small business marketing strategy

4 Steps to Build the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Strategy

If you cast a net (and by that, I mean do a Google search) for how to build a small business marketing strategy you’re going to get A LOT of results. In fact, you’ll get about 2.15 billion results. I know because I just did it.

If you comb through those results, though, what you’re going to find is a mixture of one-off tactics – like how to master TikTok, or how to build a great website, or Facebook ads – and really technical, complicated approaches to marketing a small business. Neither of which is really going to help most small business owners.

Grabbing the latest tactic of the month only serves to frustrate and have you throwing money at something that may or may not be right for YOUR business.

Meanwhile, those deep dives into marketing theory, while grounded in solid research, are going to leave most business owners confused and spending time they just don’t have trying to figure out how to implement it in their business.

I’m here to tell you that, while marketing strategy isn’t about random tactics, marketing a small business doesn’t have to be that hard. What I’m going to walk you through in this blog post is a proven strategy that anyone can implement, that I use in my done for you marketing system, and that will set you up to attract and convert more of your ideal customers.

4 Steps to Building the Ultimate Small Business Marketing Strategy

1. Narrow your focus to your top 20%

2. Promise to solve a problem

3. Create an end-to-end customer journey

4. Make content the voice of strategy

Step 1 – Narrow Your Focus to the Top 20%

The first step to creating your small business marketing strategy to attract customers is to narrow your focus to the top 20% of your clients. This is a two-part process.

Part one is making a list of your top 20%. And I would suggest that you define your top 20% based on two criteria: profitability and referrals. Meaning that they are both your most profitable customers and they refer the most business to you.

I’m not asking you to do this because I want you to ignore the other 80% of your customers, but there’s a reason that a customer is more profitable. That reason usually relates to the fact that they were a good fit for the problem you solve. They were willing to pay full price, even a premium. We want to find out why.

Take a sheet of paper and actually make a list of the customers that fit that criterion. I have a workbook for this process you can download, but you can also just use any old piece of paper.

Once you have a list of at some of your top 20% it’s time to figure out what makes them tick. This is part two of this step.

Create three columns: Must Have; Nice to Have; Ideal.

Into these columns, I want to you write down the characteristics of those top 20% you just wrote down.

Under must have, you could have things like lives in my town, owns a home, has a car. Whatever those things are that they must have in order to need your product or service.

Under nice to have are those things that make them more inclined to want to do business with you. For example, if you’re a landscaper, maybe you’ve found that your ideal customers are couples who both work, so they’re busy, and like to entertain in their backyard, so they need it to look nice.

In the last column, list the ideal characteristics of your top 20%. These will vary for every business, but we’ve all had conversations with a customer where they’re explaining their problem and we’re just listing, thinking, yes, I can totally help this person. What are those things for your business?

Fill out your three columns or, again, grab the worksheets I provide for this process.

Step 2 - Promise to solve a problem

Step number two in creating your small business marketing strategy is promising to solve a problem.

And not just any problem, but the problem your top 20% wants solved. And it may not be the one you think it is.

Too many small business owners talk too much about themselves. The hard truth is that nobody cares about what we sell. They just want their problem solved.

To find out what that problem is for you, you need to talk to your customers and ask. Get on the phone or get together for a coffee and ask them questions like:

  • Why did you choose us?
  • Why do you keep doing business with us?
  • What do we do that other companies don’t?

You’ll have to probe them and ask follow-up questions because most of them will say something obvious like you give great service. If you get that, ask a follow-up like “tell me more about that?” or “tell about a time that we gave you great service.”

If your business collects reviews on Google or other industry-specific review sites (and if you don’t, you should start) these can also be a gold mine for the problems you solve.

Read your reviews carefully and look for common themes. What are people saying? What are the common phrases or these that come up over and over?

Once you find the problem you really solve, this becomes the basis for your core message. The thing that makes you stand out in the marketplace. What you can say that will grab the attention of your ideal customers and show them that you understand them and can offer a solution.

Step 3 – Create an End-to-End Customer Journey

If you want to create a marketing strategy to attract customers you have to focus your efforts on an end-to-end customer journey. To get that core message you create in front of the right people at the right time. But what exactly does that mean?

I will suggest to you that it doesn’t mean the typical marketing funnel that you have seen all over the place for years. You know the one, where you dump a whole bunch of prospects into the top through ads, or SEO, or any number of tactics, and a certain number of them work their way through to the bottom and come out as customers.

There are two problems with this model. Number one is that is assumes that we have control. We don’t. The customer is in complete control these days. And their journey is anything but linear.

small business marketing strategy - customer journey

The customer journey today

They bounce around; maybe they see an ad, maybe they visit your website, or read a Google review. Perhaps they call some friends or put a message out on Facebook. The customer journey starts to look more like this:

The second problem with the funnel mode is that it ends when someone becomes a customer.

If any of you reading this get any percentage of your business through referrals, it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that this is not the end of the journey.

So, I’d like you to think about marketing today as more about organizing behaviour and helping your ideal clients work through their own journey. The one they want to go on, not the one we want to send them through.

So, how do you do that?

Well, I use a tool called the Marketing Hourglass, created by Duct Tape Marketing.

marketing plan for small business

Source: Duct Tape Marketing

The Marketing Hourglass organizes the customer journey into seven stages that are really different behaviours.

  1. Know – I have a problem and in looking to solve it, I find out your business exists
  2. Like – in my research I go to your website, maybe check out your social media channels and decide I like what I see
  3. Trust – this is critical, I must decide I trust you before I will do business with you.
  4. Try – is that step before they are willing to jump in with both feet. It could be a free trial, or even just a phone call.
  5. Buy – this is when the magic happens. But what does that experience look like for your customers? You don’t want buyer’s remorse here.
  6. Repeat – If someone is happy with their decision to purchase, they’ll do it again next time they have the same problem.
  7. Refer – is that part of human nature that makes us want to tell other people about a good decision we made and to help them solve the same problem.

To create your end-to-end customer journey, you need to go through each stage of the hourglass and write down all the ways potential customers come to know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer you. What are the things you need to be doing at each stage to be there when they arrive?

I’ll give you some examples. For Know, it could be things like ads and showing up in a Google search, or getting referred. For Like, it may be your website experience, seeing a strong core message on your site, or your personality in social media. Then for Trust, it’s things like reviews, testimonials, etc.

You have to go through all seven stages and write down what that is for your business. I have detailed this in much more detail in this post about how to turn customers into buyers with customer journey mapping. You can also get the worksheet I use for this process as part of the workbook available for downloading.

Step 4 - Make content the voice of strategy

The final step in creating the ultimate marketing strategy for a small business is to turn the content you have or create into the voice of your strategy. The good news is that, of you do this correctly, you’ll actually have to create less content than you are now.

And when we’re talking about content, it’s not just things like blog posts or white papers. Emails are content. How you answer the phone is content. How you ask for referrals is content.

The goal now is to figure out what type of content you need at each stage of the journey to help guide your ideal clients through. To do this, we go back to the Marketing Hourglass and brainstorm each stage.

So, some examples.

Creating a a customer journey map

Source: Duct Tape Marketing

Those are the four steps to create a truly effective marketing strategy for your small business:

  1. Narrow your focus to your top 20%
  2. Promise to solve a problem
  3. Create an end-to-end customer journey
  4. Make content the voice of strategy

If you follow these steps and work through each one, you’ll develop a marketing plan that attracts and engages more of your ideal clients, with less content, and give you a real competitive advantage.

Don’t forget, you can download a collection of worksheets that will help you with each of these steps.

These four steps are taken from a larger coaching program I run built on the proven Duct Tape Marketing System. If you’re interested on getting some help working through this process and developing a detailed marketing action plan for your business, you should check out that small business marketing coaching program.

And if you’d like someone to do that for you, book a free consultation and we can talk.