Building a marketing strategy for a service business can seem overwhelming, especially if your marketing budget is small. But luckily, there are plenty of free ways to market your business that, when used correctly, are incredibly effective. I’ll also include a few paid options and some tips for building an effective marketing strategy at the end for good measure.
But first, let's look at nine ways to market your business without spending a dollar.
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One of your most effective marketing tools is your business’s website. (If you’re part of the one in four small businesses without a website, go and create an account on your chosen DIY website builder and come right back.)
We go into more detail on how to increase organic website traffic in this article, which is well worth a read, but if you’re pressed for time, here’s the TDLR version.
Your website is the perfect place to fill with targeted keywords relating to your business — responsibly, of course; you don’t want to be accused of keyword stuffing. And what better way to cover a wide range of keywords relating to your business than a blog?
Blog articles are a fantastic way of regularly refreshing your website, which, not that they admit it, is one of the ranking factors Google uses when determining where you appear in search results. You’re aiming for that top spot, so demonstrating that your website is active and producing high-quality, relevant content is a great way to inch your way up the list.
If you don’t have the time to write regular blog posts, consider hiring a freelancer to produce content for you. Either way, write about topics related to your business and include keywords in every article that will help your business appear in relevant search results — like I’ve done with this article that brought you to the MarketBox website (welcome, by the way, 👋).
One of the easiest ways to market your service business is to have your customers do it for you. Your customers are your most powerful asset, so take steps to encourage happy customers to spread the word about your business.
Referral programs that offer customers rewards for each new customer they bring in are an effective way to get customers to share your business with friends and family. In addition, consider creating a custom hashtag and encouraging customers to share user-generated content, tagging your business in the process for more ways to get in front of new audiences for free.
Speaking of word-of-mouth marketing, reviews are another incredibly effective way to market your service business. According to BrightLocal, 97% of consumers use reviews to search for local services, so make it a policy to collect reviews from as many customers as possible.
Research indicates that 70% of customers will leave reviews when prompted, so you’re going to need to ask for them if you want to increase reviews. Read more about collecting reviews for your service business here.
If your resources are limited, focus on collecting reviews on Google and using online review management software to pull those reviews onto your website.
Another free marketing tool you have access to is social media. Rather than spreading yourself thin across all the platforms, identify the sites your target audience spends the most time on and work on building up your presence there.
Social media marketing tips
Contrary to popular belief, email isn’t dead. In fact, email marketing offers 36x ROI, meaning for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can generate $36 in revenue.
But wait, I thought this was about free ways to market my business.
It is because email marketing doesn’t have to cost you anything — although an email marketing platform will make it easier than manually sending through Gmail!
Build your email list by collecting customer contact information when they book, fill in a form, or download a piece of gated content from your site (like this one). Remember, you need permission to collect their data and a secure way to store it; the last thing you want is to fall foul of data protection regulations.
Once you’ve got your email list, send valuable marketing messages to clients — don’t abuse the spot you’ve earned in their inbox. Notify them of promotions, special offers, new services, etc., and don’t spam them.
Tip: Consider sending out a monthly newsletter with curated information relating to your services/industry or creating a nurture sequence to reengage customers who haven’t bought from you in a while.
The first place most people look for almost anything is Google, so spending time optimizing your Google Business Profile is a worthwhile investment. It’s also ridiculously easy.
We cover all the steps in this article on optimizing your Google Business Profile, but the TDLR is
Introductory offers are a great way to get would-be customers to convert once they’ve landed on your website or social media profile. You could even experiment with running paid ads to advertise the offers.
Introductory offers are effective because they reduce the friction (in this case, cost) of trying out your business. For best results, pair this marketing tactic with the others on this list to capture all the new faces you’re driving to your newly optimized website.
A little old school but still surprisingly effective, bulletin boards are a great marketing tool for local service businesses. While you’ll still see the occasional IRL bulletin board in local shops or bars, more often than not, there’s a virtual bulletin board or Facebook group you can post on to get in front of a local audience.
Another effective way to market your service business is to partner with other companies relating to, but not directly competing with, your business. For example, think of a pool cleaning company partnering with a mobile swim school to offer students money off pool maintenance.
The beauty of this is that both businesses market their services to new, targeted audiences. It could be direct partnerships like our fictional swim school above or something as simple as a cross-business promotion on social media to get new followers. Either way, choose your partners carefully - too close, and you risk losing customers to a competitor, but too far removed, and you won’t be targeting your ideal customers.
If you’ve got a marketing budget, even a relatively small one, targeted paid ads can be an easy and effective way to market your service business.
To avoid racking up a big ad spend, set limits on campaigns and don’t even think about launching an ad until you have a clear idea of your target audience and the demographics you want to target. Otherwise, you could throw money away and get little to no results.
There’s plenty of advice on how to create effective paid ad campaigns, but if in doubt, consider hiring a paid ad specialist to at least get you started.
Signwriting company vehicles is a great way to capitalize on these essential journeys for in-home service businesses that drive around town to and from appointments. If your providers drive their own vehicles and you can’t convince them to decal their driver’s side, invest in removable magnetic signage they can attach when they’re on the job.
Lastly, another somewhat retro marketing tactic in the age of social media, flyering local neighborhoods is still a viable option for local service businesses looking to attract new customers.
Printing can be expensive, and response rates are typically between 1-5%, but if you have the budget and a willing flyer distributor, it could be a marketing option to consider.
Now that we’ve covered how to market your business let’s look at three ways to make your marketing efforts more effective.
Understanding your target market is key to a successful marketing strategy. If you don’t understand their needs or why they might want a service like yours in the first place, you won’t be able to craft compelling messages that connect and drive sales. You need a clear understanding of what problems your business solves to advertise the benefits effectively.
If you’re conducting target market research for the first time, starting with your current customer base is a good idea. Analyze behavior patterns and buying habits and identify customer demographics, including age, gender, location, interest, profession, etc.
In addition, it’s helpful to look at your competitor and analyze who they’re targeting. Is there a gap in the market you can fill by targeting an underserved niche?
A strong brand identity will help your marketing efforts and make your business easier to remember. Don’t skimp on having a high-quality logo designed for your business, and put time into creating a well-designed, user-friendly website. If you’re just starting your business, make sure your business name is unique and memorable — it’s a lot easier to market your business if your name works with and not against your messaging! If you're stuck for ideas, a business name generator can help you come up with creative and catchy name ideas that are relevant to your industry and target market.
Crafting a unique value proposition will also help anchor your marketing efforts, giving you a solid foundation for your brand and marketing messages. For advice on creating the perfect value proposition for your business, here’s what MarketBox’s Head of Marketing, Kathleen Wong, has to say
“A clear and concise value prop can be the difference between a new client and a visitor browsing your site. You probably won't get it right the first time, and that's okay! Test it out with your friends and family; you'd be surprised at how different folks interpret a single sentence.
Not only is a clear value prop important for your clients, but it's also important that your employees understand it as well. This will guide how your marketing team talks about your services and how your service provider interacts with your clients. Take the time to craft your value prop; it will pay off in the long run.”
Lastly, it’s vital that you track and analyze your marketing efforts regularly so you can see what’s working, what needs improvement, and where it’s time to dedicate more or less time.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your marketing strategy as you gain more insights — it should constantly be evolving rather than a one-and-done practice.
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