5 Expert Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

5 Expert Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

Getting clients is the lifeblood of every business, but let’s face it–it’s often the hardest part. Unless you’re trained as a salesman or marketer, you’d probably rather stick what you know best (be it welding, dining, accounting, etc.) than devote time getting business, which in all honesty can be pretty intimidating.

Of course, that’s not something we can afford to do. As Karyn at Passion for Business explains, poor cash flow is one of the top 15 reasons small businesses fail. And you can’t have consistent cash flow without making sales.

While there’s no magic wand you can wave to make ready-to-buy prospects appear at your door, getting more business doesn’t have to be as complicated (or grueling) as you think. It doesn’t matter what your professional background is. Anyone can apply the principles of successful marketing to become a master and boost sales. There are lots of inventive, creative, and even fun ways to find clients.

This rundown of marketing ideas is full of results-driven strategies that real businesses are using to make more money.

#1. Get Media Exposure

Getting cited, interviewed, or mentioned in relevant media outlets can provide a major lift to your reputation. And you don’t have to be a celebrity for it to happen. You just have to know how to reach out to journalists, who are constantly looking for writing material.

Chris Winfield, entrepreneur and productivity coach who’s worked with the likes of Disney, Virgin, Viacom, and NBC, is no amateur when it comes to scoring press coverage. He’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN, and more.

Chris describes how businesses of any size can build connections with journalists and leverage these relationships to make it onto local or national publications.

  1. Develop a message that includes what sets you apart from your competition
  2. Make a specific list of the media outlets in which you want to appear
  3. Read through articles at these to single-out the reporters who cover your field
  4. Search the article, the publication site, or LinkedIn to find their contact info
  5. Put all the contact info on a spreadsheet

Then, get to know these reporters better. Dig around, follow them on social media, keep reading their material. Once you’ve gotten a feel for who they are, find out the best way of contacting them and send them a pitch. Be it by phone or email, simply introduce yourself as an expert who can provide much-needed help for stories. When important industry events occur, reach out again offering information (hopefully, you’ll get quoted!).

Always be sure to remain respectful, and follow all the rules of professional etiquette. Just one good relationship with a reporter can lead to years’ worth of favorable press coverage. If someone doesn’t reply, or if one pitch doesn’t work out–don’t sweat it! Perseverance is key!

#2. Create Free Tools and Resources for Potential Clients

I regularly shop at Walmart. At the particular one I go to, there are lots of free samples, especially in the pastry section. Not long ago, I was strolling past that area on my way to the fruits and vegetables when a tray filled with tiny servings of donuts caught my eye.

Naturally, I gave the sample a try (it was free, after all). They turned out to be some of the best store-bought donuts I’d had in a long time, so I ended up taking a box home with me.

There are lots of ways to do the same with your marketing. A lot of people have a “see-it-to-believe-it” mentality. In fact, it’s to be expected when you’re asking people to hand over their hard-earned cash. That’s why, oftentimes, the best way to hook in potential clients is to offer them a sample of what you offer. Once they realize just how awesome you are, or what kind of results you can bring them, they’ll want to sign up for the full package.

One extremely great way to give prospects “free samples” is with tools and resources of your creation. These solve a smaller problem your potential clients have while leaving them more aware of a greater need you’ll charge them to satisfy.

Think of Neil Patel over at QuickSprout. What’s the first thing you see when you go to the site? It’s a free SEO check-up tool that has no more description than these words “Do you want more traffic?” “Get more traffic with recommendations for your blog.” The “enter” button has the words “Yes, I want more traffic!”

Lots of people visit Quicksprout just to use this tool. It gives them insights into backlinks, social media following, keywords, site speed, and competition. You can even download the free report as a PDF.

So here, Neil solves one problem–telling us what’s what’s wrong with our site and how we can improve. Potential clients with big budgets who don’t have the time to act on the website analysis on their own hire Neil as a consultant for millions of dollars. Those of us who don’t have as much money probably still subscribe to his blog end up becoming customers somewhere along his sales funnel (like buying into his analytics software)

Another example is the online title loan directory ezDinero, which links hopeful borrowers to reputable lenders in their area. The company created an Android app that helps you calculate the dollar amount you’ll pay in simple interest on any loan. This simple tool helps the company with branding, builds its reputation, and serves as a source of referrals.

Remember, the key to creating an effective tool or resource is that it be complementary to your business. It solves an important problem your potential customers have while directing them to the solutions presented by your paid service. Some final ideas:

  • If you have a printing business, create a free online software that lets users design their own business cards online (be sure to include your watermark on the image)
  • If you make websites and do CMS migrations, create a tool that matches people’s existing HTML site to the most similar theme/template of the platform of their choice (WordPress, Wix, etc.)
  • If you own a salon, make an online tool that lets users take a photo of their hands and face and see what they would look like with different nail/hair stylings.

Using free tools to get new clients is like fly fishing. You hook them in with the freebie and then pull them into a business deal!

#3. Grow Your Network

Remember the movie It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart? In that holiday classic, the protagonist, George Bailey, spends his life putting the needs of those around him before his own. Although he doesn’t become the real estate tycoon he’d envisioned as a young man, his good deeds and generosity as a local lender make him a very beloved person in town (in contrast to the unscrupulous financier Mr. Potter).

The climax of the movie centers around George misplacing a big deposit that puts him in danger of financial ruin. Although his distress causes him to consider suicide, everything works out when the townspeople–all the people George had helped throughout the years–become aware of the situation and bail him out with their own money.

The movie is widely-acclaimed for its many inspiring messages, but people tend to miss a very important business lesson it teaches: the power of networking.

Simply put, your network is all the people you know: your friends, colleagues, clients, mentors, contacts, etc. The more people you have relationships with, the greater your chances of receiving referrals, landing deals, gaining knowledge and insights.

As with George Bailey, your network can save you when you’re in a tight spot. Ian Gordon, a serial entrepreneur who shares his decades’ worth of accumulated business wisdom over at Startup Daddy, talks about leveraging his network to get consulting gigs after one of his new businesses wasn’t bringing in the income he’d planned.

Probably the biggest take-away from Ian’s networking experiences is this: You can’t build an ark when it’s raining. In other words, the time to start building your network isn’t when you need it. You need to work at it over time, little by little. To achieve that, follow these network-building best practices:

Serve Others, Don’t be Self-Serving. Remember the It’s a Wonderful Life example. The reason everyone gathered together to help out George in the end is because he had consistently helped people throughout his life. First, there’s reciprocity. Do something for someone and they’ll want to return the favor. In addition, helping people get ahead in their careers will put them in a better position to help you out later on. So serve: send people referrals, provide them useful knowledge, guide them to helpful tools, let them know about important opportunities.

Actively Strive to Build New Relationships. We often have a tendency to remain in our closed world and not venture out unless forced to. This may shelter us from the discomfort of newness and the possibility of rejection, but it stunts your professional growth. There are interesting people all around you. Attend community events, join a club, go to parties. The point is to get out there, meet new people and hopefully make friends strike up a real conversation with your new acquaintances. If feasible, make it a goal to meet one new person every day.

Keep your Network Organized. To truly work your network effectively, map it out. Do this in the way that makes most sense to you, but be sure to keep certain bits of information in mind. For instance, you’ll want to jot down contact and company info for everyone in your network. Also, I recommend you sort according to the depth of your relationship (i.e. acquaintances, coworkers, friends) and the length of time you’ve known each other.

Set Goals and Follow-Up. Think about the ways you can help the individuals in your network and the way they can help you. Write these down as goals, set a timetable, and make plans to bring about the desired results.

Let’s say, for example, you want to get an important referral from one of your contacts but you don’t feel a high enough level of trust in your relationship. Program actions to cultivate the relationship by providing advice and support. Make it your goal to accompany them to trade event in a few months, where they can introduce you to the business prospect.

People like to do business with those they know. Building your network may be the most beneficial long-term marketing strategy you use.

#4. Make it Easy for People to Refer You

Referrals are golden. By far, they’re one of the best ways to get new customers or clients. We all want referrals, but receiving them can be as difficult as finding hay in a needlestack.

If referrals aren’t coming because you’re not asking, you need to correct that right away. But if you are asking and simply aren’t receiving them, despite having a great product and customer service, it may be you haven’t made your business “referable” enough.

In other words, you need to take actions and make adjustments that make it easy for people to refer you.

Take Spa 101 Miami. As described on Carol Roth’s blog, Spa 101 gave Lebron James and his girlfriend some courtesy treatments for his birthday. They sneakily included gift certificates in the package, which Lebron could give away to friends and family.

They did two things right. First, they gave a gift to win the favor (and future business) of one of the world’s biggest star athletes. Always keep in mind the power of gifts for winning people over.

Second, Spa 101 made it convenient for both the referral and the referrer. The referral has greater incentive to actually visit the salon since they can use their gift certificates. And if Lebron is looking for a nice gift for someone special, he can save his money and send a gift certificate for that awesome spa he once went to.

This coincides with the fantastic advice of John Rood, founder of Next Step Test Prep–a successful one-on-one LSAT/MCAT/GRE/GMAT tutoring service that’s been featured on NBC, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. John explains the importance of making it clear how you want to receive referrals.

In Spa 101’s case, they wanted referrals arrive in-person with gift-certificate in hand. Other options include creating a specific referral form on your website or having them reach you via phone/email.

Offer Rewards

Now, it isn’t just about making it easy to give a referral–you should make it desirable. That isn’t hard to do if you offer rewards for referrals. These can be discounts, bonus services/products, or cash prizes. Use whatever you feel is most appropriate for your particular customer base.

To maximize the effectiveness of referrals for rewards programs, make the offers limited time. That gives your clients additional motivation to take care of the referral quickly.

Educate your Customers

On a final note, an oft-forgotten key to acquiring more referrals is to educate your customers and clients about your business. Even if a client wants to refer you, he may be unable to do so efficiently if he doesn’t know the full extent of the services you offer. By providing valuable information related to your field of expertise, you establish yourself as an authority who knows what he’s doing, thereby giving people greater reason to recommend you.

To this end, newsletters, blog posts, videos, infographics, and other forms of shareable content marketing are fantastic ways to give clients a favorable image of yourself while increasing the probability that they’ll refer you.

#5. Become an Authority

How would you like to have potential clients fighting over your time? Event organizers willing to pay you to give remarks and draw crowds? What about having more business than you can handle and being able to pick and choose who you work with?

All of this can be yours–the trick is to first become an expert in your field. How do you do that? It’s not impossible. Knowing the ins and outs of your industry and actually being good at what you do are a given, but there’s more to it than that. Just being good or even great isn’t enough. It’s about how–and where–you market yourself.

You have to become an educator. A thought leader.

Let’s take for a second about Pat Flynn, who’s one of the internet’s biggest authorities when it comes to making niche sites (websites built around very specific topics that are designed to bring in passive revenue through automated sales systems, affiliate marketing, etc.).

The last couple years, Pat’s been in pretty high demand as a speaker. Last year his engagements took him as far as the Phillipines and Australia. Although Pat has tons of projects going on all at once, the demand for his insights allowed him to earn a bit over $25,000 with the few events he decided to attend.

What does it take to achieve that level of personal brand authority? It really comes down to showing people you have the secrets they’re searching for. If you hoard your valuable information all to yourself, you won’t get very far. But if you put yourself out there and educate your ideal public, you will boost your reputation in a way that will lead to business opportunities you’re dreaming of.

These are some of the best ways to truly position yourself as an authority and control the conversation in your field of expertise. Remember: when you control the conversation, you’re in a hugely advantageous position from which to direct people to your products and services.

Seminars and Workshops

Seminars and workshops are phenomenal marketing tactics for creating interest in your product while providing real help for real people. Most businesses can benefit from them. For example, if you run a garage door company here in Fort Lauderdale, then you know hurricanes are one of the biggest threats homeowners (your potential customers) face. A good idea, then, would be to hold an informative meeting in which you discuss home defense against hurricanes and explain how your products fit into an overall hurricane defense plan.

If you sell hand-made clothing and crafts, you can show off your skills and build a base of fans by leading workshops in your community in which you pass along some of your knowledge to others.

Don’t think that showing others how to do what you do will hurt your business. That’s one of the top rules of content marketing. By handing out knowledge freely, you strengthen your personal brand and your legitimacy as an authority. Even if you teach people to do what you do, most people are too lazy to do it themselves, so when they need the service they’ll end up hiring you.

To come up with and organize an effective seminar or workshop, follow these guidelines.

Center Your Topic Around Customer Needs. You don’t want to jump into just any topic. Otherwise, no one’s going to want to attend. Do some brainstorming and really think about what will be of interest to your target market. If you were in their place, what topic would get you out of your door and into the seminar? To generate ideas, do some research and find out what themes your competition has covered in their own seminars and website blog posts. Also, send correspondence to your email list or best clients to request their feedback on topic ideas.

Don’t Start Spreading the Word Too Early or Too Late. One of the keys to optimal attendance is to begin marketing at just the right time. According to Mike Schultz and John Doerr of Rain Group, the best time to begin marketing for 2-hour seminars is three to four weeks in advance. Shorter seminars can have shorter announcement times. If you start getting people to register too early, you’ll see a lot of dropoffs in your attendance.

Have a Large Enough Base of Potential Attendees. Turnout rates for seminars tend to be low, as low as 3 percent. You can increase this percentage with effective marketing, but you should still maintain realistic expectations in order to put greater effort into your outreach. Otherwise, you’ll be left with an empty room and a bunch of refreshments to take home. Know that you may have to invite hundreds to have reasonable attendance.

Market Your Seminar Like a Boss. First, choose the invitation medium that works best for your target audience. You know who they are. Are they online and on social networks? Or is technology not their strongsuit. Direct mail, email, and social media invitations can all be effective if done right.

To arouse interest and encourage attendance, include all the relevant information: Who’s holding the seminar? Who will be the speaker? What will be taught? What tangible benefits will the attendees derive?

Craft a winning title for your seminar. The title is the first thing people read. Not only must it be descriptive; it has to grab readers’ attention and make your seminar as desirable as possible. Use the word “how,” as in “How to Achieve X Result.” Use strong buzz words like “powerful,” “proven,” and “easy.” Make bold statements with specific benefits (if they attend your personal finance seminar, they can increase their retirement savings by x percent).

(For a more in-depth look at crafting eyeball-catching titles and headlines, check out this article.)

Give Value and Make Your Sale. It’s important that you actually make your seminar educational and valuable. If it’s nothing more than a sales pitch, you’re going to leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth and get nowhere.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to sell. The whole point of setting up a seminar or workshop is to convince people to buy your product. What you do is subtly tie your product or service to the problem you’re helping your audience solve. You present data and examples, even demonstrations, of how their lives will be easier with the help of what you’re selling.

Just think how Tupperware has grown to become a billion-dollar company thanks to its Tupperware parties. Deliver value and sales will come.

Remember that most people won’t buy in the moment. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean they won’t buy eventually. Give them follow-up via email, mail, or whatever other method you consider most appropriate.

Don’t forget to give your attendees physical materials for their own study or for the decision-makers in their company. Alan Rosenspan, one of the biggest leaders in direct marketing on the world stage, makes this point. A lot of the people who attend  the seminar aren’t actually in a position to make a buy decision on their own. Empower them to persuade their managers with pamphlets, booklets, videos, etc.

One final point: be sure to choose the right venue. Gauge the size of your public beforehand so that you don’t go with a space that’s too big (which will look empty with a small number of attendees) or too small (which will provoke claustrophobia).

Seminars take a lot of time and effort to plan, prepare, and get right, but they provide some of the biggest payoff of any marketing technique.

Online Content Marketing

You may think I’m trying to toot my own horn here since content marketing is what we do, but the numbers don’t lie. It isn’t without very good reason that 91 percent of B2B marketers and 86 percent of B2C marketers use content marketing.

Here’s a lowdown on the most popular forms of content used today. Pick the one that you’re most comfortable with and that your potential clients are most likely to respond favorably to. Choose just one to start off with and become really good at it before moving onto something else.

Blogging. Although a lot of people nowadays prefer visual content, the written word still has a lot of power–especially when it comes to marketing. According to HubSpot, 46 percent of people read blogs once a day and 82 percent of marketers who blog daily got a customer through their blog. For those who blog once a month, 57 percent have gotten a customer.

You don’t have to publish a post every day. It’s not even realistic unless it’s your full time job or you have a team of writers working for you. Once a week is fine for most purposes.

Infographics. An infographic is a visual representation of information that makes the topic easier to understand. Here’s an infographic explaining what an infographic is.

Not only are infographics super easy to read and understand for most readers. They’re one of the best ways to get backlinks to your website, which is one of the most important factors for ranking in search engines. Bloggers love to include infographics made by others on their websites in order to back-up what they’re writing about. By creating an embed code for your infographic, people can easily share it. Then, they link back to your site as the source.

Videos. The future of content marketing is moving toward video. Studies suggest that video will take up 69 percent of consumer traffic by 2017. Video is easy-to-digest and fun.

In the past, making video ads was something only multi-million dollar corporations could afford. Now the cost of making video has gone down significantly and most businesses can invest in it strategically. There are even new tools like Content Samurai that make it possible for you to make high quality video for your business with no video-production experience.

Podcasts. A podcast is a regular audio show that covers topics relevant to your target audience. It’s like blogging except that the audio medium allows for a more dynamic experience. Podcasting can be a great choice if writing isn’t your biggest strength, although you’ll still need some writing skills to develop scripts for your podcast.

One benefit of podcasting is that it’s an ideal platform for inviting influencers as interview subjects or guest contributors. Influencers are authorities or experts in your field who have a strong following. Associating yourself with them can help you build a mutually beneficial relationship. It also helps you attract their (already established) audience.

Donald Kelly, one of South Florida’s most prominent sales coaches, has built a loyal audience through his regular podcast, The Sales Evangelist. He regularly features prominent marketers and entrepreneurs, such as Guy Kawasaki.

Outreach. Even if you produce the world’s best content, it won’t get much traffic on its own. The best way to get people to see your stuff is to reach out to influencers. Visit their blogs or look them up on social media. Get their email addresses if possible and let them know when you publish content they may be interested in reading (and sharing). Better yet, cite them in your content and let them know–they’ll be flattered!

Don’t ever be pushy or salesy with influencers. Be friendly, courteous, and respectful. Whatever you do, don’t shove your content in their face. Send them a hello first and mention your work. If they say they want to see more, then send them a link.

For a super useful guide to email outreach, take a look at this article over at LeadFuze.

Content marketing is a strategy that takes time to produce results. But the results you get with perseverance are long-lasting and self-compounding.

Create a Facebook Group

Facebook groups are forums for discussion, networking, and lead generation. You can create an industry-specific group for professionals in your field (and complementary fields) or a networking group targeting your geographic area. Both give you the opportunity to build valuable relationships.

Being a member of such groups is advantageous and should be part of your social media strategy. But creating a group and being admin allows you to truly direct the conversation and leverage a group completely.

Ike Thaylor is an eclectic South Floridian entrepreneur whose many successful enterprises include a printing business, email marketing company, and video brochure business. Along with marketing techniques like direct mail, referral marketing, and SEO, Ike’s an admin for a Facebook group titled Online Vendor Shows, which boasts over 6,000 members. The group’s goal is to promote local and home-based businesses.

By following the same route, you can create a steady stream of prospects online.

Conclusion

Marketing doesn’t have to exclusively be the domain of marketers. The ins and outs of marketing a business involve knowledge and skills that anyone can pick up if you simply devote some learning time every week.

Remember, consistency is key. Pick one or a few methods and stick with them. You may not be great at the start but your abilities will improve over time. Track your results and use this data to improve your performance. Before you know it, you’ll be a marketing beast.


Luis Miguel

Luis Antonio Miguel serves as Digital Media Manager at Ket-Go. He oversees accounts in our SEO, content marketing, web design, and translation departments.

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