Marketing is the key to success for just about any local business.
In fact, it’s often the only difference between a business that flies or one that dies.
A great idea, product or service will ultimately fail if your audience isn’t even aware you exist or fails to understand why they should choose your company.
Big businesses have big dollars to throw at marketing campaigns. But I’m guessing you don’t have that luxury?
So what can you do to outfox long-established, cash-rich competitors? What are the marketing strategies that really work for small businesses? And what can you do to get noticed and increase your customer base on a small budget?
Well, if you look carefully, you’ll notice that many locally established businesses continue to invest – conservatively – in traditional platforms, paying a small fortune for copycat full-page print ads and distributing generic leaflets in their thousands.
But they’re often found wanting when it comes to digital marketing and struggle to create meaning at scale.
And by relying too heavily on reputation and branding, they leave the door open for ambitious entrepreneurs willing to be different and stand out.
Here are 25 low-cost local marketing ideas to help you reach and convert your target customers without blowing your budget.
1. Register with Google My Business
Most small businesses have a website – but it’s amazing how many haven’t listed and verified their business on Google.
With so many searches currently displaying maps listings at the top of page 1, it is vital that you complete all sections of your business page and help Google understand your company.
2. List with local directories
Although direct search traffic from local directories such as Yell and Yelp is on the decline, it is still very important to use these directories for the purpose of citations.
Local directory listings will help Google interpret data about your business and can help with your website ranking.
For a citation to improve your local SEO, it is important that you enter your name, address and phone numbers exactly as on your Google Local page.
Although we’ve recently covered the difficulties faced by businesses using social media to generate leads, it continues to be a vital tool in your armoury.
Not only does a social presence help you tell your story and increase awareness, but it also enables you to inject personality into your brand (something big businesses often lack).
Social signals are also likely to play an increasing role in future search results.
Choose your platforms and invest your time wisely; there is little to be gained from diving headfirst into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Reddit all at the same time.
4. Implement SEO
Have you spotted a pattern?
All the above points directly influence one of the most important marketing strategies for a local business: Search Engine Optimisation.
Fewer and fewer people are picking up Yellow Pages or looking through a local directory magazine to find a business these days.
Most consumers simply use Google to find a local business and will usually only use the first page or two of results to inform their decision. If you’re not highly visible in local search results, you’re swimming against the tide.
Do it yourself or hire an SEO Agency.
5. Use AdWords
Pay per click can be a very effective method of generating business if there is good searcher intent.
With mobile browsing rates increasing rapidly, AdWords on mobile can be even more effective than on desktop, helping you get seen first in local results with less obvious, immediate alternatives.
Including a strong headline and compelling offer will increase click-through rates and help maximize ROI.
Ah, the dreaded “B” word. Although viewed with suspicion by marketing teams and entrepreneurs the world over, blogging has the potential to transform your online results.
It helps with SEO (directly and indirectly) while providing a platform where you can tell the story of your company, help answer customer concerns and build trust and engagement.
A website without a blog, or worse still, one that hasn’t been updated in months, screams “sorry, we’re closed for business!”
We recently published a guide on How to write better content, check it out.
Thought email was dead? Think again.
Recent studies indicate email to be more than 40 times more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter combined.
But rather spam cold prospects with interruption emails, use an opt-in box on your website to collect emails of visitors who have landed on your website.
Companies such as MailChimp make it easy and cheap to automate an email marketing strategy. Send a regular newsletter and provide helpful and interesting content without always trying to sell something.
Always be at the forefront of your customer’s minds.
8. Offer customer loyalty and referral schemes
Rewarding loyal customers with discounts and incentives is a great way to convert them into lifelong advocates.
It also helps generate referrals through goodwill. Incentivized referral schemes where your customers get rewarded for referring new customers can also be particularly effective; whether that be vouchers, a free gift or service.
Don’t make the mistake of expecting or assuming your customers will come back to you. Your competitors will already be trying every trick in the book to lure them away.
9. Run joint promotions
Cross promoting a non-competing, relevant business is a very effective way of reaching your target customers. If you’re a dentist, why not run a joint promotion with a chiropractor?
If you run a hair salon you could partner with a local masseuse or beauty salon.
An accountant might partner with a local solicitor.
Whatever the business, joint promotions can be an extremely effective way of gaining high-quality clients.
Something as simple as providing reciprocal promotional brochures in reception areas is an easy, cheap, and highly relevant tactic.
10. Enter industry awards and accreditations
Most industries have awards that you can enter online.
The publicity that these generate are valuable to any business and any badges or certificates you’re awarded will add credibility to your business.
Trust is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in higher-priced markets and proving you’re competent and rated will only help your sales.
11. Send client nudgers
If you’re a service business, a client nudger is a great way to gain new business.
This is how it works: If you run a cleaning business, you would post letters in the same street that you are cleaning, informing the neighbours that “I have been cleaning at number… today” and that they are welcome to ask what they thought of your friendly service. This also works well for business to business sales.
Letting a business know that you are already doing a great job for one of their competitors and would also love to help them out really gets their attention more than generic leaflets or sales letters. They’ll be naturally intrigued and want to know more. It’s called ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’
12. Create a competition
Creating and promoting a cool giveaway is a great way to create interest and gain social followers and shares at a fraction of the cost of promoting your Facebook or Twitter pages.
Services and products both work well and it’s worth considering a joint promotion with another local business in order to reach more of your target market.
13. Join forums
It is worth seeking out local community forums that have relevance to your business. Facebook groups are always effective but there are also industry forums and community websites that you can comment on, enabling you to connect and help people in your locality.
Just concentrate on being helpful and avoid direct selling.
OK, I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of organized networking events, but some businesses swear by them.
If you’re in B2B, then it’s certainly worth attending a few events and trying to find if there is a suitable fit.
If your service or product is aimed at the public, however, choose your network organisation carefully, as the return may not justify the time and cost of membership.
Although, some networks do offer extras such as social media promotion, training and marketing campaigns, meaning they may merit consideration.
15. Publish videos
Marketing your company via video is a fantastic way to gain trust and show personality.
Professional promotional videos have their place, as do short, sharp and snappy videos shot on an iPhone.
Videos often prove more clickable than images on social media platforms and they also work brilliantly on web pages, keeping your visitors on the page for longer.
16. Send flyers
Flyers can still work very well.
But they must stand out in order to get noticed and contain a compelling reason for the recipient to act.
It’s called a call to action.
Simply mailing out a generic flyer with a bland special offer (everyone does it) and amateur stock graphics won’t cut it.
It has to be different or it’ll go straight in the trash can without so much as a cursory glance.
And that would prove to be an expensive mistake.
17. Be different
Find something – anything – that distinguishes you from your competitors.
And then promote the hell out of it.
The difference could be in your product, service, slogan, brand or positioning.
Your sole aim should be to position your company as an intelligent, logical choice in your industry.
Whether you do it better, faster, lighter or more exclusively – you must tell your story.
Become known for doing something exceptionally well.
18. Create bundles
Do your customers know that if they order additional services or products it can be more cost-effective?
Offering packages that provide incentives will increase your sales and save the customer money.
Maybe you can split your services into Bronze, Silver and Gold packages, thereby offering your customers a budget, improved and premium service?
Don’t leave money on the table!
19. Become an expert
People resist being sold to. Instead, offer free advice at every opportunity.
Help people out on message boards, social platforms and in-person, Quora is a great place to help other people for example. Create ‘How To’ guides, post instructional material and videos and offer free advice over the phone or via email.
Make yourself available for any media interviews and public speaking if you’re so inclined. You won’t always get an immediate sale, but you’ll be remembered, appreciated and referred.
20. Charity work
Admittedly, it seems like every business is jumping on the charity bandwagon; often just for the publicity.
But you know what? – it’s hard to criticize anybody for raising money or donating a percentage of profits to a worthy cause.
And the publicity can be dynamite.
Just bear in mind that the big charity organisations will usually favour marketing the larger companies and events that are likely to raise the most money.
So you’ll need to market and promote your charity efforts just like any other part of your business.
21. Collect and promote reviews
Customer testimonials are vital as social proof and add credibility to your story.
You can shout till the cows come home about how great you are, but if you can’t prove it, it carries little weight.
In the early stages of your business, prioritize collecting as many reviews as possible.
Use these testimonials on your website, social platforms and offline marketing literature.
22. Provide specific exclusive offers
Anybody else get fed up of seeing sofa retailers constantly advertising the latest, greatest SALE?
Thought so. And that’s because it’s almost impossible to walk into a shop or visit a website these days without being subjected to yet another ONE TIME SPECIAL OFFER! It doesn’t wash so easily these days. Instead, if you wish to increase sales in a slow period, make a time-limited, genuinely great special offer and target it at a specific demographic.
And don’t forget to up-sell.
23. Provide memorable service
Offer a freebie for regular customers.
Follow up sales with personalized thank you cards or emails and let people know they’re appreciated.
Go beyond the call of duty and ALWAYS over-correct any mistakes.
Turn complaints into praise and cynics into converts and you’ll have a business that is unlikely to ever be damaged by bad press.
It’s called reputation management.
24. Increase prices
Yes, I mean it. You see, unless you operate a volume-based model, why on earth would you want to compete on price?
You’ll work twice as hard to earn the same money as those with a more sensible pricing strategy.
If you cover all the previous points – consistently – pricing won’t be the first thing on your customer’s mind.
25. Be consistent
What do AdWords, SEO, direct mail, networking, social media and every other marketing strategy have in common?
They all rely on consistency.
And this is the crux of successfully marketing a local business.
Each strategy needs to implement consistently and the results measured and used to inform future budgets and changes.
Bonus tip 26. Listen
Your customers provide invaluable insight into how you can improve your business and increase your sales.
Follow up sales with a short questionnaire on how you could have made the experience better and ask why they chose your business. Listen and act upon their feedback.
Take action to keep your existing client base happy while addressing the areas that need improving for future relationships.
If consistently applied, these 25 local marketing strategies, along with a great website and healthy search ranking, will increase your leads and sales and set you apart from your competitors.