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There’s a great quote that sums up just how important marketing is to any business:
“You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything”.
And aside from being a pleasing rhyme, this insight — from Beth Comstock, former vice-chair of General Electric — is as true as they come.
Marketing tells your customers who you are, what you do and why they should care. If you’re not getting that message out clearly and consistently, how can you expect to make sales?
So where do you turn when the marketing budget is looking a little tight? Online.
80% of small businesses use digital channels to make sales — and for good reason, too. Whether it’s blog content, social media, community building, or local SEO, digital marketing is the smartest way to have a big impact with a small marketing budget.
And within the world of digital marketing, there are 6 essential things you’ll want to invest in.
Working with a small business marketing budget? No problem. Here’s what you need to do:
When you’ve not got much to spend, you want your marketing efforts to have the greatest possible impact. There’s nothing worse than feeling your hard-earned money has simply gone down the drain.
But that’s part of the beauty of digital marketing — it’s flexible. You can scale up, scale down, pivot and pivot again. You can keep on launching and learning until you hit a winning formula. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so.
While there are many free or low-cost digital channels available, these are our picks for the highest ROI with the lowest financial risk.
To exist online you need a website. Well, technically, a lot of small or micro business exist purely on Facebook and do very well, however, taking it up a notch and working towards being a business or turning your side-hustle into an online success means investing in a website.
There are plenty of routes you can go and dependant on your technical skill level will dictate the best approach.
If you are technically minded
Then look to build your own with a website builder like the below. Bear in mind, however, in the past these builders are notorious for generating bad code which to your users, won’t make any difference, but to search engines, it will. You should always create your messaging, design and user experiences for your users, but making sure your technical framework is correct is also a vital step to a successful website.
That being said, online website builders are improving. Below are a few of our favourites:
Probably one of the most popular/well-known platforms out there, Squarespace is a well optimised, get the job done solution.
This is essentially a visual code editor so it does require a little know-how, but they provide ready-made HTML templates to get started and have a lot of great partners to work with later down the road.
- Wix Editor X
Relatively new (at the time of writing) and not one I have personally used, however, I have heard good things about.
A lot of online website builders will let you buy your domain with them which at the time sounds like a convenience you’d want. However, I would strongly advise purchasing your domain through a more well-known registrar like 123-Reg or GoDaddy. Keeping complete control of your domain provides lots of benefits like not overpaying for domain costs and securing renewals so your business website stays yours. With this in mind, these domain registrars will commonly try to sell you their own website builder solution – my advice is to ignore this and use a specific website builder solution. Use the tool or solution that’s right for the job!
Sounding too technical?
Then outsource. There are a lot of training guides and resources out there to learn digital marketing so pay freelancers or agencies for the things you cannot do or learn. Look for a trusted web agency that looks out for your business’ best interests. If you call an agency, tell them your budget and they respond with “sure, we can build you a site for that much” then question their morals. Ask friends or business networking groups for referrals and recommendations but ultimately, pick the agency that you feel most comfortable and confident with.
Website pricing recommendations
Here are a few “rules of thumb” I would recommend when speaking with agencies about pricing:
- If you have no website and simply need a simple 3-4 page site with some key messaging then look for anything around £500-£1,000. Anything less than £500 and you are most likely paying someone to pick a WordPress theme, change colours and add some content. You may as well do that yourself or get a friend to help. If paying an agency doesn’t add value over what you can do yourself, then it’s not worth it!
- If you have a small business website (homepage, 4-5 key service or product pages, contact and about page) and need it improving I would start looking around the £1,500 to £2,500 mark. This should include at the very least:
- reviewing your existing analytics data and making informed user experience decisions from that
- professional copywriting
- some level of an SEO strategy and recommends in place
- on-brand design
- If you are an e-commerce business and happy for a templated approach, then around the £1,000 mark would be my lowest recommendation. Anything lower and it might miss a lot of analytics setup that would actually help your business
- If you are an e-commerce business looking for a custom design and user experience then anything less than £3,500 I would question as there are a lot of specific pages like checkout and shopping basket, for example, over and above the product and category pages that need planning, design and development and if done right does take time
The above our my professional recommendations and are personal to me. I have been a developer for 10+ years and this is my experience. I am always happy to chat through possible options with small businesses so feel free to book a free 30-minute consultation if you’re still left wondering…
Once you have a website, you need to start ranking it online. Your customers are not going to wake up one morning and think “let me go and visit X Company’s website”.
Search engine optimisation is one of the best (and most under-utilised) ways that small businesses can boost their presence online. A lot of small business owners I have spoken to in the past have said: “I used SEO before but it doesn’t work“. After a 5-minute conversation asking how they know this, what analytics are in place, what goals were set etc they quickly understand that the monthly budget they were paying their previous agency was either:
- Too small and not enough for the agency to do anything
- The agency wasn’t reporting the results either because there wasn’t any or they weren’t organised enough
- Or simply the agency was taking the money and updating an SEO title here and there
But done right, SEO can boost organic traffic and provide potential customers to your website for you to convert into paying customers. 57% of B2B marketers stated that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative and 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. These numbers speak for themselves when proving that SEO works.
A truly effective SEO strategy will not provide jaw-dropping results in a week, it’s a low-cost (if done yourself), high value, long-term strategy — one that will, over time, increase website traffic and generate leads organically. No, we’re not talking about bloating your website with a hundred keywords — that’ll actually do more harm than good. The secret is in making strategic use of SEO throughout your website and all the content you generate.
- Hike SEO
An amazing DIY online SEO tool that will take you through every step you need, from a complete strategy to technical tasks. It also provides clear and easy to understand instructions for each action, will prioritise the most important actions to complete and loads more! We use this tool internally for our clients here at Streamwork Marketing. Get 10% off for 12-months.
3. Content Marketing
Content marketing is generating content that informs and educates your target audience on pain points they experience. The best way to do this is to start a blog – it’s an ideal place to naturally target the keywords your potential customers are searching for. Businesses who blog just once or twice a month have 67% more sales opportunities versus those that don’t. That’s gotta be worth the investment.
The best bit: you can definitely do this yourself. After all, you’re the expert on your business and industry. All you need to do is:
- Every 3-months create a content plan – aim for at least 1 x 1,250-1,500 word article per month
- Then, dedicate an hour or two a week to writing these articles
- Once published then get sharing
Don’t have time for that? Or really don’t fancy going it alone? You can always lean on an experienced freelance writer or editor to help you out or an agency that provides content marketing as a service.
- Neil Patel has a free Content Marketing Unlocked course
4. Google My Business
Another criminally overlooked tool available to all small businesses: Google My Business. A Google My Business listing helps you control the information displayed in particular search results, primarily the Google Maps results, sometimes referred to as “Map Packs”.
You’ll have seen it before as a customer. Chances are, you’ve even completed a sale as a result of it. Ever needed to search for a local coffee shop? Or have some flyers printed at your local print place?
Used in isolation, or as part of a wider local SEO campaign, your Google My Business listing can pull in significant volumes of business — and is completely free to set up!
This might just be the easiest and quickest way to get your small business in front of more local customers.
5. Referral programs
Offline word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing channels. And there’s a digital marketing counterpart to think about, too.
A referral program can substantially increase the value that each new customer brings to your business, with very little risk of wasting money.
Whether your offer is “£50 free credit when you refer a friend” or “Refer a friend to us and you both get a month free”, referral rewards can be put to good use on everything from bank accounts to groceries, and hairdressers to event caterers.
Building a community through referrals is perfect if you have a small marketing budget — it guarantees a return on investment. After all, you don’t pay out unless you sign up a new customer.
- HubSpot’s How to Build a Customer Referral Program
5. Social Media
Maintaining an active social media presence is a great way to attract new customers and make sure existing customers remember why they chose to do business with you.
Encouraging engagement through shares and likes will increase your visibility and throwing in the odd competition (“To enter, simply like and share this post”) can turbocharge an already profitable channel.
Simply posting aimlessly won’t move the needle. Be sure to ignore ego metrics like the number of followers and focus more on engagement, conversions and audience growth rate and always have a strategy in place.
Tools are also a big player in social media success. Posting individually on each platform is tedious and time-consuming so consider a low-cost or free tool to get you going and optimise your time.
Arguably one of the most popular social media management tools around, Hootsuite does have a free plan, allowing you to test the waters with 3 social profiles.
- Zoho Social
If you are a Zoho One user then Zoho Social is included in your plan so this would be a no brainer. It’s a great tool providing a nice calendar view, easy multi-channel posting and can directly link to Zoho CRM if that’s what you’re into. Never heard of Zoho, talk to our sister company Streamwork Digital to find out more
- Wordstream’s Easy Small Business Social Media Strategy Guide
- Hootsuite’s 19 Metrics that matter guide
Bonus: Paid Advertising
Not usually falling into the smaller budget bracket, but if you’ve got all the other essentials covered without spending a penny then pushing budget into paid advertising would be the next step to go. However, be warned, poorly creating ads, incorrect audience targeting and lack of constant monitoring and optimisation can lead to a lot of wasted spend, so either:
- learn a lot and be 100% confident in your ability to create and manage these ads or
- partner with a trusted digital marketing agency that can work with you
If you do decide to go it alone, here are some tools and resources you will find useful.
Recently changing their business model, Adzooma is now completely free and once your Google, Facebook or Microsoft ad accounts are linked, will provide optimisations using sophisticated AI learning.
- We weigh up the pros and cons of paid advertising for small businesses
- WordStream has 3-cost effective advertising ideas
Let’s wrap things up
As small businesses, when thinking about marketing we’re forever fighting with 3 main pain-points:
The key to succeeding online, in my experience, as a small business is to cover as many of the marketing essentials listed above and weigh up what it is you can do internally (either yourself or an employee) and outsource (pay) for the things you cannot – whether that be because you cannot, don’t have the knowledge and no time to learn or simply that it will take you 8 hours to do something a professional can do in 2. Either way, it’s a balancing act and a case of prioritising what budget you do have to get the most bang for your buck!