While the most recent numbers haven’t been officially released, the U.S. is likely to have well in excess of 30 million small businesses currently surviving (see the latest SBA stats  [PDF]). If you listen to Rand Paul’s thinking, only about 3 million of them have a chance of skirting through the next few years without losing their shirts.
Marketing your business is the only way to keep the cash registers “cha-chinging,” and marketing for maximum sales at minimal cost to your bottom line is essential to getting any SMB off the ground and profitable in the shortest time possible.
Here’s my 5 marketing on a budget tips for all you SMB owners out there:
1. Use Local Classifieds
This goes for online and offline media. Craigslist and Kijiji are still alive and well. People from all walks of life use them for buying and selling. You can post for free on these sites to get a feel for the buzz you’re capable of creating, but you will eventually want to step it up and use their respective promoted ad feature and actually pay to have your ads displayed at the top of local searches. Love this guide from Entrepreneur.com , it’s an all-encompassing Craiglist advertising primer that everyone should read!
Plenty of folks do still read the paper, though it’s a definite shame that in a world so digitally-inclined, we still feel the need to kill a tree just to share information! Definitely spend a few bucks taking out classified ads in local papers to promote your business and stretch the purse-strings a bit further, and take out one-page ads to promote special sales or events your business will be hosting.
2. Forget the Local Yellow Pages Directory
Don’t buy a subscription in the local yellow pages! Please for the love of all that’s holy, this advertising medium has been slowly and efficiently strangled out of existence over the last few years. They used to have the same proportions and page-count of an encyclopedia in some areas, now they’ve withered down to about the size of a magazine.
This is because people are searching for everything online. Even grandma and grandpa can’t resist the urge to have whatever information they want about a product or service immediately at their finger tips. When that yellow pages sales rep calls and tries to sell you on how effective their platform will be for getting you more sales, tell them to lose your number!
3. Get on the Mobile Bandwagon
Good golly, if you’re not advertising via mobile, what’s wrong with you? Mobile advertising was practically made for small businesses to thrive! QR codes are a definite must, to make it easy for customers to reap the incentives you offer during sales, compare pricing, and take advantage of ongoing promotions you can offer them.
There are tons of generators to be found online for free, offering static one-off codes or dynamic codes that can be edited on the fly to keep customers better informed. I like this one , though there are many to choose from. Don’t forget to build out your own mobile app , another relatively free and easy way to keep in touch with customers and keep those Benjamins coming into the cash register.
4. Don’t Dive Into Paid Social Advertising Too Quickly
Use social media to build your brand by actually interacting with your existing and potential future customers. So often, uninformed SMB owners rush to build a social account, add everyone they can as a friend or contact, then promptly start to flood each post with ads for this, that, and the other. This can actually work IF you have an established brand, but most people will take this as a sign that you have nothing more than a product to sell and will quickly tire of seeing your greedy, sales-driven posts.
To engage with people socially, you have to offer them free information — or entertainment. That’s the only way to get shares, likes, retweets – etc. Encourage followers to ask you pre-sale questions and after-sale support requests. Follow the 80/20 rule (or 90/10) and leave the pushy sales tactics to the car salesmen of the world. Creating a YouTube account and offering free informative vlogs related to your product or service is another great way to build your brand for nothing (but your time, of course!)
5. Fire Up a Blog
Why wouldn’t you have a blog? If people like you, they’ll be more inclined to buy from you and that’s what marketing’s all about, right? Even if you own a mom and pop convenience store, a blog is still a great way to touch base with locals and show them your personality.
Talk about interesting customers you’ve met (with their permission first), show people how your business is run like a family – showcase your employees and tell people about their hobbies; make them human and not just a person who sells a product or service to customers in the store. Sales in most industries appears to be trending toward customers wanting a human interaction, with real people — give it to them with a thoughtful, informative blog.
Store Owner  Photo via Shutterstock