This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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Modern marketing tools have changed the rules, creating a level playing field that is very much to the benefit of  small businesses. While high-cost tools are still available, more affordable avenues are extremely effective when it comes to communicating with your customers and prospects.

First Things First: Identify Your Core Audience

Time must be spent researching who your customer is and what their needs are. Remember, needs change over time, and researching at this stage affects everything you invest your time and money in.  It’s time well spent.

Business to Consumer

  • Get to know the neighborhoods your prospective customers live and work in.
  • Know what unique challenges they face and determine whether your product or service meets that need.
  • There is a wealth of demographic data available on the U.S. Postal website using the Every Door Direct mail tool.

Business to Business

  • Maintain a running list of prospective clients using business publications, Chamber Directories, trade association publications, and online search engines.
  • lists annual revenues (in some cases, these figures are approximations) for most companies, enabling you to narrow your focus to those prospects most likely to spend money on your product or service.

Now What?

Once you know who your prospects are, qualify them by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why do they need your product or service?
  • Do their income levels fit the price point of your product or service?
  • Are they local, national, or international?
  • Who is your competition?
  • Where do you fall in terms of price, availability, service, etc. and why?

The answers to these questions become your point of difference — the reason they should choose your company over your competitors. Taking the time to really know your prospects gives you a greater edge in building a relationship with them. Next, ask yourself:

  • What’s your message?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What makes you so special?

Messaging that is exciting, interesting, helpful, even entertaining (note: not boring, not self-centered) is what customers find interesting. This is an area where small businesses excel—by being excited about what they do and offer.

Branding Built for Your Audience

What is branding? Let’s start with what it’s not. It is not your product, your logo, your website or your name. Branding IS what your customers perceive about your product or service. A “brand strategy” is the how, what, when, and to whom you plan on communicating your product or service. Having a clear and concise brand strategy leads to stronger overall brand equity — how people feel about or perceive your product, and how much they are willing to pay for it. Branding is that hard-to-pin-down feeling that differentiates powerhouse and mediocre brands from one another.

A recent analysis by the Design Management Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit, found that design-driven companies have outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 by 228% in the past 10 years. These companies included Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell, Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney, and Whirlpool. The money these companies put into beautiful branding, and innovative advertising, and smoother user experiences paid off in big ways.

Supporting Elements of Branding

Company logo: Professional designers spend years studying human behavior, visual communication, the emotion of colors, the nuances of typography and on and on. When working with a capable design firm, you’re essentially guaranteed to complete the process with a unique, strong graphic representation for your business, which is a very worthwhile investment.

Student talent often provides a more budget-friendly option. College-level students make up for a lack of professional experience with excitement and willingness to achieve a successful result. When working with student talent, it is important to provide clear direction. Examples of logos you like are much more helpful than vague statements like, “make it look warmer.”

Going the do-it-yourself route requires following an important rule: keep it simple. If your final result is perhaps a bit “boring” you’ve probably erred on the correct side. Supporting artwork can be found inexpensively through online template sites like Another approach is to find an appropriate font and simply set your type in a manner that you can call your own.

Business cards: These continue to be a very important staple even in our digital world. Pass them out freely. Save money on the rest of your stationery items by having them designed for in-house printing. General rules to follow:

  • Include only the most important information
  • Make sure it is legible
  • Design for your audience
  • “Browse our designs”
  •,, and are good options for affordable business card printing

Marketing collateral: Have one strong piece of marketing collateral, such as a brochure, that is well-written, professionally designed, and provides an overview of your services. Your collateral should:

  • Stay on message
  • Brevity wins
  • Include good photography, if appropriate
  • Include contact information and a call to action

“Browse our designs”


Website: A content-rich website is a hard-working tool for attracting and converting customers. There are a variety of ways to get a website — the least expensive is the do-it-yourself route, although you will need some level of competency to achieve this. Things you will need to consider:

  • Getting a domain name and host
  • What Content Management System will you run? (A CMS allows you to easily edit your website information).
  • Find a commercially available website theme, or template, from,, (read more about custom-built vs. template websites here)
  • The theme must match the Content Management System
  • Another option is to use an online builder, such as (starts at $10/month), (basic plan is free), or (basic plan is free)

Your website content should:

  • Promote your phone number and email everywhere
  • Include important information like business hours
  • Feature effortless, predictable navigation
  • Include several calls-to-action
  • Establish credibility
  • Focus on your point of difference
  • Include regularly published content, such as a blog (more about content marketing here)
  • Include sign-up for email marketing
  • Grow your subscription list

E-mail marketing: E-mail marketing is one of the most affordable forms of marketing available. You should always work to grow your list — but you can only add people that have specifically asked to be on your list, or have “opted in.” Actively grow your list in the following ways:

  • Add a form to your website
  • Ask every new business acquaintance if they can be added to your list

As for the e-mails themselves, use a hosted service such as MailChimp (the basic plan is free), or Campaign Monitor (starts at $9/month). More e-mail tips:

  • Match the email to the rest of your branding
  • Send content people want
  • Specials, updates, insider information
  • Pay attention to the subject line — “March Newsletter” is nowhere near as effective as “Five Useful (whatever) Tips, plus more”
  • Commit to a regular frequency

Social Media

Social media is no longer new and has crossed over to most, if not all, demographic markets making it a perfect fit for small marketing budgets. Once you have identified your customer, you can determine which channels are best to carry your branding message forward. But social media is not the place for direct selling. Instead the focus is on nurturing relationships and sharing your expertise. The age-old saying, “make a friend first, a sale second” applies even more to social media because of its ability to amplify both positive and negative experiences. Your customers want to know you hear and respect what they are saying before, during and after the sale. All types of businesses can benefit from all types of social media, but some are better than others for specific purposes – depends on the type of business you have, and the type of customer you’re targeting. Post link buttons to all the social media you use on your website to help grow your following.

Facebook: The social medium for friends and family to keep up with each other, Facebook is most popular and probably the most familiar of the social media. Establish a Page for your business. Advertising on Facebook is affordable and very targeted, and can be effective for business-to-consumer purposes — it’s less suited for business-to-business. For these reasons, Facebook is a great pick for restaurants and retailers; so are Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, because they’re very visual channels. With the rise of Pinterest and Tumblr, it’s going to become increasingly important to produce content in visual form, whether it is infographics, images with text overlay or pretty quote graphics.

LinkedIn: This is the social medium specifically for business purposes and networking. Personal profiles on LinkedIn work similarly to Facebook profiles. You should add your business associates, potential customers, employees to your network – like sending a “friend request.” Post original content and links to interesting articles, and network among peers to raise your profile. It is possible to create a company page on LinkedIn, and you should – but your content only goes out to your “followers,” again, much in the way a Facebook Page works. Your personal profile will give you the most traction on LinkedIn. Thus, LinkedIn is a great choice for manufacturers or any company that is business-to-business.

TwitterTwitter is about news, being on the go (it’s dominated by mobile), and being in on the conversation. Unlike Facebook, most people set their Twitter profile to public – they want to tell the world what they think. Twitter can be used to monitor industry trends, your competition, and respond quickly to consumers. Unlike most other forms of social media, there is no difference between a company profile and an individual profile on Twitter, which levels the playing field.

Google+: Google+ is about establishing expertise. Create your personal profile on G+, and “verify” your business listing – if you’re a local business, you’re likely on G+ already. You should link your website to your G+ company profile – if you do, your G+ profile will appear on the search page when someone performs a search for your company on Google. G+ has tangible, immediate positive effects on your website’s SEO (when people use Google to search for you).

If you have a blog, establish Google Authorship for the contributors to it. Again, great SEO benefits here! Authorship means that individual contributors’ G+ profiles are linked to the material they produce for your blog.

Engaging with your audience

Once you have established your brand, carried it to the masses and have a loyal customer base you’re golden, right? Wrong. Continue to build those relationships, and keep them wanting more:

Be consistent with your branding message everywhere you appear, whether in print or online. Don’t confuse your audience by talking about things that don’t relate to or enhance your brand. If it does not relate to who and what you are, you will have trouble differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Find ways to connect emotionally with your customers. Look for ways to make them a part of your company family, make their lives easier or give them peace of mind. Create a sense of belonging where loyal customers become a tight-knit group sharing a common bond.

Stay ahead of marketing trends and how your customers encounter your brand. For instance, the exploding mobile technologies market means that by 2017, 87% of all internet devices will be tablets and smart phones. Will your customers be able to access your website when they go mobile?

Maintaining and Growing Your Customer Base

Cultivate loyalty by rewarding happy customers. Here are just a few really cheap ways to let your customers know you appreciate their business:

Make a call. Pick up the phone with no agenda other than to tell your customer how much and why you appreciate their business. Since this is done so infrequently, it’s a very powerful way to say thank you. Even leaving a voice mail will send a compelling message your customers won’t soon forget.

Send a handwritten thank-you note. With email taking over more and more of our business communications, companies that take the time to send handwritten notes really stand out.

Post a social media call out. Thank your best customers publicly on a social media platform that they use often so they’ll be sure to see it (and “tag” the company name). It’s always enjoyable to be recognized socially in front of your peers.

Use a freebie. Get creative and send a useful piece of swag.

Hold a free event. Have a thank you event for customers where they can learn something related to the business.

Tweet a coffee. Through Starbucks “Tweet a Coffee” program, you can send eGift cards to your customers by using their Twitter handle.

Refer a customer. What better way to say thank you than to send a new customer to one of your top clients? They’ll certainly never forget that.

Be a testimonial collector. Ask satisfied customers for testimonials for use on your website and marketing materials.

Offer contests or small giveaways. These can be done over Facebook.

Speak at events. Volunteer to be a guest speaker about trends in your field.

Guest write for a blog. 

Seek out online directories or professional business sites to join. The more places your name appears, the better.


Spending money on professional marketing and design services is a good investment, but there are many ways to effectively market your business on a shoestring.