By Mark Aselstine

Marketing a small business can be an incredible challenge if you sit in a competitive industry. With little to no marketing budget though, it can seem like an impossibility.  Here are five things I’ve learned about marketing my small business, against venture backed competitors, competitors that existed pre-Internet and competitors backed by major media players.

1. Being Local is OK

I think a lot of us fall into the trap, the Internet is huge and offers the opportunity to gain literally millions of new customers.  But, don’t forget that being the biggest anything in your town gives you a pretty good life right?  I’ve found some of my longest term customers by pouring wine in person and meeting people that live in my community.  Being local is OK, it pays the bills.

2. Social Doesn’t Work Without Social Proof

Do you have a verified Twitter profile? Tens of thousands of fans on Facebook?  Both are nice, but for many small businesses, without social proof (i.e., a good star rating on Yelp) there aren’t going to be many sales coming forward.  One of your most important marketing bullet points is going to be controlling the conversation and making sure that online reviews be it Amazon, Yelp or Google show a concerned local business and not some overly corporate entity.

3. Build Your Email List

One of the main reasons that the subscription business model has taken off is because you don’t have to worry about revenue, if new sales suddenly stop for one reason or another you’re still going to be in business for some time.  Having an active and engaged email list does this for those without a subscription base. If I were to begin building a gift basket business, there’s a good chance that with a substantial email list, product launches would go off without a hitch.


4. Your Website Needs to be Mobile Friendly

Mobile visits to my website (and yours I’m assuming) are increasingly becoming a higher and higher percentage of total visits. In order to convert those folks into paying customers, you have to have a mobile-friendly website that gives the same type of care and concern to their needs as you do their desktop counterparts.  Adding Apple Pay and similar offerings help, but there’s no better way to figure out how your website is functioning in real life, than spending time shopping on your own phone, on your site as well as on others.

5. Conversion Rates are Boring, but Important

Do you own a business that would like to sell online? Do you know what a conversion rate is? Most people, unfortunately don’t.  Conversion rates are the percentage of people that land on your site, that end up buying something or taking some other action (like signing up for your email list). The good news is that depending on your industry, there are some basic aspects to a website that increase conversion rates.  Find them and follow them.  But even better, test.  Find a way to comfortably A/B test different versions of your website and see which one sells more.  Try insane ideas.  Try small tweaks.  You might be surprised at the results.