Whether your business is just about to launch or going through a period of expansion, marketing is vital to its growth and sustainability.
And if you think marketing means expensive advertising, you’ll be glad to know that there are terrific opportunities to reach customers that will boost your business’s bottom line while going easy on the budget. All it takes to create a successful marketing plan is knowing your customer, strategic thinking, creativity and consistency.
With a thoughtful marketing plan, you’ll be able to reach more potential new customers, keep your business top of mind for existing customers and build brand recognition that keeps you ahead of your competition.
In this article, we provide several easy-to-implement ways to develop a effective, low-cost marketing plan with real returns on your investment. Use these suggestions as a starting point for your business, and then tailor your plan to meet your specific audience-development and financial goals.
Here’s why it’s critical to market your business
To understand why marketing is essential to business growth and success, it helps to understand what “marketing” means. Simply put, marketing is all of the things that you do to build brand and business recognition. Advertising is part of marketing, as is public relations. Events and community or industry outreach are also aspects of marketing. So are charitable events that your business may sponsor or participate in.
In a nutshell, then, “marketing” is a catch-all phrase for all of the things that you can do to get and keep customers, with a long-term goal of building a loyal customer base to stay ahead of your competitors.
And as some wise people have said, neglecting to market your business is like throwing a party but not inviting anyone: If no one knows what you’re offering, then no one’s going to buy it. Startups, emerging and growing businesses must attract customers before they can retain them, so it’s critical to get your business known.
Focus on return on investment, not dollars spent
To attract and keep customers through effective marketing, the key is to really focus on your target audience. Find out where they spend their time and resources, what types of things they like to do and what they look for in products and services. The more you understand about your target demographic, the better you can tailor your messaging to make it appeal to them.
Marketing tools and resources for small businesses
Now that you’ve identified the nuances about your target audience, develop a low-cost, high-impact plan to reach them.
No marketing resource has made it possible for small businesses to cost-effectively reach both target audiences and broader communities like digital media. That’s why it is and will remain a powerful tool for years to come.
It’s actually just one of several affordable options. Here are just a few options to consider:
- Websites: A recent report published by the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. Census Bureau has indicated that for the first half of 2019, ecommerce sales have exceeded brick-and-mortar. Second-quarter sales alone totaled nearly $140 billion.
Websites are still the leading way to communicate key information about your business, build brand recognition and optimize online sales. Although shoppers increasingly use other digital media to learn about items, the majority still turn to websites to make purchases. Websites are also still the go-to online resource for competitive research.
Websites are relatively inexpensive. You can build a great-looking and highly functional website for just a few hundred dollars a year or less including a domain name, hosting and website builder. Websites that are up-to-date, mobile-friendly, easy to load and navigate, as well as clean and concise tend to be the best for marketing and sales.
- Email: Your email list is a goldmine of past and potential customers, so use it to promote inventory, services and special email-only offers. In just a few minutes each week, you can reach your entire list – and you should continuously look for ways to keep building it. Check out email-marketing services like MailChimp, Constant Contact and Send in Blue to automate the work and make it even easier and more effective, with real-time analytics.
- Social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter): Social media is inexpensive as both a tool and as a paid advertising platform. It’s great for quick daily posts on time-sensitive offerings (one-day-only sales or limited-inventory specials) and special events. In addition, targeted ads can help you reach your key customers.
- Advertisements (radio, print, tv): Although these channels tend to be more expensive, they can be extremely effective for target demographics. Rather than thinking only of large-scale media (your local city newspaper, for example), consider other options that are lower cost but as effective, like community-based weeklies.
- Mail: With businesses turning to digital channels, there are new opportunities to reach target markets through the mail. Additionally, online programs that enable you to create postcards that are professional and attractive mean that you can keep creative costs low. Make them even more effective by using a tracking mechanism that can help you measure ROI.
Local media for paid marketing opportunities and free opportunities
Local media, especially smaller publications and news channels, are always looking for uplifting content.
Writing and distributing media releases about events, fundraisers or other interesting ways your business benefits the community will attract attention. People love to know more about the inspiration behind the businesses they frequent, so integrate your business’s story into your marketing campaigns.
Tell them about why you started your business, who you hope it benefits and how, why you’re in your location or anything else that can help your customers feel more connected to your business and brand.
Leveraging client and community goodwill
What’s the best way to connect with your clients and community? Get out to the events and places they frequent. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Attend community events, including low-cost fundraisers that complement your business or values.
- Participate in local small business promotions and partner with complementary businesses on paid advertisements in community media to reduce costs while targeting current and potential customers.
- Network within your geographic area and in your industry. The geographic ties make it easy for other locally based business owners to co-promote your business, and networking within your industry builds credibility and broadens your pool of potential customers.
Be sure to acknowledge, engage and thank current and repeat clients – word-of-mouth promotion is free and, when positive, can still be the best way to attract new customers.
Plan, create and communicate consistently to attract and keep your customers
For businesses, the general rule of effective marketing is to identify your target audience, then find the most creative, innovative, useful and consistent ways to reach them. Position your business in the market in a way that resonates with your target audience and compels them to engage and purchase your goods and services.
With each step of your marketing campaign, try to find some way to measure its effectiveness. This will ensure that whatever time and money you invest will help attract and retain customers and improve your bottom line.