More Successful Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Small Businesses

Are you scratching your head wondering what it takes to successfully market your business?

Does this scenario seem familiar to you:  You founded your business. You created a brand identity and a logo. You selected your products. You set up your website. You established your social media presences. And, yet, here you are with crickets. Do you feel like yelling, “Bueller? Bueller?”

If you’re frustrated because all the marketing activity that you’ve undertaken has produced few results, keep on reading. We’ve surveyed owners of small businesses to find out what they’re using to get activity and produce sales.

We asked business owners to respond to our query:

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs frequently have very limited resources to promote their businesses. As a small business owner, what have been the most successful PR tactics you’ve used to gain publicity for your business?”

We asked them to quantify their success with metrics so we could understand what really did work. [Read our first article on low cost marketing tactics.]

The tactics utilized by our responding marketers, break down into several categories of marketing:

  • Brand
  • Community
  • PR
  • Social media
  • Blogging
  • Email marketing

In all cases, small businesses who are finding success in their marketing are using tactics focused on owned and earned media. Simply stated, these marketers are leveraging the marketing channels which they can control to generate awareness, engagement, attention, and growth. These include their websites, email marketing, and social media channels.

Before beginning any marketing activity, Kirsten Curry, President and Founder of Leading Retirement Solutions (LRS), a full-service retirement plan provider based in Seattle, WA, reminds us, “Before jumping into marketing tactics, especially for a small business, it is critical that a larger, overall targeting strategy is considered. This doesn’t have to be a formal, 50-page document. The most important things to know are – who are we targeting, why are we targeting them, and what is our value proposition to them or, what do we have to offer them, and why should they listen to us?”

Brand focused marketing strategies

In the case of LRS, they had a 100% increase in their webinar enrollment and a 70% increase in their webinar attendance, simply by knowing to whom their webinars would be more attractive.

Ms. Curry told us that their firm clarified who their own target customers are and made certain that their value proposition was obvious. For their invitations, LRS provided a brief description of the webinar topic, which especially focused on the webinar’s value to attendees. The firm also offered a clear call to action and provided many reminders to the busy leaders who had registered for the webinar. Following the event, LSI reinforced their attendees positive impressions by sending a follow-up thank you or sorry you couldn’t make it email with any relevant resources.

 Pro Tip:  By refining your goals, you can more tightly target those people and organizations who will be most likely to use your services.

At Radiant Marketing, founder Karen Cummings, said,

“As of January of this year our team narrowed in on our buyer persona (target audience), identified the channels that would have the biggest impact based on this audience and revamped and refined our messaging…”.

As for results, Radiant increased their “website traffic by 10%, lead generation by 150% and new customers by 100% from the previous month.”

Pro Tip:  Know who you are, make it clear, and consistent across all communications.

Community oriented marketing to benefit society

Over the last decade, companies have formalized their community involvement. From gathering donations for food drives, to raising funds for nonprofit organizations, many businesses raise their profiles by doing good. Some companies even incorporate around giving benefits to society. Doing good not only makes a difference in the lives of those who benefit, there is a halo effect that rubs off on the business performing the good deed. 

Bryan Clayton CEO of GreenPal in Nashville, Tennessee told us about a tactic his “Uber for lawn care” business uses to engender positive awareness. They enlisted companies in their system to nominate people whose lawns needed lawnmowing due to a “tough personal situation.” Mr. Clayton said, “Once a month we will go and mow a stranger’s home whose grass is gotten two to three feet tall because they are in a jam.” The result — someone who really needed it got their lawn mowed, and Green Pal got positive mentions and favorable PR.

 Pro Tip: Being a good corporate citizen confers benefits to you and to your beneficiary.

Can we do that? Offbeat public relations tactics

From toilets in Times Square to giant keyboards, businesses have used traffic-stopping tactics to gain attention. [Click to read our blog post on Well-planned events as a component of your public relations strategy.] PR stunts are a long-used, much beloved tactic to draw attention. As long as a PR activity reflects your brand values, stunts can be really quirky.

In Atlanta, Shadow, a formerly feral cat was hired by a PR firm to be their Goodwill Ambassador. The firm regularly works with animal rights organizations, can we say — the fit was purrfect. Alexis Chateau told us that shortly after employing the cat, her firm gained a new client. Ms. Chateau said, “The rate at which we attract clients has doubled, since Shadow. Sometimes people message just to see how he’s doing.”

Pro Tip:  Stunts must be appealing to gain attention. They need to be different, new and unique.

Traditional PR tactics utilized

In the world of public relations strategy, a successful, well-regarded tactic is have a special observance day. Many are started by organizations, or brands and industries to focus attention on a product. National Doughnut Day, National Coffee Day, and National Margarita Day are examples of special observances which have caught on and gained traction over the last decade.

Mignon Gould of The Chic Spy decided to start her own national observance day to call attention to her enterprise. Her site,, is a publication featuring the works of emerging and established creatives in fashion, film, and pop culture. The observance she established is Chic Spy Day ( The day celebrates the style of onscreen spies such as James Bond. According to Ms. Gould, “The day has been featured in major online calendar databases including Days of the Year.”

Last year Ms. Gould had the first Chic Spy Day Soiree, inviting media influencers to join her in promoting the day at Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona. The hotel’s swank, retro design and appointments perfectly align with the Chic Spy brand and support increasing awareness. Ms. Gould reports, “The marketing initiative of launching an observance day resulted in a 17% increase in unique monthly visitors to the website.”

Examples and sources for this article were recruited from the site Help a Reporter (HARO) which was founded by Peter Shankman who later sold the business to PR tools giant, Cision. Three times a day, journalists of every medium send out queries to sources to be used in their blog posts, news websites, magazines, newspapers and online sites. You can subscribe to HARO for free.

Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory, a digital PR agency gained backlinks, publicity and a raised profile by engaging in HARO. Ms. DePhillips writes, “ I responded to 21 pitches and got quoted in six separate articles, including a small feature in Success Magazine. Because some of those articles got picked up by other websites and a couple of outlets linked to two or more pages on our site (like the Success Magazine article), I ended up with 11 backlinks to TCF’s site – and a lot of these are from websites that have killer domain authority.”

Pro Tip: Don’t overlook traditional PR tactics as you seek to grow your business.

Social media tactics which grow business

Social media has evolved to a majority way of sharing information, networking and getting the news. A proliferation of social media channels has developed, each appealing to a particular audience. The mega-channel is, and remains, Facebook, however, there are so many more. Lately, Snapchat has gained lots of interest with marketers seeking to engage the under 35 year old demo. Reddit remains the province of a tech smart, very male dominated audience.

Reddit is known for snarky comments and self-policing. Those not adhering to the site’s code of conduct are quickly called out. Max Robinson of A Hume Country Clothing has found Reddit to be a major source of new leads and traffic. Mr. Robinson tells us:

“Many business owners are scared of Reddit, and with good reason. Users on the platform are notoriously hostile towards anyone even slightly promoting themselves, and business owners who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of ‘Redditors’ have felt the impact of thousands of real people suddenly declaring war on their business. However, we love using Reddit because, if you manage to market yourself well on it, it can actually be a great place to build a brand following. We started posting simple memes and articles (which we were designing and writing ourselves) to relevant subreddits on the platform, and we very quickly noticed a following of people who were genuinely interested in our business and what we had to say. After establishing that initial respect on the platform, we can now run Reddit ads, safe in the knowledge that our target audience are already familiar with our business. Consequently, Reddit is now one of our best sources of leads and traffic.”

Another marketer weighs in with their use of Reddit. Kristopher Johnson the Digital Marketing Strategist for The Gantry Restaurant & Bar in Sydney, Australia has had great success with Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA).

Mr. Johnson relates, “This is a fantastic way to put a brand directly in front of its target audience. It provides people from all over the world the chance to ask direct questions to an expert. This can create the perfect environment for high user engagement that is contextually relevant. The best part about it? It’s fun! And it only takes about an hour of your time.” The Gantry’s chef hosted the AMA and answered questions ranging from culinary careers to food safety to how to make kale chips at home. You can read the AMA with Chef Bickford and see exactly how engaged users were. As a result of hosting this Reddit AMA, the restaurant’s website had increased visits and larger following.

Instagram is one of the social media channels which keeps growing in users and time on site. Visually interesting content wins on this social channel. Originally Insta allowed only still images. These days, you can post video or motion graphics via Boomerang.

Co-Founder of Zebra Advertisement, Christina Baldassarre said that using video rocketed her engagement. Ms. Baldassarre reports, “We started increasing our video content on Instagram by 35%. We count gifs, boomerangs, loops, and videos as video content. Engagement increased by 45%, website clicks doubled, and comments increased by 15%.” 

When using social media, don’t neglect to format “cards” for Twitter. These preformatted views of your content can result in many more views. There are apps for your blog and website which help you format them, or you can review the card developer overview on Twitter. If your website is built on self-hosted WordPress, Yoast SEO has a built in Twitter Card set-up.

Blogging tactics to grow site visits and awareness

Blogging remains one of the primary owned media channels available to most every small business. Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And companies with more indexed pages get far more leads. [View our SlideShare presentation on blogging and SEO for WordPress] Link building and guest blogging are two frequently used tactics to help increase awareness of a site.

Nishchal Dua of The Remote Life held a campaign to gain guest blog posts on the site. The implementation cost only $150 and resulted in solid site visits and referrals. Mr. Dua said, “By the end of 6 weeks, we had 14 other websites who wrote and talked about us. This lead to 320% improvement in our SEO rankings and an overall 5x increase in website visits.”

Email marketing is tried and true and should not be overlooked

You’re out and about in the community. You’re meeting people and collecting business cards and connecting on LinkedIn. But are you really making a connection with people you meet? One business owner utilized her LinkedIn connections to grow her email marketing list. While it’s illegal in the US to add someone to your email marketing list without their permission, you can invite people to subscribe to your newsletter. [Click to read our post on the Can Spam act.]

Mindi Rosser exported her LinkedIn contacts, formatted them in a spreadsheet and uploaded them to her email marketing program. She then wrote an email to these contacts inviting them to opt out of her social media marketing newsletter. While technically not as clean as asking them to subscribe, her tactics resulted in growth to her mailing list of 2,126%. And “resulted in an increase of 20% traffic to her website and three phone calls with hot prospects.” 

Pro Tip: Use a quality email marketing program like MailChimp to create segmented lists and autoresponders when people opt in to your list. 

Marketing takes time, focus, creativity and diligence

Learning from each of our sources, we realize that these marketers had success promoting their businesses because they were creative. They remained consistent to their brand and utilized the resources that they had at their disposal. Which of their tactics will you implement in your marketing? In the comments, share what you’ve done that has grown your business or resulted in growth.

Digital Marketing Fundamentals for Entrepreneurs

As the digital landscape has evolved, the fundamentals of digital marketing have expanded scope. Today, digital marketing is comprised of multiple areas which involve a coordinated, integrated strategy to attract new customers, gain a share of voice, and position your firm for your strengths.

Digital marketing is comprised of:

  • Content Strategy
  • SEO
  • Blogging
  • Social Media and social media sharing and advertising
  • Email marketing
  • Search marketing pay per click

The presentation embedded here covers each of these areas. It is one which has been presented in several iterations, most lately to entrepreneurs at the SCORE chapter here in the Lowcountry.

If you want a refresher on the components of digital marketing, you may find some tasty tidbits among these slides.

Slides from the presentation are posted on SlideShare and embedded below.

Image to Link to Digital Marketing Fundamentals

If you are viewing this and don’t see the embedded presentation, click on the image above to link over to SlideShare.

Ten low cost marketing and PR tactics that work

Tested Low Cost Marketing

Every small business owner faces the realization at some time in her history that she has more time than resources to market her business.

Not everyone can afford $5,000 a month for television advertising spot placement or $3,000 for a single-page ad in either their local lifestyle magazine or daily newspaper. So, what’s a cash-strapped, time-rich business owner to do? Our answer, use low cost marketing tactics that have worked for other business owners.

We asked small business owners to share their low cost marketing and public relations tactics that have been successful. We’ve selected these examples which include some time-tested tactics and some new-fangled ways to help promote and grow your business.

Social Media, Blogging and Online

    1. Jacqui Trotta, owner of a jewelry company based in Boston, relates how her company used Twitter to get attention. Jacqui said, “We use social media for branding and to generate sales. We held a ‘Twitter Trivia Treasure Hunt’ in which we dropped several clues on Twitter. Our followers sent in their responses and we did a random drawing and gave away gift certificates and a pearl necklace. Many of these people are now our followers and tend to shop when we offer promotions on our Twitter page.” Trotta says, “The winner of the necklace happened to be a blogger and did a write-up on the pearls on her blog. It went full-circle as being a Twitter success.”
    2. Michael Kaiser-Nyman, CEO & Founder, Impact Dialing, shared a time-tested tactic that works for him, “I get most of my publicity through guest blogging. I write interesting articles for other people’s blogs, and in return they provide links to my site.” In fact this has been so successful for Michael that he’s now retained the services of a professional writer to help him sustain this tactic.
    3. Ian Edwards of Arcadia NYC says the brand has earned awareness and inclusion by “developing content around our core issues.” “We’ve built our social media network with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and a blog. We have put a small budget toward Facebook ads that have, so far, expanded our followers by 30 percent.”

Bonuses, Samples and Special Offers

All customers like “free,” that’s why food products makers offer tastes of their products. In the restaurant business, when you do a promotion, the goal is to get your restaurant’s food in the mouths of prospective guests. The same tactic is used by business owners in other industries.

  1. Izzy Goodman, CEO of Complete Computer Services employs a tactic that is as old as business itself—the bonus. Goodman relates, “After a number of wasted campaigns, we now spend no money on advertising or pay-per-click. Instead, all our marketing budget is spent on our customers. The results have paid off.” Goodman’s offers fall into the category I call, “with six, you get eggroll,” allowing users who purchase in quantity to gain additional product for free. He may just be the master of this tactic as he tells us, he offers bonuses that include: “A) Referral bonus: Referrals from another customer earn both you and that customer a free cartridge. B) Repeat customer bonus: a returning customer who buys ten or more cartridges gets a free one. C) Double-and-free: We sell ink cartridges by the pack. Each time you double, you get a free cartridge. D) Non credit card discount: If you save us the credit card fee, we pass it back to you. Pay via PayPal, bank account, check or money order, get a free cartridge. E) Secret discount: Subscribers to our monthly newsletter get a secret discount code which reduces the price even further.”
  2. Lara White, Founder of Photomint puts a spin on free. She tells us what works for her, “I run a photography studio, and one of the things we have done that has been extremely successful to market our services inexpensively is to submit our photos for editorial features in local, national and international publications where our potential clients might see them. We do this about 1/2 dozen times per year and the only cost involved is packaging and time. From these efforts, we have secured coverage in food magazines in France, a wedding magazine in China, a British cake magazine and many other places in both print and online. We have been able to book many new clients based on this, ‘free publicity’ which exposes our work to a much wider audience and builds huge credibility.” So, publications get great content, without having to pay for it, and White gets earned media. This may work for some publications, just check to see if they accept non-solicited work for their publications.

Old-Fashioned Ideas Still Work

While there are many new ways to connect online, there are just as many ideas that are not new, and which are activities that have worked well for generations. While some may be helped along by new technology, the ideas themselves are ones generations of business owners before us will recognize.

  1. Kathy Paauw a business coach at Paauw Enterprises, Inc., tells us that she uses SendOutCards to regularly keep in touch with her prospects and her clients. She uses the service to organize and send pre-scheduled birthday cards to customers and “keeping in touch” messages to prospective customers.
  2. Sabina Les owner of a fashion accessories brand based in New York, NY, sends pitches to publications to gain earned media. She says, “My most successful PR tactics were writing short and the point emails, providing nice images within emails, pitching to magazine editors individually once a month.”
  3. Ian Edwards of Arcadia NYC also builds relationships with organizations whose causes fit the brand. They “have built strategic alliances with groups like the NY Fair Trade Coalition, hosting a very successful event to support fair trade fashion and accessories at our store in March.”

New Ideas Whose Time Has Come

Trends and new technology support these ideas that in essence aren’t’ new, but which rely on new tech to help them succeed.

  1. Felecia Scott of Wild Beauty has used the “pop up shop” trend to gain visibility in Los Angeles. Scott whose beauty products are based on family secrets, made her own chalkboard, and goes on location to sell her beauty remedies, not unlike people did more than a century ago.
  2. Alex Schiff, CEO and Co-founder Fetchnotes uses HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to gain inclusion in publications and online media outlets. Alex notes, “Best of all, the campaign just took my own time, so I didn’t have to outlay any cash on it.”

So, there you have it, ten low cost ways to promote your business—from actual business owners. You have no more excuses or lack of ideas to grow your business.

What other ways have you used that have not cost your business much more than your time and energy?