The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Online

Small Business Marketing Online

Have you devised a small business marketing strategy?

There are many challenges to owning and operating a small business, not least of which is you need to let people know you exist! Word of mouth works for some, but it’s definitely not a long-term strategy. The nature of technology use is now as such that having a business website is essential. However, just because you build one, doesn’t mean the customers will come.

Marketing strategy for small business needs to include a clear plan for online marketing. You need to be visible where your target audience can be found in order to draw new customers back to your website.

What might you include in this marketing strategy? We present some options here for small business marketing plans online:

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Build your customer personas

First thing’s first, before you even think about actioning a campaign or drawing up an online marketing strategy, you need to know who you are trying to attract.

There are multiple options for online marketing and not all will be a good fit for your business. You can start by eliminating any tactic that is unlikely to reach your target audience, however, you must have defined who they are to know this.

As a quick primer, a customer, buyer or marketing persona is a generalized representation of your ideal customers. Most small businesses will have more than one buyer persona, although you may have one particular group that is more prevalent.

HubSpot provides an excellent description of how to research and create your customer personas. You need to build a picture of demographic information, interests, key problems and the channels through which these people can be found.

To give an example, let’s say your target customers are generally people over 40 who earn more than $100k. You can start to figure out where and where not to find them online. Snapchat (where most users are 18 to 34) may not be ideal.

Tip: Always consider whether the person you are targeting your product or service for is the decision-maker when buying. You may have different personas for each.

Small business marketing

Source: HubSpot

Define your marketing goals

Once you have identified your buyer persona/s, it’s important that you define some goals for your online marketing. What are the key results you would like? This way, you can pick and choose the marketing methods that suit your requirements.

Claim your local business listings

This section here is particularly relevant to small business owners who have a brick-and-mortar, or otherwise “local” presence somewhere. If you only operate online, you may like to skip to the next section.

As a local business, your online marketing efforts can be assisted with some local listing services. These are online listings that make your business easier to find because they tend to rank well in searches. For example, if you were to go to Google and type in “plumber in (your town),” it is highly likely that the first few results are from listing services.

Here are some you can claim:

  • Google My Business – this is free to claim and you are able to update your business profile.
  • Yelp for Business – this is also free to claim. One of the important reasons to do so is that you can ensure information on your business is correct. You can also respond to any reviews.
  • Bing Places – Claim a listing that already exists or add a new one. Bing also allows you to upload photos and other ways for customers to contact you.
  • Yellow Pages – Not just a large yellow book anymore! This is another free listing site where you can claim your business details.
  • Foursquare – This social-based platform also allows you to create special offers.

There are other types of listing sites that are aimed at particular audiences too. For example, TripAdvisor takes listings that are aimed at tourists, so will suit businesses that are in hospitality and tourism. You can also check whether your Chamber of Commerce might have local listings (you usually have to be a member).

Tap into social media marketing

Social media marketing is a massive topic by itself. In the span of a decade, we’ve gone from a handful of social platforms to multiple different options. As a starting point, we’d refer back to your buyer personas. Each platform tends to attract its own audience in terms of demographics and interests.

Where do you find key information about the main social media platforms? There are some great resources put out by research companies such as Smart Insights. You will find a good breakdown of social media platform trends.

Once you have a good overview, it’s time to choose your platforms. A key mistake that many small businesses make is to try to be everywhere at once. What ends up happening is that maybe one platform gets used well, while others are neglected. Take an honest look at the resources and expertise you have available – how many social platforms can you manage? Do you have the budget to pay someone with expertise to manage them for you?

For the sake of simplifying the large social media topic, here are the key marketing activities you (or someone you hire) will need to manage:

  • Regular posts. All social media platforms work best when posts are interesting and regular. For example on Facebook, that means at least one post per day. LinkedIn may be less frequent.
  • Audience engagement. Businesses get the best results when they engage well with their audience. This means responding to comments and messages, as well as starting good discussions where applicable.
  • Paid social media advertising. Most of the key platforms have paid advertising options, each with their own learning curve to master. An advantage of using paid advertising on social media is that they offer good tools for narrowing down the audience for the ads. It also tends to be one of the more cost-effective paid marketing methods.

Invest in content marketing

Content marketing involves the creation and sharing of different types of content online. For example, this blog is an example of content marketing. So are videos, podcasts, ebooks, white papers, infographics and other mediums – they’re all different types of content marketing.

This is another one of those vast marketing strategy topics where a small business owner may ask “where do I begin?” You probably guessed it – we’d go back to those customer personas and consider what the best type of content may be to suit them. Who is more likely to enjoy blog articles, versus videos, versus podcasts?

The next thing to consider is that content marketing takes a large time commitment to do properly. What do we mean by “properly?” Well, you’ve probably noticed that there is a LOT of content available online, which means if you want yours noticed, it needs to be of high quality and value to your audience. It takes time to research and craft an interesting blog post, record a podcast or shoot and edit a video.

If you’re going to commit to content marketing, regular, high quality posts are the key to success. If you are too irregular, you risk losing (or never gaining) your audience, and there are advantages to your Google ranking in producing good content regularly. Do you have the time and ability to do this yourself or in-house? If not, then you can look for specialist outsourced content marketing companies.

Small business marketing

Use email marketing

Email marketing tends to be a staple marketing strategy for small business. It can be done relatively cheaply and when done well, produces results for the business.

The first thing you need is an email list to market to. Many companies will already have an email list of current or past customers, but you also need a way for anyone who is interested to sign up to your list. This usually involves having a sign-up form on your website and a compelling call to action, to convince people to sign up.

For example, here are a few ideas that small businesses can use to get people to sign up:

  • Offer a discount code
  • Send them a useful piece of content (for example, an ebook)
  • Offer a free trial
  • Put them in the drawing for a prize
  • Let them know they will be notified of sales and specials.

Once you have an email list built, it’s important to make sure that you stay in regular contact. Email lists go “stale” when emails are irregular. People forget who you are amongst the thousands of emails in their inbox, then they either don’t open emails or unsubscribe.

Here are a few quick best practices for email marketing:

  • Decide on a frequency and stick to it. This helps to keep your emails recognizable to people and trains them that they’re coming. The minimum frequency businesses use tends to be monthly, but this is something you can test for effectiveness on your own audience.
  • Keep emails interesting. Every email needs to deliver some kind of value to your subscribers, whether that’s keeping them informed, offering tips or making a special offer.
  • Try not to be overly “salesy.” Consider how you react to always facing a sales pitch – it often turns you away, right? It’s important to find the right balance that also fits with customer expectation. For example, if I signed up to an email list on the basis of receiving special offers, then “please buy this” emails would be an expectation. If I signed up to something because I really wanted the free ebook, I might expect some sales pitches, but I also expect content-type emails.
  • Use a good email software or CRM. These can really help you to get the most from email marketing. For example, a CRM will allow you to segment your list based on their interests or how they came to be on your list. This way you can send very targeted emails.
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Final thoughts

This has been a brief outline of the core methods for small business marketing online. Outside of these strategies, you can also look at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on your website, as well as ensuring that your website copy is clear and appealing (a topic for a future post).

An important takeaway is that as a small business owner, you don’t need to be marketing via every possible online channel. Take a strategic approach by understanding your audience, what appeals to them and where to find them.

Once you’ve decided on your marketing channels, make every effort to optimize how you use them. There’s no sense in using a channel, but not doing very well at it – this could even be a negative for your business image. When you treat any channel you use as a strategic business opportunity, you will start to see results.

Avatar for Danny Peavey

Danny Peavey

Danny is the founder and CEO of One Week Website. He is also a certified StoryBrand Guide. When he's not talking about clear messaging or marketing, you can find him drinking amazing coffee, shooting hoops, and spending time with his family.

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