How to Find Customers: Small Business Marketing

Whether you’re just starting up, or have been running a small business for years, finding customers can feel daunting. Marketing is an essential part of any business’ journey, and technology has made it easier and cheaper than ever to find and reach new prospects.

Small businesses don’t often have the luxury to spend big on marketing. In fact, when money gets tight, small businesses often cut marketing budgets first, even if the strategies have proven successful. Digital marketing allows low-budget small businesses to stay competitive with their advertising.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the eight most common types of marketing in our overview.

Digital Marketing

The Internet has changed how business gets done, starting with how businesses find customers. Small businesses are well-positioned to leverage the time consumers already spend online by using digital marketing tools and techniques to make the most of smaller marketing teams and budgets.

Digital marketing refers broadly to any marketing activities that take place online, across the web, social media, and email/sms messaging. Let’s break digital marketing down into a handful of smaller categories, and look at how your small business can use them to find customers:

  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Content Marketing
  • Advertising (Including Search Marketing)
  • Referral Marketing
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Events Marketing

Email Marketing

Even as our world becomes increasingly social media-focused, email remains a marketer’s best friend. Email marketing is an art and a science, leveraging copywriting, visual design, and analytics to help find new customers.

There’s more to email marketing than might seem obvious at first. Let’s start with a few key concepts to help shape your plans:

Subject Lines and Pre-Headers

The pre-header appears just below the subject line in an Inbox. Use it to grab your prospect’s eye and get them to open your email.

Drip vs Nurture Campaigns

Drip and nurture campaigns are two of the most common uses of marketing automation. What’s the difference?

  • Drip Campaign A drip campaign sends messages to prospects on a regular schedule.
  • Nurture Campaign A nurture campaign goes a step further, adjusting the timing and frequency of your messages to respond to prospects’ behaviors, like clicking an email call to action or visiting your website.

Social Media Marketing

The digital world really has gone social, and marketing is no exception. Social media marketing is a powerful tool that can help SMBs find and connect with more customers without relying on big marketing teams and budgets.

Start by understanding the differences between the major social networks. Find out where your target audience goes. Consumer and lifestyle products typically find better success marketing to photo-centric channels like Facebook and Instagram. B2B and professional services companies, on the other hand, may find more engaged audiences on Twitter and LinkedIn. Own a brick and mortar shop? Yelp and Google My Business are a must.

Content Marketing

Content marketing uses blogs, case studies, infographics, videos, whitepapers, podcasts, and other types of content to attract prospective customers. Rather than pitch products, content marketing programs entertain and educate your audience, establishing your company as a trusted and expert voice in your industry. In turn, this keeps your brand top of mind for consumers when it comes time for them to consider a purchase.

Your content marketing program should reflect your brand, and the kinds of products and services you offer. Everything from the tone of your content to the formats you choose can be tailored to fit the brand image you want to project. And you can mix it up! If you and your co-founder are seasoned writers but not so handy with images, start with an editorial calendar heavy on blog posts and case studies. Or lean into infographics if you’ve got a killer designer on staff.

Keeping an editorial calendar is key to establishing a consistent content marketing plan, as it lets you track themes, topics, publish dates and accountability amongst everyone involved with each piece of content.

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Advertising is a big topic, and an important one for SMBs who need to get as much bang for each buck as possible when it comes to finding new customers. For starters, let’s hone in on a few key terms and concepts to familiarize yourself with:


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of driving traffic from organic results on search engines. SEO entails optimizing your website to rank higher for specific keywords on search engines like Google. Learn how small businesses can take advantage of SEO.

Search engine marketing (SEM) commonly refers to search advertising—placing ads that appear in front of or alongside search results. Search advertising is often called pay per click (PPC), or “paid” as opposed to “organic” (SEO) tactics. What links SEM and SEO is that both focus on keywords in a search query. SEO practices revolve around optimizing your content on a specific keyword so your relevant webpage will rank prominently in a search engine, making it more likely to be found and clicked on. In SEM you are bidding on that specific keyword to trigger display of your ads alongside search results. Combining both strategies can ensure that your pages are discovered by the most users searching on relevant queries. It is important to be strategic about pairing paid search advertising with organic SEO techniques to get maximum ROI, whatever your search marketing budget.

Search vs Display Advertising

  • Search Ads When you type a search query into Google, the first two or three entries on the results page are usually paid placements called search ads. Advertisers bid to have their ads show up when people search for specific search terms.
  • Display Ads Display ads are the ads shown on pages across the web. These ads are generally targeted, meaning that Google and other ad networks use tracking information to serve display ads meant to appeal to each individual user’s interests.

Referral Marketing

Referral marketing, aka “word of mouth,” is when one of your existing customers and/or partners tells their friends and network about how great your products and services are. As a strategy, referral marketing revolves around influencing the process so that more people will share about you with their friends.

That influence can come in a variety of ways, from creating social content designed to go viral to using referral codes that offer discounts or promotions to both the referrer and referred (eg, “Earn five free rides when 5 of your friends sign up using your unique discount code. And they’ll save $5 each, too!”).

Businesses of all sizes and across all industries have found success with referral marketing:

  • Dollar Shave Club leveraged their sharp wit to create several videos that went viral on YouTube, leading to new subscriber signups.
  • Many companies like Dropbox offer referral programs that give existing customers perks and/or discounts for referring new business.
  • TOMS and Warby Parker are two brands built on giving-back models that resonate with today’s consumers. After customers experienced their “buy one, donate one” models first-hand, they spread the word, effectively referring more new business.

Mobile Marketing

From SMS messages to apps with push notifications, mobile marketing is ripe with opportunities to find new customers. While some customers will welcome every coupon and sale alert that pops up on their screen, others will see unwanted spam that turns them off to your brand.

Do your research before deciding if mobile marketing is right for your business, and how to go about it. For starters, here are a few terms to familiarize yourself with:

SMS Marketing

Promotional content sent via short messaging service (SMS), aka text messaging.

Push Notifications

Content delivered via notification through your app. Push notifications typically show up directly on the user’s home screen.

In-App Notifications

Content delivered inside of your app. You can only send in-app notifications to users who’ve already installed your app.

Events Marketing: online and offline

As great as email, social media, and other forms of digital marketing are, there’s really no substitute for live, one-on-one interaction. Event marketing is a great way to meet prospects and drive pipeline, and it’s fun, too — for your company and your customers.

Putting on your first in person event may seem daunting, whether online or in person, but it can be as low-key as a meetup-style gathering at your favorite cafe or watering hole.

Online events can be great alternatives to in-person gatherings, since they usually involve much lower overhead on the host company’s part. Some popular types of online events to consider include Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything), Twitter Chat, Facebook and Instagram livestreams, and Webinars.


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