It’s one thing to develop a great product or service, but communicating that to the marketplace is a skill in itself. Small businesses are often short on cash and so need to think of smart and effective ways to bring customers through the door.

Thankfully, marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, although it does take planning and commitment.

Low cost and local
The first step is to know your customer and to head to where they are going to be. For many businesses, local trade is the most important thing and a simple, low-cost approach such as flyering might be the best step. Gordon Blamire, who founded GoSkydive , took this approach when he started up six years ago.

‘When I was first starting out, I had very limited marketing funds, so if we weren’t jumping we’d go out into the town, prospecting,’ he says. ‘The skydive instructors, pilot, the whole team would go into the city centre, handing out leaflets and talking to people about tandem skydiving.’

You may be able to replicate this approach with social media too. If you know that your client base is on Facebook, for example, it makes sense to engage with them there.

Customer data
It’s also important to keep a record of customer sales and interactions as this can help you monitor the success (or failure) of your marketing campaigns. This way, you’ll have a better idea of where to invest your marketing budget.

In the very early days, this might simply mean keeping information on a spreadsheet.

But as the business grows, investing in customer relationship management (CRM) software makes sense. A CRM makes accessing and processing information easier and can then be used when sending out promotions and preparing campaigns.

For Blamire, a CRM is now a major part of his marketing strategy and helps him to monitor campaigns. ‘We now have a sales team and a marketing department, and invest heavily in digital marketing and CRM,’ he says.

If you are recording customer data, it’s vital to follow the guidelines set out under the Data Protection Act (DPA). These will help you to protect your customers and your business in the event of data theft or misuse. You can find out more here, including what types of data you can legally store and how you are allowed to use them for your marketing and sales activities.

Google rankings
Many consumers begin their hunt for a purchase online and, for many businesses, this means they need to climb the Google rankings.

You can start doing this by adding phrases which prospects use when speaking to Siri, Cortana or Google Now, or that they enter into search engines, to your website. There are a range of online tools that can help you find these key phrases, such as SEMRush and WordTracker. If you have an Adwords account, Google’s own Keyword Planner is a good bet.

Reshmi Bennett, who founded artisan patisserie Anges de Sucre in 2011, took this approach when she created her website. ‘We looked into what kind of terms people were searching for and optimised our website content for those. This helped us to drive higher rankings for our key products against some of the bigger competitors,’ she says.

Reshmi then began to use Google’s advertising services, which further accelerated her ascent. Paid advertising on Google was also helpful in pushing us to the top of the page for more competitive keywords that we’d normally be on page two or three for. We saw which keywords drove sales and then knew they should be a focus for us.’

Five tips for marketing on a budget
1) Know your customer: Think hard about who you’re really selling to. Understand why they would want to buy from you
2) Hone your message: Develop a clear and simple pitch that quickly explains why your business is appealing
3) Record your sales: Customer information is vital for future success
4) Try different channels: There are many ways to market a business, from word of mouth to social media
5) Invest to succeed: Marketing costs money, but it’s worth it if it makes you a profit

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