Life can be tough as a smaller business. Access to some of the more awe-inspiring weaponry in the marketing arsenal is just tantalisingly out of reach, and it can seem as though larger competitors are always accelerating while you have to fight just to stay in place.
They're not flashy, but they're simple, cost-effective and proven methods of gaining hits, clicks and conversions.
1. Savings calculators
Savings calculators almost seem like cheating to many small business-owners, for much the same reasons as job-seekers seem to think it's cheating to discuss their skills which are most relevant to the job.
But yes, you can definitely benefit from telling customers how much they'll save with you. Savings calculators are wonderful tools for that final push to conversion, once you've definitely got their attention – and getting people to interact with your site is a great opportunity to get people to share what you've done.
Savings calculators can be anything from simple calculations using the industry average to more complex affairs which deal with environmental costs, energy costs and monetary costs. The important thing is to focus on your strengths. You're selling what you can offer, which no-one else can, and trying your hardest to convince and convert.
In this respect, it's similar to what I was saying in my recent post about the gap between sales and marketing: the deeper you get, the smaller it is.
2. Paid ads
CPC and CPI adverts (cost-per-click and cost-per-impression) are some of the best things the internet has given us. If you've judged your return on investment correctly, there is almost no way you can end up out-of-pocket. This, of course, is the tricky part, and some people spend years fine-tuning their ads for specific platforms or markets to get the optimal return for their clients.
One route you may not have tried, however, is seeking out some of the more unconventional platforms for paid ads.
Social sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon do offer some decent opportunities for fairly cheap traffic. If you've got some decent content on StumbleUpon, pushing it as paid content can be all it needs to go viral! Beyond that, try places which offer hybrid social game/cash credit systems such as JustRetweet, and you can end up paying chump change for views and clicks.
Look at smaller forums and communities for golden opportunities to get directly in touch with your niche at a lower price, the weirder the community the better. If you can tap into the 'personality' or 'spirit' of your very specific target market, you could end up getting some very loyal customers out of the deal!
There's also typically a sense of gratitude towards advertisers on smaller sites, as you're helping to keep the site up-and-running.
3. Get involved
You have something larger businesses don't, an obvious 'face' to your business and a close tie to your local community.
Politicians want to talk about local small business successes. Customers are looking for an alternative to the biggest of brands. Small charities and non-profits are looking for local businesses to help them out. You are in demand.
This isn't about complex, sophisticated marketing, shifting paradigms or watching demographics; it's about something that almost every small business CEO can easily understand, getting good and stuck in.
Help your community, be a prominent voice, talk about what you're doing right and even encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Your reward will be a higher profile, better SEO, great word of mouth, brilliant social campaigns and customers with a real emotional attachment to your brand.
Getting involved is a great option to follow because your rivals simply won't be able to replicate your success. It's something that can't be achieved by chucking money and clever creative graduates about, and as such if you're not taking advantage, you're losing out.
So what do you think about my top three ways to boost small businesses? Is there something more obvious or easier to accomplish I'm missing off? Let me know in the comments!
Special to The Globe and Mail