8 best marketing strategies for small business that actually works (and is free)

A good marketing strategy will do wonders for your small business. A marketing strategy that works will amplify your efforts, help build up your brand name, and give you an edge over your competition. In this article, I’ve compiled a list of 8 best marketing strategies for small businesses and share why they work. 

What makes up the best marketing strategies for a small business?

Throughout my journey as a small business owner, I have tried many marketing strategies – I have had big successes with some strategies; and also spectacular failures with some. 

Depending on the objective of your business, the ‘best’ marketing strategy can be subjective. However, in the context of this article, I strongly feel that these are some of the best marketing strategies out there because:

  • I have personally used them and gotten great results
  • I have helped other small businesses use these strategies with success
  • They are appealing to customers
  • It’s inexpensive – They are free or cost close to nothing
  • They can be implemented quickly and easily with minimal effort – No need for any specialized knowledge, equipment, or complicated business processes
  • There are tangible evidence that this worked for other small businesses

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3 reasons why small businesses need to have good marketing strategies

1. Efficient use of your limited resources

I dare say that in 99.99% of cases, a small business have limited resources. These limitations can come in the form of either financial resource, manpower resource, or time constraints. 

A good marketing strategy helps you prioritise and organise your limited resources so you use them more efficiently. By doing so, you get the biggest ‘bang’ for your buck – the highest return for the resource and effort that you invest in.

As a result, you will get an increase in the areas that matters for your business – either sales, brand awareness, or and increase in customer loyalty 

2. Move customers further down the consumer journey

A strong marketing strategy lets you build an increasingly strong relationship with your customers by moving them further down the consumer journey.

It helps to convert:

  • Someone who doesn’t know your business into a prospect
  • A prospect to a paying customer of your business
  • Your existing customers into loyal customers of your brand
  • Your loyal customers into the advocates for your brand – which is the ultimate goal in any consumer journey

3. Gaining small business and consumer insights

A good marketing strategy will give you a deeper understanding about your small business and your customers.

Insights that you gain about your small business can be used to streamline your business processes, allowing you to serve your customers better

On the other hand, knowing more about what people like and dislike about your products or services will enable you to tailor your products and services to serve them better, making your small business more appealing and competitive

8 best marketing strategies for small businesses that actually work

These marketing strategies have a varying degree of relevance and usefulness depending on the type of industry you are in and the product or service that you are selling.

Feel free to pick and choose the strategies you see fit and implement them in your small business for maximum success

Strategy #1 – Vouchers

I know first hand that vouchers are a marketing strategy that works very well, provided you are smart about how you use it

I’ve been using discount vouchers to target first-time buyers for Kee’s Creampuffs since the day we went into business, and it’s one of the best strategies we’ve used up until today. In fact, we even actively advertised our voucher

You can create vouchers for many different scenarios such as:

  • First time buyers
  • Bundle offers
  • After a customer has had X amount of repeat purchases

Vouchers work because:

  • You can get a prospect’s email address in exchange for a voucher, subsequently building a relationship with the prospect that could lead to a sale
  • It creates an urgency with conditions such as limited vouchers and limited time to act
  • It allows you to test out various offers so that you can see what your customer preferences are and tweak your products or services to be more competitive

I’ve also used vouchers in one of my most successful guerilla marketing campaign for my travel agency business

Strategy #2 – Lite version or trial offer

Giving a lighter version or a trial offer that is either more affordable or free reduces the barrier for potential customers to try your product or service. 

It gives people a chance to experience your product or service first without a high risk involved. If your product or service is good, chances are there are customers who will consider switching to the full version of your product

Let me give you an example. I helped run a campaign for a spa small business and we combined a trial offer and vouchers – RM99 for a single session of therapy massage. This was 70% off the normal price. 

Long story short, many customers showed up for the trial offer, generating additional sales for the business and about 20% of the customers signed up for full packages

Strategy #3 – Referral discounts

One word of mouth from a close friend beats a thousand advertising messages. This is a great strategy to turn your best customers into your advocates

You ask your best customer to refer new customers to you. The incentive is, with each new customer that is successfully referred, you give your existing customer a discount, even up to the point where his product or service is free

What this does apart from bringing in new customers, is that this strategy will also allow you to retain your existing customers

Here’s how you can make it interesting – Imagine you have a customer named John Wick. You can build a unique landing page with John’s name personalized and ask him to send this link to people who might be interested in your business. 

Or, you can even do something simple like asking John Wick to give you phone numbers of a few prospects in advanced, save those numbers, and say “Welcome to John’s special private line” when the prospects contact you

Strategy #4 – Bundle offers with a complimentary business

If you can find a business whose products or services compliments yours, you can run a bundle offer together. This way, you can tap into each other’s customer databases and create a win-win-win situation for you, the other small business owner, and the consumer

For example, a small business offering bookkeeping services can partner with a website designer (such as 1 Day 1 Thought ????) and promote these offers

  • 50% off first month bookkeeping service for 1 Day 1 Thought’s new customers
  • 50% off website design services for the bookkeeping small business’s new customers

Another personal example is that I’ve partnered a bottled coffee provider to tap into both our customer base to promote similar offers too

Strategy #5 – Lucky draw for people who review your business

This is a strategy that I have not personally used but I’ve seen a small business selling customised digital prints do very well with

At the end of every month, for every customer that leaves a written review, this small business will do a lucky draw and give a $15 shopping voucher for a famous online portal to the winner. 

Even more interestingly, if a customer leaves a video review of when they receive and open their digital print, they are entered to a separate lucky draw and given a chance to win a $50 shopping voucher

Imagine all the social proof that you can build with a strategy like this!

Strategy #6 – Free consultation

The Marketing adage says that you must first give before you take, this is especially true for small businesses that are service oriented

There are 2 main benefits you can achieve by giving a free consultation to your prospects:

First, you can establish yourself as an expert or authority. If your prospect is convinced, you already have half a foot in the door, and your chances of success is way higher compared to if you were cold calling

To take this strategy up a notch, you can consider throwing in resources like a 3 action point blueprint for your prospects’ small business. This was something I did for a restaurant business that I was pitching my services for and they ended up engaging me

Secondly, it lets you understand your customer better. Take the time to ask questions related to your prospects business. With that understanding, tailor a solution that is specific to the prospects problem. This way, what you are selling can be more appealing, and more importantly, relevant

Strategy #7 – Thank you note

A handwritten note to thank your customer is inexpensive and does not take a lot of time to do

Even more so, if your handwritten note is cleverly designed, you can lead satisfied customers to take desired actions that act as an indirect word of mouth recognition of your business

For example, in your handwritten thank you note:

  • You re-emphasize the unique selling point of your product / service (it can be high quality ingredients, a special process, or a top class warranty promise)
  • Mention that you are a small business that is working hard and reiterate your business’s ‘Why’
  • Let them know that a kind review from them will help bring your business a long way
  • Include your social media details
  • Top it up with a discount code for people who see the note

Here’s an example of what Katherine is doing with Kee’s Creampuffs now. A delighted customer sent the picture below

Strategy #8 – Email Marketing

Email marketing is the King of ROI. According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing gets up to 3800% ROI, that’s $38 for every $1 spent!

If done properly, emails:

  • Are highly customisable and personal and allows you to be more convincing to your audience
  • Allows you to segment your email audiences and send them content or promotions that are relevant to their interests
  • Is a very cost efficient way to re-engage your customers, inform customers about new products, or launch a new promotion

I’m a strong believer of email marketing. Therefore, I strongly advise you to start building an email list if you don’t have one now.

Having a strong email list is also one of the reasons Kee’s Creampuffs can become a fully online specialty bakery now.

The importance of a strong business foundation for marketing success

I believe that marketing is the most important component of a small business , but I’m an even stronger advocate of the importance of having a strong business foundation

No matter how good a small business’s marketing is, it won’t matter if a customer is turned off by:

  • A poor product
  • Lengthy business processes
  • Bad customer service

With that said, it’s important for your small business to at least have these business foundations in place in order to maximize your marketing strategies’ chances of success

  • A strong WHY – the reason your business exists
  • In depth understanding of your customer
  • Efficient business processes
  • A competent product or service
  • Online presence, preferable in the form of a website, at least in the form of social media pages

This goes without saying that this is not an exhaustive list of the important items for a business. The point here is, you need to make sure that you can retain a customer through everything your business does. And I mean both internally and externally

To illustrate the  importance of a strong business foundation, I created the Ultimate Challenge – Creating a small business that generates $1000/month (on the side) using a comprehensive business plan. Check out the article and subscribe for updates on the challenge’s progress

P/S: The exact same business plan template is also free for you to download

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