How to promote your business

Read on for marketing ideas and cracking campaign suggestions in our handy ‘how to’ guide to small business marketing, featuring social media secrets and more

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A small business usually means a small budget, especially where promotion is concerned. Time, money and resource are all limited, so dreams of a marketing campaign big enough to rival the John Lewis Christmas advert often stay as just that – dreams.

However, this doesn’t mean that small business’ marketing can’t be super effective. For example, did you know that 46% of all searches on Google have local intent? And did you also know that it’s free to add yourself to Google’s business directory?

It’s really never been easier for a small business to market to those local passers by who are actively looking to buy. This quick and easy ‘how to’ guide to business promotion will help you make the most of the resources available, providing a good starting point to creating effective marketing on a shoestring.

Read on for a crash course in how to market your business, featuring a handy jargon buster that explains the different types of marketing strategy.

In this article we cover:

  1. What is marketing strategy?
  2. How to advertise a small business
  3. Marketing ideas for a small business
  4. How to market your business with no money

What is a marketing strategy?

First of all, let’s do some jargon busting. There are a lot of terms used in the marketing world that can seem like a daunting second language, but fear not. Here’s a digestible explanation of the different types of marketing strategy:

MarketingPromoting and selling products or services. This includes market research and advertising that aims to create value for the customer by building a strong relationship between customer and brand.
Affinity marketingWhen a business partners with an organisation to provide goods in exchange for access to a new market. This is a mutually beneficial exchange.

Real life scenario: a local bakery that provides bread for the cafe down the road is an example of affinity marketing. The bakery is the business providing the goods, and the cafe is the organisation that opens up a new market to the bakery by using the bakery’s bread to serve the cafe’s customers.

Paid media advertisingMarketing that involves a paid placement. For example, if you paid the local newspaper to run an advert for you, this would be paid media. Other examples of paid media advertising are:
Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising
Branded content
Display ads, such as billboards.
Earned media/PR (free media)Publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising. For instance, if your local newspaper offered to run an advert for your new business for free, this would be an example of earned media.
Point-of-Purchase marketing (POP)
Point of Sale marketing
This is a place where a sales transaction occurs. On a small scale, this is as simple as the location of your till (both in-store and online).
On a wider scale, point of purchase marketing can be a shopping centre, or even a cityscape.Real life scenario: Ever been shopping, and just before you hand over the money, the cashier shows you an introductory offer for a new product they’re promoting? This is an example of POP marketing.
Word of mouth advertisingDiffers from organic conversation in that it is actively influenced or encouraged by businesses. As 92% of people will trust the suggestions of those closest to them, this is a type of marketing well worth considering.

It’s as simple as if you asked your customers to tell their family and friends about the services you offer. You could even run a ‘recommend a friend’ scheme, whereby both the customer and the recommended friend receive a discount on their next purchase. This incentivises word of mouth advertising and encourages conversation about your business to grow.

Internet marketing/ online MarketingAdvertising and marketing that uses the web and email to drive direct sales via ecommerce. This is in addition to sales leads from websites or emails.
Social networks and viral marketingViral marketing encourages other websites or users to pass on a marketing message to a wider audience. This creates exponential growth in the message’s visibility and effect.

An example of this would be the Ice Bucket Challenge, a 2014 campaign designed to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) disease. Via the power of social media, it went viral, encouraging 17 million worldwide participants and raising $115m for charity.

StorytellingA personable way to breathe life into your brand. Storytelling makes a connection with the customer first, and sells the product second. If a customer can emotionally connect with the story, the message is considered genuine.

Real life scenario: When John Lewis create their Christmas advert, they encourage the entire nation to forge an emotional connection to the brand by using a human story, often circulating around family values. This is storytelling.

How to advertise a small business
Now we’ve got a handle on the terms, it’s time to take a look at the different ways a small business can advertise.

To kickstart your business promotion journey, you will need four basic elements:

1. A strong brand name
2. A clean, usable website
3. An identifiable and unique logo
4. Business cards featuring name, logo, URL and phone number

Note: Your branding needs to be memorable, trustworthy and easy to replicate (in this instance, less is often more). Big, memorable brands don’t have overly complex names or logos. Take M&S, for example, the beauty in their branding lies in its simplicity.Take a look at our view on the best website builders out there.

Make sure your website follows the Google Webmaster guidelines, as this will ensure your business website is both compliant with Google and ranks as highly as possible.Once you have the above key ingredients, there are lots of ways a small business can advertise for free, or for very little money.

Local marketing

Don’t run before you can walk. Think local then national…

1. Send a press release to your local newspapers and radio station to gain some coverage.

2. Pop a business card on the post office notice board. Attend meetings for local business owners to network and understand the local business landscape.

These methods might seem a little old fashioned in the digital age, but people still listen to the radio and read the notice board whilst queuing for their stamps, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity to promote your business to this well of willing listeners and readers.

Another super simple, but effective marketing hack is making sure your letterheads are branded. This means including important business info like your web address, phone number and logo on emails and postal correspondence.

You should also consider creating an email signature for your business emails. This looks professional, and is another opportunity to signpost your business name, logo and website.

Email marketing

Emailing is an easy and effective and way to tailor marketing to specific customers. But no one has time to read lengthy, copy-heavy emails. Keep your communication clear and to the point. For a new product, show what it is, explain why customers need it, and state how much it’ll cost. Use language sparingly and images effectively – remember, we eat with our eyes. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can help target specific email traffic to the customers that are most likely to positively respond. Take a look at our page on the best CRM systems to see and compare your options.

A three-point email campaign is an effective way to communicate with your customers. Not only do you have three times as many chances to capture their attention, but you don’t have to cram all your selling into one email. Instead, you can spread it across three separate attempts, taking a more ‘softly softly’ approach as opposed to the hard sell.

  • First email (focus on the ‘what’)

Introduce the product/service and create excitement. Exclusive discounts work well, as they build a personal relationship with the customer by making them feel special and provide an incentive to buy. Soft selling strategy.

  • Second email (focus on the ‘why’)

Build on excitement from the first email.Use a more imperative tone and really explain why the customer needs this product or service. Here, you can state a reminder that an introductory offer from the first email ends soon. Harder selling strategy.

  • Third email (focus on the ‘now’)

The information round-up. Remember to include the what, the why and the how much, but place emphasis on the now. Remember that exclusive discount you introduced in the first email? The third email should be sent a few days before the discount ends. It’s a final final reminder to make the most of the offer and check out your fantastic product/service. This will be the hardest hitting of your selling strategies.

Use this template as a guide to email marketing:

Subject line:

(include brand name and/or product name in this)

Dear [customer’s name],
(personalise emails to build strong relationship with customers)

Body copy: (structure in no more than three short paragraphs. Aim for a maximum of 250 words):

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Email signature:

(Don’t forget your company name, logo, web address and phone number.)

*Use a clear Call To Action (CTA) strategy. This means clearly instructing the customer to follow a link to buy your product. Create the option to ‘Click Here and Buy Today’, for example. A CTA doesn’t always have to be imperative, but it does have to be clear. Subtly embed CTAs within your email marketing and on your social media, and make sure they feature on your website.

Social media marketing

Facilitating brand exposure and lead generation, no matter the budget, social media can be a one- stop-shop for successful business promotion– but it doesn’t happen by magic. Read on for tips on how to create a successful campaign.A good social media campaign will:

  • Be personal

Run competitions that allow your customers to engage directly with your brand.

For example, Kate Jenkins – founder of Gower Cottage Brownies, a small brownie business based in Wales – saw her Twitter followers soar after she started running a weekly competition on a Monday, the winner of which would win a box of brownies.Although she had a yummy incentive on her side, Jenkins also showed keen intuition, as she saw that running competitions like ‘the most likely song to be playing in a rugby changing room’ were both a bit of fun and ingenious marketing. Via this simple Twitter campaign, Jenkins built both a hype and a conversation around her brand.

  • Make it easy for the customer

Your audience don’t want to read reams of text about your product – they want a nifty image and a snappy bit of copy to get them interested in the brand.Emily Garnham, founder of Tartle Media, advises to hire a copywriter and graphic designer. “Creative, quality copy and eye-catching visuals are not something that just anyone can deliver – and they really do make or break your campaign.”That being said, if your budget really doesn’t stretch to external resource, the best rule of thumb is to keep it clean, clear and simple. Try for free design templates that could really lift your campaign.

  • Empower your customers

Create something that’s ‘shareable’, engage your audience, and then encourage them to engage others. Remember the ice bucket challenge? Your campaign doesn’t have to be on such a scale, but something funny that others will want to copy will go down well. And remember, keep your posts easy on the eye – visual content is more than 40 times more likely to get shares than any other type of content.

  • Provide comic relief

We’re not saying you need to be a stand-up comedian to be a social media success, but keeping your tone light-hearted and your copy none-too serious will help convey your human side to the customer.

A Twitter feed full of corporate jargon and an Instagram of nothing but tech is not very share-friendly, so remember to use the language of the everyday person. And don’t be shy of a funny image or two – people like to laugh!

Be sociable on social media71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others. This means you should use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest regularly to engage with your audience. Don’t spam with sales heavy tactics; participate in active discussions, and make sure your profiles feature your website address, logo and company telephone number.Update regularly, with interesting posts. Lifestyle posts go down really well (people are nosy and like to see what goes on behind-the-scenes).

Different social media sites are used for different things, bringing different marketing benefits. Here’s a breakdown:

Social mediaHow to useBest time to post
FacebookCreate a Facebook page for your business, on which you can post information, offers, photos, details of forthcoming events and so on.

More than 50 million small businesses use Facebook to connect with their customers worldwide. Four million of those businesses pay for social media advertising on Facebook.

Wednesday: 3:00 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday:12:00–1:00 pm
Thursday/Friday: 1:00–4:00 pm
TwitterYour Twitter account is great for building up a following amongst potential and existing customers. People often go to Twitter to give feedback. Note: 78% of people who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour.
This could be a good opportunity to research what your customers think of your business, and recognise any weak points for improvement.
Wednesday: 12:00 pm and 5:00-6:00 pmNote: B2B posts perform 16% better during business hours. And B2C posts perform 17% better on weekends.

Aside from the peak in Wednesday Twitter activity, people use Twitter during their commute, so targeting tweets during rush hour is also a strong tactic.

LinkedInA really useful tool for connecting with other professionals in your industry.

Use to write articles and share interesting posts. Also good for scouting out potential recruits as your business expands.

Midweek (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday): 5:00-6:00 pm.

Note: Monday and Friday are the days of lowest engagement on LinkedIn.

PinterestA very popular visual tool, especially if your business has anything to do with food, travel or design.

Pinterest isn’t a ‘chatty’ form of media, so strong imagery works well here. It’s also a really good source of creative inspiration – with Pinterest, you can ‘mood board’ without the mess.

Weekends, especially 8:00-11:00 pm on Saturday nights.
InstagramIf you’re trying to tap into the Millennial market, this is the one for you. With 90% of Instagram users younger than 35, Instagram is ‘the’ social media of today.

Visually promote your product and create stories that will help your audience develop a personal relationship with your brand.

2:00 pm, 8:00-9:00 pm, 5:00 pmNote: Posting a video at 9:00pm (any day) will get 34% more interactions.
YouTubeCreate a dedicated YouTube channel for your business. Videos are a clear and engaging way to communicate with your customers, putting a human voice to your brand.

While a ‘how it’s made’ video would build interest in your product, a ‘how to’ video will ensure customers use the product correctly, whilst providing customer support without the need for someone to be ready to take a call 24-seven.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday:
2:00 pm – 4 pmThursday, Friday: 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the array of social media, then fear not – there are lots of social media management tools out there to help organise your posts and maintain consistency.

Take a look at our comprehensive list of the best social media management tools available today.

Marketing ideas for a small business:

When it comes to ideas for marketing campaigns, coming up with something completely new and original can be a lengthy creative process. To avoid this, don’t rule out repurposing content. An old blog can become a new video with a bit of imagination. Creating content is time consuming, but look at what you’ve already got and think of ways it could be upcycled before deciding to start from scratch.

Branded merchandise is another strong marketing strategy, and a good way to promote your business. Go to events and distribute pens, keyrings, t-shirts and merchandise with your logo and website on, to make your name a household one.

Think outside the box when it comes to branded merch. Distribute stuff your customers will actually use and remember you by. Dog walkers, for example, could consider branded dog whistles as a different way of promoting their services. As a hairdresser, branded hair brushes/combs would be a nifty alternative to the commonplace branded biro. Outdoor advertising is another effective way of promoting your business. A billboard near to your business is a good way to signpost your services. A more budget-friendly option is to use your own vehicle as advertising space. Remember to put your business phone number and web address on there, along with your logo.How to market your business with no money

Yes, the future is digital, but there’s something to be said for the old school techniques too. With 76% of UK homes still using the Yellow Pages (the UK’s leading print directory), it’s clear that a varied marketing approach is needed to engage with a wide audience. It’s free to list your business in the Yellow Pages and, and this will help you be seen in local Google searches. In fact, 84% of Yell customers say helps their business to be found on Google.

  • Use social media.

Make sure you have an Instagram account and that your Instagram account is set to ‘business account’ and then link it to your other forms of social media, especially Facebook. Use these free tools to both network and promote your business, listing your events and posting about new products. Ask friends and family to share and support your pages. Be shameless – no one ever became popular by being quiet.

  • Make friends with Google.

Adding your website and company information to Google’s business directory can be helpful. Most importantly, it’s free and simple – go to Google Business, Google+ Local and Google Places to get started.

  • Optimise your content.

It’s free and relatively simple. Optimising your content means that it is in-line with what people are searching for on Google, Bing or any other search engine. Here’s a free plug-in that’ll help you know what people are searching for. From that information, you can populate your website with the products people actually want, rather than what you think people want.

  • Network by going to meetings

to connect with other local business owners in your community. This is also an opportunity to scout out what other business owners in your area are up to.

Connecting with other businesses in your area will also provide opportunities for outreach. Local events such as a markets or fetes will be discussed at such meetings, and you might be interested in having a stall at one of these events. Being an active community member will foster trust in the services you offer.

You might also consider becoming a member of civic organisations, such as the British Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary society, for professional advice and access to talks and events.

Final thoughts:Overall, the best way to promote your business is to get your name out there and keep it there. Use a healthy mixture of digital and physical tools, and remember that not all of your customers will be glued to their phones 24-seven – some even listen to the radio and read the paper!Use (and maintain) social media, emails and good old-fashioned networking to make your business name a conversation starter.

Also, don’t run before you can walk. Think local, then national, or even global. Use the tools of your community, and don’t forget to research your existing marketing strategies. Ask customers how they heard about you – this will tell you the existing marketing that works. You might wish to build on this method (ie, email), or work on making more of a splash with your social media campaigns.

This article has covered:

  • Different types of marketing strategy
  • A variety of budget friendly marketing activities
  • How to devise an em?il marketing strategy
  • How to effectively use social media to market your business

Good luck on your journey into successful business promotion.

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