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Taking the Plunge: Marketing Your Small Business

small business marketing

The following is a post from my lovely wife – Mrs. Frugal Rules who talks about her experience marketing our business as part of my Taking the Plunge series.

At its core, marketing is about attracting and retaining a large base of satisfied clients. Marketing puts the customer on center stage and emphasizes the value of the customer to a given business. As a veteran of the marketing, communication and now advertising industries, I can say with confidence that all marketing activities must come down to satisfying customer needs and driving profitable sales volume. Especially for small businesses, quality sales driven by frugal marketing activities trumps sheer sales volume driven by big marketing spend.

Where do I start?

All marketing starts with knowing your prospects and clients. What do they want? What makes them tick? What are their needs – met and unmet? What products or services do you have that meet those needs? Marketing acts on the answers to those questions with relevant, cost-effective, engaging, targeted and consistent communication. As we’ve written about before in the Taking the Plunge series, Mr. Frugal Rules and I run a copywriting business. Many of our clients are advertising agencies; a few are medium-sized companies and a few are other freelancers or small, local businesses. Every week, we work on marketing campaign copy that results in TV and radio commercials, billboard and online banner ads, magazine and newspaper ads, and social media content. But many of these campaigns are funded by companies with deep pockets. What is the small business owner to do to successfully market his or her business and brand?

Small Changes That Make a Big Difference

Marketing doesn’t have to involve a print, online, direct mail and social media-focused campaign to be successful. Few small businesses can afford such efforts.   Don’t be discouraged. There are some small, simple changes you can implement that will make a big impact in your marketing efforts and will spread the word about your small business, which is the point of marketing, after all. Here are four quick tips that I recommend implementing.

Edit Your Email Signature. Add you blog address and Twitter handle to your email signature, on all your accounts. Doing so ensures that everyone you email has an opportunity to discover your small business.

Create or Update Your LinkedIn Profile. Of all the social media platforms, LinkedIn and Twitter are the most powerful for small business (in my opinion). Facebook can be helpful as long as you are committed to making regular, engaging posts. I recommend starting with LinkedIn as it’s a natural place that employers, freelancers and other business owners go to look for qualified professionals. Spend time adding testimonials and experience to your profile so that visitors get a full picture of what your small business has to offer. Two of our most reliable clients found our small business through LinkedIn.

Turn the Back of Your Business Card Into a Billboard. Put your tagline or a list of services on the back of your business card. Keep your copy brief and powerful. If you haven’t discovered it already, check out VistaPrint for affordable business card, postcard, brochure and flyer printing. They run regular specials and sometimes you can get free swag with your company name and logo on it.

Consider a Vanity Phone Number for Your Small Business. 1-800-WRITERS for example. If you can think of a way to shorten your main service, product or identity to seven characters, it  can be an easy way to generate passive leads and awareness about your small business.

Ask for Help

As Steve Strauss points out in this USA Today article, there is plenty of free or low-cost help out there for small business owners to take advantage of, including marketing help. Check out your local chamber of commerce, the SBA website, your local SCORE chapter, trade organizations, Meetup Groups and online forums for advice and networking opportunities.

I live in Omaha where we have more than half a dozen Chambers of Commerce. I spent some time exploring a few of them, attending their meetings and expos and even joined a leads generation group, looking for ways to market our small business. In the end, I discovered that the best way for me to market our copywriting business and gain exposure to new prospects and clients was by joining the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation, because it put me directly in contact with the professionals who were most likely to use our services. I also found Meetup Groups, which were free and were a great way to expand my exposure to freelance and employed web designers and UX/IX programmers, who sometimes have a need for a copywriter to provide website content. I learned the hard way that leads groups geared toward brick and mortar small businesses weren’t profitable for our business. We may still join a Chamber at some point, but as many small business owners can attest, money is precious when you are running a fledging small business. Every dollar counts so we do our best to spend our resources where we think we will get the most bang for our buck, so to speak.

A Final Word about Branding Your Small Business

As you start to put yourself and your small business out there in person and in print (or online), be consistent in how you present yourself. Invest in a professionally-designed logo and add it tastefully along with your tagline and contact information on every communication you put out for your business. Decide on a simple color palate and perhaps, font, and stick within that range. If you sell insurance for example, don’t plaster one of your brochures with dragonflies and others with geometric shapes. Have a consistent look and feel so prospects and customers can easily recognize you.

 

Do you run your own business? What marketing questions do you have? We’ll do our best to answer them in the comments!

 

Photo courtesy of: MDGovPics

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally

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42 Comments

  • How long does it typically take before your brand starts to become known to your target audience? Also, you you have any strategy on how to determine what your readers really want? Thanks for the tips to get me going.
    Free Money Minute recently posted…Unemployment MattersMy Profile

    • John says:

      Those are great questions! Really, you could read entire books to get answers to those. Not having that much space I’ll say simply that it really does vary in terms of how long it takes to generate brand awareness. The most important factors are 1.) being consistent 2.) exposing your target audience to your brand in as many relevant channels as you can think of. Think of building a brand like building your personal reputation. It takes time and it happens as you meet, work with and talk to other people. The same is true for your business brand – every interaction makes an impression. It took Nike 15 years to establish a global brand, which isn’t terribly long but they were incredibly consistent and effective (having Jordan helped). I would recommend starting by learning as much as you can through data gathering about your target audience (what, where, why and how do they read, shop, eat, drink, enjoy, etc.). Then do your best to put your brand in front of them in the most targeted and succesful way possible with consistent messaging that resonates with your audience. Knowing them is key. To answer your question about figuring out what your readers want. My best advice is to ask them. Put up a post or survey on your blog or send an email to your readers asking what they want to hear from you about. Include open ended as well as multiple choice prompts. Hope that helps and thanks for commenting!

  • pauline says:

    Great tips, something so simple as an email signature or a proper website can really make a difference. When I look for a service, I know it is just designs but will trust more a company that does those things properly.
    pauline recently posted…The awesome French healthcare system. Or is it?My Profile

    • Nicole says:

      That’s right, Pauline, and if you think about why, it’s because design communicates personality/professionalism. A shoddy website or lack of information will quickly make you turn away. You in general have such little time to give today with so much vying for your attention that we as brandowners have to get it right the first time and get it right right away.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • I have a couple of small businesses. One being my blog, is constantly being marketed via Facebook, Twitter, and word-of-mouth. Traffic is king so marketing is very important. My other small business has been strapped for time as I focus on the blog, so I haven’t started marketing that yet (a website might be a good place to start!). I definitely enjoyed your tips and will take them into consideration!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…Things to Sell at a Garage SaleMy Profile

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks, D.C. One other piece of advice I’d recommend when beginning to market your small business is to invest enough upfront to get a logo and tagline that will give you good mileage and represent your business the way you want it to for at least the next 3-5 years to come. I hired a friend of mine who specializes in logo design to design the frugal rules logo and then John and I came up with the tagline itself before we built the site because we wanted it right from the start. We did the same for our business site (inkharmony.com). The logo design wasn’t incredibly expensive (under $150) but I also didn’t go to fiver. Not saying you can’t ever get quality stuff there but generally in the world of design and advertising, if you spend some legit money, you’ll get a legit logo to represent your business well.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • Matt Becker says:

    I’ve got my blog, along with another small business I’m considering. I have zero experience with marketing, so these are helpful tips. It sounds like you guys could be a great resource for some information. I just updated my email signature because of you!
    Matt Becker recently posted…The Basics of Estate PlanningMy Profile

  • This is all so true! My fiance is into year two of running his own small business and I took a lot of time to set up a great website, logo and branding scheme for it. Those sorts of things definitely can make a business seem very professional, even if they’re jsut starting out. Plus they’re low cost, which is great!
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted…Debt By Numbers – May 2013 EditionMy Profile

  • Michelle says:

    These are all great marketing tips! For my new business that I’m planning with a friend, we definitely need to do a lot of marketing :)
    Michelle recently posted…Why You Should Start a Blog – So Many Positives!My Profile

  • Great info here, Mrs. FR! I had no idea that such small changes could often make a huge difference.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…What I Learned From Working in Personal BankingMy Profile

    • Nicole says:

      I’m glad it was helpful, Laurie. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with marketing strategy and business plans. So much so that sometimes I think the enormity of it all just paralyzes people. I tried to focus on small, practical, actionable items that people could implement and ultimately, see some business come their way as a result.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • You need to do a business plan and do some feasibility study first. Know what does your target market wants and how can you make their lives easier. Also, a good marketing strategy in place doesn’t hurt.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted…Try Before You BuyMy Profile

  • When I started my first small business, I did whatever I could to market it. I came up with many free things and then learned how to write code in order to provide more viral marketing before Twitter and other social networks were used to promote business. You don’t have to feel discouraged if you don’t have money, but you just have to work a little harder.
    Grayson @ Debt RoundUp recently posted…5 Tips to Reduce the Stress of DebtMy Profile

    • Nicole says:

      That’s so true Grayson, and having money to spend doesn’t necssarily translate into success. I’ve seen too many companies to count who throw obscene amounts of money at ad campaigns and see no measurable results come out of it because they wrongly assumed that spending money = sales results. It’s about being smart, strategic and relevant.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • Good tips. I found our local chamber of commerce to contain mostly the same people, many of them retired, who show up for free food, so it wasn’t really a benefit to business. Word of mouth, however, is huge.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted…How We Lost $6000 in Student Loan ForgivenessMy Profile

  • In my line of work as a video editor it’s really important to have an online portfolio. Sites like vimeo make it easier to do this if you don’t have the skills or means to build a website, but I still think it’s really important to have a website!
    Budget & the Beach recently posted…Ever been bullied into buying something?My Profile

    • Nicole says:

      Great point! On a side note, I secretly envy you! :-) I took a few video editing courses in college and have edited a few short videos and absolutely loved it. I think I could sit in an editing studio all day and splice images together. I love the intricacy – it feels like painting a picture to me. And yes, you’re right about needing a website – it’s the new yellow pages and totally where people go to find the products/services they need.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • Love all the tips in your “Small Changes That Make A Big Difference,” I have noticed an increase in LinkedIn connection simply by adding it to my signature block in emails.
    Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin recently posted…Waging War – Stock DirectionMy Profile

  • Life would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to worry about marketing. I’d much rather be doing the work that dealing with people.
    That is the nice thing about Fiverr, once you get some testings behind you, clients just start coming to you on their own.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted…Should the SEC Regulate Social Media?My Profile

  • Great tips, Nicole. I have to follow strict guidelines for my professional business cards and email signature, but we did brand Heavy Purse business cards and I should definitely update my personal (okay, create) an email signature on my private email account. :)
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…How to Navigate the Financial World after GraduationMy Profile

    • Nicole says:

      It can be so difficult in a highly regulated industry. I remember when I left my former employer a few years ago to go freelance, none of my former bosses or employees were allowed by my employer to write “endorsements” or reviews of my professionalism and capabilities on LinkedIn because of the legal departments’ fear over being sued or something. It was disheartening at that point but in time, I built new connections, acquired new clients in not so highly regulated industries and they started leaving endorsements for me so it worked out.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • A girl I knew in grad school started a small business with some of the worst marketing I’ve ever seen. I think this post might even be too advanced for her. She has no website, a bare bones linked in profile that doesn’t really convey what she or her business does, and a publicly accessible Facebook page with a few pictures and status updates that make her look insane.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted…PPL Corporation (PPL) Dividend Stock AnalysisMy Profile

    • Nicole says:

      It is amazing sometimes meeting businesses that have been successful for years (I’m thinking of plumbers, home repair companies, electricians, etc. here) who build their reputation by giving excellent service and build their client base by word of mouth. Sometimes they have the worst marketing I’ve ever seen. Definitely not something to emulate.
      Nicole recently posted…The Digital Public Library of AmericaMy Profile

  • Brian says:

    I’ve learned a lot about marketing at my day job over the last two years. Consistent communication with a consistent message is the key. If you have something of value to a specific group of people, you just have to get them to realize the value!

    It looks like you’re marketing a business that helps marketers and businesses!
    Brian recently posted…Got ovaries? Work less!My Profile

  • Savvy Scot says:

    Love the tip on editing your email signature – especially to remember to do so on the multiple devices that you may use. I have done it on my macbook and iPhone, but not iPad – it looks very unprofessional sometimes when you only have ‘sent from my iPhone’ or something similar!
    Savvy Scot recently posted…First-time buyers: 10 things you need to know about mortgagesMy Profile

  • Mackenzie says:

    These are all really great tips! Having never ran a small business, I wouldn’t know the first thing about this stuff! However, I have a friend who is starting a new business venture, and I am definitely going to refer them to this post :)
    Mackenzie recently posted…Diapers Cost WHAT??My Profile

  • Justin says:

    For any business, marketing is key. But you’re right. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. I work for a small family owned restaurant and some of the best campaigns have been word of mouth, reviews in local papers and flyers that we give out with carry-outs. All of these cost less than an expensive billboard or fancy adds and have brought in considerable business.
    Justin recently posted…A Condo or House: Choices of SuburbiaMy Profile

  • Very clear points. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on incorporation of social network; should you combine your private life to support your business?

  • Alexa says:

    I have been working on Marketing my new freelance writing business but haven’t had much success…..yet. I need to join LinkedIn. It still feels kind of intimidating to me but I if I spend some time I am sure I will get the hang of it.
    Alexa recently posted…How to Keep You Kids Well Dressed on a Tight BudgetMy Profile

  • Buck Inspire says:

    Terrific advice. I’ve used Vista Print before. I should really attend more meet ups. Ever run into the Oracle?
    Buck Inspire recently posted…YouTube Sensations Thank You RoundupMy Profile

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