21 marketing ideas for small businesses

10 min read
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There comes a time for most small businesses when their initial growth spurt will level off. That’s when it’s time to find out how to grow your business further.

While a slowing of growth might be a cause for concern, this break can actually be a good thing. It gives you a little breathing space to take stock, consolidate your progress and think about the steps you can take to reach the next level. 

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at just some of the many different ways you can promote your business. With the right mix of these small business marketing techniques, you’ll be able to reach new heights and achieve your goals.  

Marketing planning 

Rather than diving straight in, take some time to think about who your ideal customer is, how you can reach them and what sort of messages they’ll respond to. These are the simple steps you can take.

1. Create a marketing plan 

A marketing plan will outline the details of your overall marketing effort, including your marketing goals and the resources you’ll use to achieve them. Don’t worry about looking too far ahead. Your marketing plan should explore how you’ll achieve your goals for the next 6–12 months.

2. Conduct market research

You’re probably doing informal market research, such as chatting with customers and looking at what your competitors are doing, already. 

However, you should also collect information that gives you an idea of:

  • who your customers are

  • where they buy the products and services you offer

  • where they’re located

  • what motivates them

  • where they go to research your products and services

  • what challenges they face

  • what factors influence their buying decisions

Once you understand your customers’ motivations and pain points, you can think about how you can create marketing campaigns that speak directly to them. 

3. Get your value proposition in order 

Your value proposition is a simple statement that explains why your customers should buy from you and not the competition. This is the message you want to communicate to your customers in your marketing campaigns.   

4. Set your goals and objectives 

The broad goal of any small business marketing strategy is to communicate the benefits of your product or service to your target audience. But setting more specific goals is the key to measuring the success of your marketing efforts and achieving your business’s objectives.  

An example of a business objective could be to generate more leads. An example of a goal that will help you achieve that objective is to generate 30 qualified leads every month.

5. Refine your target audience(s) and niche 

Your target audience is the specific group of people who are most interested in your content, products or services. The better you understand them, their characteristics and the challenges they face, the more focused your marketing efforts will be. You can start with broad categories such as mums or Generation Z consumers before getting into too much finer detail.  

6. Create effective marketing messages for each target group

Once you know who your customers are, you can create marketing messages that speak directly to them. Each target group will share common characteristics such as demographics or behaviours. It is these characteristics that your messages should appeal to. 

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Essential small business marketing materials 

Once you have your marketing plan in place, there are a few essentials that just about every business should have. 

7. A professional website (and blog)  

A professional website that’s easy to use and looks the part is one of the most important marketing assets for any business. It can raise brand awareness, generate leads and boost sales over the longer term. A blog is another valuable asset. It allows you to talk directly to your customers and establish credibility in your marketplace.  

These are the 10 essential elements that make a good website

8. Business cards

Business cards might seem a bit old-fashioned, but they’re inexpensive, easy to hand out and help to build trust. For leads that you meet in person, it’s great to have something that can serve as a reminder of your business and that makes it easy to get in touch.

9. Social media platforms 

Like it or loathe it in your personal life, social media is something most small businesses cannot do without, particularly when selling to younger customers. It takes time and effort to build up a following, but once you’ve achieved this, social media can be a powerful marketing tool.  

10. Branded email footer 

Email footers are an important piece of the puzzle. Optimising your email footer with graphics, interactive elements and an engaging message can help you build your business’s personality and create a lasting impression. 

Marketing strategies for small businesses 

These small business marketing techniques can be effective across a broad range of industries.  

11. In-person networking 

Digital marketing gets a lot of the attention these days, but when it comes to building relationships, nothing beats meeting people face to face. Joining local networking events, renting space at a trade show and speaking at conferences are all effective ways to generate leads and grow your business.

12. Direct mail    

Direct mail has an average response rate of 4.4%, making it many times more effective than email marketing (0.12%). Having a targeted list of recipients and including free samples, special offers, inserts and props in your mail will increase the success of your campaign.

13. Advertising   

There are lots of different ways to advertise your business. Advertising can be expensive, so it’s worth doing some research to find out what works best in your industry. You should also take time to craft the right message. 

The types of advertising out there include the following:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: Your ads appear on the search engine results pages for relevant searches. You pay every time a user clicks on the ad. 

  • Display advertising: You advertise your products or services through images and visuals that appear on websites, apps and social media platforms.

  • Social media advertising: Your ads are shown to users in your target demographic on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

  • Native advertising: Your ads match the form, feel and function of the online platform they appear on. The aim is to make them less intrusive and more appealing to your target market. 

  • Broadcast advertising: Advertising on television and radio can be expensive, but it’s also an effective way to reach local markets. 

  • Print advertising: Your ads appear in the newspapers, magazines and journals that your target audience reads.

  • Outdoor advertising: This is an effective way to reach large numbers of people without any targeting. It’s better suited to building brand awareness than selling due to the nature of the messaging. 

14. Social media marketing 

Social media marketing is unique because it allows you to develop a dialogue with your customers. They can tell you what they want, what you’re doing well and how you can improve. That can build trust and help you develop a relationship with them.

Before posting, think about what social media platforms your customers use, how you will communicate with them and what your goals are. For example, do you want to build brand awareness, drive website traffic and sales or create a support channel for your customers?

As well as building and maintaining your own social media presence, you can also pay to advertise on various platforms. 

  • Social media ads: You can run a highly targeted advertising campaign that’s designed to reach a specific demographic at scale. That allows you to share your message with an audience that goes beyond those who actually follow you.    

  • Influencer marketing: So-called ‘influencers’ are often viewed as experts in their niche or have a large following of prospective customers in your target market. Recommendations from them can serve as social proof of your brand’s value to potential customers. 

15. Digital marketing 

Digital marketing, also known as online marketing, uses the internet to create brand awareness and expand your customer base.

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO): Search engine optimisation is the process of making your website and online content more visible to prospective customers. It can improve the quantity and quality of your online traffic to generate leads and increase your sales.

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: An advert for your products or services will appear on the search engine results pages for a relevant search. You then pay every time a prospective customer clicks through to your website. 

  • Content marketing: Content marketing is all about creating relevant and useful information that will appeal to your target audience. Producing helpful and educational articles, videos and how-to guides can help you attract and retain an audience and boost those sales. We’ll tell you more about content marketing below.

  • Outreach and digital PR: As a small business, you may not have your own established marketing channels. That’s why reaching out to authorities in your industry can help you promote your content and build brand awareness.   

16. Content marketing 

Content marketing is one of the most popular marketing strategies for small businesses.

There are several ways businesses can distribute their content to get the attention of their target market. 

  • Blogging: Writing blogs that you publish on your website is a great way to become an authority on your topic, product or service. It can improve your visibility in the search engines, build trust and increase traffic to your website.

  • Guest blogging: This is the process of writing content for your business that is published on a third-party website or blog. That can expose your brand to a new audience and help to increase awareness of your brand. Importantly, it must be done carefully to avoid a Google penalty.   

  • Experimenting with different types of content: All sorts of different content formats can boost your traffic and engagement; infographics, lists, case studies and how-to guides are just a few types of content that you can produce. 

17. Email marketing 

Used correctly, email marketing can be one of the most cost-effective ways to market your small business. You can share relevant content with prospects who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. And as long as you don’t bombard your mailing list with messages, it can scale as you grow.  

Every successful email marketing campaign is built on a targeted database of prospects. Creating an opt-in on your website or blog and offering free downloads or gifts can entice people to give you their email address.

Here are 10 easy-to-follow email marketing tips

18. Contests, coupons and incentives 

People love free gifts, discounts, competitions and other incentives. That makes them a great way to raise awareness of your products and capture customer information. However, this marketing strategy will have an impact on your bottom line, so it’s best used sparingly if you’re on a budget. 

19. Relationship building   

The ultimate aim of most of these small business marketing ideas is to make a sale. However, it can also be profitable to build a relationship with your customers. That will keep them coming back to you over the longer term.

There are many different ways to build customer relationships:

  • send personalised discounts and offers

  • send out customer satisfaction surveys

  • ask for reviews

  • offer rewards for referrals 

  • sponsor events in the local community

  • promote or volunteer at charity events

  • sponsor a local sports team

  • cross-promote products and services with other local businesses

  • send birthday messages to your customers

20. Word of mouth 

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful small business marketing techniques. In the early days of their existence, many small businesses survive and thrive on word of mouth alone. It’s simple: you do a great job and your customers tell their friends, leave reviews and write customer testimonials. 

It’s always a good idea to encourage customers to spread the word by inviting them to do these things and rewarding them for referrals.  

Read more about why word-of-mouth marketing is so valuable

21. Hiring a marketing professional 

Most freelancers or small business owners simply don’t have the time to market their business properly and this means that their growth can stall. If you don’t have the resources to create and manage your small business marketing strategy in-house, there are plenty of marketing professionals out there who can help. 

Marketing consultants, search engine marketers, copywriters and PPC specialists can all provide expert assistance. There are also plenty of automated marketing tools that can lighten the load.

Start growing your business today

At QuickBooks, we want to make sure that you’re set up for sustainable business growth. Our recent questionnaire can help you find out where you’re at in the process of growing your business and give you a personalised to-do list for what’s next. 


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