Cooking up the Perfect Recipe for Effective Small Business Marketing

Small Business Marketing: A Plan and A Strategy

With social media on the rise, along with other inexpensive and easy ways to market a business, more and more small business are increasing their marketing presence beyond simply an ad in the local newspaper. Yet as these entrepreneurs get started, marketing is either placed on the backburner or ignored simply because owners don’t know where to start.

The big challenge with small businesses marketing is that it can often feel like cooking without a recipe book. You have the appliances and tools, such as advertising and social media. You may even have the best ingredients like quality creative content and clever advertisements. But without a recipe you don’t know how much sugar or how much social media to use.

As someone born into a family of entrepreneurs and small business owners, I have been on the front lines of this struggle my entire life. When I was three, I went to a Montessori preschool that was founded, owned, and operated by my grandmother. Then, as a sophomore in college, my grandfather would call me over the summer about his well drilling company wanting to know if I, a college student studying marketing, could tell him what LinkedIn was and whether or not he really needed to have a better website.

After trying to help my various family members with their marketing questions I began to wonder — Is there a simple and concise way for even small businesses with small budgets to create and implement effective marketing strategies? Using my personal experience of working on marketing in multiple small business environments and as an intern at an advertising agency with small business clients, I have set out to figure out how to get started with and maintain an effective marketing plan for a small business. From what forms of marketing are most and least effective to how much to spend, this blog will give a simple and concise recipe for an effective small business marketing strategy.


The hardest part of marketing strategy is knowing how to build an appropriate plan for different businesses with different needs. Therefore, before you can begin measuring out each of your ingredients and deciding what forms of advertising you should to use, there are a few important steps every small business needs to take.

  • Define your audience and your message. If you do not know who you are advertising to and what you are trying to tell them you will not be able to decide what marketing strategy is best. Think on this carefully. This will be the backbone of your decision making.
  • Determine your budget. It seems like it always comes down to money. Before you can decide what you want to do, you have to decide how much you are able and willing to spend. According to George Boykin, the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending seven to eight percent of your gross revenue on advertising and marketing. However, this percent ranges from expert to expert. Where small businesses and startups may be advised to use two to three percent of revenue for marketing, a competitive industry with large amounts of advertisers may demand up to 20 percent. Generally, trying to get to that seven to eight percent of your gross revenue is ideal.
  • Setup measurement metrics. If you are going to spend the money then you are going to want to see your return on investment (ROI). With each advertising strategy establish a basic goal and a way to measure it. For example, with his well drilling business my grandfather may want to increase sales with a goal of an increase of five more wells a month. He can later look back and see if his plan achieved this.


2 Cups Traditional Advertising

Televisions, radio, phone books, magazines, and newspaper are all what we think of when we think of traditional advertising. Unfortunately, these forms also seem to be the most expensive and hardest to measure the effects and with the rise of social media and digital advertising you may wonder if this is even worth your time.

The good news is that traditional media is far from dead. In fact, television remains one of the most effective channels to use in advertising. Published in 2015, a study conducted over a five year period by the Marketing Analytics company MarketShare showed television “remains the most efficient vehicle through which to drive consumer purchases, out-delivering digital media (display and social), print and radio.” This study was highlighted in depth in an article by AdAge and featured by CNBC and AdWeek, and the study found that when comparing performance across similar spending levels, TV averaged four times the sales lift of digital advertising. Therefore, if there is any one area of traditional advertising to consider, it’s television.

At the same time, make sure to first consider your business and your audience. Is your audience watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading print media? If the answer is no, then don’t bother. According to writer Dave Lavinsky in his article Is Traditional Marketing Still Alive? published in Forbes, “more and more people are choosing to get their news online rather than through the newspaper, and a large number of households no longer take telephone books.”

However, if you have the necessary portion of your budget possibly consider investing in one or two traditional forms of media that reach your target audience. Traditional media is far from dead. If you are a small school then publish an ad in parenting magazine. If you are a local business then invest money in commercials on local TV or radio stations. Nevertheless, if have a tight budget you might consider leaving this out all together.

3 Cups Social Media

Social Media channels are becoming evermore powerful channels for advertising. Plus, there can be little to no expense associated with it. Be reasonable though, not all businesses need all forms of social media. Make sure you potential customers are using the platform you choose. For example, my grandfather’s well drilling business may need a LinkedIn and Facebook, but it doesn’t absolutely need a Twitter.

First and foremost, every small business at least needs a Facebook and LinkedIn. Facebook is a powerful tool to build your brand through storytelling and engaging personal content. While you can take advantage of many of the platforms features for free, you can also pay to enhance the effectiveness of your marketing though targeting, which enables you to ensure you are reaching the audience you have set out to.

Being on Facebook also allows you to begin to manage your company’s brand image online. According to a New York Times article, “managing your online reputation requires a whole new skill set, including monitoring the online conversation and engaging with customers and the tech-savvy to promote yourself in the best channels.” Being tech-savvy means getting on the best social media platforms for your audience. Small business like boutique stores and restaurants might want to promote their food and clothing on social media like Twitter and Instagram as well to better reach millennials and a broader range of consumers.

Keep in mind, in this day and age, you need to be online and actively engaging with consumers. A New York Times article cited a survey by the Opinion Research Corporation that reported “84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions.” Therefore, social media is a must. The bare minimum should be Facebook and LinkedIn but choosing at least one other platform is best.

2 1/2 Cups Digital Advertising

Also, if you consider anything, make sure you think about digital advertising. According to Entrepreneur, traditional advertising investment has dropped by single digit percentages each year, while digital marketing has consistently grown by double digit increments.

While relatively new, digital advertising provides great opportunities to specifically target your desired audience and to see the results of that work. Some of the services that are part of digital advertising are whitelisting, targeted emails, and geo-fencing. While what will work best for your business depends on what you want to accomplish, digital advertising can help every small business grow.

Think of this as at least half your marketing budget. According to Entrepreneur, a study conducted by BrightLocal found small businesses spend an average of 46 percent of their marketing budget on digital and that is about $400 per month. The best part about digital is that not only are you better targeting your specific target audience, but you will also be able to better measure your ROI.

1 Dash Blog

Finally, Blogging is a great way to use content marketing to enhance your brand and bring in customers. Remember though, quality over content. If you can keep and maintain a blog, do it! It will only lead to positive results. This is a great strategy to supplement and supply content to social media, too.

Oh, and don’t forget to set the oven to 400 degrees. Just kidding, get out of the kitchen and get started with your marketing plan for your small business. This recipe is just the start. As you try this plan out, you will get a better idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. Some of the best chefs are the one who adapt and take the recipe and improvise. So go out and improvise! Most importantly, figure out your secret ingredient — what makes you and your brand unique and follow that. Good luck!

Hope Kelly — Content Creator

Created in partnership with Furman University.

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