One thing I’ve noticed about small businesses (and by ”small” I mean companies that make under $1 million per year) is that they typically don’t spend much time or money on marketing, aside from having a website. If they make enough revenue to be comfortable and pay their bills and they don’t aspire to grow the business, they’re usually content to carry on business as usual.

Of course, that can be fine for some businesses. But that approach can be risky; all it takes is one or two competitors to jar a company out of the comfort zone and into the danger zone. Furthermore, if you ever need to diversify your small business and try to capture market share in a market that is already penetrated by your competitors, you’ll probably have a hard time—unless you invest time and money into marketing.

Many small business owners are preoccupied with the daily rigors of running their operation to provide their product or service; after all, they got into business in the first place because they are good at what they do and they like to do it. Marketing might not be their favorite thing to do, or their strong suit. And let’s face it, when people think marketing they often think “cost,” rather than investment. They don’t realize that most companies need to invest 20% of their resources into marketing (according to this blog post by Laura Lake). And when they do attempt marketing, they often to it on an ad-hoc rather than strategic basis, depending on what pops up (a press release opportunity), or which advertising outlets pitch them most heavily.

Understandably, many small businesses operate on very lean margins so they often don’t have a lot of capital on hand to invest in marketing. If you’re a small business owner, chances are good that you need to invest something in marketing, so if you can’t spend money (on things like advertising or marketing consultants or web design), at least spend some time. Yes, time is yet another precious resource but sometimes we can find time more easily than we can find budget. If you decide to do marketing in-house, keep in mind that you or your staff might not have the necessary marketing skills or interest. Make sure you’ve got someone who is good at it and likes to do it; otherwise those marketing goals are very likely to slip off the radar screen.

Marketing is all about communicating to your social and business networks. Surely you can think of something to say on a regular basis about what your business does. (If you have absolutely no products or service to talk about, or no advice to offer, then you probably don’t really have a business.) So how do you get the word out for free? Here’s a short list of ways to shout out about your business:

1. It’s free, so start using social media. Start a company Facebook page, and feed it with content at least once per week. Likewise, create a company LinkedIn page. And while you’re at it, update your LinkedIn profile, expand your LinkedIn connections and post status updates occasionally; you’d be surprised how many connections you can make, and how often those connections will actually see and read your status updates. If your company sells something that offers products that can be photographed, consider adding a Pinterest account or an Instagram channel. If you can leverage video, start a YouTube or Vimeo channel. Twitter can be helpful but it’s harder to measure the impact on the bottom line, so it may not be a worthwhile investment of your precious time; I’d put it on the back burner until you can properly feed the other social media channels.

2. Update your website regularly. Not just once every quarter, but at least once a month, if not more. The easiest way to do that is to have a blog on your site (see below). Your frequent web visitors will appreciate the fresh content, and the search engines will give you more love.

3. Write a blog and post regularly; don’t be like me, the casual, infrequent blogger. (I know, I know; it’s a case where the cobbler’s children have no shoes!) Why write a blog? Because it’s good for SEO (search engine optimization) to bring your website higher visibility in the search engine rankings, and more importantly, it’s a free way to talk to your clients/customers and prospects. It’s free advertorial space, so use it.

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