Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing
This guide will help you build your marketing strategy and fine-tune your campaigns.
Time to read: 6 minutes
As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. One of your biggest tasks is finding new customers, also known as marketing. Some aspects of marketing — including educating customers, explaining the value of what you offer, or asking for referrals — may come easily for you. However, when you’re ready to grow your small business, you have to expand upon what you already do well in order to reach new leads and guide them through your sales funnel.
With the right tools and processes, not only will you expand your lead and customer bases, you’ll also be able to determine your marketing return on investment, or ROI, and see where your marketing budget is most effectively spent.
Marketing can include a lot of trial and error, especially in the beginning stages of running your company. All your efforts will help you learn how to best reach potential customers and promote your products and services.
This guide will help you review your marketing strategy and fine-tune your campaigns. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is Small Business Marketing?
- Small Business Marketing Basics: Tools and Technology
- Getting Ready to Market Your Small Business
- An Overview of Marketing Channels and Activities
- Handling Your Marketing: Do it In-House, Hire a Consultant, or Use a Firm?
- 5 Common Questions About Small Business Marketing
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. That’s because 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations.
To learn more about identifying your customer base, check out the “Identify Your Customer” lesson on Salesforce Trailhead.
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 organize prospective and current consumer data in one place. This information — plus good record-keeping — is vital for your organization, 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. In the U.S., half of small and midsize companies have a CRM system, and 15% of those CRM systems were implemented within the last year.
Digital Marketing Platforms
Generally, this type of software provides your team some combination of features: organization, automation, and tracking various marketing activities. Often, these platforms can integrate with other tools, such as your CRM platform.
There are many types of 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 the email addresses you have 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 behavior 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 that’s 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 important 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 type of 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.
Google Analytics tracks all kinds of website-visitor data and generates regular reports that help marketers make data-based decisions about the efficacy of their websites. With it, you can view the breakdown in your visitors’ demographics, location, and age — even the device they use to visit your site. You can also see which content and pages on your website drive the most (or least) page views, the amount of time visitors spend on a page, conversions, and more. Simply put, Google Analytics hosts a ton of data, and SEO specialists can turn that data into actionable insights.
Best of all? It’s free! To get started:
- Set up the property you want to record. In this case, it’s your business website.
Add the tracking code to your site.
- Add the tracking code to your site.
Once your account is set up and tracking properly, it should take 24 to 48 hours to see data in your Google Analytics account. You’ll have access to a solid overview of information about your website visitors and how your content and pages are performing. From there, you can dive deeper into tracking specific data points and configuring reports.
This tutorial provides an in-depth walk-through on how to get started. You can also link Google Analytics to your Salesforce Sales Cloud account to access more prospect and client information.
Google Analytics is a necessary tool, as 99% of marketers will be using their company website as a channel to market to prospects and customers within the next 12 months.
A content calendar is a centralized 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 that your company is producing and plans to publish during a particular time 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 all the way from preproduction to promotion, tag the person who owns that part of the project, and manage each deadline.
If you’re planning a blog post for Father’s Day, for example, a sample workflow might look like this on your content calendar.
- Add the name of the blog post 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, as well as 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 organization. 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 color-coded system for each step in the process.
Communicate regularly with team members to make sure the content and its due date stays 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 it is 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, 66% 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. By creating aligned, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) goals, 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 what your customers can expect from 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.” Having 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 both 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
Developing a content and SEO strategy will help your potential customers learn about you, your company offerings, and your industry. Incorporating strong SEO practices — such as choosing relevant, high-volume keywords, and getting backlinks from quality websites — will also help your content rank well on the search engine result pages (SERPs).
- Create a content and publishing strategy — Before you promote your website, you’ll want to add mainstay pages such as “About Us,” “Services/Product categories,” “Contact,” and more. And take the time to flesh out your copy. For instance, four or five blog posts is a good starting point. This will help build your SEO efforts and keep readers on the page longer by providing them with additional content, rather than having them see one post and bounce off your website.
- Promote your content — Once you hit publish, your work isn’t done. Share your content across multiple channels and make sure to create messaging and images specific to the platform to reach more people.
Your content and SEO strategy, when executed well, will help you rank higher on SERPs. A study from SISTRIX shows that ranking first on the first page of search results earns approximately 29% of users’ clicks. The second result gets 16%, the third earns 11%, and the percentages drop rapidly from there. Long story short, when your website ranks higher in SERPs, more people click on your website.
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 editorialized 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 will have to 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 — Could be a product or 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’s also a variety of 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 a video conference. You can host or co-host a webinar to reach multiple audiences and share information. Companies typically offer a special, 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 optimization (SEO) — We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: You need an SEO strategy. You can work on your own — here’s an excellent primer on SEO for your small business — hire an in-house expert, or work with someone outside of your organization to help you get found online.
- Google My Business — 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 My Business platform.
- Remarketing and retargeting — Both are forms of behavioral marketing, which relies 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, and then was followed around online by ads for running shoes.
- Email marketing — This is a great channel to connect with your customers, especially because it boasts an awesome 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 a user clicks 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 catalogs.
- 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. For tips on event marketing, check out the Salesforce e-book Getting Started with Small Business Marketing.
- 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 personalized shopping experiences.
Relationship-Building Marketing Activities
- Business associations — Also known as trade associations, these organizations include business owners in a particular industry and can provide support and resources. There are typically dues, and members are sometimes entitled to discounts on things like continued education or business insurance.
- Chamber of Commerce — A local business organization that promotes the business community. Similar to business associations, there are usually resources, events, and other perks to membership.
- Rotary Club — An international organization 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 a host of different 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?
1. What are my goals?
2. What is my budget?
3. What are my pain points or areas outside my zone of genius?
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 important 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 in which you ask users to tag others, follow your business account, and share it for extra entries. These are just a couple of 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 a variety of paid and unpaid ways you can advertise your small business. For some hyperlocal ideas and depending on your target market, try advertising in community newspapers and Facebook groups. If it will help 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 a good 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, through a combination of keyword research and best SEO practices, you can create content that both appeals to your customers and search engine bots. 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 that has a specific call to action.
- What are some small business marketing strategies and trends?
Personalized, one-on-one (or 1-to1) marketing is a good 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 personalized as possible is an effective tactic. This can be as simple as including someone’s name in an 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 personalize 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.
Marketing isn’t “set it and forget it.” It needs to evolve just as your customers and your company do, and should inspire creativity based on real, data-based results.
If you get excited about your marketing, you can boost your ability to grow. You can spend your marketing dollars wisely and drive conversions if you pay attention.
If you want to grow, reach more customers, increase revenue, have funds to hire more employees, and achieve other goals, then be sure to prioritize your marketing efforts. You’ll be glad you did.