According to the Small Business Administration, nearly 50% of all new businesses will fail in their first year of operation. While there are at least a dozen reasons why businesses fail, one of the primary reasons identified by the SBA is the inability to attract and secure new customers. Often, small business owners look at customer acquisition as an afterthought instead of a 'must-have' line item on their P&L, and therefore never grow quickly enough to become profitable.
As a marketing consultant, I remind business owners every day that every business must have a specific budget allocated for both new customer acquisition & current customer retention, regardless of their industry, competitiveness in the marketplace or other factors. The size of their marketing budget is based of course on their Pro Forma, or anticipated business financials for the projected year. Most clients use a set percentage of sales to determine their marketing budget, from 20% for those in a start-up phase to roughly 7-10% of total sales for those that are well established.
Regardless of the size of your own marketing budget, you should employ as many free or near-free tactics to grow your business as feasibly possible. Doing so is both cost-effective, and will enhance your paid marketing strategy as well.
So, having said all that, let's get started...
1. Maintain a professional updated website. While this may seem obvious, I still come across small businesses that simply don't have a current, updated, mobile friendly website. With the multitude of drag and drop type services available like WIX and others, every small business can have a website that looks good and is accessible by everyone - including the 60%+ of searches that are done on mobile devices.
2. Create a blog. If you are an expert enough to want to go into business, you can easily turn that experience into leads by turning it into words. If you aren't the 'writer' type, simply find someone in your network of influence that can help. Having a blog may be the difference maker when someone is choosing between you and your competitor and can also help with organic online search results.
3. Complete your Google business place profile. Google has gone to great lengths to become the authority of web search, and has populated it's maps with very detailed information about nearly every business on legal record. That being said, as a business owner you can populate their directory listing with pictures of your business, business hours, description of your services, products and more. It's easy, and gives Google more to work with when attempting to pair a search result with your business. Start HERE
4. Create video. You don't need to have access to high-end equipment to produce relevant video. Simply use an iPhone or Android smartphone and get started. Authentic video content can consist of any number of topics from staff introductions, product demonstrations, informational content and more. Video uploaded to YouTube and embedded into your website tends to ranked higher by Google, and thereby makes you easier to find organically by future clients. You may have noticed that video already shows up in your search results when you search for content on Google, and since Google owns YouTube, it's a double win for them.
5. Use social media regularly. Having a social media strategy is something to take seriously and does require a bit of planning, but like everything else I've described above, can be accomplished on your own when you first get started. Be sure to adjust your social 'voice' according to the platform you are using (facebook versus twitter, snapchat or instagram) and plan your posts. The biggest, and I really mean the BIGGEST recommendation I can offer about using social media is to NOT make your posts constant sales pitches. There is no quicker way to being ignored on social media than to be the one 'constantly selling'. Make your posts relevant, inspirational, motivational, funny (be careful with humor) or educational. Be consistent as well. Posting regularly (depending on the platform) is important to remaining on 'top of mind' and also lets prospects know your business is in touch with modern communication. When a consumer is researching a company and visits their facebook page and see's that their last post was 9 months ago, it implies that the company either went out of business, or worse - simply doesn't have any customer interest.
6. Develop synergies with other local established businesses. In most cases, your new small business is not the first of it's kind or from a completely brand new category - which means there are other businesses you can network with to either feature or help you promote your products or services. For example, if you own a moving company - presenting your services to a realtor, furniture store, or large corporation that frequently relocates staff simply makes sense.
7. Attend/sponsor/participate in local small events & charities. Being visible in the community not only gives you the opportunity to showcase your business in-person, but also allows you to network with other businesses and organizations. Partnering your business with sports teams, schools, community holiday events and charity fundraisers attaches a positive vibe to your brand that you cannot otherwise create.
8. Sample products & services. Starbucks literally built their business using this tactic both to entice non-users to try their products, and also to get feedback on their new drinks before they went to full market. Sampling in-person further allows you to build an 'opt-in' email marketing list or social media 'like' while the consumer is trying your product so that you can regularly communicate with them and solicit their reviews of your product or service. Lastly, it gives you a priceless one-on-one human experience that, if done properly, the consumer will remember forever.
I recognize that this list is not exhaustive, and you may have some great ideas of your own that have worked for your business in the past. I'd love to hear about them!
Comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Steckman is a Senior Broadcast & Digital Marketing Consultant for Beasley Media Group in Tampa, Florida. For more information about Beasley Media Group - visit www.bbgi.com