Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing
This guide will help you build your marketing strategy and fine-tune your campaigns.
Table of Contents
What Is Small Business Marketing?
You’ve built your small business operation. Now you need to attract more targeted, paying customers. Where do you start?
Welcome to the world of marketing.
Small business marketing entails getting in front of potential users or consumers. It’s important to reach out to these consumers — your target market — so you can focus on their specific wants and needs.
Check out the “Identify Your Customer” lesson on Salesforce Trailhead to learn more about identifying your customer base.
There are a variety of paid and organic marketing methods you can use to reach people who want and need your service or product. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar location, own a digital-only storefront, or manage a hybrid of the two, you need to ensure people can find you.
Here’s what you need to do to get your marketing up to speed and working for your small business.
Small Business Marketing Basics: Tools and Technology
A customer relationship management (CRM) system allows you to organise prospective and current consumer data in one place. This information — plus good record-keeping — is vital for your organisation, especially your sales, marketing, and customer success teams.
With a CRM platform, you can discover actionable insights about your users, track interactions with them, and manage the entire customer journey, which helps you better tailor your marketing campaigns.
Digital Marketing Platforms
Generally, this type of software provides your team with some combination of features: organisation, automation, and tracking of various marketing activities. Often, these platforms can integrate with other tools, such as your CRM platform.
There are many specialty platforms within digital marketing, including the following:
- Email marketing platform — This software allows users to build and design email campaigns. With an email marketing platform, you can store your email addresses for leads and customers, create different segments or email lists for various types of consumers, and send relevant messages and promotions depending on where prospects are in the purchase funnel. You can also track user behaviour and interactions with your emails, such as open and click-through rates and links clicked.
- SMS marketing platform — This service can exist as a stand-alone product or tool integrated into a larger email marketing platform. Marketing via short message service, or SMS, commonly known as text messaging, is an effective way to reach users; think of how many people use smartphones and always have them on their person. Businesses can use SMS marketing to communicate flash deals, new products and more to customers who sign up to receive these messages.
- Social media marketing platform — Marketers use this software to manage their social media efforts. It helps them communicate with their audience, grow their follower count and fan base, and set up scheduled messages on social media. They can also learn essential details and data and see metrics about their audience, all of which they can then use to fuel decisions around what and when to post. Additionally, social media listening tools enable businesses to track conversations related to their industry and brand on social media so they can engage with users.
- Influencer marketing platform — This relatively newer platform is designed to help businesses develop influencer marketing campaigns. Marketers use this software to find micro (niche) and macro (general) social media and video influencers to promote a product, set up campaigns, and track ROI.
A content calendar is a centralised place where you list your company’s scheduled content. You can include blog posts, YouTube videos, social media posts — any type of marketing collateral and content your company is producing and plans to publish during a particular period.
You can use a shared online calendar or a spreadsheet with tabs for each month in tandem with project management software to keep track of each piece of content. In spreadsheets, you can list each task for each assignment, from preproduction to promotion, tag the person who owns that part of the project, and manage each deadline.
For example, if you’re planning a blog post for Father’s Day, a sample workflow might look like this on your content calendar.
- Add the blog post's name on its target publish date on the company-wide calendar.
- Add it to your project management software as a project.
- Within each task, list the individual items — write blog post, source image, prepare copy for Twitter, and so on — needed to complete the post and the accompanying due dates.
- Tag the individuals responsible who will own a part in bringing the blog post to life and sharing it outside of the organisation. These people may include the writer, an editor, a graphic designer, an SEO specialist, and a social media marketing manager.
- Mark off each task as it’s completed or devise a colour-coded system for each step in the process.
Communicate regularly with team members to ensure the content and its due date stay on track. Don’t be afraid to adjust the process; if you’re running a lean content operation in the beginning, an online calendar with publication dates might be sufficient to get you started.
Depending on your industry, there may be some variability in how far out you can schedule content. Aim between one and six months ahead, leaving wiggle room for when content is delayed or postponed. If your industry needs a certain amount of time to plan for a big event, take that into account as well. For example, if you’re an ecommerce store that wants to plan a big Black Friday promotion, you should plan out content months ahead of November.
Getting Ready to Market Your Small Business
Identify Your Value Proposition, Audience, and Goals
To effectively market your product, you need to know who you’re marketing to and what you want to say to them.
- Determine your value proposition — Give potential buyers a compelling reason to purchase from you. Lean into your benefits more than features, and get clear on how your offer matches their values and helps them. As you shape your unique value proposition, collect feedback early and often. Later, you can turn this feedback into content in the form of case studies and testimonials for your website. After all, 68% of business buyers expect sales reps to develop solutions — not just pitch products.
- Define your audience — Figure out who your ideal customer is. Ask some starting questions. How old are they, how much money do they make, and where do they live? What are their pain points? How will your product or service meet their needs? Be as specific as possible when you define and get to know your target market. Once you have a clearer idea of who you’re marketing to, you can create tailored marketing and map out your customer journey.
- Create goals — You need something to strive for and measure against. Creating aligned, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) goals means you can meaningfully track your progress — and course-correct when needed. Track this data and refer back to it as necessary.
Lock Down Your Brand Messaging Framework
Your messaging needs to be sticky to help people remember you and entice them to make repeat purchases from your company. While you can dive really deep here, these four frameworks are a good place to start when creating brand messaging for your business that resonates with your users.
- Brand promise — This statement sets the stage for your customers' expectations of your company. It should be concise and direct, typically no longer than one or two sentences.
- Positioning statement — This statement drills into your exact offerings, target audience, and where you fit in the marketplace. Similar to your brand promise, your positioning statement should be short and sweet. For example, “We do X for Y people and drive Z results.” A positioning statement is especially helpful when you shape your internal and external communication guides.
- Brand mission — Working off the previous statements and your value proposition, use the brand mission statement to expand on your core beliefs, what you hope to accomplish, and how you plan to accomplish your goals.
- Brand voice and tone — Once you know your audience and market, figure out how best to communicate with them. Determine what voice and tone will work for your business and your industry. For instance, can you be playful in your communications, or would that ding your brand? Workshop this and incorporate your brand’s personality — see what fits.
Create and Launch Your Website
Even if you don’t build an ecommerce store, it’s valuable to own a piece of real estate on the web so customers can search for and find you. At a minimum, you can promote your company story, contact information, and store hours.
- Claim a website domain name — Shoot for your own business name and a “.com” domain name, if possible. If those options are taken, consider something on the shorter side that’s easy to spell and remember. If “.com” isn’t an option, try to snag “.co” or “.net.” A helpful tip is to set up auto renewal so you don’t run the risk of letting your ownership of the domain lapse. Many domain name companies let you do this when checking out.
- Secure hosting — Once you have your domain name, you need to purchase a hosting package so it can live on the web. You can typically purchase a year or longer upfront, and choose to elect upgrades such as a business email address using your domain name, website themes, and more.
- Design your site — Once you purchase your domain name and hosting, it’s time to design. You can purchase a template, work on your own design, or outsource this work to a specialist or agency. Keep it mobile-friendly — most templates will fit mobile devices by default — and incorporate best practices, such as no harsh font combinations or garish hues. One often-overlooked step is to make your website ADA compliant, which means it will be accessible for everyone online. You can also tease your official launch by adding a simple “Coming Soon” message to your website.
Content and SEO
An Overview of Marketing Channels and Activities
- Articles — Content that includes original research, facts, and statistics and may include interviews with — or be written by — subject matter experts.
- Blog posts — Similar to, and sometimes used interchangeably with, articles. Blog posts are usually more editorialised and speak directly to a company's products and services.
- E-books — Content that’s longer than articles and blog posts. There’s no hard rule, but 2,000-plus words is a good goal because e-books provide more in-depth content and usually include original research. E-books are a digital-only product and sometimes gated, meaning an interested reader must pay or supply an email address to access one.
- White papers — Similar to e-books, white papers are usually gated. White paper is authoritative and heavily researched on a particular subject or industry trend.
- Landing pages — Also known as a lead capture page, this is a specific page on your website designed to get visitors to perform a specific action. For example, the call-to-action button may ask users to sign up for a program or buy a product. Landing pages are often tied to specific marketing campaigns, especially when paired with email marketing messages.
Visuals and Visual Content
- Infographics — These images usually contain original artwork and research, or the creator sources and cites information from reputable outlets. You should include your logo on an infographic, and you may want to include the HTML so others can embed it on their own sites, which is a great way to earn backlinks.
- Photo — This could be a product, user-generated photo, or another type of image to capture a user’s attention and interest. These images can also be used in your email and social campaigns if you can adjust the resolution and size. There are also various editing tools you can use to make your images look sharp.
- Videos — Depending on the type of video you produce (for example, behind the scenes at your office or showcasing how a new product works) you can shoot videos in-house with a smartphone or work with a team and more sophisticated equipment.
- Webinars — Also known as video conferences. You can host or co-host a webinar to reach multiple audiences and share information. Companies typically offer a unique, limited-time promo to attendees.
- Podcasts — These audio sessions or episodes can be downloaded and streamed online. Podcasts can be short or long-form, niche or high-level, and usually enlist guests and subject matter experts.
Online Marketing Activities
- Search engine optimisation (SEO) — We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: You need an SEO strategy. You can work on your own, hire an in-house expert, or work with someone outside your organisation to help you get found online.
- Google Business Profile — This free tool allows businesses to manage their online presence on Google. You can list your location and hours, add photos, respond to user reviews, and more on the Google Business Profile platform.
- Remarketing and retargeting — Both are behavioural marketing forms that rely on customer-tracking data. You can use remarketing to reach out to potential customers via email, such as a message reminding them about the item they left in their shopping cart. Retargeting serves ads to people who visited your site and then bounced, such as a person who researched marathons followed around online by ads for running shoes.
- Email marketing — This is a great channel to connect with your customers, especially because it boasts a tremendous ROI. In fact, email remains customers’ number one preferred channel for communicating with companies. Learn how to create an email marketing strategy from scratch so you can better serve your audience. After all, you don’t want to treat your occasional buyers and your loyal customers to the same content, and a solid email strategy can increase sales.
- Social media marketing — This is a popular way to connect with your users, promote your offerings, and grow your presence in the market. You can use both organic and paid social media posts to reach new and existing users.
- Influencer marketing — Influencers with even a few thousand followers (micro-influencers) can help promote your business to their engaged community in exchange for payment, a free product, or a cut of your sales.
- Search engine marketing (SEM) — This online advertising strategy helps boost your visibility on the SERPs — for a fee. Companies that use pay-per-click (PPC) ads pay a certain amount when users click on their ad. PPC ads can help businesses cut through the noise, stand out, and “jump ahead” of their competition, especially in the discovery phase.
Offline Marketing Activities
- Direct mail — Physical mail advertising your business that is sent to homes or other businesses. Examples include postcards, coupon booklets, and catalogues.
- In-person events — This could be anything from an event held at a conference hall to a sponsored event at a local bookstore to drum up business.
- Retail spaces — Small businesses that make sales through ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retail can use both channels to attract customers and increase sales. In-person surveys and kiosks can also help you gather both qualitative and quantitative data. Tools like the Salesforce Retail CRM platform can help collate your lead and customer data so you can create detailed customer profiles, log purchase and interaction histories, and do more to deliver personalised shopping experiences.
Relationship-Building Marketing Activities
- Business associations — Also known as trade associations, these organisations include business owners in a particular industry and can provide support and resources. There are typically dues, and members are sometimes entitled to discounts like continued education or business insurance.
- Chamber of Commerce — A local business organisation that promotes the business community. Similar to business associations, membership usually includes resources, events, and other perks.
- Rotary Club — An international organisation that gathers business and professional leaders for humanitarian causes.
These are just some of the ways you can reach your audience.
There are other opportunities for networking and promoting goodwill, such as through charities and sponsorships. Small businesses have various channels and ways to market their products and services to consumers. Use data, try different methods, and work to find your company’s unique marketing mix.
Handling Your Marketing: Do It In-House, Hire a Consultant, or Use a Firm?
When it comes to your marketing, ask yourself three questions:
1. What are my goals?
2. What is my budget?
3. What are my pain points or areas outside my zone of genius?
Depending on your answers, it may make sense to keep your marketing in-house, meaning you have a marketing strategist or manager as an employee. If your company is experiencing fast growth or needs outside experience to propel your business growth, it may be wise to go with a specialist or agency.
If you don’t have a marketing budget, now is the time to create one. Review it against your marketing strategy, and you’ll better understand what you’re working with and who you can hire. For reference, in both B2C and B2B companies, advertising is the top marketing budget line item, while technology is a close second.
Your small business can have a limited marketing budget or a more expansive one; you can still reach your leads and customers effectively.
5 Common Questions About Small Business Marketing
- Which marketing is best for my small business?
Social media, email marketing, blogging — there are plenty of ways for businesses to promote themselves online. It’s essential to focus on the best type of marketing to reach your target user.
Do some market research and get clear on your audience. And while you can — and should — experiment with different marketing platforms, be careful about going all in on channels where your customers don’t spend time. If your Gen Z small business customer spends their free time on TikTok, don’t pour your limited resources into local newspaper ads.
Ultimately, your best marketing strategy is what speaks directly to your users, serves them, and inspires them to make a purchase.
- What are some marketing ideas for small businesses?
You can host virtual or in-person events or social media contests where you ask users to tag others, follow your business account, and share it for extra entries. These are just a few ways to expand your reach and connect with your community.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of ideas when it comes to promoting your small business.
- How can I advertise my small business?
There are various paid and unpaid ways to advertise your small business. For some hyperlocal ideas and depending on your target market, try advertising in community newspapers and Facebook groups. If it helps you reach your audience, you can sponsor local sporting events or tournaments and place fliers and business cards in places like coffee shops that have a community bulletin board.
- How can I promote my business without spending money?
SEO is an excellent free or low-cost pathway. You own your website, after all, as opposed to hosting all your content on a third-party site, such as Instagram or YouTube, that could shut down tomorrow.
From a top-level view, you can create content that appeals to your customers and search engine bots through keyword research and best SEO practices. Good SEO and content can take time to deliver results, but it’s worth the investment.
Social media marketing is another popular option. You can record and upload business content directly from your smartphone. Use multiple channels that work together, such as a specific landing page for a specific Instagram post with a specific call to action.
- What are some small business marketing strategies and trends?
Personalised, one-on-one (or 1-to1) marketing is an excellent go-to. Whether you own a brick-and-mortar shop or operate solely online, using customer data to influence customer experiences and make them as personalised as possible is an effective tactic. This can be as simple as including someone’s name in email communication or more involved, such as suggesting product recommendations based on their past purchases.
A survey of 1,000 adults revealed that 80% want retailers to personalise their shopping experience. Alternatively, consumers will consider going to a competitor if a business gets it wrong. When it comes to small business marketing trends, digital marketing continues to lead the way.