When it comes to small businesses, marketing often isn’t as high on the agenda as it should be. Paying thousands for clicks, customers, and adverts is what many think marketing is about – but this simply isn’t the case.

Marketing a small business in 2018, of course, isn’t necessarily easy (if it were, then everyone would be doing it!), but it’s certainly not the million dollar job people make it out to be. In fact, the lack of marketing is one of the main reasons small businesses fail.

Here are five ways to market your business in 2018:

1. Leverage your Community

Small businesses have the advantage of a small community around them. You don’t have to think big. Instead, try to think locally.

Sponsoring a community event is a great way to get involved and get the name of your brand out into the open. Whether it’s a football game or a fun run, getting involved in your community will instill trust in your customers and get them talking.

A local Chick-fil-a near our offices has built up a reputation as always being willing to sponsor events at local schools.  They have a great image in our community, and I will say this — I’ve literally never seen a busier restaurant!

Be sure to get to know your target market before deciding what to sponsor. A new fast food truck might not have much success sponsoring a 5k, for example! However, the latest healthy smoothie company may find these efforts increase sales exponentially.

2. A Real Social Media Strategy

A solid social media strategy is essential when it comes to marketing your business, especially if you’re going to be targeting young people or those who are slightly more tech savvy!

Attempting to ‘wing it’ when it comes to social media simply won’t get you very far. Instead, you need to research your target market and your competition. Look at what platforms your target market most commonly use, as well as how they interact with your competition.

The good news is that a lot of social media marketing is free! While Instagram and Facebook ads often are effective, you don’t need to spend millions to reach the right people. Organising competitions via Instagram, or creating fun infographics and videos are a great way to get your company noticed and increase engagement. Shareable content is key. Remember this, and you won’t go too far wrong.

3. Ask for Reviews

Don’t be scared to ask your customers for referrals when you are first starting out – especially if you know they are happy! Providing a personalized and positive experience for your customers will make them more likely to leave you a positive review – however often people just need a gentle nudge in the right direction.

While negative experiences often lead to bad reviews, positive experience seldom lead to good ones! Sending a happy customer a – noninvasive – email asking them to leave a review is a virtually risk-free way to get referrals and subsequently more customers. The worst they can say is no!

Platforms like Google and Yelp have become absolutely key in marketing local businesses — nearly 90% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. Remember to never write fake reviews for competitors or pay for positive feedback — this is a quick way to get booted off the platforms where potential customers can find you.

4. Collaborate with Other Brands

Going it alone will only get you so far. Put together a list of non-competitive businesses in your area, of similar size and start working on collaborations.

When it comes to collaborating, the possibilities are endless. Cross-promoting via social media is the obvious choice and, providing your businesses complement each other, you should both start to see the benefits.

Collaborating with other small businesses will also inspire you and help grow your network. Being successful in business requires networking, and collaborating with others is a great way to make valuable connections, as well as learning from others’ mistakes and successes.

5. Offer Coupons

Coupons are a great way for small businesses to increase their sales. People will often go out of their way to use coupons, and if they are happy with the product they are likely to come back for more.

While coupons might seem an unnecessary expense, they can be very effective. Offering a discount if someone signs up to your newsletter, for example, will get a target customer onto your database and you can then start targeting them with email campaigns. Likewise offering a discount for a follow on social media or tagging a friend on Instagram will get the name of your product out there for very little effort on the customers’ part. Provided your product is good quality and your follow-up marketing effective, they will probably end up back for more.

With so many businesses often trying to do the same thing, marketing your startup can feel like a minefield. But knowing what makes you unique and knowing your target market are two of the best ways to stay on top of your marketing and ensure you don’t drift too far off course. Remember that the best marketers in the world won’t help you make sales if there isn’t a genuine need for your product. Ensure what you are trying to sell is useful and there is a gap in the market for it, and you’ll find a few marketing mishaps will be quickly forgotten.

Author profile

Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks, online accounting software for small businesses. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.