Running a small business can be a terrifying venture; you’re investing so much of your time and money into what you believe in, but how do you share that with the world? How do you reach the right audience, engage them, and ultimately, get them to buy from you?
Or, to put it differently, how can you market your business with the budget you have?
In this blog post, I’m going to share the best online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses.
What makes online marketing perfect for small businesses is that it doesn’t have to be excessively expensive – there are a plethora of strategies and tactics that can help you generate amazing results, without eating up your whole budget. Read on to find out what they are:
Content marketing is one of the most cost-effective digital marketing tactics and at the same time, also one of the most effective when it comes to generating leads. Plus, you can adjust your content marketing strategy to suit your budget and focus on the tactics that can get you the results your most need.
For example, if you need to generate more traffic to your website, then you can start a blog and create more evergreen content. If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in boosting your leads – you can try hosting highly-targeted webinars.
Here is a full rundown of some of the best content marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses:
Start a blog
Having a blog can really do wonders for your online presence – it’s why so many businesses now seem to overwhelmingly have a blog.
A blog means more traffic to your website, better SEO (search engine optimization), and more leads generated; and these are just some of the biggest benefits.
Plus, you can control how much you invest in your blog; if you can afford to create more content, it will definitely help, but even a less rigorous schedule can still yield great results. Try, however, to blog regularly, at least weekly – preferably, as many as 3 times a week. It’s also important to stay consistent, so use an editorial calendar to plan your blog content ahead of time and stick to your schedule.
Use a tool to create free visual content
Visual content is very important as it can have a huge impact on the user experience, which in turn will results to better results overall – your traffic will stay around for longer, they’ll act on your calls to action, they’ll read more blog posts, and so on.
To create images for your website, email marketing, social media, and any other digital channels you might be using, use free tools like Canva or Crello. They’re very quick and easy to create and completely free.
Save on creating video content
Video performs very well; not only is there a big demand for it, but it also helps improve lead generation as well as email open and click-through rates.
However, it can get quite expensive to produce quality video, especially if you get a pro to film and edit it.
A way to work around this is to use a video creation tool; using drag-and-drop builders and existing footage, you can create animated and live-action videos with an easy-to-use software. Check out this post on 15 best video marketing tools to find software – and some of them are even free.Best online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses #smallbusiness #tipsClick To Tweet
Write how-to guides
How to guides are great for generating traffic – and highly relevant traffic, at that. If you have a blog, you can publish it there; if not, you can simply publish it as a free resource on your website.
Think of a topic that is highly relevant to your target audience and use your knowledge to create a comprehensive, detailed guide that offers real value to them.
One of the most popular forms of blog posts are listicles; they tend to attract a lot of traffic and attention on social media because they’re (sometimes) very useful, they’re quick to read and skim through, and (sometimes) they’re more fun to read than other types of blog posts.
Like before, think of topics that are relevant and interesting to your audience: it can be tools, apps, software, tips, interesting facts, and so on.
Host a webinar
When it comes to generating leads, webinars are some of the best that content marketing has to offer.
While you might not get dozens of participants from the start, the ones you do get are most likely, highly qualified leads. After all, it takes much more effort and interest to join a webinar for an hour than to download something from your website in exchange for their email, for example.
You can use your webinars as a means to teach your target audience something of real value, something that really helps them in some way, but also as a way to show them how you/your business can help them even better. Learn how to create a webinar that gets bums on seats here.
Publish a presentation on SlideShare
SlideShare can get you a lot of views – which means you get to reach a whole new audience and plus, it’s evergreen content, content that people will continue to discover and see even a few years from now.
To make things even easier, if you have any how-to guides or any other educational resources – preferably ones that had great results, too – you can turn them into presentations.
Add gated content on your website
Amazing content – research papers, extensive how-to guides, webinars, and so on – can have a so-called “gate” placed before someone can access them. Meaning, usually, that they need to give out their information, such as their email address, their occupation, or any other detail you deem necessary before they can access that content.
The best part about it is that this type of content is almost certainly evergreen, which then means that you only have to create it and then you’ll get results from it for months, or even years.
Create a downloadable incentive to generate more leads
Another way to generate more email addresses/leads for your business is to add some well-placed opt-in forms throughout your websites (preferably on every page of your website), like this:
These forms should be easily visible as soon as someone visits your website – experiment with their placing to find the best solutions – and to get better results, use some kind of downloadable incentive.
People are much more likely to give you their email if you give them something good in return, rather than just a promise for emails with news or your latest blog posts.
For example, you can offer a how-to guide, a useful checklist, or any other useful resource you want.
Offer niche content downloads
One of the ways I generate the most leads from my blog/website is through niche content downloads.
What this means is, for any educational blog post that you write, you can also include a downloadable that relates to it. For example, say you’re reading a blog post on how to promote a blog post – what would come in very handy to the interested reader is if they could download something like a “blog post promotional” checklist that they can keep and use every time they promote a blog post:
This strategy can be used with most any form of educational-type content; for example, you can include: a list of useful tips/tools, a checklist, a downloadable version of your how-to guide, a workbook/worksheet, a template, and so on.
Create evergreen content
Whether you have a blog or not, try to create more evergreen content than not. This type of content – i.e., content that stands the test of time and continues to be relevant over years – is much more cost-effective in the long run. After all, you create it and still generate results or months or years – at most, you’ll only have to update it regularly to keep it completely relevant.
As a business, focus on educational-type content, such as e-books, in-depth how-to guides, research and statistics, webinars or online courses, and so on.
Repurpose your content
One of the ways to save some money and create “new” content too, is to repurpose your content – aka change it and reuse it in a different format and/or on a different platform.
- Turn blog posts into SlideShare presentations
- Take quotes from your blog posts and turn them into images for sharing on social media
- Turn a collection of themed blog posts into an e-book (with some editing, so it flows well)
- Post old webinars as gated content on your website
Create round-up posts – aka, curate content
Another way to repurpose content is to create round-ups of great posts and useful resources from other blogs and online publications:
- Think of a topic that is relevant to your audience
- Find the best content/resources that’s been recently shared
- Organize them into a blog post, sharing your own thoughts and views, and explaining why the post/resource is worth seeing
This is not only a valuable resource to the reader, as they don’t have to look for all this content themselves, which means more reach and traffic, but it’s also good for search engine optimisation, and a way to start building a relationship with the bloggers and influencers in your niche.
Social media is completely free – notwithstanding ads, of course – which makes it a very attractive option for cash-strapped small businesses. But, what makes it a must for any type of business, is that social media is where your audience is.
And while it’s true that bigger brands can afford to create more content and build bigger campaigns, there is still a lot of room for small businesses too.
It’s a long-term strategy but one that can lead to great results; most notably, it will help you reach more people and widen your audience, drive more traffic to your website, and increase your engagement and lead generation.
In order to be successful on social media, you first need to be an active user. Create accounts on several social networks – it’s free, so why not experiment and see which social networks work best for you – and start following relevant users, sharing content, and engaging with them:
- Create images using tools like Canva or Crello to share on your social profiles: quotes with beautiful backgrounds, interesting facts, niche statistics, or any other images related to your business/niche
- Post interesting articles, news, and other quality content from various sources – but content that is relevant to your businesses’ target audience
- Share interesting content from other social media users and interact with them
- Set aside at least 10-15 minutes every day to respond to mentions/comments, as well as to engage with users
- Make sure to use relevant hashtags where possible to reach more people
- Post new content and engage consistently, preferably on at least a daily basis
Here are more social media marketing strategies to help cash-strapped small businesses:
Use a social media management tool
While it’s true that most good ones cost, it is a worthy investment if you want to get the most out of your social media. It will help you save time – and there’s always some other task to fill it back up with – but it will also help improve your results, as you’ll have access to social listening, to social media analytics to help you understand what works and what doesn’t, and to all kinds of other useful tools for planning and strategizing.
Use social listening to discover opportunities
Social listening means that, by using software, you can monitor keywords, hashtags, and specific social media users. Most social media management tools can do this – like the ones mentioned above.
There are all kinds of ways that you can use social listening to your advantage – read about them in more detail here –, such as:
- Monitor mentions of your business to make sure you don’t miss any important mentions
- Find opportunities to engage and follow people by monitoring niche keywords
- Monitor your competitors to discover (and join) conversations about products/services likes yours
- Discover the top social media influencers in your niche
Participate in and hold Twitter Chats
If you’ve recently started out on Twitter – or just want to grow more – a great way to meet people, engage, and get more followers, is to participate in niche Twitter Chats. Use a Twitter Chat tool to help you find conversations and then simply join in.
As you grow, you can also try holding your own Twitter Chat. For example, by treating as an AMA (ask-me-anything, meaning the audience asks you questions and you answer) of sorts, on a particular subject, or by holding a conversation on a specific topic.Best online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses #smallbusiness #tipsClick To Tweet
Hold a poll
One way to get people to engage with you on social media is through a fun/interesting poll. Preferably, something that is related to your industry. Make sure to use relevant hashtags as well so you can reach more people and get more engagement and followers out of it.
A quick way to use these polls – on Twitter – to get more followers is to “piggyback” on the back of trending hashtags; however, try to focus on hashtags that are somehow relevant to your industry.
To create a poll on Twitter and Facebook, just click on the “add a poll” option in the update box:
Also, don’t forget to use the #poll hashtag and any other relevant hashtags, so you can reach more people and get more engagement and followers out of it.
Join social media groups
Niche social media groups and communities present a great opportunity to network with others in your industry, including bloggers and influencers. It’s a way to get your name out there, meet relevant people, gain more followers, and even a way to generate more traffic to your website.
Better yet, if you’re in b2b, it’s also a great opportunity to find potential leads in certain industry groups.
To achieve these results, the only way to go is to be an active member of the group, post interesting and useful content (not just your own), share other members’ content and leave comments, and generally, try to engage in conversations with other users. It’s a long-term strategy, but it’s completely free and doesn’t have to take more than 10-15 minutes every day.
Start a social media group
Another option is to start your very own social media group or community; it’s a great way to gather members of your target audience onto one channel, where they can actively engage with you and each other. Plus, it’s also a way to boost brand awareness, generate more followers and leads, and boost engagement.
Ideally, give your group a broad topic, but one that is 100% relevant to your businesses’ target audience. This way, you’ll be able to attract more people to your group.
It’s also important that the group isn’t just about you and sharing your content or promoting your products; rather, it should be a place where people can come to discuss their views, ask questions, share interesting content, and, generally, engage with like-minded people.
For example, if you’re a writer, you could create a group to discuss your particular sub-genre; or, if you sell marketing automation software, you could create a group to discuss email marketing and share news and interesting contest.
Hold a social media contest
Most people love a competition, but everybody loves a good prize. Social media contests are easy and cheap to set up and all you need to really pay for is the prize – which can always be one of your products, your services, a coupon, a gift card, or an hour of your time, depending on what your business does.
In fact, it’s far better to use these types of prizes for business contests; because even if you might get fewer people to participate than if you would’ve given away an iPad, for example, the people who do participate are most likely part of your target audience – which means more leads.
To get more out of your social media contest, promote it on your website, on all your social channels, and in your email newsletter.
Join blogging communities
Blogging communities are great for meeting bloggers and influencers in your niche, but also for getting more social media shares on your content.
Which can then also lead to more followers on social media and traffic on your website.
Check out my guide on how to promote a blog post for a list of blogging communities.
Become an expert curator
Great content curation can actually have a very positive influence on your online success. After all, that is why we use the Internet: to find content that we find interesting, funny, educational, and for an entirely too long list of other reasons.
Curating content on your website, on your social media, as well as on other channels, can help you increase your reach and drive more traffic in return.
Here are some of the best ways to use content curation to your advantage:
- As mentioned earlier, create regular round-up posts with curated content on a particular topic and publish on your website
- Post curated content that your audience would like on your social media channels, preferably every day. It’s also good practice for networking with bloggers and influencers
- Create a digital magazine on Flipboard: instead of posting curated content on your blog, you can do so in a digital magazine which you need to update regularly with new content. The magazine will be yours, in your name, and other users will be able to follow it, see the content you post, and interact with you. It’s free, it doesn’t take up too much of your time, and it allows you to reach a whole new audience. Plus, you can also post your own content in there as well to drive more traffic and leads to your website
Get a pro LinkedIn account to discover leads
LinkedIn is a goldmine for b2b businesses and social selling; its powerful search engine allows you to easily find quality leads based on the companies they work for and their functions, among other factors.
However, with the free LinkedIn profile, your searches are pretty limited and you have to wait until the next month to make any more company or people searches.
But if you’re in b2b, it’s worth investing in a pro account or getting the LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
You’ll be able to make more searches every month and you’ll have a lot more options for narrowing down your lead search results.
Use social media ads
Social media ads can be as expensive or as cheap as you want them to be – you control exactly how much you want to spend on your ad campaigns – which makes them a very attractive option to cash-strapped small businesses.
However, instead of creating many campaigns, each with small budgets, it’s a better idea to invest more in fewer ad campaigns – the posts you really believe in.
For example, if you’ve created a truly amazing resource with a lot of educational value, it’s worth boosting the post promoting it to reach more people and build more traffic. Plus, if you also add a downloadable there, you’ll be able to generate more leads too.
Answer questions on Quora
Quora, a Q&A platform where people can ask questions and other users will answer them, is great for raising your online profile and for generating more traffic and more leads.
Just like a social media platform, you can follow people and be followed by others and you can like and comment on posts/answers. And, like on Reddit, you can upvote answers so they’re moved up in a questions’ thread.
To be successful on Quora, the “secret” is quite simple: answer questions to the best of your ability.
Plus, you can also promote your own content in your answers – but only where relevant. However, my advice is that you link to other useful resources too and that you still answer the question as well as you can.
Read more about how to use Quora and how to drive traffic in my blog post here.
Employees, as ambassadors
It might not be in their job description necessarily, but using your employees as ambassadors doesn’t have to take up too much of their time. Basically, what it means is, that they will help spread the word about your business across their personal channels.
Or, more exactly, they can share your content on their own social media profiles (preferably with a comment too). To make things as easy and as quick as possible, you can create a digital magazine on Flipboard that you give access to, to your team and post all the latest content which you’d liked shared on there.
Don’t make your employees do it, though – it’s their personal profile and they might not want to mix it with work. Rather, tell them what you want to achieve and ask them to help if they want to.
This strategy is quite effective because it’s word of mouth, but on social media – which means that it moves even faster and reaches more people. Plus, people trust regular people much more than they ever will businesses; so, a share from a regular person can have a much bigger impact than you sharing that same post.
Email marketing is cheap and it’s highly effective – the perfect combination. While there’s been talk for years about how email marketing is dead or dying, the truth is, it’s still one of the top 3 most effective digital marketing strategies for small businesses, up there with content marketing and social media marketing.
Here are some of my top tips and strategies for improving your results from email marketing:
Add pop-ups, welcome mats, and use exit intent
My advice to any startup or small business is to immediately start collecting email addresses for their list. However, make sure that you know the new GDPR and that you’ve read through the new provisions.
As I mentioned in the content marketing section, one of the best ways to generate more emails for your list is to offer an incentive in your form (an e-book, a how-to guide, and so on).
What I want to add is that it’s best to add multiple opt-in forms throughout your website so that they’re clearly visible on every page and people can easily sign up, wherever they may be on your website.
Plus, you can also use other useful forms, like welcome mats and exit intent.
Welcome mats are full-page pop-ups that appear after a pre-set amount of time. Exit intent means that you can have another pop-up appear when the software feels like the user is trying to leave your website – basically, a way to try one last time to get someone’s’ details before leaving your website.
You can use a tool like Optinmonster to help you create all of these types of opt-in forms and pop-ups:
Use email marketing automation software
Marketing automation can be an invaluable sales-machine if used right. You’ll need software to set it up though – here’s a list with the best sales marketing automation tools to help you find a good option for you.
Marketing automation is all about sending the right content at the right time, based on certain actions and triggers, so that you can generate and nurture more leads.
Experiment with it and try different workflows to nurture your leads more effectively and turn them into customers.Best online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses #smallbusiness #tipsClick To Tweet
Segment your email list
Personalization is becoming increasingly important, as customers are rapidly losing interest in content that isn’t relevant to them.
By segmenting your email list into different audience segments, you can then send them different emails, based on their own interests and needs. You can this easily with any email marketing/marketing automation tool.
For example, you can segment your audience based on the products they’ve already bought/expressed an interest in, which is great for upselling, based on their occupations, their ages, locations, and so on.
Based on these audience segments, you can then ensure that you’re sending them content that is truly relevant to them – products similar to the ones they’ve bought, services tailored to their needs, and so on.
Set up triggered emails
Another benefit of segmenting your audience is that you can then send them triggered emails based on their actions. For example, if they’ve been browsing your online store, adding items in the cart, but then leaving it – card abandonment emails can help get them back on your website and buying.
Or, if they’ve downloaded a certain resource from your website, you can then send them a follow-up email with some extra tips, another resource, or even to ask them something and re-engage them (like taking part in a survey, asking them if they found the resource useful).
You can set these kinds of triggers up, as well as segment your audience, with a marketing automation software.
Test different subject lines, visuals, and content
The best way to improve your email marketing results is to create different a/b tests regularly to see which versions work best.
A/B testing means changing one element in your email (in this case) to see which version performs the best – this too can be done with most email marketing and marketing automation tools.
For example, you could test 2 different subject lines to see which ones get the biggest open-rate.
Other things you can test are:
- The length of your email
- The use of certain words in your subject lines (such as video, download, free, now)
- The actual content of your email and the message you’re sending
- The call to action in your email: wording, location, colour/design
- The design of your email: most email marketing tools have email templates that you can use, or you can build new ones from scratch where you place text blocks where you want them, include different visuals, change the font, and so on
Like all of the other strategies listed in this article, the amount you spend on search engine optimization is completely up to you – if you have the time, you can do a lot of optimization by yourself.
This is a very important tactic and one that all businesses should consider. Ranking high up in search results can massively boost your success and get you a lot of traffic. Ranking high up for the right keywords, the keywords that your audience uses to search for businesses like yours, can not only mean more traffic, but also a huge boost in lead generation.
However, it’s a long-term strategy and one that requires consistent attention and improvement.
Here are some useful SEO strategies:
What keywords and long-tail keywords (phrases of 2 or more words) is your audience using to search for products and services like the ones you’re selling?
You can then use the keywords you’ve discovered to optimize the content on your website and use them as inspiration for content: change headlines on your website to use relevant keywords, write blog posts about the topics that your audience is searching for, and add relevant keywords throughout your website.
On-page SEO is the optimization of anything that has to with your website; most notably:
- Optimizing your website for mobile devices – an absolute must for any business website, as more people are using their phones and tablets to browse
- Using the right tags on headlines and sub-headlines
- Optimizing your website’s speed – you can use a tool like Pingdom to test it. A slow website can have a very negative impact on your website – it affects your search engine ranking, your return visitors, and it will likely result in a bigger bounce rate
There are a lot of other factors, however – that’s an entire how to guide right there. One of the easiest ways to deal with on-page SEO for little investment and with little SEO knowledge, is to use a tool that can anayze your website and tell you what needs changing and improving.
Backlinks are very important SEO-wise; the more websites are linking back to you, and the more reputable they are, the more it increases your authority.
A great way to build more links from quality sources and generate more traffic at the same time, is to guest post regularly on niche publications.
You can use this list of quality blogs that accept guest posts to get you started.
Create and share an infographic
Another way to get your content published on other websites and generate more backlinks is to create and share an infographic.
You can find a freelance designer to create it for you, or you can use tools like Visme and Canva to do it yourself. Then, you can publish it on your blog and include an embed code at the end so that people can add it to their own websites and blogs. To do this, you can use a tool like this one from Siege Media and also make sure that anytime someone embeds the infographic, it will include you as the author name as well as the link to the initial posting.
You can also reach out to blogs to submit your infographic (as with guest blogging) and submit it to infographic directories.
A few more useful online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses…:
Conversion rate optimization: A/B testing
Earlier, when talking about email marketing, I mentioned a/b testing. This is a strategy that you should use across your website and even your entire marketing strategy – test different variations to see which versions work best and thus, continue to improve your conversion rates.
For example, some of the things you can experiment with are:
- Your headlines
- Your website’s content/copy
- Your websites’ design: colours, visuals content, the placement of different elements on your page, your navigational menu
- Your calls to action, as well as their placement, and the buttons
Like SEO, this is a huge topic, and it would require a (very) long guide to cover it – luckily, you can find one here.Best online marketing strategies for cash-strapped small businesses #smallbusiness #tipsClick To Tweet
Test your landing pages
Just like you test your website and emails, you should also use a/b testing for your landing pages, too.
There are several different elements that you can test:
- The headline
- The page design – the different elements’ placement on the page
- The images/videos you’re using
- The call to action
- The call to action button/its location
You can check out my list of best landing page builders to find tools that can do all of this.
Ask for testimonials
Social proof is extremely important and can help you build more trust, which is essential to generating quality leads. And one of the best ways to demonstrate social proof is through client testimonials.
Think about it: don’t you automatically trust a business more when you see their clients having good things to say about them? And even more so when you can recognize the client/brand.
Not to mention, it’s super quick and completely free; just ask your past and current clients if they can write a couple of words about your business, or working with you. Then, include these testimonials on your website – and keep adding awesome new testimonials as they come in.
Connect with micro-influencers
If you want to work with social influencers to promote your business – after all, influencer marketing is one of the most popular marketing strategies of the last few years – but are worried about the costs, another option is to work with micro-influencers instead (i.e. influencers with under 100k followers).
They might have smaller reach, but they have engaged audiences just the same. Not to mention, their audience are also generally much more targeted and niche than bigger influencers (who will often get a lot of followers based on the hype).
You can work on all kinds of projects together, such as:
- The influencer promoting your products/services on their social channels
- Reviews of your products posted on the influencers’ blog or social channels
- Sponsored posts on their website
Create a free tool
An easy way to boost traffic and brand awareness is to offer some kind of free tool – something that will familiarize the user with your business and that will also provide them with something useful.
And if they’re happy with the free tool, there’s a bigger chance they’ll also get to reading your blog, signing up to your list, and most importantly, buying from you.
These tools are targeted specifically at their audience niche so that anyone who finds and uses their tools are likely to be leads.
As you can see, there’s cause for happiness – there are a plethora of digital marketing strategies that you can try right now with little and even no cost in some cases; except, of course, your time.
What are some of your top online marketing strategies and tips for cash-strapped businesses? How do you save money while also getting results?
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