Small Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Grow Your Company

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Reviewed by Matt Pelkey
• 13 minute read
Small business marketing guide

As a small business owner, creating a marketing strategy can seem intimidating, but it’s not as complicated as most people think. If you’ve got a website, a Facebook page or even just a sign on your door, you’re already marketing your business.

A good small business marketing strategy is essential if you want your business to grow. You want people to know your business — who you are, what you do and why they should come to you instead of the other guys.

Our guide contains step-by-step tips to create — or fine-tune — your marketing plan. So if you’re not sure where to begin, start here.

1.   Set Your Business Goals

When you think of the future of your business, what do you envision? No matter what your goals are, you’re going to need to invest in marketing to get there. Different marketing strategies can be more effective for different goals, so the first step is to define what your small business goals are.

Start big. Before you start creating goals, you should think about the big picture. Where do you want your business to be in 10 years? 20? Go big. Think about why you started your business. When you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, you can start thinking about the short, medium and long-term goals that can help you get there.

Define what success looks like. Your goals should be “SMART”: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Creating goals in this way keeps you accountable and helps you know when you’ve achieved them.

Break down your goals into actionable steps. Now that you know what your goals are and how you’re going to measure success, you can start thinking about the tactics you’ll use to get there. Let’s say your goal is to increase sales 10% by the end of the year. What can you do to achieve this goal? Marketing your products and your business could help.

2.   Define Your Value Propositions

Your value propositions are the things that make your business different from your competitors. Defining them is one of the first steps in any successful marketing strategy because it gives you a clear understanding of what you’re selling and why anyone would be interested in it.

To nail down your value propositions, think about what differentiates you from competitors. Here are a few ideas:

  • You offer the highest quality product available in your market.
  • You offer the best prices available in your market.
  • You have the best customer service team and strive to create the best customer experience possible.
  • You care about giving back to your community and regularly give back through charity, volunteer work or supporting causes.

Your value proposition should align with the values of your company. And it doesn’t need to be just one thing either. For example, you could combine the first two bullets into one value proposition and make it, “You offer high quality products at great prices.”

Use your value propositions to fuel your marketing efforts. Don’t waste time or energy just repeating what everyone else is saying. Make your business stand out from the crowd by telling your potential customers why they should do business with you.

3.   Get To Know Your Customers

Another big part of successfully marketing your business is knowing who to market to. Who are your customers, what do they value about your brand, how do they like to be communicated with and what are their motivations? Doing market research and an in-depth analysis of your ideal customers can help you know who you should be targeting.

You’ll probably have a few different customer personas that represent different segments of your target audience. But having this data can help inform your marketing decisions and find more customers that might be a fit.

Who are your customers? You likely already have an idea who your target audience is. It could be busy parents, outdoor enthusiasts, car lovers or even other businesses. But filling in some other demographics can help. When creating your customer personas consider other factors like age, income, marital status, etc. This can ensure you’re putting your marketing muscle into reaching the right potential customers. For example, if you offer expensive luxury goods, you may not want to be targeting recent college graduates looking for their first job — even if the other data tells you that they’ll love your product.

Where are your customers? Your customer personas can help you find where your customers are spending time. If they’re online, you can predict which social media platforms or what type of websites they may be visiting. If they spend time commuting, you might find them listening to the radio or using a music streaming service. If they shop local, other local business owners may be open to doing a partnership if your customer bases overlap. When you know where to find your customers, you can get your message to them more efficiently.

What motivates your customers? Step into the shoes of your customers and think about what motivates them to shop with you. It could be that they feel you offer the best product. It could also be ease and convenience, good customer service, a set of values your business shares or something else entirely. This can help you decide what you should focus on while marketing your business to prospective customers that fit into this customer segment.

4.   Choose Your Marketing Channels

Now that you’ve set your goals, nailed down what makes your business great and gotten to know your customers you can choose your marketing channels. Each channel has strengths and weaknesses, you’ll want to choose a few so you can effectively communicate your message to the right audience.

Social media marketing. Social media is a popular digital marketing tool because it’s an effective tool for building brand awareness at a low cost. American adults spend about an 95 minutes per day on social media. Whoever your target audience is, they’re likely spending time on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or TikTok.

Email marketing. Email marketing is a good low-cost strategy for staying front of mind with old customers and reaching new customers. It’s more personalized and can give you the ability to send customized marketing campaigns to specific market segments.

Word of mouth. It never goes out of style. When customers have a great experience with you they’re more likely to tell their friends or family about you. If you have a good relationship with your clients, it never hurts to ask for referrals as well. Nowadays, word of mouth can be online. If a customer has an online following and boasts about you online, it can make a big impact on your bottom line.

SEO. Search engine optimization or “SEO” is a fancy way of saying “making search engines like my website so it comes up when people search for X.” You want your business to rank on the first page of results. Only 0.63% of Google users click on results from the second page.

Video. Video is a great tool for connecting with your audience. It can take the form of educational videos, promotional videos, review videos or even videos made for entertainment. It’s a versatile tool and can be a very effective part of content marketing.

Advertising. Many people think marketing and advertising are the same thing. While they often work together to build your brand and grow your business, the main difference is that advertising means you paid to get it in front of your audience. Think TV, radio or newspaper advertisements. But there are a lot of other forms as well, and it’s an effective part of marketing that can give you a lot of new customers and build brand awareness.

Events. Hosting an event can be a fun and unique way to market your business. With the rise of online marketing, hosting an event can help you stand out from the crowd. It’s a good way to nurture your relationships with existing clients and build new relationships with potential customers.

PPC. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is a form of advertising where you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. It can take the form of text, images, videos or a mix. You can use PPC on search engines, social media or websites. When it’s done right it can offer a great return on investment, and it can be an effective form of marketing and sales generation for ecommerce sites.

5.   Develop Your Strategy

Next up is developing your marketing strategy. The mix of marketing channels and which of those channels you prioritize will depend on the unique needs of your business. For each channel, research best practices and marketing ideas for small businesses. Choose ones that fit both your needs and your resources, and get started.

Social media strategy. Social media marketing is unique because it opens up a channel for direct communication between you and your customers. 78% of consumers are more willing to buy from a company that they’ve had a positive interaction with on social media, so it’s important to manage your online community.

You can use social media for content marketing, promoting events or advertising your products. Decide what platforms make sense for your business, plan what kind of content you want to post, try to post on a regular basis, and stay engaged with your communities.

Email strategy. You can use emails to send personalized messaging to your target market. One of the first steps is to build your email list. You can segment your list into different categories and send customized content to each group based on your objective. Email newsletters are great for brand awareness. Starting with a soft touch can also make customers more inclined to click on your call to action when you follow up with a promotional email.

SEO strategy. The rules of SEO can seem confusing. Start by getting an idea of your website’s current SEO performance. Figure out what keywords you’re ranking for and decide which keywords you’d like to rank for going forward. One of the biggest rules is to make sure that you’re offering informative, quality content. There are a lot of tools (and even agencies) that can help you with some of the more nitty gritty stuff.

Video strategy. Video can take on many different forms in marketing. You could host webinars, start a YouTube channel or use videos in your social media posts. Decide what medium is right for your small business and get started. You don’t need to spend your entire marketing budget on equipment either. Most smartphones have great cameras, and you can find lighting and microphones at good prices online.

Advertising strategy. There are a lot of different types of advertising, and it can range in price. You could advertise on traditional media like TV and radio, or go online and buy a banner ad, a Google ad or advertise on social media. Your customer personas can come in handy here because they can inform you where you should advertise and what the most effective messaging will be.

Events strategy. Organizing and hosting an event can be a lot of work, but it can help you create strong relationships with your customers. Decide what kind of event makes sense for your business and start planning. You could host a volunteer day or donation drive, an invite only sale with food and drinks, a car or motorcycle meet, or a class or workshop. Get creative and think outside the box.

PPC strategy. If you want to try pay-per-click advertising, start by defining your goal. You can then decide on your target audience and what platform you want to run your campaign on. You can then create your ads and start your campaign.

6.   Choose Your Tools

No matter what your budget looks like, you can find marketing tools online that can help you from start to finish. Here’s a list of some of the most common tools businesses need:

Social media. Social media management tools allow you to:

  • Schedule posts ahead of time.
  • Manage your your online communities.
  • Keep an eye on competitors.
  • Popular tools include Buffer, Sprout and Hootsuite.

Email. Email marketing platforms offer:

  • Email templates
  • Email automation
  • Email list management
  • A/B testing
  • Email campaign creation
  • Popular platforms include Constant Contact and Mailchimp. (Depending on the size of your list and what features you’re looking for these may be free.)

SEO. There are tons of SEO tools out there. They can help with:

  • Keyword research
  • Content optimization.
  • Popular tools include Google Analytics and Ahrefs.

Design. If you want your marketing efforts to stand out you may need to do some design work. Some of these popular tools can help you.

  • Fiverr — On Fiverr you can find freelancers to help you with everything from website design to videos and simple graphics.
  • Canva — Canva is a drag and drop design tool that makes it easy for anyone to create graphics and social media posts for your brand.

7.   Measure Your Results

Now that you’ve put in all this work, you’re going to want to see your results. You can use a number of different tools to see your metrics and how each strategy is working for you.

Social media. Most social media platforms offer analytics tools so you can see how your posts are performing and who’s engaging with your content.

Website. For your website you can use tools like Google Analytics to see who’s visiting your site, where they’re coming from and what they’re clicking on. This tool may look complicated at first, but Google offers courses to teach you how to use it effectively. It’s simpler than you think, and the data can be really interesting.

Offline marketing. It’s a little harder to track progress without fancy online analytics, but it’s not impossible. You can ask customers how they heard about you or you can simply look at your results. How were you progressing towards your goals before you initiated your marketing plan and how are you doing now?

8.   Iterate and Innovate

Marketing isn’t stagnant. It should change and evolve as your business grows and goals change. While you’re measuring results, see what worked well and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to try new things and implement new strategies.

Top Marketing Tips From The Experts

Talk to your customers.

“As a founder of a few companies and an agency marketer for other small businesses, I found one thing that can fast track an owner’s business education – get a lot of face time with customers.

“There is nothing like sitting across from a prospect while trying to make your case for your product or services. A personal interaction lets you see what resonates and what falls flat. The prospects’ facial expressions, body language and gestures reveal friction in the sales process.

A prospects questions and objections will be different and more in-depth during a personal conversation. It’s an effective way to discover how to improve a product or present it differently.

There are always lots of mistakes the first few times doing a personal sales call. Yet when a sales process clicks in person, it helps your marketing in every other online or offline channel for years to come.”

André Palko
Founder, SmallBusinessRainmaker

Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker, author of over 500 articles and award-winning marketer for small companies throughout the U.S.

Hammer home your unique selling point.

“The number one tip I always give to my small business clients is to find their unique selling point and center their marketing around it.

“I work with roofers and home services, so the services are relatively homogenous. However, it’s the roofers and home service providers who provide an extra benefit to customers that set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.

“Bottom line: The number one marketing tip I give to small businesses just starting is to find their USP and market it intensely, so customers know what makes their business different from the rest.”

Tim Brown
CEO & Founder at Hook Agency

Tim Brown is the owner of Hook Agency, helping contractors hook better leads with Google. He was featured on Forbes, Neil Patel, NBC and Fast Company. His passions include content strategy, music and outdoor adventuring.

Pick a strategy and stick with it.

“It can be tempting to try out different approaches, but I’ve found that the best way to grow your customer base is to make sure you’re consistent. Make sure your website is up-to-date, keep posting on social media and always be ready with a plan for when new customers come in. This will make it much easier for you to build a loyal following and establish yourself as a brand that people can rely on.”

Sarah Walters
Marketing Manager, The Whit Group

Sarah Walters has over 10 years of experience in the digital marketing space and specializes in all things website development-related.

This content is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as financial, investment or legal advice.