So what is the small business marketing process? What specific steps are required to raise the profile of a business in its local area and increase enquiries and sales? 

Before a quick summary of the main options let’s assume the basics are in place. If they are not they should be dealt with first or any promotional effort will be wasted. They are:

  • A strong product or service offering is in place at an acceptable price. 
  • The product or service is differentiated (as far as possible) from the competition.
  • Target customer groups are identified.

A short overview of potential small business marketing tactics follows

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE – Delivers a presence on page 1 Google. Captures the active searchers (prospects) for goods and services in the local area.

Potential customers searching for a supplier of goods or services in their local area will often turn to friends or family for a recommendation (more on that below). Failing that they will probably scan the first page of the search results, they may even drop down to page2 but are unlikely to go any further.

There are only 10 organic positions available on page1 Google. One tool that can level the playing field to an extent is a Google My Business page. It can give a small local business a presence towards the top of Page 1 Google. 

Type in a location based search phrase into Google and a map will show below the Ad block at the top of the page. The map shows several red dots each representing the location of a local business matching the search phrase. For each dot there is a listing showing the company name, telephone number, opening times and a link to the business website.

DIRECTORIES – The second line of defence to pick up those actively searching (in buying mode) for goods or services.

The use of paper directories for small business marketing is in rapid decline (Yellow pages anyone!). However, online directories are still used by those searching for local goods and services. Of course, those searching are most likely to click on a website or Google My Business listing but directories do receive clicks and listings are often free or low cost.

There is an increasing number of industry sector specific directories that offer various add on services as paid options. These sometimes include sales lead generation. 

WEBSITE – The information hub for the business. More likely to pick up those searching for general information than active searchers. The challenge is to engage those visitors so they return when ready to buy.

The key is to deliver the information potential customers need whatever stage of the buying process they may be at. Consumers need to build a level of trust before they will purchase from a supplier. The website should deliver all the information they need to build that trust including reviews and recommendations (see below).

In many cases, a simple website of only a few pages will suffice. The website must be technically correct, be easy to navigate, and deliver a positive user experience. The design is important but failing on the technical, content or useability part of the equation means the website will not rank well no matter how good the design may be.

LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION – The website needs to appear on page 1 Google  (worse case Page2) when a prospect types in a relevant search phrase.

A Google my business listing has its limitations. The listing provides the briefest of details and not everyone will click through to the website. Some will ignore the Google my Business panel and dive straight into the organic results.

Driving the business website onto page 1 Google gives a business another chance to secure an enquiry or raise consumer awareness. But to obtain that Page1 position requires some level of search engine optimisation.

Search engine optimisation for a business with a potential national customer base is a complex, expensive, long term operation. Fortunately focusing on potential customers in a limited area simplifies the process.

That is not to say small business local SEO is easy. It takes time and effort and there are a number of tricks and traps to be aware of. However, for many (not all) local businesses the effort involved can pay off and keep paying off over the long term.

REVIEWS – The psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini (and several others) have identified social proof as a key determinant of human behaviour. It is natural for people to seek out the opinion of others before making a decision. This is why publishing positive customer reviews on Google My Business page, the business website and (if appropriate) social media is so important.

As stated above one of the first sources of information potential customers will seek out when looking for goods or services in their local area is the recommendations of friends and family. They may well check out business reviews before making a final purchasing decision.

Reviews also have a secondary impact. One of the many signals used by Google to decide which businesses it should show (and their position) in the Google My Business panel is the number of reviews for that business. Many believe they also assess the proportion of reviews that are positive rather than negative.

SOCIAL MEDIA – For some businesses social media can be their prime lead generation tool. For other businesses a complete waste of time and effort.

It is important to establish if ideal potential customers are using social media and if so which social media channels. It could be Facebook or for a younger audience, it could be Snapchat. For B2B it could be Linked In. If the product is best represented visually it could be Pinterest.

If your potential customers are on social media and it is possible to determine which is the best social media channel to reach them you need the time (and inclination) to build a presence on social media. Will the significant time and effort involved generate an ROI?

ONLINE ADVERTISING – Google Adwords and paid social are the main options. Again, this may be a valid marketing tactic for some small businesses but not for others.

There are many options including Google Adwords, Display Ads, Bing Ads and (many variants of) social media Ads. The choice depends on where your customers are most likely to be found. 

Online advertising is suited to some messages and not others. There is always a learning/testing process involved and that can be costly. The Ad is only part of the mix you will also need landing pages. There is lots to think about.

OFFLINE MARKETING – Because it’s not all about online! Offline marketing activities can be the prime source of sales leads for some businesses.

In this post we have been talking about only one key element of the small business marketing mix, raising awareness. There are many offline tools available to raise the profile of your small business.

To name but a few there is local sponsorship. Perhaps an advertising board at your local football or rugby club. Networking groups may work for some businesses, assuming the business owner is the right type of person. Local advertising can still be effective if the right media is chosen and an appropriate message is crafted. Investing in attending events can work well for specific types of local businesses.

It is worth keeping an eye on what the competition is doing. What marketing techniques are they using and are they successful? Be careful, just because they are investing in technique X, Y or Z does not mean they are generating a return on their investment.

Any small business with a local customer base can implement a successful small business marketing process to raise their profile for little cost and with minimal (if any) support. All that is required is the time to learn the tools and techniques involved and the ongoing commitment to drive the campaign forward.

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