Everyone wants new customers, bigger profit margins, and more success. But small businesses and startups need to make this kind of splash without the massive resources of large organizations.
What small businesses lack in budget they can make up for it with a personal, creative approach to business growth. With a strong strategy, small business owners connect with potential buyers and expand their community. Here are 8 low-cost marketing ideas to get you started this summer:
1. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is an easy way to engage a broader community with a limited budget. You don’t necessarily have to hire a new employee either. A lot of small businesses rely on their owner’s social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat — to share the personal side of their company.
Alternatively, you can ask a current employee to take the lead on building a social media strategy. Chances are, someone on your team would love the experience and an additional bullet point on their resume.
When building a social media strategy, shine a light on the core values and identifying traits of your small business. Olives & Grace, an artisan gift shop in Boston, developed a social following by bringing attention to their local food products in a one-of-a-kind way. Their Instagram account features videos of their favorite mail carriers reviewing their products. By taking their “local” brand to a new level, they gained close to 15,000 followers.
2. Online Review Sites
These days, when people need to find a new restaurant or nail salon, they go online. Establishing your business on online review sites increases credibility and boosts your likelihood of getting new customers without advertising. Yelp may be the most popular site, but it’s not the only one. Lindsay Kolowich at Hubspot outlined the top 19 online review sites for quick and easy marketing. Here are some of her best picks:
- Angie’s List
- Choice (Australia)
- Which? (UK)
- Better Business Bureau
- Yahoo! Local Listings
- Google My Business
Adding content to your website creates an immediate and personal connection with your readers. Start the blogging process by brainstorming a list of topics that revolve around your company’s mission and meet the needs of your customers. If you’re unsure, check out similar companies who have developed a strong online presence.
Peace Coffee creates a clear narrative for their business with regular blogs about their Minnesota-based coffee shops. They talk about current events, collaborations, and their involvement in local non-profits. Their strategy works because it stays true to their brand. Blogs don’t need to be fancy — the best ones walk a fine line between being professional and personal. Avoid sales-y language and make sure to proofread.
People participate in contests because they offer excitement and the possibility of a reward. These events naturally spur customer engagement, which inevitably, boosts sales. Contests don’t require a significant financial investment either. Create an enticing offer that ties into your company brand without dipping into your revenue stream: a dinner for two, a gift basket, or a giveaway of a new product.
Next, ask your customers to give you their contact information in exchange for an entry into the contest. Savvy business owners also incentivize social sharing with the promise of extra entries into the contest. This approach also spreads the word about your business, increasing name recognition online.
5. Customer Referral Program
Research reveals that referral programs are an incredible way to drive growth. But not all customer referral programs make the desired impact. The best businesses make it easy for their clients to make referrals without requiring a complicated processes.
In most cases, the referred customer can mention the name of a current customer — that’s enough to yield a reward for both parties! With online or digital companies, an easy online form or shareable code is your best bet. Keep the reward simple with straight cash, discounts, or free products.
6. Local Newspapers
Local newspapers are always looking for a good story that highlights their community. By holding an event, sponsoring a charity, or even supporting your employees with an innovative benefits program, you can gain the positive attention of journalists.
This kind of press is priceless, and it cost nothing. Small business owners should try to a identify a newsworthy story about their business before reaching out to journalists. The Guardian suggests that you keep your pitches succinct over email, summarizing the gist of the article with a powerful one-liner and a short paragraph of detail. If you’re in doubt, read your local newspaper to get a sense of their style — pitch something that fits in a particular section.
Two marketing budgets are better than one. Build partnerships with other companies and tap into pre-existing networks such as the Chamber of Commerce and The Rotary Club. Many communities hold events like sidewalk sales, gallery walks, and “shop local” days. These events give you the opportunity to connect with other businesses while developing crossover among your customers.
The Salt House Inn in Provincetown, Massachusetts beat the slow season by joining forces with local restaurants and shops in town. They offered a discounted weekend away at a flat rate that included paid meals at select restaurants and extra money for souvenirs. The deal incentivized potential customers with an easy weekend away with the best Provincetown has to offer.
8. Amazing Customer Service
In the end, amazing customer service is always the best way to growth hack your way to higher profits. When your employees create a unique customer experience and respond to both praise and complaints with equal care, people respond.
Strengthen your customer service by over-communicating your appreciation to customers, and whenever possible, rewarding them with above-and-beyond service. Give them a discount just because or take that second glass of wine off the bill. When people feel like they’re “regulars,” they’re more likely to stick around and refer friends.
These eight low-cost strategies bring depth to your marketing plan without taking resources away from your budget. The best part: they’re just as effective for new businesses as they are for established companies, regardless of current your profit margins. Which one do you want to try today?