There’s a lot of advantages to running a small business—you’re the boss, for one, and can run things your own way, but beyond that, small businesses often offer the opportunity to add a personal touch to your business transactions. By keeping close to your customers, your business can adapt to their needs and provide in a way that larger corporate chains just can’t. Still, one must be willing to admit the downsides as well, and one of the most common problems you’ll see for small businesses is low revenue and hesitancy towards reinvesting it. Small business owners typically recognize the importance of things like marketing, but may find themselves at a loss when it comes to establishing a marketing budget and making the most out of it. What are the best ways to get your name out there? How can you find knowledgeable professionals who can best put that money to work, and how can you be sure the people you hire are giving your business their all? Let’s take a look at what marketing can mean to small businesses and how you can make sure you’re getting the results you need.
As the leader of a small business, much of its success will rest on your shoulders. One of the first and most important things you can do to get a leg up is to make sure that, one way or another, you have a suitable understanding of business and what’s involved in the day-to-day running of one. Perhaps you’ve had a history of management for other companies, and have some first-hand experience to offer, or maybe this isn’t your first business. If so, excellent; experience is valuable, and the more you’re able to gather, the better off you’re likely to be. But if not, you may find yourself overwhelmed at first, as small business owners in the early days of their business often have to wear the hats of marketers and managers and finance and more, all at once. Experience may help with some of that, but there is one reliable way to make sure you have a solid understanding of these areas: earn a business degree. While there are a dozen focuses a business degree can have, no one is graduating from business school without a baseline level of knowledge in each and every one. There are even programs aimed at helping entrepreneurs, designed from the ground up to provide everything one might need to know to launch a small business. Holding a degree can also be a benefit when it comes to getting your business off the ground, as investors may be more willing to take a chance on you if they feel you’re well educated and primed for success.
Whether you opt for experience, education, or a mixture of both, the next step after making sure that you as an individual are ready is to start evaluating what your business needs. When it comes to marketing, it’s important to consider factors like who your target audience is, where they’re likely to be, and how to grab their attention and draw it to your products or services, whatever those might be. Different kinds of businesses can take very different marketing plans these days—an online storefront won’t get much use out of a billboard, for example, but stickers and posters in trendy areas might drive business your way, and ads online place you just one click or tap away from a potential customer. On the other hand, a new restaurant is going to need to get the word out among locals, and that billboard along the Interstate might just do the trick.
One surprisingly affordable and often underutilized marketing approach is the email mailing list. In the early days of your business, a mailing list can help you keep in touch with the customers who’ve found your business already, providing them with updates and even acting as an avenue for feedback. Mailing list services often charge based on the number of subscribers, and offer simple, easy ways of formatting emails so as to make them visually interesting and more likely to be read. Mailing lists can include special offers or coupons as incentives, access to events, or first looks at new products or services you have coming up. You can also consider working together with other compatible businesses, where each promotes the other on their mailing list, giving you access to a new pool of potential customers.
Social media is another option, and can act as a supplement to mailing lists between newsletters. Having a presence on social media platforms can be advantageous, offering a place that’s under your control where new potential customers can learn about your business, but do keep in mind that a page which isn’t being kept up with can set a bad impression. While activity doesn’t always need to take place daily, it should take place regularly, and for those as busy as most small business owners are, that isn’t easy. Fortunately, there’s software that can link up with social media platforms, posting pre-written updates at regular intervals for the highest impact, meaning you don’t have to keep an eye on social media all day. Social media also offers access to valuable data on your followers, such as their ages and other interests, making it easier to know who to target when the time comes for a more intensive advertising campaign.
One other factor of marketing which can be extremely important is to settle on proper, effective branding as early as possible. Branding is what helps a business to be identifiable and stand out from the competition, so having a recognizable brand from day one helps customers to remember your business and gives them an idea to pass along to their friends. Having a solidly designed logo and name will help, but branding goes beyond that—it’s the face your business shows to the world. That hipster bar downtown with the Victorian aesthetic didn’t get that way by accident, after all; it’s their carefully crafted brand image. The brand will also define the tone of your social media interactions and act as your business’s avatar, so whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you can keep tonally consistent in your communications with the public. Consulting a dedicated marketing professional and/or graphic designer before launching your business can help to develop this identity in a consistent, recognizable way, ensuring you won’t need to suddenly overhaul your image right as things start taking off.
Running a small business isn’t easy, and areas like marketing which are poorly taught, if at all, in conventional schooling can be particularly challenging to new entrepreneurs. Acquiring experience or pursuing a degree in business management (or any other area in business) can help you to feel confident in your decisions and ensure you know what the professionals you hire are talking about. While marketing on a tight budget can be difficult, the internet offers a number of options, like social media and mailing lists, which can help to connect you with both existing customers and new demographics without breaking the bank. Developing a branding strategy that’s consistent and identifiable is key, setting the tone for your interactions with customers and how your business will be perceived. Remember, the success of a small business is often dependent on the capabilities of its owner, so give yourself the best chance you can by building up a solid foundation of business knowledge.