Marketing your Small Business During COVID-19: 12 Ideas for Getting Ahead in 2021

Smartphone filming two small business owners hosting virtual coffee tasting from indoor cafe during COVID-19 pandemic
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The COVID-19 pandemic poses unique challenges for marketing a small business in 2021—smaller budgets, fewer resources if your staff is stretched thin thanks to capacity limits or reduced workforces, less foot traffic, and constantly changing conditions. Despite these difficulties, the pandemic has also highlighted new opportunities for small business owners, particularly as the movement to “shop local” grows and communities across the country choose to patronize small businesses.

The pandemic isn’t going away, but your audience is there and ready to buy—you just need to make sure they know about your business in a time of social distancing when your traditional marketing methods may not be available to you, and that means you may need to explore different marketing channels to find new ways to reach your audience.

In this post, we’ll explore a number of small business marketing ideas for 2021, including:

  • Focusing on your existing customers
  • Embracing digital channels, including your website, social media, email marketing, monitoring and managing online reviews, hosting online workshops and events and more.
  • Location-based marketing
  • Co-marketing

Let’s jump in.

1. Focus on your existing customers

On average, it costs 5 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to close an existing one. As the pandemic continues, don’t lose sight of your existing customers—reward your most loyal customers by offering deals and incentives, and keep an eye open for opportunities for repeat purchasing, upselling, and cross-selling. Update and reinforce loyalty programs and encourage purchases by engaging with your existing customers online using social media ads, email marketing, or other tactics.

2. Take a look at your website

When it comes to online marketing, your business’s website is your most important touchpoint—it shows potential customers and clients who you are and why they should buy from you, what you offer, where you are, and how they can get in touch with you. If you haven’t already made changes to your website, there are a few things you should do to make sure you’re ready for 2021:

  • Set up a secure e-commerce store so you can sell your products or schedule services online. The sooner you can create an online store or booking service the better, especially as the 2020 holiday season ramps up. Make sure your online store is secure—savvy hackers are now targeting smaller businesses who may not be able to afford dedicated cybersecurity, especially with so many businesses making the jump to online retail. Look for a website builder with existing security infrastructure, such as WordPress or Shopify, or hire someone with strong security credentials to build your online store for you.
  • Make sure your website works well on mobile devices. According to eMarketer, over 44% of e-commerce sales will be made on a mobile device this holiday season. 50% of online shoppers won’t make a purchase from a brand with a poorly designed mobile site, so it’s more important than ever to ensure that your website is easy to navigate with a painless checkout experience.
  • Focus on your search engine optimization (SEO)—”SEO” is a fancy way of describing the actions you can take to make it easy for people to find your website when they Google something you can help with. There are a number of SEO tactics you can employ depending on your capability and your budget, from simple updates to major modifications. The most important thing to remember is that your website should provide a good user experience, which means it should be easy to navigate, load quickly, and work well on mobile devices. Don’t be afraid to work with a marketing agency that specializes in SEO if you don’t feel comfortable tackling these tasks yourself.
  • Consider installing a chatbot on your website so it’s easy to connect with your customers and answer their questions. If you can automate it, your chatbot can even provide 24/7 service, including vital information and instant answers to certain questions such as “when are you open?”, “do you offer delivery?”, and “what safety protocols do you have in place?”

3. Be active on social media

People are spending more time at home—and on social media—than ever, which means it’s even more important for your business to be present and active on the same social media channels as your customers.

Social media can help improve your brand awareness, build a community, connect with influencers, and engage with your audience on a more personal level. There are a number of ways small businesses can use these platforms to reach their audience and even generate sales:

  • Share updates about your business, such as hours of operation, changes in services, and how you are keeping everyone safe.
  • Share blog posts and other content your audience will find interesting, entertaining, or helpful.
  • Create shoppable Facebook or Instagram posts by tagging products you sell to make it as easy as possible for users to buy directly from your social media profile.
  • Let your followers know about any charity or community work you’re doing.
  • Use Stories to take your customers behind the scenes, launch new products or services, share exclusive discount codes, and announce promotions. You can also use Stories to re-post your customer’s photos, show your products or services in action, and even post polls, Q&As, and quizzes.
  • Consider paid ad campaigns to promote your products and services directly to your target audience.

Social media is also an important customer service channel, especially as people embrace new ways to reach businesses without setting foot in a store. Keep an eye on your social media inboxes and respond to customer queries as quickly as you can. You can even set up automated responses to help manage frequently asked questions and simple queries.

4. Embrace email marketing

Email is a great way to keep in touch with existing or potential customers, especially in a pandemic—Adweek reports that email revenue has increased 86% year over year in 2020. There are a number of ways you can connect with your audience via email:

  • Send engaging order confirmation emails that include links to relevant information or articles, take advantage of opportunities to upsell, or ask customers to leave a review online.
  • Reward loyal customers by sharing exclusive deals and personalized communications.
  • Create a welcome series for people who subscribe to your email list. To encourage more sign-ups, you could even offer a 10% or 15% discount to any new subscriber.
  • Follow up with people who abandon their cart mid-purchase to encourage them to complete their purchase.

Creating an email marketing system may require you to invest in new software to help collect and organize contact information, as well as create and send the emails. If you’ve been operating under restrictions or have experienced a decrease in revenue and don’t have the cash on hand to adopt new software, an alternative small business loan can help supply the quick working capital you need to kickstart your email marketing program.

5. Start a blog

You may not be able to talk to your customers in person, but you can still talk to them online! A blog is the perfect place to answer questions, share your expertise, and offer advice that relates to what your business offers. While blogging most likely won’t generate you immediate revenue, consistently publishing posts will help generate revenue in the long-term.

Before you start blogging, think about your target audience—what makes them tick? What do they like to read or learn about? What are their values? With your audience in mind, you can create content that shares their values and addresses their needs, creating a strong user experience that can ultimately lead to more sales. Bonus: blogging is also great for search engine optimization, and over time will make it easier for new customers to find your website.

6. Start measuring using analytics tools

Analytics measurement tools help you understand how people use your website or interact with your ads, as well as who visits and who buys (or doesn’t buy) so you can make updates and market your business accordingly. This information can supply a number of insights for marketing a small business in 2021, including:

  • New marketing opportunities, such as which social media platform sends the most traffic to your site, or what type of visitor is most likely to buy
  • Problems with your website, such as slow load times on mobile devices
  • Which products or services are the most popular and which are the most profitable
  • What blog posts people like the most
  • Common questions or things people search for often

If you haven’t already, consider installing analytics tracking so you can get a better understanding of who’s visiting your website and how they navigate around. Google Analytics is the industry leader—it’s free to install and will start collecting data right away. If you already have an analytics measurement tool installed but you don’t pay attention to it, start reviewing your website trends weekly or monthly so you can make informed decisions about how to market your business. Check out Google’s Analytics Academy for detailed tutorials and lessons on using Google Analytics.

7. Search engine ads

Search engine ads are another great way to reach your audience in 2021, and you don’t need to be a search marketing expert to take advantage of this channel. If you aren’t sure how to get started, Google Ads offers AI-powered Smart campaigns to help simplify the process of managing search ads. Google Shopping listings are also free for businesses in 2021.

If you’re ready to make a big investment in Google Ads but don’t have the know-how to manage your own campaigns, you may want to work with an agency who specializes in this type of marketing. An alternative small business loan can help supply the working capital you need to get started.

8. Monitor and respond to online reviews

When real people advocate for your brand, you appear more trustworthy to future customers. Asking your existing customers for a review also doesn’t require the same level of investment as paid ads or rebuilding your website, making this a beneficial option for small businesses with smaller marketing budgets.

Don’t stop at just asking for reviews—respond to them as well, including 1-3 star reviews. Responding to negative reviews is especially important because it shows prospective customers that you care about creating a positive experience and that you’ll work hard to make sure all your customers are satisfied.

Read our advice for getting more reviews online.

9. Host online workshops and events

Hosting online classes is especially popular for fitness businesses, but some retailers have also begun to offer fun classes like tea tastings, build-your-own terrarium seminars, or guided cocktail hours complete with supplies delivered right to your door. In addition to giving you an opportunity to teach and share your expertise, creative events like these are a great way to stay in touch with your audience in an engaging way that also boosts sales while people are stuck at home.

10. Augmented reality

Augmented reality has become very popular and is growing as a marketing tool. If you have the resources and ability to explore augmented reality, it can greatly enhance the online shopping experience. Ikea, for example, uses AR to let users visualize how a piece of furniture will look in their home. Other apparel brands have also used AR to make shopping for clothing online easier by allowing people to “try on” an item before purchase.

11. Location-based marketing

More than a billion people use Google Maps every month and 60% of smartphone users have contacted a business directly using search results. It’s particularly important for local businesses to make sure they can be found on Google Maps and other similar platforms, especially if you only operate in your city and don’t sell products online.

Start by signing up, claiming your business profile, and verifying your business through Google My Business. Once you’ve verified your profile, you can update your service availability, business hours, and contact information, and even post photos of your business. Be sure to include any relevant COVID-19 information such as whether you’re offering curbside pickup, takeout or delivery, or online appointments. You can also add a post to update customers about your safety and hygiene practices so they can feel safe if they do decide to visit your location.

Best of all, it’s totally free.

12. Co-marketing

Can you work with another local business that isn’t a direct competitor, but which offers a product or service with a similar audience as your own? Collaborating to cross-promote, host contests, and more can help strengthen your community presence and support other entrepreneurs in your area.

Investing in marketing a small business in 2021

Time is at a minimum for many business owners as they struggle to keep up with the constantly changing realities of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, often with reduced workforces and limited cash flow. Investing in your online presence, tools to organize your marketing efforts, or experts to help rebuild or improve your website or manage online marketing campaigns can save you time and keep your efforts on track, but you may not have the working capital available to support these goals.

If you’ve run out of PPP or EIDL funding or never received any in the first place, alternative funding from direct online lenders like Greenbox Capital can help you access the working capital you need to promote your business online and in your community, whether you need a small loan of $3,000 or funding up to $500,000.

Alternative lenders offer a number of advantages over traditional lenders like banks and SBA loans, including:

  • Easier qualification criteria with less paperwork to gather
  • Faster review and approvals, with approval in as little as 2-5 business hours and funding in a little as 1 business day
  • No restrictions on how your funds are used—use them for payroll, everyday operating expenses, or to kickstart new ideas
  • A variety of funding options are available to suit your business’s needs, including merchant cash advances, small business loans, invoice factoring, collateral loans, and business lines of credit
  • Businesses with low credit can receive funding. Instead of focusing on your credit score, our Funding Advisors will review the overall health and potential of your business
  • Businesses in high-risk industries can also receive funding
Learn more about alternative funding
Jordan Fein
Author: Jordan Fein
Contributor and expert in finance and loans, business and economics