No matter the nature of your small business, you need to sell your services to succeed. Small business marketing introduces your company to your target audience, showing them that you offer a product or service unlike anything else. That’s why developing a comprehensive small business marketing plan is essential for setting yourself apart from the competition and cementing your reputation as a trusted business.

There are countless ways to market your small business, so don’t be afraid to get creative in addition to using tried-and-true methods.

Design Exceptional Business Cards

Your business card is often the first impression prospective customers get from your company, so you want to make an impact. Most people prefer to buy low-quality cards in order to get more per pack, but the weight of the cardstock actually makes a difference. Instead of opting for thinner cards, choose a sturdy paper stock, such as ultra-thick business cards with a textured feel.

Make your business card design personal to let your personality shine. Don’t be afraid to hand-write a message on the card before handing it over. Something as simple as, “Remember me? We met at ____” can leave a lasting impression. You can also print your business’s contact information on pens, USB drives and other items and hand those out instead.

Be sure to share your business card with everyone you know. Hand them out at your kid’s school, leave them behind with your restaurant check or pin them to your community billboard. You should also give extra to friends and family who can pass them along even further.

Emphasize Referrals

Relying on referrals to generate more business is more effective than you may think. It costs nothing to request a referral, and yet you can exponentially increase your client base simply by asking for a referral. Since there are no costs associated with requesting a referral, most people don’t mind helping you out if you made an impression on them with your product or service.

With most services, you may meet or communicate with the client one last time to wrap up the business. This is the perfect time to ask for a referral. Leave a few extra business cards with the client to make it even easier. Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t ask for a referral when presenting a bill; you want to conclude the business first.

You might consider developing a customer referral program that offers a free product or other rewards to clients who refer new customers. Another option is to request a testimonial, which is a short, written endorsement of your company. Use these testimonials on your website and marketing materials to showcase what you’ve done for previous clients. The more you get used to asking for referrals and testimonials, the easier it will get, so consider this request an essential aspect of concluding your business with every client.

Learn From Competitors

An effortless way to improve your marketing efforts is to see what competitors do. What about their marketing strategy seems to attract customers? Do you see any room for improvement? For example, many companies continue to use cold-calling techniques despite the fact that cold calling offers very little return. Even worse, cold calling can leave prospective customers with a negative view of your company, so although some companies continue to rely on this outdated marketing model, it isn’t a tactic you want to use.

Instead, consider how your competitors utilize social media and blogging to attract attention. How frequently do they run Facebook ads? Do they interact daily with customers? How do they handle customer complaints? When you see what’s working for your direct competition, you can better incorporate those same ideas into your own marketing strategy.

Update Your Social Media

Along those same lines, you should be updating your business’ social media accounts regularly. Social media marketing has become an essential aspect of conducting business in the digital age, and the last thing you want to do is ignore it.

Focus on improving your social media presence by attracting followers across social media platforms and interacting with them daily. It’s essential to keep your account information up to date, including any business changes such as your website, hours, address and logo. Current photographs are also a must since they provide customers with a sneak peek into your business.

You should also post fresh content regularly on all social media pages. Doing so will keep your business on users’ minds, so you’re not just another company they see once and forget. If you have difficulty keeping up with your social media accounts, consider hiring a freelance social media manager.

Take Advantage of Social Media Marketing

Another aspect of social media is in its unique marketing capabilities. Social media marketing emphasizes attracting attention on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and other apps. These social media sites offer their own marketing platforms that are relatively affordable when you consider how vast your reach could be. How else can you put your ad in front of thousands of potential customers in a 24-hour span? The possibilities are practically limitless.

Aside from running various social media marketing campaigns, you should also post current sales and product photographs on your social media accounts. If you’re running a limited sale, announce it throughout the week until the sale is over. This will hype up your consumer base and encourage them to visit your business during special promotions.

Don’t Neglect Email Marketing

Keeping customers engaged via email is a smart way to maintain relationships. In fact, email marketing delivers the best marketing return on investment (ROI) of any strategy, so you’re missing out if you haven’t set up your campaign.

The key points to keep in mind when executing an email marketing campaign is to personalize your messages, send mobile-friendly emails, test the copy beforehand and automate your campaign whenever possible. Keep your subject lines short, send your emails during prime time from 8 p.m. to midnight and test free content such as an eBook download to encourage click-throughs.

Utilize Text Message Marketing

Another great marketing tool is the text message. If done incorrectly, however, users will opt out of subscriptions, so you want to approach any text message marketing campaign with some important rules in mind.

For starters, you need permission from subscribers before sending text messages. The last thing you want to do is break any laws, spam potential customers or incur legal penalties. This would only put your business in a negative light, which can be difficult to recover from. Instead, allow customers to opt into text message by texting a keyword or providing written consent.

You should also keep texts to a minimum. Two to four texts per month are ideal because this frequency doesn’t come across as spam. Try to be clear about how often you’ll send text messages when users subscribe so they aren’t taken by surprise.

It’s also important to include an exit in any text messaging campaign. Subscribers feel better knowing they can unsubscribe at any time. This generally means having a “STOP” function users can text to automatically unsubscribe. Include the necessary disclaimer about text messaging rates, only text during business hours and provide valuable content in your text messages that encourage click-throughs.

Update Your Blog

Every small business should maintain a blog in this day and age. Blogging is the best way to optimize search engine results to keep your business highly ranked on Google and other search engines. Unfortunately, most businesses neglect the importance of blogging and focus on other efforts instead, which makes their website more difficult to find.

The key to blogging is to focus on quality rather than quantity. It’s better to post a high-quality article once every two weeks than poorly written blogs twice a week. The best scenario is to post a polished blog once per week that contains content your readers find interesting.

Keeping up with your blog might mean hiring an expert in the industry, but it’s a small price to pay to have quality content scheduled to go live on your website on a regular basis. Consider hiring a freelance blogger as just another aspect of your marketing budget.

Host Online Contests

Who doesn’t love to win free stuff? If you’re in the position to offer a free product or service to a winning participant, holding a contest is a fun way to generate interest. You don’t even need to offer expensive prizes to get participants excited. Even a gift card to your business is enough to generate attention.

Websites like Rafflecopter and Gleam make it easy to host a giveaway. These platforms offer one-click entries, responsive widgets, built-in viral sharing, third-party integrations, fraud protection and easily picked winners to streamline any giveaway no matter how big or small.

If you prefer to keep things low-tech, advertise the giveaway yourself and draw names on live video. Posting a live video with contest results is just another way to make participants excited about your product or service, so even if they don’t win, they will likely make a purchase anyway.

Participate in Industry Partnerships

Teaming up with another business in your industry is a must for executing joint projects. While you don’t want to partner with a direct competitor, teaming up for a joint venture either for a special event or online giveaway is beneficial to everyone involved.

For example, if you own a company that designs and sells water bottles to athletes, you might partner with companies that sell protein bars or fitness gear. When you each throw in an item as part of a mega giveaway, you’ll attract more attention across social media platforms, spreading your name to another company’s client base.

A typical partnership might look something like this: you each provide a product or service to be included in the promotional giveaway. For participants to enter to win, they must like each business’ social media pages and share the contest. This allows for exponential growth across platforms, introducing your product or service to prospective customers.

Consider Guerrilla Marketing

A low-cost advertising strategy that emphasizes creativity over budget, guerilla marketing relies on unconventional tactics, imagination and high energy. It’s all about taking the consumer by surprise and generating social buzz to leave a lasting impression. But what is guerrilla marketing, exactly? Well, it’s a lot of things.

One of the most high-profile examples of guerilla marketing occurred in 2012, when Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner set a world record for the highest skydiving jump as part of a Red Bull campaign. While your marketing strategy won’t be this extreme, it should give you an idea of how to approach guerilla marketing: with something unexpected.

On the local level, you might advertise a hashtag with sidewalk chalk, place custom stickers around town or create street art on an abandoned storefront. Graffiti is a go-to guerilla marketing technique, but you should get permission from the property owner before plastering your Twitter handle across their alleyway. From flash mobs and publicity stunts to hosting treasure hunts, the possibilities for guerilla marketing are endless.

Hold a Business Card Drawing

You’ve probably seen business card drawings at mom-and-pop restaurants and thought nothing of them other than having the chance to win some free food, but this marketing strategy is quite effective for a number of reasons. We’ve already explored how contests generate excitement, so offering a free dinner or gift card at your place of business can attract existing customers who want to get their names in the pot.

More than that, however, hosting a business card drawing gives you an instant email list. After you’ve drawn and announced a winner, don’t throw away those business cards just yet. Collect the information on each card so you can notify customers of special offers and future giveaways. It really is a win-win situation!

Implementing a combination of these small business marketing tips will help grow your customer base in no time. For additional support with your marketing campaigns, consider taking out a loan from an online lender with competitive rates.

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