10 Small Business Marketing Lessons You Need To Make The Most Of Your Limited Resources

Small business marketing lessonsDoes your small business get the most from your limited resources?

Not sure?

Wonder if you’re missing important marketing opportunities?

Or do you think that this doesn’t apply to your business because it’s larger with more resources.

Then think again.

The business reality regardless of size or focus:
Every decision means you chose not to do something else.

Further, for many small businesses:
Time is literally money since owners trade their time for money and other resources.

As a result, small businesses must ensure that every activity supports:

  • Wider brand visibility,
  • Increased house file and qualified business leads, and 
  • Profitable revenue  growth.

To get the most from your limited resources, apply these 10 small business marketing lessons. Together, they provide you with a working marketing strategy for your small business.

Then go one step further:
Document your small business marketing strategy.

Putting your small business marketing plans on paper will put you on a par with the best-in-class marketers.

Even better, it focuses you and your team on the key goals and activities for success! 


10 Small Business Marketing Lessons

Small business marketing ensures that every business decision and related investment yields the maximum possible return.

To achieve success, use your small business constraints to fuel your creativity to tap into potential opportunities to grow your business and  profitability.

Follow these 10 small business marketing lessons to get the most out of your limited resources.

1. Define Your Business and its goals

To succeed, you must distinguish your business from others providing the same or substitute products or services.

Assess the marketplace to determine your unique selling proposition (aka: USP), competitors, suppliers, distributors and current economic situation. 

Answer these questions to position your small business:

  • Who else offers these products and/or services? Don’t overlook major players due to size or location! What sets these businesses apart from yours?
  • Which companies can supply your small business with the inputs you need at a reasonable price and timing? What other companies do these suppliers support?
  • Which companies can distribute your products and/or services and at what cost? How do they work with your competitors?

Then use your answers to define your small business mission statement:

  • What products or services will you offer? What makes your business different from other providers? (See Small Business Marketing Lesson 3)
  • Who will you serve? Specifically what type of customers do you want to have. Further, why should potential customers and their purchase influencers select you? (See Small Business Marketing Lesson 2)
  • What does your business stand for (beyond making a profit)? In Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer refers to this as purpose.

Before skipping this step:
Realize that your mission statement saves your small business time and resources.

It keeps you from taking on customers and/or projects that aren’t aligned with your special skills and core values. 

For example, Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina found that defining his organization’s mission statement and sharing it across his team, saved time on projects and activities that weren’t profitable.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Write down your small business mission statement and share across your team.



2. Determine Your Audience

There’s truth to the adage: people buy from people, especially for small businesses.

In a small business, your audience includes:

  • Prospects, customers and their purchase influencers.
  • Employees, suppliers, distributors and other business connections like your financial partners.
  • Interested third parties such as category and local influencers, media entities, government and others such as competitors.

Stake out an unserved or underserved segment in your market.

Before you start, assess the size of your potential audience to ensure it’s big enough for you to attract sufficient prospects. Bear in mind that you’ll only convert a very small percentage of them.

A key to successful small business marketing is the ability to target your potential buyers. If you can’t find them or reach them via media or other communications, how will you market them?

For example, I worked on a project for a Fortune 100 company targeted small businesses. But the core audience was difficult to target using existing media at the time. This was confirmed by their market research which couldn’t source appropriate respondents.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Create a marketing persona. Get insights into your audience and their purchase needs related to your business.
  • Call customers and prospects who don’t purchase to get feedback cost effectively.  A colleague of mine did this with a travel startup. He found that his customers were very responsive to his calls.
  • Define who you don’t want as a customer. Difficult customers cost you time and zap your energy.  Orbit Media Studios provides a good example on their Who Is A Good Fit For Us? page.

    Orbit Media example of customer fit page

    Orbit Media example of customer fit page


3. Select Your Offering

All else being equal, customers seek superior products. In fact, many customers will pay extra to get better products.

Your offering includes more than just the actual products and/or services. Enhance your offering with content marketing, packaging, special services, product support and/or community.

For example, my local yarn store, Knitty City, helps knitters with support to unravel project challenges. You can’t get this from an online retailer! 

5 product levels of product hierarchy

Philip Kotler’s 5 Product Levels of Product Hierarchy

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Take advantage of current trends to create more tailored offerings for which your audience will pay more. This has broad applicability for small businesses seeking to exploit opportunities.



4. Set Prices To Maximize Profitability

Setting prices is one of the hardest aspects of marketing.

Because it’s difficult to assess your competitors’ cost structures and your prospects’ decision factors and actual budget.

Set your price to get the most customers who will buy more over time. As a result, you maximize customer lifetime value.

Your small business pricing goal:
Maximize your business profitability over the long term. 

Remember, like you, your potential customers also want to get the best product or service for the best price. 

Depending on your product or category, your pricing options may be set by  your competitors and near substitutes. So do your homework.

But cover your costs in the short term or you go out of business.

Take Marcus Sheridan’s advice
Discuss your prices even if your competitors don’t! 

From one blog post about pricing on River Pools And Spa Sheridan generated about $2 million in pool sales.

Updated Swimming Pool cost with visual comparison – River Pools & Spa

Because price is the biggest question every customer has regardless of  your product or service. 

Use Sheridan’s 3 pricing tactics:

  • Reframed the cost question. Prove your value to customers over time. Also show softer benefits.
  • Included all product-related questions. Compare products including ones you don’t sell.
  • Provided a price range. Explain related services such as installation.

Further, where possible, test different pricing approaches.

But don’t compete on price:
It hurts your profits and only attracts price conscious deal hunters.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Create opportunities to provide custom products or additional related services. This allows you to charge a higher price. Also, it helps to retain new customers.
  • Offer older or last season’s product at a greatly discounted price. It moves excess inventory and covers your cost.



5. Choose your small business location with care

Beyond rental costs, location, location, location matters offline and online!

Sales depend on being visible and available where and when your prospects decide they’re interested in your offering.

From this perspective, location extends to the following places across platforms and devices:

  • Findability on search including mobile and voice.
  • Availability on social media. At a minimum, include your business hours.
  • Listing on relevant category and local directories and review sites. This includes maps and Google My Business.

Additionally it includes your audience’s ability to contact you, get additional information, and complete the transaction on their terms. 

At one point, I worked for a well-known clothing brand whose management chose its retail locations based on the cheapest price. But, lower rental prices translated to lower sales.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Establish your small business where your target audience spends their time in the physical and the online worlds.
  • Provide contact information on your website, blog, newsletter and social media platforms. Allow prospects to choose how they want to engage with you.



6. Establish Your Small Business Brand

Many small business owners underestimate the power of branding. They believe that only big corporations do branding.

Consistent use branding makes your business appear larger than it is. 

Key brand factors include:

  • Business or brand name.
  • Brand voice, tone and language
  • Brand visuals such as color, typeface, images and logos

Brands create perceived value in these 3 ways:

  • Collectively give your business a recognizable personality. This results from consistent use and impressions across platforms, channels and devices.
  • Has a history and related story. Brand stories not only make your company memorable but also add an emotional element.
  • Provide reliability. As a result, your audience knows what to expect from your products and services.

To see how to apply this small business marketing lesson, look at my colleague Donna Moritz’s site, Socially Sorted.

  • Has a simple text-focused logo. This helps people who don’t know your brand.
  • Uses the same colors and typefaces. Moritz uses purple and teal.
  • Taps into the power of visual branding. Moritz adds her logo to her images.
small business marketing lesson

Socially Sorted offers a small business marketing lesson on branding

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Make it easy for everyone to consistently use your brand. Create and post brand guidelines on your intranet. With tight resources, make every communication and package count!
  • Create a backstory for your brand. Use one or more of these 30 brand stories.



7. Develop Marketing Creative

Your small business needs to look its best to go up against your competitors regardless of size! Think dress your business for success.

So you need:

  • Promotions, advertising and other materials like flyers and store signage.
  • Emailings to communicate with your audience, prospects and customers.
  • Content marketing and/or blog posts. For example, Andy Crestodina used Orbit Media’s search optimized blog to attract attention.
  • Packaging such as shopping bags, shipping materials and bills.
  • Print items such as business cards.

To get the most from your small business marketing investment:

  • Plan ahead to develop all related creative elements together. This saves time and costs over one-off efforts.
  • Create adaptable content assets. Save time for your team and stop them from recreating the wheel with each inquiry. Provide a library of easy-to-modify outreach communications, answers to key customer questions and marketing drip series.

Follow Marcus Sheridan’s “They ask, you answer” advice. Create the 5 types of content customers need.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Optimize your content and creative for prospects, search, social media, influencers and your business.
  • Build off-ramps (aka: Connected Content) into every piece of content and promotion. This includes Landing pages, Welcome series,  Thank You Pages, About Us and Contact Us. Also make them measurable!

    connected content maintains communication

    5 Types of Connected Content



8. Promote Your Small Business

To effectively reach your customers and drive sales, get the word out about your business using the best methods you can afford.

Maximize every business element and interaction by incorporating your message in contextually relevant ways. Include branding, your URL and other contact information and a call-to-action wherever appropriate. 

One of the most important small business marketing lessons is that you control 2 key promotional factors even with a micro-budget.

  • Timing. Schedule your promotions and major pieces of content to attract the biggest audience possible. For example, in 2017, BuzzSumo released its Headline Analysis the Monday before July 4th. While the piece attracted great results, they died after the major US holiday! (BTW–Here’s the full BuzzSumo case study.

    BuzzSumo’s 100 Million Headline Analysis is a B2B content marketing distribution case study

  • Consistent communications. Like Ann Handley–everyone’s favorite content marketer–I’m a fan of regular emailings, either every week or every other week. (BTW- I’d be thrilled if you signed up for our newsletter.) While your email newsletter doesn’t have to be fancy, it needs to be personal and relevant to build share of audience attention over time.

    Small Business Marketing Lesson- Consistent Communications

    Example of Ann Handley’s fortnightly email newsletter.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Use every communication to stay connected. For example add a sig file to your emails that includes your contact information and asks respondents to opt-in for your newsletter. Similarly, make your business cards memorable.



9. Use Technology To Support Your Business

Today, even small businesses with limited resources need technology.

To build search traffic and credibility, move beyond free offerings like Gmail and WordPress.com. (BTW, while it’s useful to have a Gmail account as backup, choose a professional user name associated with your business and/or brand.)

At a minimum, you need:

  • URL and web hosting
  • Website and/or blog 
  • Email marketing platform 
  • Ecommerce software
  • Website analytics 

Beyond these basics, Spin Sucks’s Gini Dietrich advocates using technology to automate repetitive and/or time consuming tasks that don’t require creative thinking.

As a small business, time remains your most precious resource. So assess where you spending it to determine if you can automate or delegate tasks with software or a virtual assistant.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

  • Use the Eisenhower Box approach to prioritize your activities.
  • Keep up with the latest tools in your area.  You don’t want to be overlooked or ignored since your prospects think that your skills are outdated.
  • Maintain your digital presence. Don’t be the cobbler’s children.
  • Get outside support if you need it. Many small business owners have coaches and/or mastermind groups.



10. Keep Score Of Your Business Success

Regardless of what you call it, every business must keep score what works and what doesn’t. And more importantly, you need to track the money coming in and going out.

While many small businesses rely on their accountants to them track their company finances, you can accomplish this by including tracking codes in your marketing. Then use Google Analytics or another software package to monitor results.

Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:

Keep your tracking simple. Use Google Spreadsheets to monitor your business spending.



Marketing Your Small Business Conclusion

Use these 10 small business marketing lessons to guarantee that your organization is making the best use of its resources to achieve your objectives.

To this end, check every element of your small business marketing strategy to ensure that it’s pulling its weight to yield the highest return over time.

What other small business marketing lessons would you add to this list?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on May 7, 2014 under the title, 10 Small Business Marketing Lessons You Need Regardless Of Size. It has been significantly updated and enhanced.

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