Before the close of the financial year I thought I’d share my current thinking for “must-have” marketing tools for small businesses.  These low cost, high return marketing tools provide small businesses with the advantage they need to cut through the noise and get their messages heard without breaking their budget.

So if you don’t believe you’re delivering 10/10 in all areas set aside a small amount of funds to invest in these areas in the new financial year.  Your business will thank you for it!

1.  Identification documents

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good business card. This is often a first impression opportunity. Additionally all other documents – invoices, receipts, with comps slips – should be consistent in design to convey credibility and reinforce any key messages. If you have tangible assets – vehicle, shopfront, etc – the same principle then applies to signage.

2.  Website

It’s not an overstatement to say that today, if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist as a business. At an absolute minimum your website should act as an “online flyer” – ie. communicating who are you and how to contact you. But these days, given the heavy use of the internet as a search tool, ideally your website will also convey why consumers should contact you – ie. how you are a different/better, what value you offer them, or why do they need your product/service. Plus also offer them a convenient way of doing business with you, ie. include an easy to find contact form, online appointment bookings or online sales. Make it easy for them!

3.  Lead generation/data acquisition tactic

Nothing makes a sales force more productive than a steady stream of qualified leads. Sales leads reduce the amount of time sales people need to spend making cold calls and increase the time they can be in front of likely prospects, selling and closing business. At the next level your website should also be a lead generator and/or data acquisition tool. Put simply, make a compelling/motivating offer attached to an enquiry form, or offer something of value in return for signing up to you database.

4.  Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

According to a new study, the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives 33% of the traffic, compared to 18% for the second position, and the traffic only degrades from there. This statistic demonstrates the importance of good page ranking and therefore search engine optimisation – especially if consumers are searching the internet to find businesses in your market.

5.  Social media

If word of mouth is important for your business (which it is for most), than social media should play a part in your marketing strategy. After a small investment upfront to set up the tools you need and establish a strategy, the ongoing costs of social media marketing are small. Ultimately the benefits of social media far outweigh the cost (in terms of time AND $$) – however not all of these benefits are obvious. Social media is an important tactic for good SEO. So by implementing a consistent, sound social strategy your business can leverage “online word of mouth” and the viral effect of social media, as well as see a positive impact on your search strategy.

6.  Mobile marketing

According to New Media Trend Watch, there will be 14.4 million smartphone users in Australia by 2014.  And according to ACMA, 90% of smartphone users browse websites or search for information via their handset. What does your website look like on a mobile phone? Is your phone number easy to find and easy to call on a mobile phone? If not, you need to either optimise your website for mobile devices or change your website design to a responsive one that adapts depending on what device is being used.  So even if you don’t use mobile marketing in more sophisticated ways like SMS marketing or Geo-targeting, you should at least have a good mobile presence.

7.  Customer communication

Keep in touch with your customers.  Keep the dialogue open. You’ve heard it before… a bird in the hand! Every customer is a potential future customer. There are many techniques to keeping your customers coming back, you should be doing at least one. Email marketing, SMS marketing, VIP member, loyalty card, rewards program, etc etc.

8.  Free stuff!

This last points warrant a dedicated post, but for now let’s just say that consumers nowadays demand value. This does not mean giving your product or service away for free – absolutely not. It means adding value to your offering. Why do it? Generosity catches people’s attention. But the golden rule is, don’t do it unless you communicate it well – ideally via social media, to carry the message far & wide (or at least amongst your target audience!) This free stuff doesn’t have to cost you in cold hard cash. Information is an incredibly valuable product and as an expert in your industry you are well placed to inform your customers about your niche. Not only does this offer value, it reinforces your credibility which more than likely will lead to increased consumer trust and repeat business.

This is potentially a list you’ve seen before. If it is, are you effectively executing all of these things well?  If this list is new to you, you’ll probably need some assistance on at least 2 or 3 of the items. So just get in touch. No question is a dumb question!