For nearly half of small business owners, the biggest challenge of running an SME is attracting new customers. At least, that’s according to our latest research. It’s certainly true that building a brand and a reputation can be challenging for a smaller business, but how many entrepreneurs have given serious thought to their marketing efforts?
Maybe you think a small business like yours doesn’t need marketing. Maybe budgets are tight and you’re worried that your funds would be better invested elsewhere. Or maybe, with phrases like SEO, engagement and click-through rates being thrown around, it all just feels like a bit of a minefield. The reality though, is that there are plenty of cost-effective marketing tactics which you can use to tell your brand story and engage with potential customers.
So, whether you’re several years into running a small business or you’re just about to start out, read on for some practical tips and advice that you can start using straightaway.
- Leverage your community
The local community is hugely important to many small businesses, so think about who you’re trying to reach and focus your efforts on engaging with the right people. Get to know your ideal customers and find out where they’re spending their time. Is it the local college, pub or high street? Research what’s going on in your community and how you can get involved.
You don’t always need to think big; not in the early days, anyway. Perhaps you could sponsor an event, hire a stand at the next local market or even leave some brand collateral (business cards, flyers and so on) at a nearby coffee shop.
- Be social
Building a social media presence for your business can seem daunting at first, but it’s an incredibly cost-effective and targeted way of engaging with potential customers. Again, think about where your audience might be; different people will look at different platforms, so you don’t necessarily need a presence on all of them.
You could also set a bit of budget aside for social advertising. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, but if you’re posting about a new product or a great promotion, try boosting it to people in your local area to help spread the word a little further.
If you are active on social media, make sure you’re posting interesting and visually-appealing content for your audience to engage with. Likewise, tailor this content for each individual platform you’re posting on, as you can’t expect the same post to work across all channels. But whatever you do, don’t be salesy. Remember, social media is first-and-foremost about sharing your message and building a reputation.
Finally, if you’re a retailer, think about what in-store activities you can do to drive people onto your social channels.
- PR yourself
If you’ve got a story that you want to shout about, don’t be afraid to contact a local news publication. Do your research first, though. Find out what different journalists tend to write about and what interests them.
When you’re ready, pick up the phone and introduce yourself, send a free sample to pique the journalist’s interest or invite them down to see what you’re all about. Knowing how to write a press release could also be useful. It’s always handy to have one prepared, in case a journalist asks you for further information.
But remember that PR isn’t confined to traditional media, so consider engaging with bloggers and influencers in your local area, too. Send them pictures of any events you may have recently held, or maybe even some content that they could easily publish online. For example, a juice bar could offer tips on how to create the perfect ‘Orange Energiser’ smoothie for a morning wake-up, or an Apple and Pear Refresher juice for a mid-afternoon boost. Journalists and bloggers are crying out for ready-made, unique content, and will be happy to credit your business as the source.
- Email marketing
Email marketing is another cost-effective way of building a relationship with your audience. Why not ask customers if they would be interested in leaving an email address so that you can keep them updated with promotions and competitions, or even a monthly newsletter?
Ensure your communications are useful and engaging, though. Globally, a staggering 269 billion emails are sent each day, so yours needs to stand out. Try not to bombard your audience and don’t worry if a few unsubscribe along the way; those that are left are likely to be more engaged. Always remember that you’re handling precious personal data though, so make sure you’re thinking about GDPR!
- Offers and competitions
Offering discount vouchers, free samples or refer-a-friend incentives is a great way to attract new customers and encourage repeat visits. After all, who doesn’t love a freebie?
Likewise, competitions can help to engage with your audience, and can be promoted on your social channels, through email and if you’re a retailer, in-store. You could even consider running a competition with a local blogger or news publication.
Of course, it’s important to know if your efforts are working, so tracking return on investment is key. This could be as simple as looking at how many people have viewed your email, how many have liked or shared a social post or even how many vouchers have been redeemed. As long as, over time, you can identify what works to help drive footfall or sales, then you know exactly where to spend your marketing budget.
The key to success? Walk before you can run. Experiment with different approaches in order to learn what works and what doesn’t and keep persevering; you won’t strike gold overnight. Remember, be creative and keep trying new things.
Lynn Morrison, Marketing Director at Opus Energy
About the author
Lynn is responsible for the development and execution of our corporate communications, advertising and customer acquisition campaigns, maintaining the brand identity and ensuring that our customers sit at the heart of all of our communications. Prior to joining Opus Energy in 2013, Lynn held senior marketing roles in a tech start-up and a Fortune 100 utility in the United States.
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of My Entrepreneur Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, The Property Investor and Gold, Oil and Diamonds, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.