Three lessons in thrift – brilliant small business marketing on a shoestring budget

Big bucks or small change, marketing budget management can make or break a business. Jane Hillsdon relays three lessons in thrifty marketing from years of experience making magical marketing for small budget, small business.

Jane Hillsdon 150 BWNine out of 10 businesses in Australia are classified as a small business. Nowhere is this statistic more palpable than in a regional town. Local business owners are part of the very fabric of a local community; they contribute an incredible amount to their area, help influence the state of the local economy and ultimately help to build the sustainability of their town. 

When it comes to their marketing though, there is something that a lot of small businesses have in common; a small budget.

While the constraints of limited funds may seem like a challenge, it has actually taught me some invaluable lessons about how to help organisations achieve their business objectives by creating cost-effective, creative and measurable marketing strategies that deliver results. 

Here are three lessons in thrift that I have learnt from working with hundreds of regionally based small businesses across Australia.

Lesson one: your people are a precious marketing asset

Smaller populations and smaller geographical areas mean there is very little anonymity when it comes to running a business.

One of the first things I noticed upon moving to a regional area is the relationships I built with my clients were a lot stronger than they had been living and working in the city. Not only do I see my clients through work, I run into them at the supermarket, and again on the soccer field as we watch our kids play, and again while walking the dog. 

It usually doesn’t take long until we realise we have mutual friends, and then at some point we end up at the same barbecue or social event.

So instead of just having the relationship of consultant and client, we now have a more friendly and familiar acknowledgement of one another. This familiarity is a powerful advantage that we can leverage in business and in our marketing.

We know that people are far more likely to connect with other people and even more so when they know, like and trust a person. So why would we use stock images of (usually American) people that nobody knows or has any connection to in our marketing?

Instead we use the friendly and familiar faces of people who work within a business. The real people behind the brand. Particularly when we are using social media as a channel. We also try and use real customers and stakeholders in our marketing campaign as well. Because these people are real and recognisable, the social proof they contribute is potent.

Lesson two: achieve more with a lot less 

I have now worked with so many small businesses on shoestring budgets that my marketing brain is permanently switched to consistently prioritise nimble and thrifty solutions – no matter what the size of the business.

I love to do this. I believe that small budgets force you to develop focused marketing strategies and they really inspire creative thinking. There is very little room for wastage or mistakes, so you quickly form habits around stringent and regular measurement, so you are always in a position to optimise.

The parsimonious nature of many small business owners will generally mean that they are keeping a very close eye on how marketing expenditure is affecting their profit margin. And they’ll hold us accountable to ensure their marketing dollars are always being well spent.

Plus, there’s something about being thrifty that kick starts clever and cunning ideas. How can you do the most with the least?

We know that money can buy millions of eyeballs. If you throw enough dollars at numerous billboards, hundreds of 30-second TV spots, a repetitive and prolific radio schedule, blanket direct mail campaigns, hundreds of social posts and plus-size print ads – of course your marketing and advertising will be seen. 

But will that marketing create impact? Will those eyeballs be engaged with what they see? Will they be compelled to act? Or will that marketing be just another piece of information glazed over by our already way-too-stimulated brains? Average creative mixed with an impressive media spend is a very expensive marketing strategy that small businesses just can’t afford to implement.

With a limited budget, we look for ways to create organic reach and engagement with our social posts, we very carefully plan our creative to ensure that our target audience will sit up and take notice when they see the small amount of advertising we can afford to place. We look for ways to leverage existing assets and create evergreen content that can be reused, repurposed and recycled. 

These economical habits are great to instil, no matter what size your business or marketing budget may be.

Lesson three: your community loves to help you succeed

Local businesses will employ local people. They are generous in their donations and support given to local sporting clubs, charity events and other organisations.

People living in regional towns love to support their local businesses. Whether it be because they are friends with the people that work there or because they appreciate the support the business provides their local footy club, locals are passionate about helping their town’s local businesses to succeed.

It’s easy for communities to feel pride towards something that’s homegrown, something they’ve helped elevate to success. It’s takes a village.

To access the full advantages this positive community sentiment can provide, local businesses are wise to ensure that they use their marketing to demonstrate where they support their local community. We also look for community engagement activities that align with their brand and business to expose their business to those customers that are likely to be most loyal and proud. 

 

Regardless of whether your business is considered large or small, we can take a lot from the above three lessons. Whether you’re in a bustling city or a rural township, people will always more readily connect with people. Being thrifty with your spend levels can lead to higher profit margins or extra cashflow to be invested in other areas of the business. And supporting the community that supports you helps create the ultimate win-win scenario.

Jane Hillsdon is founder and managing director of Dragonfly Marketing and author of How to do Marketing – A Comprehensive Guide for Small Business

 

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Image credit:Dogancan Ozturan