Small Business Marketing Essentials

No matter the size, running a business can be complicated at the best of times. However, when you run a small business, you often face additional challenges as you’re forced to wear many hats and make tradeoffs between projects to keep your business afloat. Sometimes, it’s not clear where you should set your priorities, and too often, marketing falls by the wayside as you focus your energy on other activities that scream for your immediate attention. Another factor that leads small business marketing to fall by the wayside is that it seems like something that should happen naturally, but it doesn’t work like that. To help you include marketing in your list of priorities, I created my top 10 list of small business essentials.

proven digital marketing tools
Image courtesy of Kitsap Score

Adopting many of these essentials makes running your company easier and helps you grow and expand. After all, marketing brings in the money needed to fuel everything else in the business. Without this revenue, you can’t do any other activity and your business will flounder. In fact, the top reason (reflecting 82% of failures) small businesses fail is poor cash flow (and better marketing means more revenue, which means better cash flow) and the next most common reason why small businesses fail (coming in at 76%) is poor marketing [source].

As you can see from these figures, small business marketing is too important to ignore. So, buckle up and learn how to implement these small business marketing essentials for your business. If you want to learn more about each one, including recommendations for tools that’ll help you implement these essentials, check out my list of top 10 tools for marketing your small business.

Top 5 essentials for small business marketing

Times change. Consumer preferences change, technology changes, and the essentials of small business marketing change over time in concert with other changes. For instance, when the graphic above was put together, TikTok wasn’t a thing. More to the point, certain tactics shown as important in 2017 (when the above graphic was created) ran their course and no longer work as well as they once did. Thus, my top 5 list of small business marketing essentials conforms to expert advice, such as that contained in a recent Forbes article, regarding the marketing tactics small businesses should embrace in 2024.

1. Website

A website was and remains the number one essential for small business marketing. You may already know your company needs a website, and you might even have a rudimentary, one-page website on some website builder like Wix or Squarespace. That doesn’t mean you have a proper website. A proper website is much more essential than many small business owners think. It’s not just useful for marketing and branding but also the potential to reach customers online, supporting your sales regardless of whether you have a physical location or a virtual one.

Today, more than half of all purchase occasions start online, whether it’s as simple as finding your address or phone number or searching for products that solve a consumer’s problems. And, unless you’re discoverable online, you lose out on potential sales when the user doesn’t remember your name and relies on Google (or another search engine) to present them with options.

Potential customers expect you to have a website that actually represents your business and its products. Without it, they could believe something about your brand and not trust your business. An unprofessional website design and low-quality content lead users to distrust your website, which, in turn, leads them to distrust your company.

website development
Image courtesy of Google Colab

Put some time and effort into making sure your website represents you the way you want and the way potential customers expect. That means a good design, a URL that represents your brand (consider the availability of related URLs when forming your company and choosing a name so you don’t end up with “brandname.local or something else that’s hard to remember or, when typed incorrectly, leads to another brand), and a great hosting company (NOT WIX or other website builders).

Now that you have those essentials out of the way, it’s time to focus on SEO (search engine optimization) so your website is discoverable online. Preferably, your website should show on the first page when users look for the solutions you sell. If you want to learn more about SEO, especially local SEO, check out this post from earlier.

2. Email marketing

Email marketing offers businesses the highest ROI (return on investment) of any marketing strategy, so it’s something every small business needs. Implementing email marketing is a two-pronged strategy. First, you need a subscriber list; then, you need to send messages that drive subscribers to action. Let’s attack these one at a time.

Finding subscribers sounds easier than it is. It seems like an easy task to get folks to give up their email address. In reality, unless folks see some benefit, they’re reluctant to provide an email address because everyone gets too many email messages as it is. So, you need to make it worthwhile by offering something in exchange for getting an address. It’s common today to ask shoppers for their email addresses at the checkout. Many refuse, but if you offer a discount in exchange or some other perk, you’ll find much more willingness to provide this information. And, don’t think a loyalty program is a sufficient incentive. Most consumers already participate in too many loyalty programs for your offer to have any effect unless there’s an immediate discount involved. Even online shoppers don’t want to provide an email or create an account. Unless you offer guest shopping, many visitors will abandon their shopping cart for another etailer who makes them an offer to shop without an account.

Sending an email message involves understanding your subscribers so you know the best time to send. It also involves sending messages relevant to subscribers. By segmenting your subscriber list and sending appropriate messages that relate to individual subscribers. This deep personalization leads to higher open and higher click rates.

3. Social media marketing

Social media marketing isn’t what it once was. First, the market is much more diverse than ever before, with each serving a portion of your market. This may mean choosing a few platforms rather than focusing on just one. By far the most significant change in social media marketing is that organic reach plummeted over recent years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include social media marketing in your marketing priorities; it means you can’t expect to see the same amount of traffic as in prior years.

Why then, you might ask, do you need social media? The answer lies in the ability of social media to create awareness of your brand and what it stands for. These posts create trust among your community that leads to purchases down the road. The awareness created on social media means users are more likely to click on a content link from you when searching for products on search engines. Hence, social media marketing is still worthwhile and, with AI tools, it’s easier than ever to include this tactic.

social media for success
Image courtesy of Social Pilot

4. Content marketing

Creating valuable content on a consistent basis is, by far, the most important element for SEO and discoverability. But, the value of content marketing extends beyond this to build trust among prospective buyers, showing them how your brand solves their problems, helping them get the most from purchasing your brand, and answering questions they might have. Creating this content across landing pages and a blog is probably the most time-consuming aspect of small business marketing. Yet, if offers the highest payoff of any strategy except for email.

Small businesses struggle to develop topics for their content. ChatGPT is a great tool to help you if you use the right prompts to create a draft. Other tools like Google Trends and trending topics on other platforms can offer insights you can use in creating content. Also, consider posting on topics covered by your competition. Remember, visitors don’t read your content like a book so it’s ok to go back and cover a topic covered earlier as long as you can offer a new slant. Other content suggestions include:

  • posts that demonstrate your values, such as a charitable event or donation
  • something highlighting your employees and showing their value to your company
  • if you have target customers, you might highlight something exceptional they do (this works best for B2B companies)
  • a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at your business
  • insight from your management team

5. Paid advertising

With the drop in organic social media reach, paid social media advertising is almost a necessity. And, the good news is that it’s inexpensive compared with other advertising options and the ability to target your audience means you don’t waste money reaching users with no interest in your products. Search advertising has the additional advantage of catching folks when you’re on the hunt to buy products like the ones you sell.

In either case, you need dedicated landing pages that echo your advertising message, along with a strong call to action and copy that entices visitors to add your products to their shopping carts or visit their local store. You need a sound conversion process that takes buyers through from the shopping cart to to completion of their buying process.

Tools to help small business marketing

You’ll need quite a few tools to run your business. Customer relationship management systems, accounting tools, and similar options should all be relatively obvious. Then there’s using AI in business, which is becoming increasingly more popular. Make sure you invest in the right options for you from the start.

You’ll have plenty of choices on offer, each of which offers its pros and cons. Spend time debating these and making sure the ones you pick meet your needs. While that could take a little effort, it’ll ensure you’re good to go. You shouldn’t have many problems after that.

Every company needs to have a minimum amount of insurance for them to operate legally. That leads to quite a few entrepreneurs getting the legal minimum and leaving it at that. That often isn’t the best way to go, as comprehensive insurance is one of the more notable small business essentials.

It keeps your company protected in case anything unexpected happens. Since some surprises can wreak havoc financially, you’ve no excuse not to invest in it from the start. Thankfully, this shouldn’t be too expensive, and you can shop around to keep your premiums to a minimum.

Small business essentials: wrapping up

Investing in the right small business essentials makes sure you can run your business properly. It also makes sure everything is much more manageable, taking a lot of stress out of the process. You’ve no reason not to have them from the start.

While quite a few of these will be obvious, some will be easy to overlook. You might even think they’re not essential. They are, so they’re worth investing in from as early as possible.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.