It’s no secret that the majority of small and startup businesses have tight budgets. The challenge of growing a small business on a tiny budget has only increased as costs of advertising continue to soar.
Is it possible to grow a retail business purely using unpaid methods? How exactly do you grow a small business with no money for marketing?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps your small business grow
Search engine optimization (SEO), or making your website discoverable to potential customers via online search engines, is vital for small businesses who want to take advantage of the fact that 68% of all online experiences start with search engines.
Rebecca Gibbions, owner of Last Night I Dreamt, a UK-based contemporary jewelry boutique, takes a fresh approach to putting searchable content onto their website.
“We try to create fun collections and look at trends that are going on around us. For example, everybody was talking about Wednesday, the Netflix
“I also created an Emily in Paris jewelry edit. If people are engaging with something like Emily in Paris, and they want to find out how Emily wears her jewelry, then we would come up in that search. It’s fun, not dry.”
For Rebecca, it’s all about “understanding your customer” and not letting your website “go stale”.
“It’s very important that your website is your biggest focus because if you just
Growing your small business using Public Relations (PR)
Steph Douglas, CEO and founder of thoughtful gifting brand Don’t Buy Her Flowers, believes that public relations (PR) has been instrumental to the growth of the business.
“The biggest thing we use PR for is to create a brand and a story,” she explains.
“It comes down to your brand pillars. For us, we have four brand pillars including motherhood and thoughtfulness. I look at what stories I have to share around those four, that will help tell the story of Don’t Buy Her Flowers.”
If PR sounds like a costly strategy for a small business, Steph is quick to point out that it doesn’t have to be.
“We didn’t pay anyone to do our PR for a good few years,” she clarifies. “For example, I’m part of a Facebook group called Lightbulb PR, which is a very low cost way to get access to journalists.
The thing with PR is that opportunities could be anywhere. It’s just a case of being ready with your story and reaching out when you see that opening. What’s been really lovely is that as the business has grown, now if I contact a journalist they have quite often heard of us.”
Laura Schofield, founder of Otto and Ivy, a specialist shoe brand catering for tall women UK shoe size 8 and above, is also a convert to the power of PR and seizing opportunities when they arise.
One of the pivotal moments for her brand was when she rushed across the country when an opportunity came up to have media personality Caitlin Jenner try her shoes.
“Caitlin said, “Oh my gosh, I feel like Cinderella” she describes. “Everyone in the room was crying.” Once Laura posted the video of their meeting online, she was approached by a friend who was a writer for a national newspaper. He covered the story, and the shoe brand, the following day.
Coverage on this scale is almost unthinkable for small brands first starting out, except through the power of PR and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise.
Social media and email marketing are essential for organic growth
Laura also leveraged the power of organic social media growth to connect with women who loved her shoes.
“Until I hit the three year mark, I never spent a single penny on marketing of any kind” she explains. “I have done it all through organic social media. I used Facebook and Instagram to grow my email list and my business”.
This combination of organic social media engagement with email marketing is a powerful one.
“With paid social costs rising, we’re continuing to see a big shift of people putting even more emphasis on owned marketing – which includes email. What is great about email is that it doesn’t take much time to set up, and you start seeing results right away,” points out Ed Hallen, co-founder and chief product officer of Klaviyo, a a marketing automation company.
“The big thing for me, and the reason I grew so quickly, early on, is that I was social on social media. That is one of the biggest tips that I can give to anyone who wants to do the same,” advises Jayne Lasley, founder and creative director of Fairlie Curved, a fashion brand offering fuller-bust & curve-friendly clothing.
“When I first started to do the research for the business, I would go on to other accounts serving the fuller-bust community. I would see what the customers were saying, what they were asking for, what sizes they were looking at. I would reply to comments, because I was looking for the same things. Then that person would look on my page and see that my fashion brand looked interesting and follow me. So simple.”
Community is the key to grow sales on a budget
One thing that all four of the founders agree on is the importance of community and having a deep understanding of your ideal customer.
Laura describes how pre-launch she was “drinking prosecco for two hours” with a group of women with the same size feet as her and learning exactly what they wanted from a footwear brand.
This dedication to understanding exactly what they wanted led to the creation of a group of dedicated customers who knew that Laura was listening.
“It’s also about improving that relationship with your customer. Because my customer knows that I am open to feedback, they feel like they’re informing the brand’s future, and feel like a big part of that.”
Jayne has an equally dedicated customer base who talk to each other in a private Facebook group which is a “safe space” for them to connect and learn from each other.
She loves to spoil her customers and does so on a regular basis. “For Valentine’s Day, I randomly selected twenty of my top customers and sent them a gift with a note to wish them a fabulous day. I love to be able to show my appreciation.”
“Connection is key,” agrees Rebecca. “The question we always ask ourselves is how we can best serve this wonderful community who shop with us online or in the boutique.”
As costs of paid acquisition continue to increase, and with consumers wanting more than ever to buy from businesses that share their values, this is the question all small businesses wanting to grow organically should be asking themselves again and again.