Marketing your small business is not cheap. In fact, for many small business owners, marketing costs are one of the biggest expenses their company has to deal with.
For example, Outsourcing social media marketing with a minimum of two social networks costs around $3,000 to $20,000 per month. These are amounts of money that mean the difference between a healthy profit margin and closing down or laying off staff for the average small business owner.
You might have developed one hell of a marketing plan, but if you don’t have the funds to roll it out and make it a reality, you’re not going to be attracting any new customers with it.
So, if you’re a small business owner who wants to make sure to get the word of your brand out to potential customers, where can you get started on a budget?
Well, there are small business marketing strategies you can try without having to spend thousands of dollars.
From word of mouth to effective content marketing, even the most hard-up entrepreneurs fresh into trading can market your small business for free or next to nothing.
Below, we spill the secrets on the best, free small business marketing ideas.
Steps to take before marketing your small business
Marketing a small business is a tricky process, especially if you’re competing against big brands and established companies.
While you may have superior products or services, might offer more personalized customer service, and generally be one of the best companies in your niche of the market, you’re still starting at a disadvantage against those bigger businesses that have tons of money to throw at fancy marketing tools.
While, as a small business owner, it’s important to focus on areas internal to your business you can stand out (like the quality of your user experience, customer support, or product knowledge), you should also understand which ways you can stand out in the marketing competition too.
That’s why, from day one of thinking about marketing your business, you need to make sure that your marketing plan is clear, focused, targets the right potential customers, and conveys your message effectively.
When setting out to market your small business, planning is everything. Whatever kind of business you run, setting out your marketing strategy clearly for everyone in your organization to understand is a must.
With this all said, there are three steps to consider before you start formulating a winning marketing strategy.
Recommended reading: How to Start an Online Business Built for Growth in 10 Steps
Step 1: Analyze your target audience
Before you get started marketing your product or service, first you need to understand who is going to be interested in your product or service.
In other words: what’s the landscape of the current market, who is your target audience, and what does your potential customer base want?
The best marketing strategies are based on the current market and the needs of your target audience. For that reason, performing research on those aspects is a must.
How do you conduct market research?
First, start your analysis by determining your target group.
Consider demographics like:
- Age. One of the biggest determines of whether someone is like to be interested in a product or service is how old they are. This is easily the most common demographic demarcator in the marketing toolkit.
- Location. Where people are based is another big factor to consider, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar small business. It will influence the marketing channels you use, as well as the kind of messaging you use.
- Gender. Along with age, gender is also one of the most common factors small businesses (and large) use to group people for marketing purposes. Gender identity tends to have a large impact on interests and shopping habits.
- Level of education. While not as concrete an indicator of interest as age and gender, for many kinds of products or services, how long people stayed in education can be a key influence on shopping habits.
- Income level. There’s not much point in targeting a luxury or premium product to people who are unlikely to afford it. Conversely, wealthy consumers may be disinterested in budget options.
- Interests and hobbies. This is a much over-looked indicator of consumers’ likelihood of purchasing your product. As a small business, it’s a very helpful tool to carve out a niche.
- Family status. Are your customers married or single? Do they have children? These questions can be key to make sure you promote your business to the right new customers.
Big businesses with deep pockets for mass advertising can afford to be pretty broad in their targeting, and use a one size fits all approach, however, things are different for small businesses. One of the most effective ways to compete against the big boys is to totally profile your ideal customer and market to them.
Be as specific as possible because if the audience is too broad, it’ll be impossible to find a pattern that can be used in your strategy or tailor your message. Become an expert on your customer base, and understand the people that make it up.
Feel like you understand your target customers well enough?
Once you have a clear idea about your target audience, it will be easy to know what they need, what they want, how to reach them, and when is the right time to approach them.
Again here, you need to be specific. It’s no good just assuming you can target your ideal customer on any social media platforms, for example:
- A solid social media strategy (which would be a sub-set of your overall marketing strategy) would take into account which social media platforms your customers are likely to use; Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? LinkedIn?
- Say they are most likely to use Facebook, what time of day are they likely to be scrolling through Facebook?
- Are they more likely to be engaging with friends on Facebook, reading news, or interacting in Facebook groups?
- What kinds of pages do they follow and what kind of interests do they have associated with their accounts?
You should be answering all these questions and more in as much detail as you are able. It’s this granular detail and hyper-focused targeting that will become the cheat sheet that will help you carry out effective, low-cost marketing.
Step 2: Analyze your competitors
However, the data collection process doesn’t end there. You also need to get to grips with the marketing efforts of your competitor businesses. You need to do market research.
Based on your defined target audience, you need to identify the other businesses in the market that are actively targeting the same or similar niche.
It may be tempting, as a small business yourself, to only focus on other small businesses. This is natural, as they feel like your natural competition.
What we’d strongly recommend, however, is that you consider businesses of all sizes to be competitors. The most successful small business marketers will put a target on the back of the biggest players in their industry, and aim straight for them.
When you’re turning your attention to assessing your competitors, you should analyze:
- The performance of your competitors. Try and gather actionable data on the share of the market each of your competitors enjoy, and where possible, find out what kind of revenue they make from any product or service similar to yours.
- Current marketing trends. Are there any discernable trends or similarities in the way your competitors approach marketing to customers? Social media is a great place to start, but try to cast your net wide and beyond Facebook ads think videos, blog posts, or other marketing channels.
- Market statistics. What can you find out about ad spend? How many people are seeing banner ads or reading blog posts? How likely are customers to click on an ad embedded in a video? Collate as much data as possible.
- Marketing ideas. Have any of your competitors hit upon a really unique advertising concept? We’re not recommending that you straight up copy from each other, but it’s definitely worth taking note if a novel approach to online marketing is helping them sell their product.
- Customer reviews. Reviews aren’t just a way to spread word of mouth advertising, they’re also a great way to get an understanding of the pain points that customers are experiencing with your competitors. This among the best ways you get started creating a superior product or customer experience.
As with your customer research, you should go into as much detail as it’s reasonable to go when analyzing your competitors. It will all add up to help you find gaps in your target markets.
Combined with the information about your target audience, this data will guide you to make the best marketing decisions.
Step 3: Estimate your expected ROI
As business owners, you shouldn’t spend your money blindly. Plan out your budget so you’ll know what to expenditure expect.
The best method to keep your budget in check is to establish your expected Return on Investment (ROI).
- Simply put, ROI is the ratio between net profit and the cost of investment. It’s important for understanding whether any given marketing campaign is worth carrying out, and helping choose which marketing ideas to pursue.
- In marketing, it means calculating how many dollars in sales you’ll gain for every dollar spent on marketing. Say you spend $1 dollar o a social media or email marketing campaign, and make $10 from it, your ROI would be $9.
- It is often also referred to as Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). While these terms aren’t directly similar, they’re close enough that you’re likely to hear them used interchangeably in reference to business.
Putting your marketing campaign expenses and daily operational budget in the ROI allows you to monitor your expenditure.
The data can be beneficial for tracking the effectiveness and results of your marketing campaign.
Let’s say you decide to trial one social media campaign and one email marketing campaign:
- You spend $1,200 on the social media trail
- You spend $300 on the email marketing trial
- The social media campaign brings in $1,600 in revenue
- The email marketing campaign brings in $1,100 in revenue
While it’s true that at the end of the trial, the social media campaign brought in more money overall, because the initial investment was higher, the overall ROI is $400. On the other hand, the cheaper email marketing campaign brought in an ROI of $800.
Your business might decide that it makes more sense to focus on email marketing, as it is more cost-effective.
If you’re operating on a tight budget, making decisions based on ROI will help you be able to take advantage of the low-hanging fruit, without overspending. Be realistic when calculating ROI, and always tend towards assuming the worst-case scenario.
Recommended reading: 16 Best Marketing Blogs to Follow
3 Cost-effective small business marketing strategies
By this point, you should have a solid idea of the lay of the land in your chosen marketing. You will have insights into your customers and competitors, and will know how to base your marketing and business decisions on financial budgeting.
Not to turn those insights into results with a carefully targeted marketing strategy.
1. Build a business website
The advantages of having a business website cannot be overstated.
According to a report by LYFE Marketing, 88% of customers search for products or services online before making a purchase. Therefore, if you don’t have an online presence, you’re missing out on potential sales
For that reason, starting a small business marketing website should be high on your priority list.
Other benefits of owning your own website include:
- A professional email address. Whether you want to run an email marketing campaign or simply have a proper support email address, having a custom domain in your email address gives your business a lot more credibility.
- All rights reserved. If you’re relying on other platforms to run your business, your content might be their property. With a website of your own, you keep hold of the rights over everything you create.
- A centralized location. Maybe you showcase your work on Instagram, network on LinkedIn, and sell through Amazon? Why not create a place where you can have centralized control over your entire business?
- Somewhere to show your brand at its best. Your website is entirely under your own control. Take advantage of this by creating the very best-looking site for your business.
You need to choose a light, flexible and reliable website builder, like Zyro.
Our website builder can help you make a beautiful and functional website in no time.
Should you need any help in the placement of pictures and call-to-action buttons, you can use Zyro’s AI Heatmap. It will show you areas that receive the most attention, so you’ll know exact locations that generate the best conversions.
Once you have finished your design, you can populate your site with content written with the help of Zyro’s AI Writer.
All you need to do is enter your requirements into the generator, click Generate Text, and the AI Writer will produce several content pieces that you can choose from.
Once your website is up and running, you can use it as the basis for content marketing, somewhere to send traffic for email marketing, and even a place to sell things online if your business needs a store.
Don’t underestimate the power of a website.
2. Implementing on-page and off-page SEO
Building a website is only the beginning. To run a successful marketing campaign, you need to attract as many visitors as you can to your website.
This is where SEO comes into play.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a technique to optimize your site’s ranking on search engine result pages (SERP).
Implementing SEO practices is crucial as it increases the chances of customers finding your website.
The optimization process can be divided into two types: on-page and off-page SEO.
As the name suggests, on-page SEO means you optimize everything on your website. There are tons of ways to optimize your website, and in fact, SEO is an entire profession, but as a small business owner, there are a few simple SEO tricks you should keep in mind:
- Include relevant keywords in your content. Keywords are the words and phrases related to the search queries people enter into search engines like Google. You need to make sure that your website and relevant pages contain enough of these keywords without going over the top.
- Write meta descriptions. Each page should tell search engines what they’re about. A meta description is your chance to tell search engine bots and users exactly what they can expect to find on your website. Again, use keywords here.
- Use correct headings for your articles. Like meta descriptions, headings are one of the first places search engines and users turn when trying to work out what is on a web page. Make sure they are relevant and keyword optimized.
- Name images correctly. Did you know that Google looks a the name and meta information of images to decide how to categorize them? That’s why it’s important to you accurate, descriptive file names and meta tags.
- Link carefully between your pages. How your website links together is another important factor of on-page SEO. Make sure that you use relevant anchor text, and that all pages you want ranking on search engines can be found via links.
On the other hand, off-page SEO refers to promotional methods that take place outside of your website. This might include:
- Content outreach. Getting other, high-ranking websites to link to the pages you want to perform well on Google will convey higher ranking to your own website.
- Social media marketing. Social media channels are also another great source of traffic. Make sure to incentivize your followers to visit your website. More on this below.
- Email marketing. Running an email marketing campaign and sending a whole bunch of traffic to your website will help with your SEO in the long-run.
Business owners can also develop community engagement by allowing visitors to leave comments, share their opinions, and subscribe to a newsletter.
If you built your site with Zyro, you’ll find that it’s easy to manage the basics of SEO directly through Zyro. This includes page titles, meta descriptions, and everything to do with linking architecture.
3. Integrating your website with social media
Social media is a powerful marketing tool to promote your business. Since it’s totally free to own and operate social media profiles, and your followings can just grow and grow, they’re the perfect online marketing tool for small businesses on a budget.
Once you have your business website up and running, you’ll be able to integrate it with popular social networks immediately. That way, your site, and social media accounts can work together to attract a larger audience.
Start by putting social media icons on your home page. It does not have to be big and bold, but make sure the icons are visible.
Let’s take a look at Zyro’s website, for example:
You’ll need to make sure that, when users click on these icons, they are properly connected to an active profile. Don’t connect your Twitter account if you haven’t tweeted in a year, that’s just a bad look.
Second, you can add a Twitter feed to your homepage.
This will let all of your visitors see your tweets as they land. Not only will this give your website a little more personality, but it is also a great method of driving engagement with your brand.
As one of the most popular social media platforms, Twitter is a great tool to build online communities around your brand or business.
Currently, there are various tools you can use to create an impactful Twitter feed, such as Taggbox, EverWall, and HootFeed. Some of these tools can also be used to create other feeds, such as Instagram or Facebook.
Another strategy you can try is enabling social login on your website.
Allowing visitors to log in using their Facebook or Twitter accounts is a great way to attract more customers since 86% of users do not want to create a new account when visiting a website.
Boosting sales through social networks and over multiple channels requires effort and commitment, but with around 3.48 billion users worldwide, this strategy is too potentially fruitful to be ignored.
If you used Zyro to build your website, and have opened an online store, you can use the platform to sell through marketplaces like Facebook, Instagram, and even Amazon. This will greatly increase your reach as a brand, and allow you to make tons more sales.
Recommended reading: What Is Social Media Marketing?
Free marketing recap
Small business marketing can be expensive, however, it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Before embarking upon any new marketing campaigns, you need to make sure you’re an expert on your customers and competitors:
- Conduct customer research. What do people want and expect from your customers? Before you trial your marketing ideas, it’s best to understand the people you are marketing to. How can your business cater to their specific desires?
- Conduct competitor research. As well as knowing your target customers, you need to understand what every other business in your niche is already offering. Make sure you also know every marketing channel they’re using to reach people with their message.
- Calculate your ROI. Budgeting is crucial for any small business, so before you start spending blindly, you should put your marketing ideas to the price test, and estimate what kind of returns you’d expect to see back for each dollar spent on marketing and advertising.
After determining your target market and estimating your expected ROI, you can start marketing your products and services with these cost-effective methods:
- Build a business website. Use Zyro’s website builder to expose your business to a wider audience, create community engagement, and enhance your brand reputation. Building a website is one of the most effective, low-cost ways of building brand awareness.
- Implement on-page and off-page SEO. Instead of paying for advertising or deciding to use Google Adwords, focus on ways to reach people through free rankings on search engines. rank well on SERPs, boost your online presence, and attract more potential customers.
- Integrate your site with social media. Why pay for Facebook ads, when a well-run Facebook profile can perform just as well for raiding your profile and growing a community around your brand? An easy method to create a seamless multichannel marketing strategy.
There is no reason why your business can’t compete and thrive in the market with online marketing, even when you go up against well-funded competitors.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are always ways to find an advantage over better-funded and more established brands. As a small business, you have the benefit of being more flexible and able to hyper-target consumers.
While you might not be able to offer lower prices or blanket media coverage, you can always play to your advantage:
- Target small niches. Find a way to fit your business into the small niches which big businesses fail to fill. Get started by addressing the needs of people big business has left behind.
- Offer superior products. Attract new customers by offering genuinely better products or services than your larger competitors.
- Give personalized service. Forget about impersonal social media profiles or blog posts. Connect with your customers through meaningful, useful interactions. Be unforgettable.
- Embrace your underdog status. There are plenty of people who will shop with you, not in spite of you being a small business, but because you’re a small business. Try to come up with marketing ideas that capitalize on that.
Now go do it.