Let’s be honest - running a small business can be hard!.
With tighter budgets, staffing challenges, and time constraints, you certainly don’t need more obstacles standing between you and your potential clients.
But, as you have likely figured out, small businesses can’t just wistfully rely on the “build it and they’ll come” mentality. You do actually need to put yourself out there and market your business in order to attract your ideal audience to you.
And we know, marketing can be daunting - but thankfully there are a lot of great tools out there (some free, others pretty affordable) that can not only take a lot of work off your plate (like social media posting) but also make the work that you have to do much easier and straightforward.
In this blog post, we have compiled a few of our favorite marketing (and marketing-related) tools for small businesses, that we’ve divided into three different categories:
Before you jump into marketing for your business, it’s important to do some audience listening, in order to know what your customers are looking for (and looking up) online.
This way, when it comes time to work on your marketing, you won’t be “throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping it sticks”. Instead, you’ll know exactly where and how you want to talk about your organization so you can better reach your audience and position your offer in an attractive way to them.
It’s no secret that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important for any content that you put online.
AnswerThePublic is a search listening tool that compiles autofill results from Google and other search engines in order to give you the most searched-for phrases and keywords for your industry. It can be expensive, but a little secret we’ve discovered? You can do two free searches each day!
Whether you’re looking to optimize your website, blog posts, or even YouTube videos for search, this tool will be crucial, as it’ll tell you exactly how your audience is wording their search queries, making you able to best tailor your keywords for that topic.
It’s also important to know what questions your audience has regarding your industry or service.
Quora is a platform where people go to ask (and answer) questions about all sorts of different topics.
Whether you’re looking to offer a new product or service or tailor your existing ones to better help your audience, this platform will let you clearly see which areas people are having more questions around, and exactly what questions they need to see answered in your marketing materials or FAQ page, for example.
You also may be curious to know what the public, in general, thinks about your industry.
Reddit is a forum-like platform where people gather to discuss their opinions on various different topics.
Whether you’re looking to collect information on people’s thoughts about the industry you’re in (which can help you make decisions both for your offers and your marketing materials), looking for good memes (which are a very popular and engagement-driving content piece), or industry-related trending topics to post on your socials, this is a great platform to be active on.
Amazon Book (or product) Reviews
This one can be easily forgotten, but there can be a lot of “gold” in Amazon reviews.
Amazon is the world's largest online retailer, not only housing every product you could ever think of - but they’re also a goldmine for customer reviews.
Whether you want to see what words people use to describe a product or tweak your offer to fill any gaps in your target market, you can search on Amazon for books (or even products) related to your niche, and then have a look at what people are saying about it. The reviews can give you insights into what they like, or what is missing from other product providers, which will give you valuable insight into how to position yourself more competitively.
We can’t forget about good old Google.
Google is the number one search engine in the world, with a whopping 89.43% difference from its second-place competitor, Bing.
Whether you’re performing a general search on a topic related to your business or checking who your competitors are, there’s not much Google can’t help you with. You can even use it as a less-robust version of AnswerThePublic, by starting up a search relevant to your niche and seeing what Google suggests as popular related searches - as well as the “People also ask” section, which much like Quora can tell you what questions people have about a specific topic.
Again, these insights will help inform what people are looking for, what questions they have, and what you should and can include in your keywords and marketing information.
Now that you’ve got a clear picture of what your audience is looking for, how they’re looking it up, and how you can help bridge the gap between their problem and the solution you provide, it’s time to put that out there for the world to see!
Google My Business
Whatever you do, make sure that you create a Google My Business (GMB) profile for your business!
Google My Business is Google’s own tool that allows your business to be listed both in search and in maps - for free.
Having this setup for your business puts you on the map (literally) for everyone to see. You know when you type in a search for a restaurant on Google and a map pops up with a pin on the right side of your search screen? That’s what will happen when your customers are searching on Google to find a business near them, or when a patient searches to find a clinic or urgent care near them - not only will it show them your address and their distance to you, but it’ll also show them your contact information, working hours, and website. Note: GMB will work if you have a street address and can also be a place you post offers, posts, promotions, and photos or videos to further improve your ranking on Google searches.
If you’re wanting to be present on social media, you’ll need something to help you post consistently, so you’re not glued to your computer or phone all the time.
Hootsuite is a great option for this purpose since it allows you to schedule your posts even months in advance for several different platforms and has a free entry-level subscription.
For example, if you see a national holiday or a special celebration, like Hospital Week is coming up soon, or it’s Radiology Celebration Day next month - you can quickly whip up a post and have it go out to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages at the designated time, without you having to think about it ever again! And, it will give you one place to view and respond to comments from customers instead of having to track engagement in each social channel.
Note: There are many other platforms that help you schedule social posts, such as Agorapulse, which we use for our agency. But since Hootsuite has a free version you can start with, we wanted to recommend them first.
Small businesses thrive on referrals. These can come from happy customers...but also from your network!
Alignable is a newer community platform specifically meant for small businesses to network with one another, where they can build trusted relationships and send clients and leads to each other.
If you’re a local business or healthcare practice, you can use it to connect with other people and businesses in your town or region. The platform allows you to make referrals to other businesses, share posts and information, message users, and engage with audiences in your local community. There is a free profile and a paid version for those who wish to upgrade for more features.
And if you can’t commit to yet another platform, Facebook (or LinkedIn) groups will be your best friend!
Especially on Facebook, you can find a group for virtually anything, with lots of them being location or interest-specific, where you can connect with like-minded people in your area, and network with them that way. If you are a local service provider, find the group (or groups) that relate to your town, and be sure to post and engage there with your neighbors.
If you're a rural hospital or clinic, in a very discreet area, this is something that you can use to build valuable connections - and in some cases, even share your posts there as well to increase their reach. But be sure to read the rules of the group so you stay in the good graces of the administrator of the group.
You can have the best marketing strategy and publishing tools at your disposal, but if your “look” isn’t on point, you won’t capture people’s attention - and then they won’t stick around to hear what you have to say.
Have you ever been scrolling through social media, wondering how businesses come up with these great-looking graphics?
Canva is an online graphic design platform, with tons of premade templates and easy-to-use design features for you and your team to get creative with! There is a free version and you can pay a very small subscription amount to have access to their full features.
Whether you’re looking to create social media posts, graphics for your website, flyers, newsletters, business cards, or even videos - you name it, you can do it with Canva. They can even offer printing for subscribed members!
Video is booming. Whether you’re sharing it to social media or around your office, video content helps you get and keep people’s attention much more effectively than just a still image.
Animoto is a fully online platform where you can upload your own footage - whether that’s video or still shots - and create interesting, captivating video slideshows. They have both a free version you can try out, and their upgraded version is not too expensive either.
This can be used to showcase your services in your waiting area, thank your staff for their hard work during COVID, or even for fun event recaps such as one we did for a hospital for their ugly sweater contest.
Branding is everything, and keeping it consistent is super important for brand recognition, not only across your digital space - but in your physical spaces too.
Sticker Mule is an American printing company that can create custom stickers, pins, coasters, labels, packaging, and more for you and your business.
Let’s say you’re running a special campaign or an appreciation day, for example - you can order branded assets from them to hand out to consumers or employees. On another note, if you sell products online, they’re also a great solution to take your packaging game up a notch!
So, will you give any of these a go? Or have you tried any of them before? Let us know which one’s your favorite in the comments!