Small Business Marketing 101

Marketing a business is no easy task, it can be a massive undertaking and doing it well requires a huge amount of experience and sometimes quite a lot of capital. Whether or not you plan on heading up your company’s marketing efforts yourself, in this guide we will give you a basic understanding of the fundamentals of small business marketing to help get you started.

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Advertising: Traditional vs. Digital

Advertising is the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear the word “marketing.” It is, after all, the actual demonstration of a business’ marketing strategy.

Traditional Strategies

In the digital age, many business owners may feel that more-traditional advertising techniques have become out of date. However, no matter what new marketing tools arise, there is still little that can beat the most well-tested, traditional forms of advertising.


The goal of any advertising strategy is to get your message seen by the right people. To this end, securing a billboard can be extremely effective. In an age when people can fast-forward through commercials and install ad blockers on their phones and computers, drivers are one of the few truly captive audiences left.

This method of advertising is especially useful for businesses that operate within a specific geographic location. Billboard advertising allows you to determine with fairly good accuracy who is seeing your ad, where they are coming from, and where they are going. Targeting such a specific audience means you can tailor your ad in a way that best appeals to them.

Once you’ve selected the best location for your billboard, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when designing your content.

  • Longevity. The average billboard ad stays in place for 12 weeks. This means that your content should focus on long-term messaging that will remain relevant for the life of the ad. Include items like brand name, key products, and location.
  • Short and sweet. Unless they are stuck in traffic, drivers only have a moment to take in your ad. Short, memorable content will stay with them as they pass. The rule of thumb for billboards is to use six words or less.
  • Show, don’t tell. Billboards are an excellent advertising tool, but they have limitations. Drivers will not be writing down web addresses or phone numbers while driving. Instead, focus on memorable visual messaging and brand awareness.
  • Call to action. For local businesses like restaurants or shops, including your business name, distance to your location, and exit number can direct drivers right from the highway to your door.

Finally, there are some ways to bring new technology to the billboard. With digital billboards, you can rotate through a variety of ads or alternate with other businesses to save money.


While many decree that print media is dead, a large majority of consumers report that a print ad is more memorable than a digital ad. To this end, brochures are some of the most versatile advertising tools available to a business. In terms of messaging, they fall on the opposite end of the spectrum as the pithy billboard.

Brochures can convey an immense amount of information in a small package. They are like a website that consumers can hold in their hands. But unlike a website, they are designed to be read at the consumer’s leisure, so don’t hold back. Include information on your company’s history, leadership, products, services, and more.

Brochures also lend themselves well to almost any business type. From restaurants to real estate to recreation, just about anyone can effectively use a brochure to convey information about their business.

Another great thing about including brochures in your advertising is the number of ways they can be used and distributed.

  • Set them out in or near your business location. By doing this, you’re sharing information about your business with people that you know live and shop in your area.
  • Distribute them at trade shows and industry events. Because brochures are small and easy to transport, you can bring them with you any time you may be in contact with potential customers. Handing them out with company swag can entice more people to take one.
  • Send them through direct mailers. Brochures are the perfect size and shape for postal mail. If you have developed a good mailing list of potential customers, sending your brochure through the mail is an excellent way to reach all of them at once. This can be especially useful for a new business that’s just opened in the area.
  • Include coupons and promotions. An excellent way to ensure that people hold on to your brochure and visit your business is to include an incentive. Adding coupons and special offers at the end of a brochure is a simple way to draw more business.


Printed newsletters are one of the oldest forms of advertising content and can be an extremely effective complement to your other print and digital marketing. While reaching your customers through the mail may seem outdated, the huge decrease in postal mail can actually work to your advantage. Because people receive so little substantive mail these days, your newsletter will stand out in a way that is no longer possible through email or other digital marketing.

Like brochures, a newsletter is a tangible piece of material that a consumer can read on their own time and refer back to as needed. It is a way to communicate a significant amount of information about your business in a more personal way. Rather than just informing, business owners can use a newsletter to build relationships and trust with potential customers in a way other marketing materials can’t.

When beginning a newsletter campaign it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  • Tell, don’t sell. While a newsletter is part of your advertising strategy, it should never come off like an ad to your readers. Above all else, a newsletter should inform not sell. While subtle calls to action are effective, direct sales pitches will generally fall flat.   
  • Don’t bore your readers. Even the most exciting business can sound boring if presented in the wrong way. Avoid discussing the mundane details of your business and instead focus on engaging and entertaining content that tells a story.
  • Be consistent. When someone signs up for a newsletter, they expect to receive one at regular intervals. Before signing up subscribers, be sure you have enough content ideas, time, and money to produce your publication on a regular basis, be it weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Digital Strategies

Despite the many benefits of traditional marketing, no business can survive without taking advantage of the many digital marketing options available today. An effective billboard or newsletter goes a long way, but without a strong online presence, your business will lose a great deal of credibility with consumers, and you will miss out on some excellent opportunities to reach more people.

One new digital marketing strategy that many small businesses are turning to is QR Codes. Check out our How to Get a QR Code for My Business guide and start using this technology to your business' advantage. 

Email marketing

When you’re looking for an effective, affordable digital marketing resource, you cannot go wrong with email. Although even email can feel outdated these days in the face of instantaneous social media interactions, it remains the most effective digital marketing channel available for a number of reasons.

First, email beats out social media marketing in every meaningful metric:

  • Number of users. Despite the universal appeal of social media, there are still more than a billion more email users than Facebook users across the globe.
  • Delivery rate. Unlike social media with its algorithms, your business is in complete control of who sees your email message. In fact, 90% of email marketing reaches the recipient's inbox, while only 2% of your Facebook fans will regularly see your posts in their newsfeed.
  • Conversion rate. The average clickthrough rate of an email campaign is 3 percent. While this may sound small, it far surpasses the average rate of 0.85 percent across popular social media platforms.
  • Return on investment. Email also offers a wonderful return on your investment. For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44. That’s a 4400% ROI.

Before reaping all the benefits of an email campaign, there are a few things you’ll need to do to ensure that your campaign is as effective as it can be.

  • Build your list. The easiest way to do this is by setting up a lead capturing form on your website. The more data you can collect the better. More information will allow you to effectively segment your list and target specific groups with different content. To encourage subscribers, offer a benefit in return, such as a discount or newsletter.
  • Plan your content.  A successful email campaign will have diverse content. Promotions, loyalty programs, newsletters, and even birthday messages will keep consumers clicking.
  • Analyze performance. Sending emails is only the beginning. For any campaign to be successful, you’ll need to gather as much information as possible about who is opening your emails and clicking through to your website. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to continuously tailor your messages to get the best possible returns.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Up until now, the tools discussed have been ways for small businesses to directly market to specific consumers. But, what about those consumers who are looking for you? When someone opens their computer looking for a meal or a car or an insurance provider, you want them to find you, not your competition. This is where search engine optimization comes in. Effective SEO is a way for businesses to open their doors to consumers in need of their product or services right now.

While much of marketing is about understanding the customer, SEO is largely about understanding yourself and your business. To start, you’ll need to pin down exactly what your business is about and how to present this clearly on your website. The best way to do this is to develop strong keywords and use them throughout your website and permalink URLs.

Google Keyword Planner is a great way to get started. This free service allows you to search words and phrases related to your business to see how often certain words are searched and how those searches change over time.

However, keywords alone will not boost your site to the top of search engine results. There are a few other steps required to make sure your business remains front and center.

  • Site speed. To maintain a high Google rating, your site should take no longer than three seconds to load.
  • Stay connected. Linking to other relevant business websites and having those sites link to you will boost your site in search results and drive more traffic to your business.
  • Keep your content fresh. Stale web content will help bury your company’s site. Make sure to update your content as much as possible to stay current.
  • Don’t forget your blurbs. The first thing most web searchers learn about your company is what you tell them in your site’s meta description. Make sure to write strong and concise descriptions to go along with each page of your website.
  • Index your content. While most search engines will automatically index your web content, you should not assume that they have. You can and should index content yourself if it hasn’t been done already.

Paid Ads

While there are several free digital marketing options available, every business should consider including paid ads in their overall advertising strategy. When it comes to paid ads, there are a number of options to consider. Two of the most popular and effective are pay-per-click ads and display ads.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click ads are one of the most popular paid advertising tools. These ads often appear either on search engines or on social media platforms. With search engine ads, you can place ads in the results that come up when people search for products or services related to your business. Social media ads allow business owners to pay to have their ads appear across a social media platform. In both cases, you will pay each time a user clicks on your ad.

  • Google Ads. As the most popular search engine, Google Ads is also the most popular pay-per-click marketing available. Google offers flexible budgeting, excellent analytics to target your ads, and high visibility. They even reward businesses for using effective keywords and producing relevant ads. Those with the best ads will earn higher ad rankings and a lower cost per click.
  • Bing Ads. While less popular than Google, Bing Ads have a number of benefits. One of the biggest is their cost, coming in around 33% less than Google Ads. Bing’s users are generally older and more affluent, so this can be a great way for businesses to reach this demographic. Bing also offers excellent analytics tools that are comparable to Google Ads. If you’re already using Google Ads, it’s easy to duplicate your campaign in Bing to reach the remainder of the search engine audience.
  • Social media. Like search engine advertising, all major social media platforms use pay-per-click advertising. While organic social media interaction is an important and useful marketing tool, it doesn’t have the same reach as other free tools. Paying for ads is a great way to get your message across to more of your followers. Most platforms offer very specialized targeting with a number of parameters and excellent analytics tools to help you succeed. Since most people use social media on a mobile device, this is also an excellent way to reach mobile users.  

Display Advertising

Display Advertising is a great way to grow your brand presence online. Display ads, or banner ads, show up any time someone is searching the web, whether they’re looking for your products or not. It’s a very effective way to keep your business and products top of mind no matter what a consumer is doing online.

Aside from text, image, and rich media ads that appear directly on websites, you can also purchase video display ads to appear on YouTube and other online video content.

Google Display Ads is the most popular display ad provider. Because the Google Display Network reaches 90% of internet users worldwide, you’re sure to get your message across to your target audience. Google Display Ads also allows you to target your ads in a number of ways.

  • Placement Targeting. This allows you to specifically choose which websites you want your ads to appear on. It is a great method for industry-specific targeting or for more niche businesses.
  • Contextual Targeting. This method allows you to create a list of relevant keywords to be used when targeting your ads.
  • Topic Targeting. Similar to contextual targeting, business owners can choose from a list of existing page topics so that ads only appear on websites categorized under that topic.
  • Interest Targeting. Unlike other targeting methods, interest targeting is focused on the user rather than where they’re going online. By collecting cookies on users, Google is able to create lists of people based on their interests. With this, a business can target their display ads based on user interest, regardless of what they are searching for at the moment.


Reputation Management: Upholding Your Brand

The second pillar, and the side of marketing too many entrepreneurs forget about, is reputation management. No amount of advertising will help you if customers can’t trust the quality and reputation of your business.

Customer Reviews

Reaching consumers through advertising is only the first step to successfully converting them into customers. Surveys have shown that 92% of all consumers read reviews as part of their purchasing decisions. This often means that the very next thing a consumer does after finding you through either print or digital advertising is to look up reviews of your business.

For this reason, it’s imperative that you take an active role in cultivating your online reputation. You can do this in a number of ways.

  • Claim and update review pages. Platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor allow business owners to claim their business page for free. By doing this, you can keep your information up to date, add photos, and respond directly to customers.
  • Accumulate positive reviews. Encourage customers to leave you reviews both on your own website and other sites. Create a section of your website for collecting and showcasing reviews, link to third-party review sites, or send follow up emails requesting reviews after purchases are made.
  • Communicate. Responding to people who review your business is an excellent and free way to communicate directly with customers. For this reason, businesses should strive to provide authentic, unique responses to every review.
  • Address criticism. While you can’t control how someone reviews your business, you can control your response. Negative review can be very harmful to even the strongest businesses. Responding to these reviews with humility and constructive solutions can do wonders to restore trust.

Beyond cultivating your online reputation, businesses should look for ways to highlight it wherever they can. Your website is the best place to start, by creating a dedicated page to showcase your positive reviews. Similarly, you may opt to use a site like Trustpilot, which allows business owners to embed TrustBoxes on their websites to display reviews.

Finally, Google’s program Small Thanks is designed to allow small businesses to integrate their reviews into a variety of marketing materials for free. Once you’ve amassed enough Google reviews, the service will choose quotes from your 4- and 5-star reviews and create examples of social media posts, posters, and other marketing materials.

Get $300 in Yelp Advertising Credit Free

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Social Media

As we’ve seen, social media advertising is not always the most effective means of reaching consumers. However, maintaining an active social media presence is essential to any successful marketing strategy. One of the biggest benefits of social media is that it’s a two-way street. Not only is it a powerful form of free advertising, it’s also an excellent resource for learning about and communicating with consumers.

Much like review sites, social media allows business owners to directly respond to their customers’ demands and concerns. More than that, though, it provides a unique opportunity to build a very personal connection with consumers. People use social media to stay in touch with friends and family. The most successful social media strategies focus on cultivating this type of relationship with their customers. This builds trust, loyalty, and excitement around your band. Your follows will feel like they are part of your business rather than just being a sales target.  

There are several important things to consider when developing your social media presence.

  • Branding. When creating your business accounts, it’s best to use the same username, images, and description across platforms to make your business easily recognizable.
  • Planning. Creating an effective social media presence requires a clear strategy and advanced planning. Specifically, you’ll need to clearly identify the purpose of your social media presence and your target audience.
  • Engagement. Social media is just that—social. Users aren’t looking to be pitched, they’re looking to be seen and heard. Rather than sales pitches, ask questions, encourage customers to post pictures of themselves using your products, and respond to commenters as often as possible.
  • Consistency. Accounts that go silent for days at a time will start losing followers. Make sure you have a variety of content ready to go each day to keep users interested.
  • Target. Not all social media platforms are created equally. Different target audiences will prefer different platforms. You’ll need to select which platforms work best for you and how to utilize each one to their full potential.



It is clear that today’s business owners have an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to marketing and advertising. By taking the time to understand each option and how it can serve your business, you will be able to craft an effective, lucrative strategy to help grow your business today and into the future.