Whoever said “build it and they will come” was wrong (sorry Kevin Costner). At least in the context of a business.
You need to market your business. But it takes effort. And time. It’s another thing to add to the long to do list when you run a business. And I’m assuming you didn’t start your business to spend all day doing TikTok videos???
Whilst social media is the default marketing option for many, you might not enjoy being on social media. You might find it doesn’t help your business (at least to the extent of the effort you put in). Or you might just want to understand what the other options might be. Is there an easier way???
I would recommend being on at least one social media channel, but there are other ways to market your small business. And some of these may be better for you.
In the days before social media, networking (in person) was the main way that many people marketed their business.
Networking gets a bad rap, thanks to some of the pushier networking groups out there, but is actually one of the most effective ways to market your small business. And you don’t need to join groups that meet for breakfast (hard for anyone doing the school run) and/or that require you to bring new leads in to the group every week. Although that is an option if you want to.
Several guest interviews on my podcast have mentioned the importance of networking in getting clients for their business. I know it has helped me. It really does work.
There are lots of networking groups and sometimes it is just a case of finding the right one for you.
If you’re looking to market your business via networking then choosing a group that contains your “Ideal Client” is, of course, the most helpful. But, if you choose the right group, the members will also recommend you to others. I’m in a couple of local networking groups. As well as getting clients directly from the group, if someone is asking on social media for a website designer, members of the group will suggest me. I do the same for many of them (the groups I’m in don’t require you to do that).
The other requirement is a group that “fits” you.
- Does their time/place of meeting work for you?
- Do you like the people in the group?
- Is the investment affordable for where you are in your business (some of these groups are pretty expensive)?
- Does their “style” fit with you? I was invited to join a network but, after the first meeting, I realised that a weekly meeting (of about an hour) plus the one or two hours you were expected to meet individually with other members just wasn’t going to work for me. So I didn’t join.
It is important to enjoy whatever form of marketing you choose to focus on. If you don’t enjoy it then you won’t spend the time on it. And if the thought of networking scares you? Well there are other ways to market your business (or you can read my blog post on the terror of networking).
When asked about how they’re going to find clients many new business owners assume that “word of mouth” will fill their books. It rarely does (at least without some assistance).
Yes doing a good job for your clients is always going to help. And some of those clients will shout about you from the rooftops, encouraging others to use you too.
But, most people are just too busy doing their own thing.
Of course some clients will tell others (or at least if asked which business they’ve used) but most just don’t think about sharing it (possibly beyond an initial shout out). It’s not their job to constantly promote you. It’s yours.
So how can you get more referrals (beyond doing a good job)?
Tell existing clients if you’ve got availability and ask them to let anyone they know who might be interested. This prompts them to promote you. And if you make it easy for them (eg by providing an email or copy for a post/story) they’re more likely to do so.
You could cross promote. So you might promote one of their offers and they might share that or promote something of yours too.
You can also offer an incentive. It doesn’t necessarily need to be much – perhaps giving them something for free that you would normally sell, a credit against your services or a small gift. We’ve sent flowers, chocolates, etc to people who recommended us as a thank you. A photographer we often recommend gives us credit against a future booking when someone who we recommend books. We would recommend them anyway but we appreciate this incentive.
You could go further and set up an affiliate scheme. We’re affiliates for some of the services we use, like our hosting company Siteground, graphic design tool Canva and Dubsado which is the CRM (Client Relationship Management tool) we use. These offer a small cashback whenever someone books using our specific link. The other thing they do is send promo material to remind us to send new clients their way (although I must admit I ignore these!), especially when they’re running some kind of an offer like a Black Friday sale.
How can you do this? Well you could set up some kind of offer and then let people know about it. You need some way of tracking who is recommending you when someone books (even if it is just a reminder to ask how they found out about you). You could then send a regular email reminding people of the offer.
In this age of social media you might think that fairs have had their day, but attending a fair that has a significant number of your “Ideal Clients” can be worthwhile.
If you are in the wedding industry there are lots of fairs. But you do still need to make sure they’re the “right” ones for you – ie your Ideal Clients will be there. If you specialise in “edgy” weddings a fair in the local stately home might not be the best for you. And there is nothing more demoralising than being ignored whilst other businesses get all the attention!
It’s not just wedding industry that has fairs. Most industries do. There are health and wellbeing fairs/events, business fairs, fairs for specialist groups (eg Comic Con), etc. But again you need to make sure that your Ideal Clients are going to be there, otherwise you’ll find you just stand there like a lemon all day (thinking of the other things you could be doing with your time). If you offer massage in Bristol, a health and wellbeing event in London is unlikely to lead to many new clients for your Bristol-based business.
I’ve seen many businesses keen to sign up to school fairs because they can be very cheap – I’ve seen tables for £10. But, unless your product/service has very wide appeal I would choose these with care. Some are very focused around the children and stalls for parents never do well.
I’ve seen some very successful collaborations between businesses which are complementary and who have similar target audiences. For example, businesses which focus on the health and wellbeing of women inviting other businesses to retreats etc. Nutritionists, fitness, skincare, massage, yoga etc who all have a similar audience.
It works in the “baby” sector too – doulas, sleep consultants, healthcare, feeding consultants, etc all have a similar audience and complementary offers.
Is there anyone who might have a similar audience to yours? Get to know them and see how you might be able to work together to promote your services to each other’s audience.
PR is getting featured in the media, eg newspapers, magazines and online articles. It’s a tried and trusted way of getting more people to know about your business.
Like all forms of marketing, how successful it is depends upon how well it reaches your target audience.
You can easily do your own PR, but it does take effort.
Research the publications you’d like to feature in, think about what kind of a story might interest them and then approach them. Bear in mind that many of them get hundreds of email pitches a day, so you need to make it interesting and relevant for them.
You can also respond to PR requests, eg by following #journorequest on twitter and replying (promptly) to those that make sense (I’m not a believer in the “any PR is good PR” so make sure whatever you respond to aligns with the values of your Ideal Client). We’ve been featured in Forbes twice by replying to #journorequest.
Of course you can also employ an agent to help you get more PR.
Speaking, either on a stage or online to a group of your Ideal Clients is an excellent way to market your small business. Being asked to present means that you’ve effectively been recommended by the person or business organising the event. And that means you start from a position of trust.
Speaking about something to do with your business is a great way to show your authority. I always recommend that you show your knowledge and share value when speaking (don’t just tease that you know what you’re doing and promote a paid offer).
Like other forms of marketing, it is key that the audience is the “right” audience for your business. I work with entrepreneurs and small business owners so wouldn’t look to speak to a large corporate audience.
Speaking is not for everyone. But it is a very effective way of marketing if you’re happy to do so. And you can always start small. You don’t have to present to hundreds or thousands of people. It’s also a skill you can learn. And it does get easier the more times you do it!
Hosting your own podcast and/or guesting on other podcasts is another way to market your small business.
We’ve been running our own podcast, the Website Coach, for some time now and we’re definitely boosting our profile as a result. Although I’m not sure we’re getting many clients from it as yet. It is definitely a long term game!
Hosting your own podcast is technically easier than many people realise. But I’d say it is harder work putting the content of the episodes together than I thought it would be. And you need to promote it yourself because, although available on all the major platforms, they don’t promote your podcast for you.
Guesting on the podcasts of people who have a similar audience to yours (or the one you want to have) is, however, a great idea.
8. Search Engine Optimisation (“SEO”)
Of course Search Engine Optimisation (“SEO” aka how to get found on Google) is another option to market your small business.
Everyone wants to get to the top of page 1 of Google for relevant phrases, but it is not that easy to do! Just having a website in itself doesn’t get you on page 1.
The most important thing is to write about what your Ideal Client is searching for on Google/other search engines. I talk about this more in my blog post How to Get to Page 1 of Google
Write a separate page (or blog post – it is one reason I’m so keen on blogging) for each term you want to be found for. Think carefully about the terms you want to be found for. Some terms have effectively been bagged by other businesses that you’re just not going to be able to compete with (at least without spending a lot of money and effort). So focus on the terms you have a shot at. There are lots more tips in my blog post Quick and Easy SEO Tips
Email marketing is another effective way to market your small business. But, you need to get people onto your email list first…
The best way to do that is to offer an incentive, sometimes called a “Lead Magnet”. It might be a discount, some kind of a guide/checklist/ebook or quizzes are very popular at the moment. I’ve even written a blog on How to Quickly Grow your Email List
Once someone is on your email list you can market to them as much as you want to (although if you send rubbish they’ll start to ignore the emails or unsubscribe)! Whilst regular emails are effective (they should be focused on helping the reader, not regaling them with your “news”), a sequence of emails after they sign up which lead to an offer is an effective sales tool.
Paid ads might not be your preferred way of marketing your business, but they’re certainly an option.
There are lots of places you can advertise.
Print advertising is, in my experience, rarely successful.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google ads are better. They can be more precisely targeted which makes a big difference to their success.
You can also advertise events and even podcasts. An event or podcast that is targeted at your Ideal Client can be a very cost effective way of promoting your business to them (especially if there is a speaking opportunity or podcast guest opportunity with it)
Paid advertising is best used to accelerate sign ups for something that works with other forms of marketing. So if you are having success with people signing up to a particular offer then advertising can help it reach a wider audience. If you’re struggling to get people to sign up without ads (ie it is not converting) the problem may well be with your offer rather than the reach…
11. Directories/Supplier lists
Finally, directories and/or recommended supplier lists can be highly effective ways to market your small business.
If you’re in the wedding business getting on the recommended supplier list of wedding venues where your Ideal Clients get married is very effective. Couples usually choose their wedding venue first, so you’re getting in front of the right people at the right time, plus you have the recommendation of the wedding venue that they love and trust!
It’s not just the wedding industry that operates recommended supplier lists. Others do too. We have our own list of photographers, content writers, social media managers, VAs etc that share we our clients.
Directories are similar, although you often have to pay to be listed. But some of them are very highly regarded and used by your target audience so are worthwhile. Many aren’t though so choose carefully!
Social media is not the only way to market your small business. There are lots of other options, including:
- email marketing
- paid advertising
- directories/recommended supplier lists
When deciding where you’re going to focus your marketing efforts (because without a team it is impossible to do all of these, at least well) there are two key factors to consider. Where you’ll find your target audience (because there’s no point spending time where your audience isn’t) and which you’re going to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it then you won’t spend the time on it.
Which one is the right one for you and your business?