Small businesses typically have small marketing budgets. But what if we were to tell you that you don’t actually need a big wad of bills to make your business known. All you need is a fast internet connection and some creativity. Old school marketing is pretty much out the door, making way to the new, digital age.
It’s quick, easy, creative, draws a lot of attention towards your business, and, most importantly, it can be free. Yes, you read it well. Not cheap. Free. And to make it even simpler for you, we’ve put together a small guide chock full of great ideas which you can start using now!
The Basics in Business Advertising
Even if you are now eager to learn more about the wonderful ways in which you can promote you small shop for free, we must stop for a breather, especially if you are new at this. One very common mistake most owners make when they want to start one or more marketing campaigns is going about it blindly. That just won’t do.
There is no need to take marketing classes or go to college, but you still need to know the basics. This will give you purpose, a sense of measure, and a strategy. Here are a few things to consider prior to actually starting an advertising campaign.
#1. What is your target audience?
It might sound like a redundant piece of information, but trust us, it is not. Every company out there, not matter how big or small, that is trying to sell something needs to have a target audience. Try to find yours, based on what you are marketing. For example, let’s say you have a bakery. In this case, you might think that your target audience is just about anyone who wants a pastry or a loaf of bread, right?
The difference is in the products and their details. Allow us to give you an example. If you’re selling gluten-free cupcakes, loaded with quinoa seeds, then your target audience is mainly made up of young people who have adhered in the past few years to this type of diet. Are you selling French baguettes or German artisan loaves? Your target audience is middle-aged people with a higher than average income, who can afford this type of delicacy bread on a daily basis.
Speaking directly to your target audience will make it a lot easier for you to advertise and, ultimately, to sell your merchandise. If not, you’ll be trying to sell ice to an Eskimo.
There is one extremely accessible, yet often overlooked audience segment you should take into account: rural communities. According to a PewInternet Report, 78% of rural American residents are online, yet despite these numbers, most companies have yet to address their needs. The reality is that internet services in rural areas are a lot slower than those of big cities.
“For many residents in rural areas, finding internet service that’s free from data caps can be extremely difficult due to its scarcity. Oftentimes, residents in rural areas are stuck with dial-up service which can be slow and difficult to use. Furthermore, DSL is typically not much faster than dial-up, and cable or fiber optic Internet services are only offered in big cities.” Source: Jupiter Broadband
Rural audiences won’t be able to view all your fancy web design elements and videos, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want to make a purchase or engage with your brand. With the help of thoughtful design, A/B testing, and smart data analysis you can attract valuable rural customers.
#2. Timing is Everything
You might think that advertising all year long is the best way to make your business known and not let people forget it. You’re not wrong. But you’re not right either. This is one of those ideas that look like they might work in theory, but they don’t in real life.
One of the reasons is that you simply cannot sustain one marketing campaign after another for a whole year or more. It can become costly, tiring, and it will use up a lot of your team’s resources. Keep in mind that ‘resources’ doesn’t just mean money. It also translates into time, effort, and people who have to handle the advertising.
Let’s go back to our example with the bakery. Evidently, people need your products all year long, so you don’t even need to advertise continuously. Instead, try to focus on special occasions and market products fit for them. If it’s Thanksgiving, bake pumpkin-spiced cookies and decorate them accordingly. For Christmas, introduce the old English Yule Log, and for the 4th of July, drape everything in the star spangled banner.
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#3. Smart Branding
For this idea to work, you need to pay attention to the copy in your ads. It doesn’t matter that you flooded the internet with your advertisements if the copy is poor. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Can your customers identify your company by its logo?
- Can they identify you by your name?
- Can they recognize you by your motto? Think about ‘Just do it.’ I don’t need to tell you what that’s for because you already know.
- Is a picture of your shop easily recognizable?
“Your brand is what your customers perceive about you, and how you make them feel. Chances are you’re not the only company out there selling your product or service. Figure out what your company does best beyond what you sell, and make it a part of your brand strategy.” Source: Media Novak
What Tools Do You Need for a Successful Online Advertising Campaign?
Now that we’ve established the ground rules, here’s a look at what tools you need to market in the online world.
#1. Bullet-Proof Internet Connection & Web Speed
In order to advertise your business online you will have to do a lot of things, such as editing newsletters, publishing article & documents, uploading videos or podcasts, optimizing landing pages, etc. Needless to say, you can’t possibly do all this without good internet.
Therefore, you need to find a good provider. A word of advice here would be for you to find internet providers that cover rural areas as well as urban ones.
#2. Accounts on Multiple Social Media Channels
Now that you have a great internet connection, you can start connecting to the outside world. Creating accounts on social media is completely free, so make sure you don’t skip any of them. Here is what you can do.
- On Facebook, create an official page for your business. Before you start posting, remember to fill in all the useful information your clients might need, such as your exact location, instructions how to get there by car and public transportation, business hours, menu, prices, and so on.
Facebook is becoming more and more an alternative search engine where people go for information. There is nothing more frustrating than finding an official page, but not the crucial info you need like opening hours.
- Use Twitter to tweet short messages and pictures about your business. Remember to keep it short, casual, and even funny. A hilarious and upbeat message will get retweeted thousands of times.
- Use Instagram to post gorgeous photos of your products. Don’t be afraid to brag. That’s what Instagram is for.
- Turn to other social media channels such as Buzznet, CafeMom, Foursquare, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Uplike or Zooppa. They may not be as heavily trafficked as Facebook, but they have their fair share of followers and specific audiences (e.g. Pinterest: predominantly women with huge purchase power)
Ideas on How to Advertise a Small Business Online
#1. Create and Publish Outstanding Content
Content can mean anything, from articles to pictures to daily blurbs about your products. However, no matter what it is you are publishing, make sure it’s up to par. For example, when you take pictures of the cakes you sell in your bakery to put up on Instagram or Facebook, use a professional camera and make sure the lighting is perfect. Remember online advertising is all about the visual experience. Your customers cannot taste, smell or feel your products.
#2. Organize Contests Once in a While
You can give out some of the products you make or even cash. The participants, as well as all your new potential customers will make it worth the while. Don’t splurge, though, if you feel you don’t have the budget for it. Go for backpacks, tickets to a concert, a box of high-end sweets, t-shirts, and everything in between. These prizes are sure to attract a lot of interested people.
#3. Team up!
Find a partner-business that runs in the same area as you do and team up. It’s a win-win situation because you can advertise on each other’s websites and social media pages. Building on the bakery example, you can promote your local mill or flour factory, grocery shops that sell the ingredients you use to make your cakes, schools, and so on. They can then promote you.
#4. Use Messenger
This app is great for sending short messages to all your customers at once. After you have established a Facebook page, you can have a promotional sale and text your patrons about it. Don’t stop there. Think about ways of surprising them and through which you can attract them to your shop. For example, on a cold winter’s day, IM them all saying that between 12 and 2, you will be serving free hot coffee as long as they buy a coffee cake, a doughnut or a sandwich. When it’s freezing cold, no one is going to say not to free, hot coffee.
#5. Create Urgency
Using online advertising is amazing for applying one of the core principles of marketing – creating an urgency. Host a sale, email or IM your customers about it and tell them it’s short-lived. They must come in now, or they’re going to miss it.
You wouldn’t really be able to do this with offline, classical ways of advertising. If for example, you gave away fliers or put up banners, the sense of emergency would be lost. Patrons would then have time to think twice about walking through your front door.
#6. Post Videos
Use your strong internet connection to post not just pics, but videos as well. Are you baking a chocolate cake today? Make a short, 30-second video in which you show everyone how you pour melted chocolate over a vanilla sponge. They will come running to your bakery. Worried about your rural audience? Double the video with a set of GIFs (Buzzfeed uses this strategy).
#7. Be Human
Last, but definitely not least, on our list of ways you can advertise a local business on a budget is a piece of advice. Online marketing can turn cold and distant if not handled properly. It’s not enough to post pictures and videos and then go about your day. Keep close to all your customers.
If they comment on your Facebook page, send links or ask questions, make sure you always answer. Keep a friendly attitude and talk to them whenever you can. It will show them it’s more than a business and that they are always welcome to visit.
There are many ways in which you can promote your business via online marketing. Just remember it all starts with fantastic internet speed, a lot of time, and creative ideas!