Regardless of the industry you’re in or niche you occupy, you probably know how hard it is to market your business when first starting out. The old “spend money to make money” adage doesn’t seem to apply when you’re a small business owner, as it can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to find that initial money to spend in the first place.
However, marketing on a low budget is doable; it just requires a bit of strategizing!
But first, let me introduce myself. My name is Kira, hollering from the marketing team at Tailor Brands - an automated logo maker and branding suite for small businesses. You can check us out here.
My time in the small business world has taught me many things, but if I could choose one piece of wisdom to share, it would be this: Most businesses operating on a budget are better off focusing on organic marketing strategies. Organic marketing, or marketing that uses “natural” means of attracting customers rather than paid means, is the cost-efficient secret to small business success.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, there are a number of useful strategies that can help you promote and grow your business - starting with these top six!
1. Get on social media
Social media in itself isn’t a marketing strategy, but leveraging each platform to your business's advantage certainly is.
Over 3 billion people are on social media worldwide, which means you have access to nearly half of the global population just by meeting them where they are. You’ll need to do some research to find out where your specific audience spends their time; in general, however, each platform has its own pull:
Home of groups, business pages, and personal profiles, Facebook caters to a slightly-older-yet-very-active crowd. For this reason, creating a Facebook Business Page, and/or running a group around the subjects you deal with are a great way of reaching customers and growing a following.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no “best time” to post on your Facebook page. Or, more accurately, the best way to engage your customers is to post when they’re online - which will differ from brand to brand. Your Facebook Page Insights will give you that information, including when your fans are most online during each day of the week.
To increase engagement, go with videos, and upload them directly to your channel rather than sharing from YouTube. (Native videos have been proven to have up to a 110% higher engagement rate than videos shared from YouTube.) Make sure to caption your videos, so those scrolling past them in their newsfeeds will still be able to engage with your content, even if it’s on mute.
And, if you’re able to allocate a little money to the task, you also have the world of Facebook advertising (though not an organic marketing strategy) at your disposal - allowing you to specifically target your audience and gain exposure in the right places.
I’m a HUGE advocate for Pinterest, as it functions as another search engine in addition to exposing you to a new potential audience. The more pins you get on Pinterest, the more likely your content will appear in Google when someone searches for any given term. This is because every pin links back to its original source, and every time someone clicks on your pin, you get referral traffic to your site.
Separe your content (images, video) into “boards”, or categories of content that you will regularly update. Name your boards using keywords that make it clear to your audience what kind of content they should expect to see.
Post regularly (at least once a day, but preferably more than that) and try to time your posts to be during peak hours - evenings and weekends (for US-based businesses). And, make sure to add images that are optimized for a small screen (ideally vertical images), as 80% of Pinterest fanatics use the platform on mobile.
Then, add a Pinterest “Save” button to your website. This allows your visitors to save content they like on your site with just one button click, and it invites them to explore more of your content on the social media channel itself.
If you need help setting up your Pinterest account, this post should have you covered.
With several billion users on its own, Instagram is a great platform to post compelling images and videos, while linking back to your original website in your bio.
And, their Linktree feature allows you to direct your followers to blog posts, landing pages (see below), or any other webpage that you want to promote.
Cluse, an Amsterdam-based watch store, uses plain old photos to generate interest in their brand and products. Their Instagram strategy focuses heavily on sharing UGC (User-Generated Content) to their account, such as reposting pictures of their customers wearing their watches (while crediting their customers for the original posts). Thanks to their Instagram game, this once-small, local business now has over 900k followers and services customers around the globe.
For all of your social media accounts, post content you think your customers will connect with - but be mindful of the platform you’re using. Instagram and Pinterest are highly visual, so focus more on images and video that are well-designed. Facebook, in contrast, is a good outlet for long-form content, like articles and videos that are relevant to your industry.
2. Ask for referrals
This may sound cringeworthy to some - after all, no one wants to nag customers for positive feedback when they’re not offering it off the bat - but it works. Referral marketing converts 3 to 5 times better than other channels, and it’s completely free!
Reviews work on the (proven) assumption that consumers are more likely to buy something after they’ve read a positive review about it. This is because of social proof, or the idea that people conform to what others do when making decisions.
Think about it: When someone you trust and respect buys a book they love and recommends it to you, are you more or less likely to buy the same book? I know I would definitely give the book a chance, even if I would have never paid attention to it before the recommendation.
So, how do you go about gathering referrals in the first place? Well, the easiest way is to just ask! However, rather than calling up each of your customers individually and harrassing (which will probably do more harm than good), the best way to gather referrals is to streamline the process.
This could mean offering customers a 20% discount through a popup at checkout if they leave a review of your site, or adding a footer to all your emails that asks your audience to leave you a review on TrustPilot.
Online storage company Dropbox ran an amazing referral marketing campaign several years ago, adding “Invite some friends to join Dropbox” as the last stage of their users’ setup process. They offered extra storage space to both their current users and any potential signups. And, they made it easy for their users to refer them in the first place, allowing them to do it through both email and social media.
One way to leverage the power of referrals is by simply adding testimonials to your website and social media pages. Or, offer your existing customers an incentive to rate you on reputable review sites like Tripadvisor,Yelp, or Google Reviews; all it takes is a little time on your side but has the potential to significantly increase conversions.
3. Start a blog
Blogging is more of a long-term marketing strategy, but it’s one that works if you stick with it. In general, creating content that your audience will find valuable (i.e. content marketing) helps you attract a bigger audience, grow your following, and position yourself as an authority in your field - all of which will help your business grow in the long run!
One of the best examples of successful content marketing through blogging is Marcus Sheridan. Owner of a fiberglass swimming pool business, he took it upon himself to answer every single question surrounding swimming pools - creating bountiful content in the process.
Even today, his writers update his older content to keep the answers to these questions relevant and fresh. Check out this blog post as an example:
Did his strategy pay off? Well, he found that there was an 80% conversion rate for people who visited his site and read through his content, and his business has grown into an empire.
As you can probably imagine, blogging takes little (if any) money; it mostly just takes patience and long-term commitment. Do keyword research around hot topics in your niche, so you can both understand which subjects your audience will want to read about and eventually show up on Google when those subjects are being searched.
Then, brainstorm a bank of article titles; tools like the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer can help you come up with titles that grab your readers’ attention and encourage them to open your posts. Create a content calendar with these post titles and deadlines, so you can make a long-term plan for your blog without getting stuck with nothing to write about.
When you’re ready to actually house your blog, there are many options available, though I’d recommend using WordPress. Aside from having an intuitive interface (and a free version!), Wordpress integrates with scores of plugins that can help you do everything from improving your SEO(Search Engine Optimization) to boosting your blog’s appearance and security. And, WordPress provides analytics, so you can monitor your posts’ performance and make changes where necessary.
For a full walkthrough on how to start a successful blog, check out this post.
4. Create a landing page
Unlike your website, a landing page is a single web page that you build for the sole purpose of increasing conversion rates. This page can either be part of your website or a single entity, as long as its goal is to convert leads.
However, to be effective, landing pages should follow a number of best practices. To maximize your conversions, make sure your landing page has all of the following:
- Fast loading time. Aim for a page loading speed of less than one second.
- Succinct but catchy headline. Either be clever or be clear, but make sure your headline is compelling enough to keep visitors on the page.
- Short body copy. Flesh out your offer in one or two sentences; try to make your offer as appealing as possible to the reader.
- Visual elements , such as candid images or an eye-catching video.
- Visible call-to-action (CTA). This is a button that asks your audience to do something, such as purchase, sign up, or download.
- Lack of navigation links. In order to guide your visitors towards your CTA, you want to minimize chances of them getting distracted along the way - which includes removing links elsewhere on the page.
- Your company logo. Most website visitors immediately look for a logo, as a sign that the webpage they’re on is trustworthy.
Once you’ve set up your landing page, you simply need to guide your users to it. This could be through an email campaign, a social media post, or even through a banner ad; just make sure that the language you use on your landing page is consistent with what you’ve promised on the original post, so your visitors don’t run into any confusion once they arrive on the landing page.
Shopify’s “free trial” landing page is a great example of a landing page done right:
The copy is simple but to the point, while the design is clear, intriguing, and informative; every element on the page is used to reinforce the message of the campaign - that anyone can sell online with Shopify - and including images of both mobile and desktop screens tells the lead that they can do this across any platform they like.
And, the action the lead is supposed to take is clear: Enter your email address, and you can immediately start your free trial.
Let’s look at another landing page by Litmus:
Once again, the headline is both clear and describes an appealing offer to the lead - the latest in all things email marketing. The form is super easy to fill out - you simply have to add your email address - and you can personalize the kind of content you receive based on the clear checklist.
Also, notice that the only color on the page is the “Subscribe” button, which effectively draws the readers’ eye right to the CTA.
If the Litmus leads need more convincing, they can scroll down for more information:
“Never send a broken email again,” is a compelling reason to sign up, while the “before” and “after” images give the lead a visual representation of the aesthetic upgrade their emails will get if they use Litmus.
And, the really skeptical can keep scrolling for examples of Litmus’s past newsletters, which will reassure them that they’ll receive quality content when they subscribe, and thus shouldn’t be nervous to give out their email address:
5. Use Google My Business
If you run a local business, this is a marketing strategy must.
One of the best organic techniques out there, Google my Business is completely free - and can even beat out Google ads in search engine rankings.
GMB lets you create and update a business profile on Google, putting your business on the map when people search for a business like yours.
For example, let’s say I live in Miami and I’m craving pizza. All I have to do is search for “pizza Miami” on Google, and I’ll get a list of the popular local pizza stores, complete with information about opening hours and location.
What’s great about this list is that it appears above the regular search engine results page that you’re used to seeing, and as mentioned above, it can even come before paid advertisements.
To appear in a list like this for your business, you simply need to set up your GMB account and collect reviews (see #2); ultimately, this will help you garner a ton of visibility and leads without spending a penny! (For more tips on how to optimize your GMB profile, check out this article.)
6. Email marketing
I’m a huge fan of email marketing, both because it allows you to be in conversation with your customers and it’s budget-friendly. You can personalize your emails to your users as much as you want, while addressing a huge section (if not all) of your subscribers at once. And, aside from potentially having to pay an email marketing provider (of which there are many affordable options), the only investment you need is time.
Use email marketing for anything ranging from informing customers about useful company updates to running promotions and campaigns that encourage them to purchase. In addition, you can leverage email as another ample opportunity for content marketing.
For example, check out this email we sent out to users who started to create a logo with Tailor Brands but never finished:
We included personalized mockups with several kinds of logos, so that the users could visualize what their logo would look like on branded merchandise. And, we kept the tone light and fun rather than pushing the sale, in addition to offering our users a coupon code with a discount.
It worked! The campaign performs better than all of our other follow-up emails.
So, how can you use email marketing to your advantage? Well, if you run an online store, for example, you can create weekly emails that have tips about how to shop smart online, guides on creative ways to use your products, newsletters that offer insights into your niche - the possibilities are endless!
Like with your landing page, always include a CTA, whether it’s to check out your blog, visit your store, purchase what’s in their cart, or use a promo code - anything that encourages your audience to engage with your business and brand.
There are so many resources out there that can help you up your email marketing game. Our team likes Emails on Acid, which is really helpful for testing out an email out before it sends. Litmus Blog (mentioned in the Landing Page section) is another good one, in that it’s packed with actionable insights about everything from designing emails to analyzing campaign metrics.
Finally, Really Good Emails is a great place to go if you need email design inspiration no matter the subject; they separate their designs by category, which makes it really easy to find what you’re looking for.
Ready to start marketing?
Many of these strategies usually require some amount of trial and error, but none of them will break the bank in the process.
For organic marketing to be effective, you need to be consistent in your efforts; don’t give up on a strategy just because it doesn’t seem to be working in the short term.
Remember to meet your audience where they are, and always think of new ways to engage with them; test what works best for you, and stick with it!
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