This article was updated on May 16, 2021
Small business owners wear many hats, and in many cases, that includes the role of a marketer. Fortunately, there are easy, low-cost (and even free) ways to get the word out about your 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.
Small business marketing 101: Identify Your Target Customer Base
Before considering any new advertising ideas, take a moment to identify your business’s target customer base.
That is, who exactly are you trying to reach and serve with your marketing?
Maybe you're a realtor 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.
12 free and low-cost advertising options for small businesses
1. Google My Business
Looking to advertise your business for free? One of the first places your potential customer will search for your business is Google. 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), 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.
2. Search engine marketing (SEM)
Cost: Low-cost (you determine the budget)
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a paid option where your listings are featured in sponsored 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 ad campaigns to target that demographic and focus your campaign by other criteria, such as ZIP code. Try SEM tools like Google Ads (and similar services from Bing, AOL, and Yahoo!).
3. In your neighborhood, in real life, and online
Cost: Free or low-cost
Spread word of mouth where your neighbors frequent, in-person and online. Place flyers and ads in community newsletters and bulletin boards, and in local online communities like Nextdoor. With 67% of Nextdoor neighbors sharing recommendations, you’ll want to make sure they know about your business. It's free to set up a Business Page, collect recommendations, and engage with customers in your neighborhood. Consider Nextdoor's Local Deals, a hyperlocal 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 like on Facebook and Instagram. There are paid advertising options to reach your target audience (by demographics, interests, and location) as well.
Consider other social media 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. 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 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)
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.
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 on your blog. Strong content helps Google understand your niche, which should result in your business appearing in more results.
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
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.
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. While costs vary among different influencers, they may be willing to post about your business in exchange for freebies or VIP experiences.
11. Business cards
Like direct mail, business cards haven't lost their power to make an impact. If you are making connections face-to-face, 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.
12. Supporting local organizations
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.
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. By implementing the small business promotional strategies listed in this article, you’ll be able to attract new customers and build relationships with neighbors as you reopen.
Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook.