Small Business Marketing Outlook for 2011 Is Looking Up

Small businesses are feeling optimistic about the economy— so much so that they’re increasing their 2011 marketing budgets. That’s the result of a new survey my company, GrowBiz Media, conducted with the help of Zoomerang, a leading provider of online survey and polling tools.

The Small Business Marketing Outlook for 2011 is Looking Up

The Small Business Marketing Practices Survey polled small business owners to find out about their marketing plans for next year. Entrepreneurs plan to increase their online and offline marketing budgets, with the biggest increases going towards e-mail, websites and social media marketing.

Alex Terry, Zoomerang’s General Manager, says the survey reflects business owners’ ability to adapt and use “different technologies to make the most effective and creative use of their budgets.” Social media, in particular, is in the spotlight: “This area of marketing is poised to see an incredible uptick in the next year,” Terry notes.

More than one-third of business owners responding to the survey already make social media part of their marketing mix. Of those who use social media tools, Facebook was the most popular, used by 80 percent. Next came LinkedIn (37 percent) and Twitter (27 percent).

Overall, 13 percent of business owners plan to increase their social media spending next year. Here’s where else they will be spending more:

  • Website                           + 17 percent
  • Direct mail                   + 15 percent
  • E-mail marketing   + 15 percent
  • Print ads                        + 10 percent
  • Online ads                    + 9 percent
  • SEO                                    + 4 percent

The bulk of small businesses’ spending increases is slated for their online marketing avenues. However, the one method most entrepreneurs say they rely on above all others is good old word-of-mouth. Eighty-six percent of business owners said word-of-mouth is important to their companies. Asked what specific kinds of word-of-mouth marketing matter to them, 70 percent cited in-person networking, 50 percent said customer referral rewards, and 34 mentioned cited social media.  Also significant: event marketing (21 percent) and public speaking (20 percent).

One fact that saddens, but doesn’t surprise me: Just 54 percent of businesses surveyed have a company website. I’m still amazed how many small business owners fail to take advantage of this crucial marketing tool. With word-of-mouth increasingly being spread online, entrepreneurs who rely on it will fall behind if they don’t have at least a basic business website.

Of those respondents who do have a business website, 80 percent use it to provide “general information,” 45 percent use it for customer service, and 30 percent use it for e-commerce. Just  13 percent blog on their site.

How does your business stack up against these numbers? What tools are you using—or planning to add to your arsenal in the coming year? Get more details from the Small Business Marketing Practices survey and see how you compare to similar companies at the Zoomerang website.

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

9 Reactions
  1. Thanks a ton for sharing some positive news, Rieva! I’m not looking for some pollyanna view where nothing is wrong with the world, but there are positive signs in the small biz sector. It’s still tough, but there’s hope and there are signs that things are improving. Slowly.

    I’m super glad to hear biz owners are going to spend on their websites because that’s a HUGE part of my company offering and that’s been down for a long time. I’ll share the details of the results on my blog, too, and tweet it out, of course. This is practical for those of us who are small and focused on serving other small businesses.

  2. I don’t know what the numbers are, but this seems like small businesses are just following the trend that large businesses have been on for a few years. Online is a growing part of all businesses and I think that small businesses recognize this trend and are taking the necessary steps to keep growing.

  3. I don’t actually buy the 54% figure for those who have a website. I think it needs context. First of all, it depends who you ask. Larger small businesses tend to have a web site. Solo businesses tend not. And average or median numbers obscure the real insight into who has a website.

    Also, not every small business really needs a website. My husband’s business doesn’t have a website, and he has nothing to gain by having a website, except more expense and more work that won’t lead to revenues.

    Also, Dawn Rivers Baker here pointed out two days ago a NSBA survey that showed a higher percentage of small businesses having websites. So I am having real trouble reconciling the two sets of data, and also reconciling it with this data showing that 79% of the larger small businesses have websites:

  4. I’m very surprised that more marketing dollars are going to be invested in email marketing and direct mailing than social media. Perhaps that goes hand in hand with only 13% of SMB’s blogging. If I had to bet on 2012 spending, I’d say that social media and blogging resources will climb while outbound tactics like email marketing and direct mailing will significantly decrease. SMB’s that realize this trend in 2011 will be way ahead of the curve.

  5. The full report gives context. 89% of respondents had 1-25 employees so this is on the small end of SMB. The employee breakdown in the report probably should have had more options at the low end with this many falling in that bucket. It would be interesting to know what percentage were sole proprietor and then maybe 2-5, 6-12, 13-25 or something.

  6. I agree with putting more money into marketing. It is almost the sole driver for getting business. Outside of your employees (unless you’re a one stop shop) it’s the most important investment you can make!

  7. Hello Rieva,

    Thank you for your interesting post, if the USA is going to trend into Social Media as indicated, this is excellent since the market over here in South Africa will follow suit.

    Stats always tell a story, you get a feel from where you are coming from and that gives a strong indication of where you are going to.

  8. Caveat emptor. The two last words of a dying marketing program are, “Me, too.” If everyone is doing it, it may not make a lot of sense to sink all your money into getting lost in the crowd with everyone else.

    I agree with Anita and would amplify – at least 33% (maybe as high as 50%) of small businesses will never need a website beyond a simple billboard to give people a phone number to call. There are tons of people in the Yellow Pages, local newspaper, direct mail, etc. that don’t belong there, either. Just because a marketing medium exists (websites), doesn’t mean you should use it. We ran our LOCAL business successfully for three years with a simple billboard website and for almost the first year without even printing business cards. (Now we’re going international and websites are a GREAT idea for us now – we have a half dozen w/ more to come.)

    Every survey like this has always come up with the same conclusion – word-of-mouth (relationships) is far and away the best method of marketing for a small business. A website is not word-of-mouth anymore than a newspaper ad or a brochure left at a coffee house.

    Build relationships and make sure your clients are raving fans. The overwhelming majority of your future clients will ALWAYS come from them. Figure out how to be unusual for them – “Me, too.” doesn’t work.