small business

6 Small Business Marketing Challenges and Strategies to Overcome Them!

A pair of work colleagues surfing laptop at a cafe

If you own a small business, you face a variety of challenges when it comes to marketing. Unlike large corporations, your budget is limited. You don’t have a large team of experts at your disposal. You also need to keep up with the latest innovations in technology and marketing.

However, many common marketing problems and challenges are actually fixable. Thanks to the Internet and social media, getting your messages spread across the radio or on a television commercial isn’t as critical as it once was. 

You can — for free, mind you — now spread your message to your audience in a more effective, non-interruptive way using free tools like social media and blogging platforms.

Many times, you’ll find you need to take a step back, assess your pain points, and rethink your strategy. In this post, we’ll discuss marketing pain points that small businesses may face, along with tactical advice about how to fix them.

So let’s dive right in!

1. Finding the right customers

Even the biggest, most successful companies have people working hard every single day to find new customers. But, for small businesses, the challenge is even more significant. How can you find customers when you’re not a household name? And, there are so many channels to focus on for acquisition, but how do you know what to prioritize?

Cafe owner looking towards a crowd of people

Finding customers starts with figuring out who your ideal customer is. Spraying and praying don’t work for anybody — you need to make sure you’re spreading the word to the right people.

Solution: Create buyer personas 

Craft an idea of what your target customers look like, what they do, and where they spend time online by building your buyer personas. Creating very specific templates can dramatically improve your business results. 

Once you’ve built your personas, you can begin creating content that caters specifically to your target demographic, and share it in the channels you know they’re in, with the messages you know they care about.

Ask yourself the following questions when you create a buyer persona:

  • Who are they? When thinking about who might be in your audience, you must consider who are the people who identify with your brand. If someone is willing to engage with you, then chances are they are your target. In many cases, your ideal audience may not be inactive on social media, but buy from your company frequently or sign up for your services. 
  • What are their difficulties? Don’t think of yourself when it’s time to define the difficulties, problems, and desires of your target audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t make offers based on what you think. Understand the greatest difficulties your audience faces to try to help solve them.
  • Where do they look for info? Identify the communication channels most appropriate to your target audience. Try to talk to them using a specific language from their universe.
  • What benefit do you offer? Think a little about your product and the problem it solves. With so much competition, you must try to find your competitive advantage in your niche and always try to improve your product, offering something extra that others do not. 
  • What do they not want? Avoiding what they consider negative is the first step to gaining their approval. With this powerful information in hand, you may have more chances to captivate your potential customers. 
  • Who Do They Trust? The reputation of your company is crucial. No one purchases a product or service from a company they don’t know or trust. If you get good reviews, have positive comments, and garner a great reputation, customers will be more motivated to buy from you.

Here’s a buyer persona template you can use as a reference!

Buyer persona template for a small business

2. Building brand awareness

Brand awareness helps generate trust with your audience, and helps them associate your brand with your products and services, and those factors combined help drive sales and build a base of loyal customers. 

As a small brand, it can sometimes seem like today’s biggest names seemed to have popped up out of nowhere. How did they become a household name? How did they grow that quickly? Can your business grow like that, too?

Solution 1: Get yourself a website 

When creating a website, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. You’ll need to consider your goals before you get started so that you can implement design elements and tools to achieve your objectives.

For instance, a dentist’s office would need a completely different website than an architecture firm. Whether you want to inform visitors about a brick-and-mortar business, or conduct sales online also significantly influences how your site should look.

When starting the process of making your small business site, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What information do you need to communicate to your site’s visitors?
  • What actions do you want visitors to take after they view your site (e.g., buy products online, come to your brick-and-mortar store, request a quote)?
  • How will you display your products or services?
  • Do you need an online portfolio of past work to demonstrate your value to potential clients or customers?

Ideally, you should opt for a user-friendly solution that will help you create a website without any coding knowledge. If you like all-in-one solutions, you might want to consider a reputable website builder such as Squarespace or Wix. 

These platforms offer complete website designs out of the box, which you can customize with a drag-and-drop tool. You won’t need to outsource hosting to another company, but you’ll have less flexibility with design.
They also offer you the tools to perform Search Engine Optimization (SEO). For the uninitiated, SEO means making your website more readable to search engines so they can better index your site. This improves search accuracy and the relevance of search results which in turn means more traffic and more opportunities to convert prospects into customers.

Read More: Convert website visitors to customers. Explore the benefits of adding an online booking system to your website!

Solution 2: Leverage free social media platforms

Small business owner using TikTok to promote its services and products

It doesn’t cost anything to create a Facebook Page for your business or start posting on Instagram, or create a presence on Twitter. Before you dive in, remember that every good business strategy starts with a good plan. Yes, you can use social tools for free, but the time and effort involved still represent an investment in your business.

Create goals that follow the SMART framework. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely

  • Base your goals on metrics that will have a real impact on your business. 
  • For example, you could aim to acquire customers or raise your conversion rate, rather than simply racking up likes.

How are your competitors using social media? 

  • While you don’t want to copy them, learning from what others have done is a great way to reduce your learning curve. 
  • Competitive analysis can help you learn what’s working and what’s not for other businesses like yours.

A social media calendar helps you post the right content to the right social channels at the right time.

  • It should include a plan for your content mix. 
  • Use 80% of your content to inform, educate, or entertain your audience. Use the other 20% to promote your brand or sell your products.

Don’t make assumptions about where your audience spends their time online

  • Your instinct might tell you that if you’re targeting Gen Z, you should skip Facebook and focus on Instagram and TikTok. But the data shows that nearly a quarter of Facebook users are aged 18 to 24.
  • If you’re selling to baby boomers, social might not seem like a top priority. But it should be. Facebook and Pinterest are the top social networks for boomers. Adults over age 65 are Facebook’s fastest-growing audience segment.
  • Maybe you think TikTok marketing is not the right fit for your brand. But even well-established brands with an audience well outside Gen Z are experimenting with this platform.

The unique benefit of social media marketing for small businesses is that it allows you to talk directly to customers and followers. You can build relationships over time, rather than asking for a sale upfront. 

So how do you build relationships, beyond responding to follower comments on your posts? Try these strategies:

  • Create a Facebook Group. Facebook Groups are another great way to build community and brand loyalty. For example, the New York Times Podcast Club Facebook Group is “a book club for podcasts.” With more than 37,000 members, the group establishes the NYT as a go-to source for information beyond breaking news. It also motivates members to listen to the selected podcasts each week, helping to prevent listener drop-off.
  • Connect with other entrepreneurs and influencers in your niche. Think your business is too small to work with influencers? Micro-influencers and nano-influencers with as few as 1,000 dedicated followers can be effective in establishing brand trust. As a bonus, they are often well within the budget range of smaller brands.
  • Mention followers in your posts and Stories. Collecting user-generated content (UGC) through contests and branded hashtags is a great way to source quality material for your social feed. UGC is also a powerful source of social proof. Even better, sharing your followers’ content on your social channels (and tagging them, of course), helps you establish relationships with some of your biggest fans. If a fan tags you in an Instagram Story, you’ll get a notification in your direct messages. Be sure to reshare — it’s an easy win-win.
  • Use the social platforms’ built-in interactive tools. From Twitter polls to interactive stickers in Instagram Stories, there are plenty of ways to spark specific interactions with your followers.

As a final piece of advice, it is a good idea to pay attention to trends in social media, so you understand what people are looking for when they sign into their social channels. This helps you create appropriate content that resonates over time.

Read More: Make yourself extremely easy to get in touch with. Learn how to add book buttons to your Instagram and Facebook business profiles!

Solution 3: Build a blog! 

Content marketing is all about writing the best content and letting it bring value to your brand. Good content can increase your brand visibility, strengthen your brand reputation, funnel more traffic to your website, and encourage more visitors to convert.

Before we go any further, you may be thinking, “Do I need a blog?” A lot of conventional online marketing wisdom says, “Yes, absolutely!” But, the real answer is “Maybe, it depends”.

Small business owner writing a blog to build their brand

First, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you consistently produce content?
  • Do you have the time for a blog?
  • Will a blog directly impact your business?
  • Do you have useful, informative content to share?
  • Do you know how to write well or will you hire someone who does?
  • Do you have a blog strategy and distribution plan?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you will have a pretty good sense of whether or not you should start a small business blog. If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck.

Here are a few points you should keep in mind if you choose to create a blog for your small business:

a. You don’t necessarily have to post multiple times a day or daily, but it’s a good idea to follow a consistent posting schedule to keep your small business blog active. 

  • At the same time, avoid churning out irrelevant or rushed content. 
  • Every single one of your posts should have a purpose, whether it be educating your target audience on a particular topic, sharing news, or promoting a product or service.

b. Keyword research is an essential component of small business SEO that leads to a better strategy and often results.  It helps you become aware of the most relevant and profitable search queries that your potential customers are using on Google.

  • With keyword data, you’ll know the topics, words, and phrases to create content that ranks, resonates with prospective customers, and leads to more business.
  • Performing keyword research and naturally incorporating relevant keywords and subtopics in your business blogs can help you expand the search visibility of your blog content, rank higher in search results, and generate more search traffic.

c. Use words and phrases that your potential customers would understand and use in their searches. For example, if you have a fitness blog, insert keywords such as “fitness tips” or “fitness enthusiasts” where it makes sense.

d. While it’s tempting to write articles with only 200 to 500 words, they typically don’t rank high very often

  • This is primarily because there’s not much you can say in less than 500 words to be comprehensive, especially if it’s meant to be informational or transactional.
  • However, you’ll also have to keep your audience in mind. If you’re writing about a topic that doesn’t require many words (for example: food recipes), stick with shorter posts. 

e. You can use competitor blog posts as a template and gain inspiration on topics and keywords relevant to your target audience. Make sure to use your own words and writing style to create engaging content that’s helpful to your target audience.

f. Additionally, interact with your blog readers whenever possible and answer their questions honestly and promptly. You might gain valuable or critical feedback to improve your blog, products or services, and business in general.

Read More: 7 Reasons to Prioritize Content Marketing For Your Small Business!

Solution 4: Word of mouth – May the force be with you! 

Word of mouth has always been an important tool for small businesses because when someone speaks positively about what you sell, it helps build the buyer’s confidence and trust that their purchase won’t be a mistake.  

A few sentences in a review can have more influence on consumers than an entire website. A difference of one star — or even a half-star — can be all it takes for a shopper to choose a competitor over you. Not to mention that reviews are the top local SEO ranking factor.

Whether you’re looking to get more Google reviews, improve your Yelp ratings, get five stars on Facebook, or ramp up your Amazon reviews, there are a variety of ways to ask for them, including:

  • In-person
  • Over the phone (or via text)
  • Through your website (ideally, a reviews page)
  • Via email (email blast, personal email, company email, email signatures)
  • Via social media (direct message or post)
  • Via thank you pages
  • On receipts/ invoices

Asking for a review in person can be intimidating, but it is the most effective approach. If the opportunity presents itself, seize it!

The easiest scenario would be that of a customer who approaches you with unsolicited praise. In this case, express your appreciation for their taking the time to provide the feedback, and then make the suggestion.

However, you shouldn’t wait for a customer to come to you to ask them for a review. More often than not you’ll need to strike up a conversation with them that will provide the opportunity. You can do so by asking questions about their experience with your store, services, or products upon checkout. Good questions include:

  • Did you find everything you were looking for today?
  • Is this your first time [using the product you’re about to purchase]?
  • How is that [product you’re purchasing]? I’ve tried [a similar product] but I have yet to try this one for myself.
  • I hope you had a good experience with us…anything we could improve or that you liked?

Using email to ask for reviews is a solid approach for businesses. 

  • First of all, it’s still a great channel for communicating with your customers: 91% of consumers open their email on a daily basis, and 58% of consumers check their email before doing anything else online. 
  • Second, you can include the link to the review platform right in the email and even test out different formats and languages.

For some businesses, asking for a review immediately after their purchase makes sense, while others may want to wait to give the customer time to use it. Be sure to cater your post-purchase review requests accordingly.

You can include a Call-To-Action to leave a review in various places on your website, but many businesses benefit from having a dedicated reviews or testimonials page accessible via their main navigation, as this is one of the first things a prospective customer seeks out when considering a business.

There are many ways to ask for reviews, but the most effective method and platform will be different for each business. Just remember these key takeaways:

  • Reviews aren’t selfish; they empower your customers to help other consumers make smart and confident decisions.
  • Be genuine and don’t force it.
  • Keep email correspondence short and sweet. The faster the email reads, the easier they’ll perceive the process to be (a copywriting psychology principle!).
  • Make it as easy as possible for the customer to leave a review (including using short, easy-to-remember links for printed materials).
  • Remember that customers are willing to leave reviews.
  • Respond to reviews, good and bad!

Read More: Positives of negative feedback? Learn how to respond to bad online reviews the right way!

3. Generating positive outcomes from Paid Marketing

With most businesses these days investing in digital marketing, competition for online audiences’ attention is becoming fiercer by the day. Even if you invest in creating the best ad campaigns, you still have to put in a lot of work to get your ads to reach a wide audience and convert them into customers.

Solution: Create customer-centric ad campaigns

The key to creating ad campaigns that perform well is to make sure they’re customer-centric and not product or brand-centric. Doing so makes your ad campaigns more appealing.

That’s why you must create an ad strategy that corresponds to your buyer’s journey. The buyer journey refers to the steps prospects go through before converting into customers. It usually features three distinct stages:

  • Awareness: At this stage, your prospect becomes aware of the problem your product or service solves. Create personalized ad content that acknowledges and agitates this problem. Visually engaging content is also best here as you want to grab your audience’s attention as they scroll through content on the platforms you’re advertising on.
  • Consideration: Your prospect starts considering solutions to said problem. Ads that demonstrate your ability to solve your target audience’s problem work best here. You can also run retargeting ads here to engage users who viewed your previous ads or content. Life Event Targeting is also another excellent way of optimizing your campaign at this stage.
  • Decision: In the decision stage, your prospect is evaluating the provider best suited to tackle their problem. Here, you need to create content that helps customers make informed decisions.

Aligning your ad strategy to your buyer journey is essential to optimizing your ad campaigns as it enables you to craft targeted and personalized ads and messaging. The result is better performing ads and, consequently, higher conversion rates.

Make sure you track the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of your ad campaigns. Tracking relevant campaign KPIs helps you understand:

  • Keyword performance: Successful ad campaigns hinge on finding the right keywords. If the target keywords you’re using aren’t driving relevant traffic, you can quickly change them.
  • Media and content type your audience resonates with: By A/B testing campaigns with different media and content types, you gain insight into which media types drive engagement and help boost conversions.
  • Audience behavior: You should analyze audience behavior and understand which parts of your ad campaign your target audience is not engaging with.
  • Channel attribution: One of the most essential aspects of optimizing your ad campaigns is knowing how each channel performs in driving traffic to your offer. This enables you to focus more resources on these channels.

4. Building an email list

Email marketing is still ranked as the most effective marketing channel, and for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42

In addition, 59% of consumers say that marketing emails can either directly influence their purchasing decisions. 

Despite these statistics, the average email marketing database degrades by about 22.5% each year. Hence, its popularity of it makes this yet another small business marketing problem to deal with. 

As a marketer for your small business, it is your job to find ways to maintain and constantly add fresh, new email contacts to your list.

But, what many people call “building an email list” is buying an email list — and buying an email list is never a good idea. Not only will your email deliverability and IP reputation be harmed, but it’s also a waste of money. If your current strategy is to buy or rent email lists, it’s time to regroup and find better places to put those resources.

Small business owner working on its email list

Solution 1: Switch to opt-in email lists

An opt-in email list is made up of subscribers who voluntarily give you their email addresses so you can send them emails. These customers are already interested, and interested customers are more likely to make purchases, especially with nurturing. 

The act of opting in necessitates website functionality that captures their email address. You can achieve this with a form builder or other conversion tool (more on that later!).

You can also leverage social media platforms that you know your audience is already on, like Facebook or LinkedIn, and create enticing content that inspires them to sign up for your email list. 

The other piece of the puzzle is creating demand. As mentioned above, you can do this by creating great blog content and making it easy for people to subscribe. In turn, blogging will help you increase your online presence, build up search authority, and create evangelists from your content.

You can also revive older lists that you think are mostly decayed by creating an engaging opt-in message and sending it to your old list encouraging contacts who wish to re-opt in and promising to remove all contacts who don’t respond.

Solution 2: Optimize your calls-to-action

Call-to-action or CTAs is the part of a webpage, advertisement, or piece of content that encourages the audience to do something. In marketing, CTAs help a business convert a visitor or reader into a prospect. CTAs can drive a variety of different actions depending on the content’s goal.

While it is important to understand what industry-specific phrasings or messaging your potential customers would respond well to, the CTA tips below are equally valuable.

a. Let your audience know exactly what you want them to do, and don’t dilly dally – start the CTA with the desired action.

  • Run an e-commerce website? Start your CTA with words like “buy,” “shop,” or “order”
  • Promoting a newsletter or white paper? Start your CTA with words like “download” or “subscribe”
  • Want someone to request more information? Try “fill out a form for…” or “find out how…”

b. A small, yet effective element here is adding an exclamation point to the end of your CTA in order to provoke that enthusiasm. It makes your CTA pop and gives it a little extra kick.

c. Your unique selling point (USP) is arguably one of the most important pieces of acquiring new leads. 

  • Creating a nice USP/ CTA mash-up is a great way to increase clicks. 
  • A good example of this would be something like “call today to schedule your free consultation!” 
  • Not only have you stated the action you want the user to take (call today), but you have also provided them with a reason why they should take that action (a free consultation). 

d.  Fear of missing out, otherwise known as FOMO, is an extremely effective motivator.

  • When people think they might lose out on an opportunity that might not come around again, they’ll be mighty quick to hop on the bandwagon.
  • One of the best uses of FOMO in your CTA is to mention a sale or promotion that your company is holding, and which won’t last forever.

e. It’s important that you keep your CTA’s fresh, much like you should with your ad copy in general. A good, old-fashioned A/B test is a great way to identify which CTA’s bring you clicks, and which CTA’s bring you frowns.

5. Retaining customers

While there’s a certain allure that comes with capturing new customers, keeping customers coming back will continually result in a greater return on investment — and it costs 5-25x less. 

Customer satisfaction is a great goal, but customer delight is even better. Unfortunately, as a small business, it can be tough to delight customers in the way they desire. A lack of employees or dedicated service teams to help customers can make it challenging to keep up and solve their issues.

So how do you create a customer retention strategy that keeps your current customers engaged and happy?

Busy restaurant with satisfied customers

Solution 1: Implement a customer feedback loop

It’s hard to improve your business if you don’t know how your customers feel about it. To start retaining customers, you need a process for obtaining customer feedback and sharing that information with the rest of your organization. 

This is where a customer feedback loop comes in. It provides a system for collecting, analyzing, and distributing customer reviews and surveys.

There are a few ways to collect customer feedback. The most common way is with a survey, or you can ask customers to participate in user testing and focus groups. Using a few of these methods regularly should provide your team with ample and relevant customer feedback.

Once you’ve gathered them, you should analyze your survey results by looking for trends in customer behavior and other areas to enhance user experience. Then, share this information with teams that will benefit from it most.

Solution 2: Delight your customers with special discounts and offers! 

If you have a new business or are rolling out a new product or service, promotions are a great way to entice potential clients. 

Budget-conscious consumers often take notice of well-structured, adeptly promoted sales discounts. If you can nail those criteria, you might attract new, potentially brand-loyal customers you would have missed out on otherwise.

Consider implementing a loyalty program that offers discounts or coupons based on the number of times a customer visits or the amount of money they spend with your business in a given timeframe. 

This serves the dual purpose of protecting your business’s profitability and still rewarding customers with discounts. It might also build a sense of community among your customers, which keeps them coming back to your business time and again.

6. Acquiring time and resources for marketing

One of the biggest marketing struggles for small businesses comes from budget limitations. You need to decide – what investments should you make in your Marketing efforts? Should you focus more on long-term results for bringing organic traffic, or short-term ones to attract more customers from paid?

Combined with a limited budget and human resources, finding the right balance is always a difficult task. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy and simple way to overcome this challenge, as the situation is different and unique for everybody. Your best bet is to simply learn on the go. 

Solution: Always keep learning and improvising! 

Prioritization of tasks is the most important skill any small business owner can inculcate to combat top marketing challenges. When it comes to your marketing efforts, here is how you can minimize the time you spend on them:

  • Anything that can be successfully automated, should be. Automating parts of your content creation/ content marketing strategy not only saves money, but it also saves you time and frees small business owners up to wear all of the other hats that they typically do.
  • Using structured templates for different digital marketing tasks, such as Competitor Analysis, Keyword Research, etc., allows small businesses to deliver quality marketing materials on a consistent basis. 
  • Some technical tasks like Site Audits are better delegated to SEO professionals. Technical website upgrades and data collection are also mission-critical for marketing, even for small businesses. SEO agencies and other professionals can deploy their resources so you can focus on other parts of your business.

While small or limited marketing budgets can pose a big challenge, here are a few recommendations to help you get the most bang for your buck: 

  • Invest in what’s already working.
  • Budget for SEO and know that lasting results can take time.
  • Prioritize fixing your most critical marketing issues, first.

Lastly, always keep learning! There are ample free resources to get you initiated in the world of marketing. Here are a few to get you started, and feel free to explore more: 

Parting thoughts

And that’s a wrap on our blog on common small business marketing challenges and how to overcome them!

Time and money are the two major resources that everyone is always trying to balance.  If you’re short on money, you can start with cheap marketing strategies. However, writing blog posts, maintaining social media pages, making videos, and so forth takes time.

Additionally, it’s also difficult to run a business and learn all of these skills yourself. Consider outsourcing some of these tasks. If you can’t afford a full-time employee, you can always hire an agency on a per-project basis or look into virtual assistants and freelancers. 

However, why don’t you opt for a solution that not only takes care of your marketing needs but also your scheduling needs? 

Say hello to Appointy! Our online appointment booking software has all the features you will need to attract new customers, turn them into regulars, and upsell easily. Offer deals and discounts, sell gift certificates, display your 5-star reviews and manage your online reputation, segment and nurture your customers, and a whole lot more, all from one platform! 
The important thing is to get started and stay consistent. You can scale up your efforts as your business grows. We hope you found actionable insight that will help you in all your future endeavors.

All the best! 😃

About Appointy

We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day. 

If you have any thoughts on this blog or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below. 

We love a good talk!