Eight marketing tips for time-strapped small businesses

Asavin Wattanajantra

30 March 2015

If you boil down marketing to its very basic aim, it's about attracting more customers and keeping them coming back. You may have a great product, but it won't be successful if people don't know about it.

For small businesses in particular, limited budget, time and resources are some of the biggest issues – they need to make the best of what's available. Digital marketing allows return on investment to be satisfactorily measured. And with the right strategies small companies can achieve their aims faster or fast as bigger firms.

There's no magic formula for successful small business digital marketing. Every company is different – a strategy taken by a technology consultant will be different than the one used by a sports shop for example. But as a first step, we'd like to share with you some tips small businesses might find helpful.

1. Truly understand the customer journey.

Spend some time working out who your customers are, what they are likely to buy, and what motivates them to make a purchase. This information will set you up for success from the start.

It's also important to visualise how your customer might interact with your organisation. Do your customers conduct research on their own? Do they solicit advice from personal networks? Do they prefer a guided introduction to your products and services with a sales person? Because your time is limited, make efficient marketing investments by choosing your marketing channels based on your customers’ preferences.

2. Research your competitors.

Understanding your competition will help you to establish what is unique about your product or service, as well as the advantages and disadvantages it has compared to your competitors. Business moves so fast that small threats can turn into big ones in a very short space of time. Subscribe to competitor newsletters, request product demos, and frequent their social channels.

Doing some research on your competitors will give you information on what their own marketing strategies are, and their successes could inspire a winning your own business.

3. Create a marketing plan.

Small-business owners must juggle a dizzying variety of tasks. A marketing plan – even a simple one – can act as a guidepost that keeps marketing strategies moving forward intelligently and proactively. The plan can account for the information you've gathered about your customers and competitors, and should state your objectives, goals, tactics and budget. Document key dates that impact your business or industry, so that you can take advantage of event-driven opportunities.

Creating achievable objectives and goals are important, because it helps you set a benchmark to measure your success against.

One of the most important acronyms you might want to remember here is SMART – making sure that your clearly defined goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-defined.

4. Have a website and keep it updated.

The website is of crucial importance to all businesses. It's the online touch-point, the place where customers will find out about your product – even if a business is not selling on the web. Your company website is the 'online face' of your company.

Small businesses are likely to have a single website – so it's got to be good. Creating a simple website and getting it hosted is fairly easy with tools like WordPress and straightforward hosting solutions.

Where many small businesses seem to have trouble is with keeping their website up-to-date – regular blogging is the best way to keep traffic coming to your website through SEO and social media – but that takes time, effort and resources which a small business may not necessarily have. At a minimum, you should review your website every six months and evaluate if it needs updated content, images, or links.

5. Use email.

Email marketing is a great way to actively reach customers. Plus it's fast and cheap. Add an email sign-up to your website, and solicit customer email addresses when they engage with your business. Whether you use email to send newsletters, promotions, or transaction confirmations, by using an email platform (such as ExactTarget or MailChimp) you could use sophisticated but easy-to-use targeting options to send the right messages to the right customers at the right time. You can download our email marketing tips here.

Use a newsletter to link to your blog, which will increase traffic to your site.

6. Have a content, public relations and search strategy.

To make the most of digital marketing channels, content is key. For a website regularly updated content is crucial to increase search rankings. Public relations can be used to promote your business through the publications, news outlets, and influential bloggers. Public relations can also help you to manage your business’ image.

Whether you’re talking about a copywriter creating good, valuable content, orpublic relations specialists actively working to communicate with journalists, a content strategy can ensure that your time and effort are optimized.

7. Take advantage of social media - organic and paid.

Channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook offer great ways to reach customers directly, building a positive online reputation. Social media enables you to create new relationships and bring new customers in. People have always recommended products and services to each other offline – with social media they do it faster, with their movements tracked.

With so many brands on social media, it can be hard for a small business to make itself heard in the crowd. All businesses, including small ones, should budget for paid social advertising, which allows companies to target specific audiences. We've got tips on creating successful B2B social media advertising campaigns here.

8. Make the most of analytics. Once you’ve invested the time and energy to create a measurable marketing plan, you can use analytics tools to measure your progress.

The tools a small business could use needn't be expensive. Google Analytics is free, and social platforms, email marketing technologies all have analytics and tracking built in. The really hard part though is understanding what the data actually means and making sure that you action changes based on the insight. That's why it may pay to get external help in many cases. Here’s a blog on social media analytics which can give you more insight.