something many small business owners have in excess, travelling to a training course that allows you to network with, and pick up tips from, other founders at the same time, could be the best use of your marketing budget this year.

Image source: Getty Images

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