How to market a small business: 4 tips
By George White, marketing practice director
Wow, if only it was so simple – an easy-to-follow how-to guide on marketing a small business. But as the saying goes, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
The easiest way to do effective marketing for your small business is to pay someone else to do it. After all, you get paid to provide your product or service because your customers can’t or don’t want to do whatever it is that you do for themselves. Marketing is no different. It’s a profession that takes time and effort to learn, a modicum of talent to master, and a commitment to staying current with changes and new developments.
But for many entrepreneurs, there’s a sizeable gap between starting a business and having the resources to pay a marketing expert. During that critical period, most small business owners end up wearing a lot of different hats, including marketing.
1. Create helpful content
Hopefully, you’re an expert on what you do. You’ve probably forgotten more about your profession or industry than the average person could hope to learn. So take some of that expertise, write it down, and turn it into helpful content, like an article. You know, sort of like this one. You can distribute your content on your web site, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs that cover your industry, and dozens of other places. If you create quality content and get it in front of people to whom it is relevant, you’ll grow your reputation as an expert in your field. Your phone will probably not ring off the hook every time you publish new content. But people who read it are infinitely more likely to consider you their go-to expert on that topic. And when they need expert help, you’ll be the first person they think of.
2. Give away something of value
You’re probably thinking, “wait…why would I want to take my expertise and give it away for free?” After all, if you basically tell people how to do what you do, why would they need you? It is true that some people who consume your content or take advantage of free consultations will get the help they were looking for and not end up paying for your product or service. But these are probably people who wouldn’t or couldn’t have paid for your expertise anyway.
On the other hand, prospective customers who do have money to spend will think that what you do sounds complicated, decide that you’re an expert they can trust, and realize they’d be much better off leaving it up to you to help them.
3. Remove the risk of trying your business
Aside from a lack of awareness, a major factor keeping people from becoming customers is risk. Trying something new always entails a chance of lost money, time, effort, or other assets. Consider that new restaurant down the street from your house. Did you rush in and try them as soon as they opened? Most people don’t do that. They’ll wait until they hear good things, see some online reviews, or are just plain tired of every other eatery in town and are desperate for something new. They felt inhibited about trying the new place until something pushed them over the edge, but the only thing they had to lose was a little time and a couple of bucks.
Now consider your business. Of course, you know that doing business with you is a sure bet. But what do prospective customers think they have to lose? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you need to find out immediately. And if you do know it, how have you addressed their concerns? Anything you do to reduce or eliminate those perceived risks will lower prospect inhibitions and help you convert more customers.
4.Experiment and innovate
It’s easy to see how the technology industry has embraced the concept of experimentation and innovation for driving product development. Many of these enterprises have followed the “fail fast” mantra of Eric Ries to riches – and many more have just plain failed. But for most small business owners, failure doesn’t feel like an option.
As a result, small business entrepreneurs take a very conservative approach to their business model and product/service offering. Over time, this has a tendency to make the business less and less relevant. While upstart competitors quickly develop new ideas and larger competitors embrace those ideas at a somewhat slower pace, small businesses frequently find themselves squeezed in the middle and slowly growing more stale.
Small business owners can avoid this trap by leveraging smart and risk-free ways to experiment with new product ideas and service offerings without over-committing precious resources to unproven ideas. For example, social media can be used as a sounding board to gain customer insights, or 3D printing can be used to rapidly prototype new product ideas. The old ways of doing things have changed, and your business needs to change with the times as well.