Dec 16, 2019 | 9 min read

13 ideas to elevate your small business' advertising strategy

This article was updated on January 31, 2024


Small business owners wear many hats, and in many cases, that includes the role of a marketer. When operating a local business it is important to know exactly how to promote it. Fortunately, there are easy, low-cost (and even free) ways to get the word out about your local business.

Whether you were forced to close your doors due to COVID-19 and are looking for ways to attract new customers, or you're looking for new ways to engage your existing customers, this article is full of tips to get your business's name out in the community as you reopen.

What's ahead:

  1.  Google My Business
  2.  Search engine marketing (SEM)
  3.  Word of mouth: engage in-person and online
  4.  Social media
  5.  Local listings, local search, and business directories
  6.  Search engine optimization (SEO)
  7.  Blogging
  8.  Email marketing
  9.  Direct mail
  10. Influencers
  11. Business cards
  12. Supporting local organizations
  13. Establish a customer loyalty program

Small business marketing 101: Identify your target customer base

Before considering any new advertising ideas, take a moment to identify your business's target consumers.

That is, who exactly are you trying to reach and serve with your marketing?

Maybe you're a real estate agent who gets word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients, but now you're looking to get your real estate business to stand out from your competitors.

Or perhaps you're the owner of a brick-and-mortar store who wants to get more shoppers through the door as you reopen your storefront.

Perhaps you tutor part-time and are looking to get your name out in front of neighbors in your local community.

Regardless of your niche, the best way to begin your marketing strategy as a small business owner is by identifying your local customers or potential clients and understanding where they look for information about your business.

13 free and low-cost local advertising options for small businesses

1. Google My Business

Cost: Free

Looking to advertise your business for free? One of the first places your potential customer will search for your business is Google. When it comes to online marketing, ad placement is one of the most important factors in a significant ad campaign. While Google My Business may not sound familiar, it's the platform that lets you create a business profile and listing that appears in Google Search or Google Maps. For instance, when someone searches for "salons near me," a local list of salon locations appears. Your listing will tell Google to include your nearby business.

Claiming or setting up your listing will make your company's information - including contact information (phone number, website, address), and business hours - visible in Google's search results. Google My Business also provides helpful analytics, such as how many times your listing has been viewed and appeared in searches. Additionally, it’s a great way to get reviews, which are free advertising and are often a top factor influencing new customers to choose your business. 

2. Search engine marketing (SEM)

Cost: Low-cost (you determine the budget)

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a paid ad option where your listings are featured in sponsored ad placements (i.e. highly visible) in search engines. Say a popular demographic that likes to frequent your store includes women in their 30s. You can set up pay-per-click ad campaigns (PPC ads) to target that ideal audience and focus your campaign by other criteria, such as ZIP code. Try SEM tools like Google Ads (and similar services from Bing ads, AOL, and Yahoo!).

3. Word of mouth: engage in-person and online

Cost: Free or low-cost

Spread word of mouth where your neighbors frequent, in-person and online. Place flyers and ads in the community daily newsletter and bulletin boards, and in local online communities like Nextdoor. With 67% of Nextdoor neighbors sharing recommendations, you'll want to make sure these local shoppers about your business. It's free to set up a Business Page, collect recommendations, and engage with customers in your neighborhood. Consider Nextdoor Ads, a hyperlocal targeted advertising offering that enables small businesses to narrow in on an exact area - down to specific neighborhoods so you only end up paying to reach your target audience.

4. Social media

Cost: Free or low-cost (you determine the budget)

Customers can learn important information about your business on social media platforms, including where you're located, when you're open, and how other customers have reviewed you. As with Google My Business, it's free to build business profiles on Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook page for your business is beneficial because it could also lead a new customer back to your website for additional information. There are paid advertising options, such as Facebook ads, to reach your target audience (by demographics, interests, and location) as well.

Consider other social platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Reddit. These platforms are all great for telling your customers about reopening schedules, any changes that have been made to the business, as well as safety precautions that are being followed to make everyone feel safe while visiting your store.

Video marketing is a valuable component of social media marketing. YouTube is one of the best platforms for this type of marketing. You can really showcase your brand identity to the audience by demonstrating your product or service. Since there are millions of users on YouTube, you are also able to really expand your reach and have the potential to truly connect with customers.

There are so many tools out there, so it's important to prioritize where your customers are spending time online and what makes the most sense for your business.

5. Local listings, local search, and business directories

Cost: Free or low-cost (you determine the budget)

New digital advertising options like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Nextdoor provide a platform for companies to list your business with local advertising options. Choose the business listing service that makes the most sense for your niche or industry.

6. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Cost: Free

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of ensuring your company's website ranks high in search engine results.

SEO involves understanding how people search for your products or services. Learn more about local SEO strategies here.

Are they more likely to look for "Thai restaurant near me" or "Thai food nearby"? Know the keywords people use to search for you, and ensure your website's content satisfies those queries. Keep your contact information up to date, and maintain your social media profiles.

7. Blogging

Cost: Free

Once your website is up and running, a great way to help improve your SEO and connect with the community is to create a blog. For example, if you're a restaurant owner, feature profiles on your staff, share recipes, and highlight loyal customers in your blog post. Strong content helps Google understand your niche, which should result in your business appearing in more results. Guest blogging is also a great option where you can create content elsewhere that will attract traffic with prospective customers back to your site.

8. Email marketing

Cost: Free or low-cost email marketing tools are available

Creating an email list for customers to join is one way to keep them engaged. Consider offering a one-time discount or other incentives to encourage people to sign up to receive emails. Small businesses can share updates such as new products or services, promotions, or changes to hours. Tools like MailChimp can get you started.

9. Direct mail

Cost: Varies

While some may think email has made physical mail obsolete, marketers have done some number-crunching around the response rates to direct mail. According to Forbes, response rates for mailers and other physical items sent to local customers' homes may be 10 to 30 times higher than digital marketing tactics like email.

10. Influencers

Cost: Varies

Growing your own social media following can take time. One way to generate interest in your products or services on popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat is to partner with local influencers. Influencer marketing is an increasingly popular form of marketing and has many success stories to show for it. Followers look to Instagram influencers and their social media accounts for reviews or promotions that they can trust. Influencer marketing is a promotional strategy used to really humanize your brand. While costs vary among different influencers, they may be willing to post about your business in exchange for freebies or VIP experiences. Another benefit of an influencer partnership is the advertising products can often be recycled for another ad format such as video ads.

11. Business cards

Cost: Varies

Like direct mail, business cards haven't lost their power to make an impact. If you are making connections face-to-face in your local community, always have a card on hand. If you want to give them a modern update, be sure to include information like your company's website and social media handles.

Local event networking is crucial for new businesses. Networking events are useful, however, you can build connections in many other ways. Showing up to community events, for example, is a great way to form meaningful relationships and gain trust from others. Increasing your presence in the community is a great business promotion strategy.

12. Supporting local organizations

Cost: Varies

Sponsor a community sports team, place an ad in a local newspaper or school yearbook, or support a charitable event to raise awareness of your company. Gain positive word of mouth as a business that's looking out for your neighbors' best interests and watch the new customers roll in.

13. Establish a Customer Loyalty Program

Cost: Free

It's well known that happy customers are often very loyal customers. By creating a customer loyalty program as part of your local marketing strategy you can give back to those who commit to supporting your business. There is great flexibility in setting up a program to incentivize your local audience to keep coming back. Offer your local market store credit, discounted products, free gifts, or even premium content access in the next promotions newsletter.

Monitor and measure performance

With more ways today than ever to market your business, it is vital that any ad campaign is supported by a strong performance tracking plan. From banner ads to content marketing, collecting data on what customers respond to will help you tailor your future efforts to be more successful. Most advertising methods have built-in detailed tracking on everything from demographics to the number of impressions; this information can help you compare previous advertisements and allow you to make informed decisions on where best to focus your time and resources.

Reopening your business after COVID-19

If you are one of the thousands of businesses that had to close down shop in order to prevent the spread of COVID, you may feel skeptical of what the future holds. However, with the distribution of the vaccines, declining cases, and eased restrictions, now is an opportunity to come back stronger than before. An effective way to do so is to up your marketing efforts.

Whether it's improving your brand awareness through social media platforms or creating a rewards program for your existing customers, there are many ways you can attract and maintain customers.

Now that you know how to promote a new business, you can implement the small business promotional strategies listed in this article to attract new customers and build relationships with neighbors as you reopen.

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Author image Nextdoor Editorial Team At Nextdoor, we love local. The Nextdoor Editorial Team is dedicated to telling stories of local businesses, providing product education, and sharing marketing best practices to help businesses grow.