When you were doing all the paperwork and dealing with the never-ending stress of starting your new business, you probably got through it by dreaming of all the customers you would have once your doors opened or your website launched. But where were those customers when you were ready to serve them? Probably nowhere to be found.
Once your business is open, it’s time to put the work into marketing it before you will start to see consistent sales. Check out these seven tips for how to get started marketing your small business for (nearly) free – and the next step to take when you and your small business are ready to level up.
Develop Your Brand Image
You probably already have a logo, but do you have a brand image?
Your brand is not what you present to your customer, but how your customer feels about your business. Except how your customer feels about you is determined (at least in part) by how you present yourself. If you’re confused already, welcome to the world of business marketing!
Your brand identity, in its simplest form, is your logo, brand colors, and brand voice. It’s what you say and how you say it.
Take some time to sit down and figure out what fonts and colors you will use, and what image you want to portray. Then carry those colors, fonts, and the personality of your brand throughout everything you do.
+ Solidify your brand identity
Your brand identity isn’t just your logo, it’s the entire essence of your brand. To truly stand out in the marketplace, your brand identity should be as unique and identifiable as you are. I’ll be honest, hiring a professional to help nail down your brand identity is not cheap, but it is worth it when you are ready to scale your business in a big way.
Perfect Your Pitch
If a potential customer asks you what your business does and you can’t give them a quick and clear answer, you’ve probably already lost them. You may have heard this referred to as an elevator pitch, or seen it as a pinned tweet, but it is indispensable in marketing.
You’ll use your pitch in networking, on your website, and probably just in casual conversations with your customers. If you developed a solid mission or vision statement when you wrote your business plan, you’re probably already at least halfway there.
Here at the &then designs blog, our pitch goes something like this:
We exist to help current and hopeful small business owners learn how to present themselves to potential customers through marketing customized to the small business experience, including web development, social media, and traditional print work, whether they choose to do it themselves or hire it out (hopefully to us!).
+ Create a long-term business strategy
Your brand strategy doesn’t need to be a beautiful, professionally bound document, but it does need to be the product of deep thought and serious research. If you are well-versed in business or know the ins and outs of your target market and competition like the back of your hand, you may be able to do this on your own. If you are not a business expert, you’ll almost certainly need to bring in a brand strategist.
Personally, I like to see a strategic planning consultant at annual meetings just because you and your stakeholders may be too close to see the weaknesses or gaps in your plan, but a third party can keep the meeting going. Most professional consultants know exactly what to ask to facilitate your planning and will provide you with that pretty document and a year-long action plan after your meeting.
Start a Blog
Writing a blog can help establish you as an expert in your industry – especially if it’s one that people have lots of questions about feeling comfortable before making a final decision. Just as important, it can help bring new customers to your website through the power of SEO.
If you already have a website and a little bit of knowledge about your platform, you can probably add a blog directly to your existing site without too much trouble.
(If you don’t have a website, get one!)
+ Make your website shoppable
If your product (or service) can be sold online, you’re missing out if you’ve limited yourself to face to-face sales. Depending on your current website platform, you may need to make some major changes before you can venture into the world of ecommerce, but it will be worth it in the end. For this step, I recommend hiring a professional web developer to either create a brand new website (what a great time for an upgrade!) or to integrate a digital commerce option into your website.
A quality product plus a clean and easy shopping experience will almost always equal sales that you could never have made otherwise.
Be Smart About Social Media
Building your social media following organically (a.k.a. for free) takes serious time and effort. Just like you wouldn’t take your signature gourmet maple bacon donuts to a vegan event, you need to know your audience and where they are likely to be found online.
Facebook: As the most widely used social platform with more than 2.45 billion active users each month with up to 75% of American adults checking in every single day. Depending on your target audience, Facebook may be the best place to connect with your customers every day. [source]
Twitter: Twitter is ideal for networking and allowing your customer to connect directly with you. Of the 145 million daily active users, 66% are male, and 63% are aged 35-65. If Twitter looks like it could be a solid place to reach your ideal customer, I’ve got good news: 40% of Twitter users made a purchase after seeing a product on the platform. [source]
Instagram: Instagram is used by more than 1 billion people internationally every month, but only 11% of them are located in the U.S. With that being said, it really all depends on the demographics and interests of your target audience since 67% of American adults under 30 are on the platform. [source]
YouTube: Unlike more traditional social platforms, YouTube is a social media site with a search engine algorithm – or maybe it’s a search engine that encourages socialization. If your business lends itself to tutorials or reviews, a YouTube presence can help the personality of your brand stand out. [source]
Pinterest: Pinterest has grown well beyond party planning and organization ideas! With 335 million active users, it is the third largest social network in the U.S., and nearly half of those users are planning on making a purchase. [source]
+ Run paid advertising
Once you’ve identified the social platforms that work best for you and your business, get the attention of potential customers through paid content. If you’re not already comfortable with digital advertising, you may want to bring in a consultant or freelancer. When it comes to paid marketing, it’s frighteningly easy to blow past your budget if you go in blind.
Build Your Email List – And Use It
One of the best ways to stay in contact with people who are likely to purchase (or repurchase) from your business is through email marketing. Just add a form that lets your website visitors opt in to your newsletter and start collecting addresses.
There are several email marketing platforms available that are free for small email lists and great if you’re just getting started. We use (and definitely recommend it!) ConvertKit.
+ Set up a CRM
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system isn’t necessary when you’re first starting out and can easily remember every contact you’ve made. Once your client and lead list grows beyond the constraints of your office whiteboard, it may be time to invest in the software – and training – to help take your business to the next level.
Set Real Goals
You’ve probably heard this a million times, but that’s only because it’s true: setting goals helps you achieve them. Set SMART goals and hold yourself to them. You’ll probably need to do some research to find out what is a reasonable goal for your first year. For example, if you’re starting a clothing line and one of your goals is to grow your Instagram account so more people are exposed to your designs, your metric might be your number of followers at the end of the year. But what’s reasonable?
No matter what your goal, once you’ve made it, you need to stick with it. Put it on the front of your planner or above your desk, anywhere you’ll see it daily.
+ Work with a coach
Whether you choose to work with a business coach or join a MasterMind group, personal and professional development often go hand in hand. This can be especially true if you have recently found yourself in a position where you’re responsible for a team for the first time ever – there’s no shame in admitting that you’re a boss who’s not yet a leader. There are loads of options out there, so do some research and try to speak to other business owners to find out which one might be for you.
think Outside Your Box
Have you noticed how lots of websites in the same industry kind of look exactly like? Or how everyone in a niche uses the exact same phrases. If you’re looking for inspiration, look outside of your competition – after all, your goal is to stand out, not just be another of the same.
One of the first things we do when we start a website design is to examine what our clients like about other websites and why. If you are drawn to bright, vibrant colors but your competition is all about sleek minimalism, embrace that! When your customers are scrolling through their feed, your 80’s style pink headline will get their attention.
+ Hire a Marketer
When you started your business, you were probably the Jack (or Jill) of All Trades. As it grows, you’re finally able to focus on the part of your business you were excited about when you started; maybe it’s product design, maybe it’s dealing with customers, but it’s probably not advertising. Unless, I guess, you started an ad agency.
Even if it’s not yet time to hire an in-house marketer (and lots of large businesses don’t ever keep marketing in house), it may be time to find a long-term freelancer or develop a real relationship with a agency.
Obligatory Shameless Plug
If you’re looking to level up your business, we’d love to talk to you!
Whether you’re ready for a new website, want to go hands-off with your advertising, or just need someone to take your marketing to the next level, we’re here to help your small business succeed.