You ever hear about that sad statistic? The fact that 80% of small businesses fail within the first year and a half? Yeah, that’s just bad. No wonder so many people fear leaving their secure nine-to-fives to go start the business of their dreams. While there are several factors that lead to these businesses running out of money, one definite factor is that they are afraid to invest any money (or even time) into marketing. The web is currently both the cheapest and most effective way to market your product or services, and yet almost 25% of small business owners claim to not be active on social media whatsoever. Twice as many don’t even have a website.
Enough about the problem. How can you as a small business owner, or even a freelancer, build a following and grow as a business? You may be fearful about having to shell out large sums of money, especially if you don’t even have a marketing budget to begin with. However, many marketing techniques don’t require a large sum of cash to start with, and many, such as leveraging a following on social media, can even be free.
Start With Your Local Customer Base
Assuming that you have already build a small customer base from opening up shop, start with that base of customers first. Create an incentive for them to spread the word about you. Perhaps something like offering them a discount for their next visit if they leave a yelp review in shop, or perhaps a referral program set in place if you offer a service. This is a simple way to get more people in via word of mouth, which is still the most important way to build a customer base as a small business.
Cross promotion is another huge factor. Work with other businesses who fit your businesses values and overall mission, and create a way for their customers to become yours (and vice versa). For example, if you are a restaurant that caters, perhaps offer a bundle deal to your customers if they also agree to buy baked goods from the local bakery that you decide to partner with. Think outside the box a lil’ bit and come up with an offer that your customers would appreciate. You’ll likely end up with some new customers from whatever other local business you decide to partner with.
Something else that should be considered is branding yourself as a local landmark. For example, Tito’s Tacos has branded itself as a must-visit landmark if you’re visiting the L.A. area. I credit most of its success to the commercials they launched over ten years ago, however it is easy to achieve similar success with a cheaper marketing platform, such as being active on social media. Post content that catches the eye and fits your brands narrative, and use your local hashtags to bring in engagement (if you don’t have a local hashtag, make one!).
Lastly, give back to your surrounding communities. Pay for an ad in the local high schools football program. Or get more hands on by donating your product or service (perhaps food or clothing if that is the type of business you operate) to anyone in need around the city. Leverage your customer base to help out and document what you accomplish. There are plenty of local charities which will proudly work with you to help your community, and many will gladly list you as a sponsor on their website.
Go Online and Expand
Once you’ve built rapport with your customer base, it’s not enough to stop there. You must go online to continue to engage with your customer base. It’s a given that a high majority of your customers are on social media platforms. Focus on the three main platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While there are many others that you may choose to get involved on, it’s essential that you have a presence on these three as a business.
Of course, having a website is also important. You may think that you have to pay a coder several thousands of dollars to get a website up and running, but this is not the case. With content management systems like WordPress, you can build your own website on a very low budget (you can build a site for free with a .wordpress domain, however this definitely doesn’t look as professional).
Lastly, actually stay active on these platforms. Even if you have a website and social media pages and thus are not part of the statistics mentioned above, it still is not enough. Staying active on all the platforms is essential to success. Your content also doesn’t have to necessarily relate to your product or service. Posting about anything that relates to your brand is sufficient. This could include anything from local events that your business cares about, customer comments or reviews, or even posting photographs of local landmarks with perhaps an interesting fact or two about said landmark.
Post content at least once daily on each of the social media platforms, and at least two to three times a week on your websites blog (more is always better!). By staying active, you’ll appear more often in your followers feeds, reminding them that you exist and giving them reasons to return to you with more business. You’ll also be able to build up your following more quickly, as people tend to follow more accounts that are active relatively often. And by building your following to a higher count, you’ll get even more followers, as people also like to follow accounts with higher followings.
Expanding Into New Territory
Once you’ve done the above, it’s very possible that you could have tapped out your local market. If you’re a product that can be shipped out or a service that can be served remotely, then tapping into your remote customer base via social media channels may be your next move if you want to grow. However, what if your business model can’t support such ways of operating? If you are a business such as a restaurant, expanding into new cities may be the way to go. It is of course an initial investment, but if you want to grow further as a business, expanding into new regions is what you may have to do.