Any experienced entrepreneur will tell you that running a small business is more than a full-time job. Not only are you responsible for serving your current customers — you’re also in charge of bringing in a steady stream of new ones. Luckily, there are more ways to reach audiences near and far than ever before.

Get started with these 12 ideas for small business marketing.

1. Email Marketing

As a small business, you want to focus on marketing strategies capable of fetching a high return on investment (ROI). Topping the list is email, which offers a low-cost, efficient way to reach many different segments of your customer base.

The more relevant your messaging, the better click-through rates and conversion rates you’ll see as a result. So, instead of sending out generic blasts to everyone who’s ever signed up to receive emails from your company, customize your approach to address various segments of your customer base.

Each campaign should have a specific goal, whether it’s motivating new sign-ups to make their first purchases, driving traffic to your blog or social pages, or re-engaging previous customers. Define your audience first, then craft the subject line and body copy to appeal specifically to them. Run tests to see which types of messaging elicit the best responses from various audience segments, then stick with the winners.

Say a small lawn care business wants to grow its customer base before and during the off season following summer. How can it use email marketing to help achieve this goal?

Here are a few possible strategies:

  • Offer new customers a discount to book their first appointment
  • Offer existing customers a freebie for referring a friend
  • Inform existing customers about “off-season” services — like leaf blowing for autumn and snow blowing for winter
  • Link to a company blog featuring expert advice that readers can use to help their yards thrive

Email can provide an excellent ROI, provided the messaging is relevant and interesting to recipients.

2. Content Marketing

As alluded to in the list above, another way to cultivate relationships with your customer base is to create content they want to consume. Part of any robust content strategy is running a blog. Another is optimizing your website for both human visitors and search engines. Using photographs and videos to tell stories and promote your brand is also an effective approach.

The goal of content marketing is to engage people — whether it’s someone encountering your company for the first time or a loyal long-time customer. Create content for people in every stage of the sales funnel that aims to engage rather than promote.

Not sure where to start? Consider publishing a how-to guide that helps people solve a problem or learn a new skill related to your industry. For instance, a yoga instructor could make a 10-minute flow video for busy people who are interested in practicing more. A barber shop could write a round-up of products they recommend to clients, or tips for maintaining your hair and beard between appointments.

3. Social Media Marketing

Make your social media pages a hub for interesting content and a place to kick-start conversations. Figure out where your target audience spends time and meet them there. Use a combination of alluring copy, visuals, and ads to engage viewers.

4. Paid Advertising

If you decide to dabble in paid advertising, don’t worry: despite its name, this marketing strategy doesn’t have to be scary expensive. Just make sure you set daily spending limits to prevent yourself from going over budget. If your business operates within a specific geographic area, you’ll also want to be sure to target your campaigns locally so only people in your area see your ads when they search for services.

Keep a close eye on metrics like impressions, click-through rates and cost per click — these will help you determine the ROI of your paid advertising efforts.

5. Create a Loyalty Program

Have you ever experienced the triumph of completing a punch card at a local coffee shop or restaurant? Somehow food and drinks seem to taste better when they’re free — especially after you’ve worked hard to earn them over the course of 10 or more visits.

Creating a loyalty program to reward people for sticking with your business can help increase customer retention. Just make sure the incentive you choose really motivates people to keep using your services, otherwise your punch card — either physical or digital — will join the ranks of other forgotten cards trapped in wallets and email inboxes everywhere. Make it easy for people to check where they stand in terms of points or rewards, too.

6. Gather Customer Reviews & Ratings

People are constantly looking for social proof to validate their decisions, whether they’re aware of that fact or not. There’s something comforting about seeing other people’s opinions and testimonials before making decisions.

This is why a large percentage of people seek out customer ratings and reviews before deciding to buy a certain product (or work with a certain company). Your small business can benefit from gathering these reviews and displaying them publicly for the world to see.

While some clients and customers will take it upon themselves to leave a rating and review on their own, it’s likely you’ll have to prompt most people to submit their honest feedback. Avoid pressuring people, of course, but do politely reach out and ask if they’d be willing to take a few minutes to submit their opinions. Don’t sweat the occasional negative or neutral review — these can lend credibility to your other testimonials, as long as they aren’t overwhelming the positive responses.

7. Create a Referral Program

Word-of-mouth marketing is a force to be reckoned with. People are inclined to believe the advice of acquaintances they know and trust, which makes a personal referral valuable currency in the world of small business marketing.

Make it a win-win for people to refer their friends and colleagues to your business. Both the person doing the referring and the person receiving the referral should get some sort of reward, such as a freebie, discount, or upgrade.

Customers can only take advantage of your referral program if they know what they stand to gain. Build a landing page on your website dedicated to explaining the terms of your program, then remind people every once in a while of the benefits via email and social media.

8. Get Involved in Your Community

Integrating your business into the fabric of your local community is a mutually rewarding way to network and give back. Look for opportunities to volunteer, contribute to good causes, and participate in local events.

There’s no substitute for simply getting out and meeting people. Networking may be one of the oldest ideas for small business marketing, but there’s a reason it’s remained a staple throughout the years even as technology has changed the game.

9. Host Contests

Who doesn’t love to win? Hosting contests occasionally throughout the year can help you tap into your customers’ competitive streaks. Just be sure to set clear terms ahead of time so people know exactly what they need to do to enter and how you’ll choose the winner.

Say you’re a photographer looking to spread awareness about your company. Hosting a contest on social media where participants can enter their own photos for consideration is one way to gain new followers and get new eyes on your work. Offer a tangible prize, such as a free family portrait session, to the lucky winner.

Here are some of the details you’ll need to communicate to make sure the contest runs smoothly:

  • Exact starting and ending times
  • The location of your studio
  • The terms and conditions of the prize
  • What entrants must do to be eligible (follow your page, tag three friends, describe their photo entry in the comments, etc.)

At the end of the day, communication is the key to holding a successful contest.

10. Partner with Other Local Businesses

A quick way to tap into a new group of customers is to partner with another local business.

Here’s one example: a new salon owner is hosting a grand opening party. Instead of playing music off their phone, they decide to partner with a local DJ and event planner to give the gathering some extra flair. Friends, family members, neighbors, and strangers can all mingle and learn more about the three local businesses working together to throw a party to remember. All three participants can cross-market each other on social media leading up to the event, drumming up more interest across the board and forging exciting business partnerships for the future.

11. Create a YouTube Channel

We’ve briefly touched on creating videos as part of an overall content marketing strategy. One way to ramp up this initiative is to create a dedicated YouTube channel for your brand, then develop a calendar for posting regular videos there.

YouTube is a fast-growing platform with more monthly active users than platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Consider how your company can use it to generate leads and provide value to your customer base.

12. Claim Your Business on Review Sites

Lots of people use review sites to help them decide which businesses to support. One simple thing you can do to amplify your reach is claiming your business on review sites like Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, and Google.

Make sure your contact information and hours of operation are up to date. Flag reviews that violate the site’s terms of use. Respond to customers’ negative experiences compassionately and explain how you plan to rectify the situation. Taking ownership of these pages can help boost your credibility in the eyes of potential customers.

Figuring out which ideas for small business marketing work best for your company will take some trial and error. The one thing all these small business marketing ideas have in common is that they depend on engaging real people: so get creative, but keep your audience top of mind for every strategy you try.