I get it. “It costs too much to hire someone.” I’ve heard it way too many times. Companies of all sizes face the challenge of finding a way to market effectively on a budget. But small companies confront the issue on a whole other level. There is quite a difference between finding money to pay for a marketing campaign and flat out not having any. Running a small business frequently means not having the money to do everything you want. So, the capacity to innovate about how to grow the business is key.

As the consumer is evolving faster than ever, the shifting marketing landscape continues to prove that we only thought we knew what we knew before. Whether you’re going the route of doing your own marketing, building an in-house team, or engaging an agency or consultant, you must learn a few things to make the most of the tools and resources you will have at your disposal.

Understanding Your Audience

Step number one in creating a strong marketing plan is to understand your audience. Who are your customers, and who do you want them to be? What are their struggles, and how can you solve them? What questions are they asking, and are you the resource they find when looking for answers?

Building a customer persona is a tried-and-true method used by all sizes of businesses worldwide to conceptualize a target demographic. Work to create the outline of an ideal “target customer.” This usually becomes a fictional character you shape with information like family life, education, career, and income. Many companies name their persona and even give them personality traits. Overall, this makes it easier to conceptualize target customers so that you can talk to them in your marketing messages.

The art and science of building personas may seem like a boondoggle to some. But understanding your audience and having a level of empathy for them will guide you to develop the type of marketing programs that will have appeal and the results your business will need.

Planting Your Brand Flag

Understanding what your brand is and what it isn’t is the key to a strong brand positioning. And, like most good habits, consistency is what will ultimately cement your position in the consumer’s mind. It’s not the end of the world if you take a step back and realize your brand is all over the place.

In other words, decide how you want to be known and plant your brand flag there. Create content to focus on who you are and what you do.  Useful and relevant content creates stronger associations between you and your expertise. If you know nothing about SEO (see below) and don’t want to focus your attention on the Search Engines, planting your brand flag still works well. Because as you focus on the topics you want to be known for, you get to choose where to plant your brand flag. And if you don’t, someone else likely will, and you probably won’t like their definition.

So, breathe deeply and start the work. There are steps you can take to reign in the outliers and center your brand. Establish a purpose. Develop brand guidelines so that everyone involved will understand what is good and bad for the brand. Articulate the emotion so that everyone on the team can make a deep connection to the brand. Involve employees. Be aware of the competition so that you can always stand apart from the crowd. Finally, be willing to be flexible so that the brand can continue to grow.

Digital Brand Knowledge

Marketers cannot control every single mention of their brands. Yelp, Google, Facebook, and others have given consumers the platform to praise you as easily as criticize you. When a customer has a bad experience, they no longer have to search for “the manager” or a comment card. Today’s comment card is in everyone’s hand and is easy to submit with a touch of a button-like graphic. And just that fast, the whole world knows the good…the bad…and the very ugly. Digital brand knowledge is now mandatory.

SEO Basics

The control you have over your website and its content is far greater than even what you can post on social media. But if potential customers can’t find that website by searching, what good does it do for you? You can spend hundreds of dollars a month on SEO that will generate great results, but you can get the basics right for almost nothing. Learn what needs to happen, and without much of your time, you can manage SEO basics. A simple (free) Yoast plugin on your WordPress site – which represents over a quarter of all websites – and then you have what you need.

No matter what kind of website you have, skim through a free beginner’s guide to SEO and apply what you learn. This is not a replacement for an SEO firm’s services, but it is better than nothing.

Collaborate When Possible

Scoring a collaboration deal with a big brand helps reach a vast audience. Even a small partnership can make a huge impact. Partnering-up with another brand offers cross-promotion opportunities, social mentions, and potentially global reach.

Collaborations have the power to turn regular purchases extraordinary because of the other brand label attached to them. This approach can make a huge impact financially, but also on your reputation! Collaborations increase numbers exponentially, raising awareness and profit for solid company growth.


If you’ve been in the field of advertising or marketing for more than a year, you have undoubtedly come across an article entitled Greatest Commercials of Fill-In-The-Blank. What most don’t realize is that these are often ranked because of some wow factor – a surprise appearance by a box office draw, unique use of special effects, technology, or some other executional element.

Today’s typical CEO is now less attracted to awards and accolades and more attracted to reaching their business goals (and often their bonus). Creating marketing programs that make a business impact requires understanding data – how to gather it, interpret it, and implement the learnings. Good marketing relies on good data.

As technology develops, more time and money are spent on understanding performance and growth metrics in marketing. In the past, marketing departments struggled to demonstrate credibility with few ways to measure results. But now, with strategic marketing analytics, marketing ROI is easy to showcase.

Marketing analytics manage and study metric data to determine marketing ROIs. Data collected from calls-to-action (CTAs), thought leadership pieces, blog posts, and channel performance levels identify improvement opportunities. Tracking business performance data, leading indicator metrics, and diagnostic metrics mean marketers can defend their strategies and budgets to stakeholders.

With marketing metrics and analytics, marketers:

  • Better understand marketing trends.
  • Examine which programs succeeded and why.
  • Monitor industry trends.
  • Analyze the ROI of each campaign.
  • Forecast future results more accurately.

Marketers often measure activities, not outcomes, reinforcing the perception that marketing is an expense, not a revenue center. For example, many marketers measure only metrics like the number of campaigns and how many names are in the lead database.

Starting a Blog

Not every business lends itself to maintaining a blog. But you probably already have a blog on your website. If you do, it makes sense to look at contributing to your own blog regularly. It can be difficult, but here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start with your SEO keywords – Search for your keywords, see what other blogs come up, and then write on the same topic.
  • Check out Quora – Go to Quora, the question-and-answer website, and search for questions your customers might ask. Use those questions as the title of your blog posts, and then answer the questions in the posts.
  • Change it up some – Don’t try to make every posting 3,000 words or more. If you have that much to say on a topic, then, by all means, keep writing! If not, a 300-word post is just fine.
  • Find fresh eyes – After writing your blog post, always ask someone else to read it and edit it. Some people have a friend or family member who is an ideal choice for this task. Others find that the best choice is to hire a freelance writer for a small fee. Better to pay the fee than to put something up on your website that isn’t right.
  • Be consistent – If you manage to write up a bunch of blogs all at once, it is better to schedule them to publish over several days (or weeks) than to publish them all at once. Search engines (and followers) love to see constant, fresh content.

Website visitors love this type of content, and it also does great things for your website’s SEO.

Use a Lead Magnet

As you run around the internet looking for free resources on marketing, you are shopping for a lead magnet.  And when you’re looking for excellent marketing information, Lead Magnets from other marketers are an incredible source of valuable information!

Lead magnets are killer content used by a business to get you to trade your email address for whatever they offer “free.” Lead magnets are “free” in exchange for a potential customer’s contact information. Great lead magnets are so useful that your customers refer to them over and over again. Not only is this superb information, but your brand gains credibility and becomes more well-known.

The best lead magnets:

  • Solve a real problem for your ideal target customer.
  • Are easy to read, understand, and implement.
  • Focus on a single pain point and the solution.
  • Provide instructions, examples, and resources.
  • Describe successful case studies similar to your ideal customer.
  • Are aesthetically pleasing, including images, graphics, and infographics.

So, create a white paper, a blog series, or an authoritative piece of some sort. Get a graphic artist to pretty it up some. Then make it available for download on your website in exchange for an email address. That way, you can begin to build an email list, which sets you up for newsletters and email funnel promotions.

Building an Email List

The key to building an email list is starting small, creating an engaged list, not just a long list. The best list of email addresses is from people who specifically want to get emails from you, so they open them. If you want to add friends, family, or other in-person contacts to your email list, create an online form. Then, send a personal email with the link to your form, asking that they sign up to receive your emails.

But before you write any emails, consider it from your customer’s point-of-view. They provided their email address – so, what do you think they would like to see next? Here are some suggestions:

  • Thank You and Confirmation – A quick email with a link to the lead magnet you promised. Keep it good and short.
  • Welcome – To new subscribers, send a message to make them feel at home with an overview of what to expect.
  • Segmentation Message – Share resources representing the different interests of your audience. As they click on the links, place them into the right segment for later emails.
  • Nurture Messages – Build relationships by sharing news, blog links, surveys, etc.
  • Promotional Messages – Sales and new product announcements, coupons, etc.


If you think I’m going to suggest you take a painting or ceramics class, you’ve made a common assumption. Creativity is about curiosity and bringing new ideas to the table. Creativity is a trait that can open new avenues for your marketing because you’re not limited to the status quo. Feed your creativity by reading excessively, watching movies, visiting new places, working with others, or trying something new. Some of the best ideas can come to you when your brain is just open. These activities bring your guard down and allow you to see more than what you thought was there.

Learning these things will make you a better DIY marketer, but it can also make you a better client. You’ll be able to clearly give direction and measurable goals so that both you and your agency, consultant, or marketing director can be successful.


This post has been updated from the original. It also appeared as a column in the July 2018 issue of Biz New Orleans.

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