December 12, 2014 Budgeting en_US Online marketing can sometimes be overwhelming and expensive. But these 5 tips can help you build a campaign that is both effective and easy on the budget. Small Business Guide to Creating a Marketing Budget You Can Afford

Small Business Guide to Creating a Marketing Budget You Can Afford

By Megan Sullivan December 12, 2014

No matter how good your products or services are, your business will only thrive if consumers are aware they exist. With so many different access points to consumers today, including digital, mobile and traditional media, creating a targeted marketing campaign has never been easier—or more confusing.

To ease the confusion, we’ll examine different marketing tactics that can keep your media budget small, and we’ll help you determine the best strategies for landing new customers for your business.

1. Determine Where Your Customers Are

The leading way that businesses overspend on media and marketing is by not truly understanding where their consumers have the best chance of seeing their communications. As a result, many businesses look to diversify their media plan, spreading a fixed amount of money over a wide variety of channels and, therefore, not making much of an impact.

How to find your customers: Ask around.

Directly ask or survey both your customers and your employees. Where was the first place they heard about the business or your product/service? Try to get as specific as possible. If someone says radio, ask what station; if they say online, ask what site.

It’s possible that your customers will get it wrong. They may mention seeing a commercial on local TV when you know you haven’t spent any money there. Throw away these outliers, and focus only on the responses that you know are accurate.

2. Determine How You Make a Sale

For many small businesses, having a robust e-commerce solution just isn’t feasible. If this is true for your business, advertising online and directing people to your website may not be your best option.

How to determine your sales process: Think about your sales cycle. Is it long or short? Do customers come in and walk out with a purchase on the same day? Or is it something they might spend time deliberating over? What helps them make their purchasing decisions? More information? A demonstration? Meeting with a sales rep?

If your website can’t handle a sale, then it’s not a good idea to direct people there. However, if it’s full of useful information that could help them make a purchasing decision, it’s a perfectly acceptable call to action. Just make sure you clearly outline what their next steps should be after they’ve gathered all of the necessary information.

3. Don’t Go Crazy With Online Options

The amount of online advertising options seems to grow exponentially every year. While in many ways this is a positive for small business, it can also be overwhelming. Here are the top five online options small businesses should consider:

  1. Search Engine Optimization: This includes optimizing your website with metadata and keywords to make it rank higher on search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Even better, it’s free—unless you decide to hire someone to handle it for you. Check out this article for tips on boosting your SEO.
  2. Business Listing Update: If you search for your business on Google, a listing that is generated by the site will be returned. It will include things like your address, hours of operation, website URL, directions and possibly reviews submitted by customers. Make sure this information is correct and up-to-date. Check out this article for how to update this information. Like SEO, this is also free.
  3. Review Sites: If your product or services are aided by word-of-mouth or referrals from previous customers, it’s imperative that you have a strong and positive presence on social review sites like Yelp. However, this is not an idle task; you will need to not only cultivate the reviews by reminding customers to write them, but also check the site frequently and interact with any customers that might leave negative ones. This article outlines some of the best ways to use Yelp to support your business.
  4. Social Media: This falls under the umbrella of “important but time-consuming.” It should also be noted that you don’t need a social media presence on every site. The best advice is to pick one or two sites that lend themselves well to your brand, and then optimize those profiles the best you can. Post often, make sure the content is relevant and timely, and use it as a tool to engage with your customers. This doesn’t include paid social media advertising; while paid ads are definitely an option, it might be cost-prohibitive based on your business’ size and goals. If you want to keep your budget low, see if you can gain traction on social channels without paid ads.
  5. Website Development: If you want to have any type of online presence at all, spend time developing and designing your website. If you’re going to spend any money upfront, spend the money on your site.

How to find the best channels: Start with your customers.

When deciding what channels to leverage, take into account your average customer, but also consider factors such as your location and the type of product or service you sell. For example, a presence on consumer review sites like Yelp is critical for restaurants, but a complete and optimized Google Business account may be more useful for a local service business, such as a marketing agency.

4. Build Your Budget From Back to Front

The most important aspect of any marketing budget is the overall goal. While your initial response might be “to make sales,” your marketing goals should be more varied. Check out this Entrepreneur article about how to determine marketing goals and objectives.

How to create goals: Start at the end.

When the campaign is done, what do you want to see as a result? If it’s raised awareness, than spending more time on free marketing options like social media might be enough. If it’s increased revenue, then combining social media with paid search and other targeted advertising options might be more effective.

5. Be Realistic With What You Can Afford

A successful marketing campaign should last for at least three months to show real results (ideally, it should last for six months). A continuous, ongoing marketing effort will give you a much better idea of how effective the campaign is and what tactics really work.

How to be realistic: Analyze your revenue.

Take a look at your monthly, quarterly and annual revenue, and determine what percentage you feel comfortable devoting to marketing. One of the great things about online advertising is that you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars for it to work. By making smart choices, you can spend as little as $1,000 a month and still get results.

The most important factor when planning your budget is to set a realistic monthly commitment. If you find yourself worried about finances while your marketing efforts are in full swing, the last thing you want to do is ditch your campaign. So if you set a reasonable amount for your budget, you can safely and consistently keep your marketing efforts rolling out, even with a revenue crunch.

When determining your marketing budget, these five factors are really the most important:

  1. Focus on your customers.
  2. Determine how you make a sale.
  3. Use online advertising in moderation.
  4. Build your budget, keeping your end goals in mind.
  5. Set a realistic monthly amount.

Marketing is necessary to keep your business at the top of the consumer’s mind and generate revenue. But a successful campaign doesn’t have to break your budget.

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Megan Sullivan is a writer with experience in the advertising and digital media space. Read more