The Best Forms Of Advertising For Small Business

Do you need to move beyond referral-based sales? Some of the most effective advertising options for small businesses can be managed on a shoestring budget. Here's some advertising ideas to get you started.

Anita T is an award-winning marketing consultant with 15+ years of experience.

Australia has around 2.4 million small and medium enterprises and many of these find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to growth. Businesses often lean heavily on referrals and repeat business, but what happens when you need more than referrals to grow? The answer lies in effective advertising strategies for small business.

Referrals only get you so far

Referrals only get you so far. When you need to scale your positive reputation, and your business, you'll need advertising.

Relying solely on word-of-mouth has its limits. Moving beyond referral isn't a rejection of its importance, but an opportunity to scale the reputation you've build so far. Advertising can be your growth catalyst, amplifying the credibility and expanding your market share.

Ads To Generate Revenue

While megabrans may pour millions into advertising, small businesses tend to navigate advertising cautiously. The distinction between the two is not just size, but perspective. Larger brands view advertising as a means to generate revenue, small business may perceive it as an expense.

The best forms of advertising for small business yield a tangible return. Online reviews, email marketing, content marketing and social media campaigns aren't juts buzzwords; they're some of the best forms of advertising for small business growth.

Are you maximising each?

Effective advertising for small business
Some of the most effective advertising methods for a small business.

How much should you invest to grow? You may find this guide useful: How much should a small business spend on marketing?

Marketing Channels For SMEs With The Highest ROI

Let's look at 6 marketing channels that typically generate the highest return for small businesses.

  1. Email Marketing (with a focus on quality lists)
    Email offers best access to your customers, consistently outperforming alternative online marketing channels year after year. The key lies in clean lists and content that resonates with your audience.
  2. Google Business Listings (a free powerhouse)
    An often-neglected gem, Google Business Listings can be a game-changer for service based businesses. From hairdressers to medical centers, your potential customers are actively searching for reviews and information about your business.
  3. Social media campaigns (hinging on quality content and offers)
    Platforms like Instagram and TikTok offer precise targeting based on demographics and interests. However, with competition rising, cost per acquisition is too.
  4. Google Ads (a 'high intent' channel that requires proper setup)
    Google Ads gives you direct access to customers actively seeking products or services like yours. Avoid pitfalls of DIY by working with a Google ads professional.
  5. Quality Content (a timeless strategy).
    Content marketing stretches back over a century and remains a cornerstone of effective marketing. The challenge lies in producing engaging content, not just content for the sake of content.
  6. Direct Mail (effective for specific businesses).
    Despite perception that its dated, direct mail can be a hidden treasure for small businesses, especially builders, real estate or local services.

While these channels can form the foundations of effective advertising for your small business, every business is unique. Tailor your approach to suit your business and explore other avenues that align with your goals.

Digital marketing for Small business

Despite the rising popularity of digital marketing and social media, studies suggest the average small business invests only 1% of its revenue into advertising. This is despite online marketing being one of the most effective forms of advertising for small business growth.

The challenge often lies in finding the right balance between affordability, risk, and time investment.

  1. Affordability: digital marketing pays off when its executed well.
  2. Risk: Adhere to proven methods and be guided by industry experts.
  3. Time drain: Lean on a reliable professional and you'll free up your time while ensuring effective management.

Finding a trustworthy marketing professional can be the key to unlocking growth for your small business.


Email marketing has offered business one of the highest average returns out of all marketing channels for consecutive years. It offers direct access to your subscriber, making it a cost-effective way to reach out to your existing customers and keep them engaged with your brand.  Small businesses use email to promote special offers, encourage repeat purchases and share company news that is of interest to the reader.

The secret is to craft content that speaks directly to your audience's interests.

How to leverage email marketing on a budget:

Most email marketing platforms are budget-friendly, but you do need to be a bit tech-savvy to maximise them. Here's 3 basic ways to get started:

  1. Build your email list organically by offering incentive to sign-up
  2. Keep your email list high quality by removing disengaged subscribers
  3. Maximise email flows recommended for your industry, providing a personalised experience for subscribers.

An example of how a small business can use email marketing, is a bakery. A bakery might send out seasonal promotions based on Easter or Valentine's Day. Or run special offers around customer's birthdays. A brewery meanwhile might offer exclusive creations to their subscriber list. These are just a few examples of how a simple email marketing setup can help a business grow.

To learn more about email marketing, explore the resource category email marketing strategies. If you'd prefer someone to do your email marketing for you, you may be interested in email marketing services.

Google business listings

Google business listings are an often neglected tool for service-based businesses to grow. It's one of the most powerful forms of advertising for a small business. Whether you'r ea hairdressers, dentist, home builder or medical center, your customers are actively seeking information about your business, and Google is a top go-to.

Google business listing results can appera in order of the number of reviews a business has
Search results can appear in order of the number of reviews a business has.

Here are some ways to get the most out of your Google Business Listing for your business:

  1. Complete your profile: It might seem obvious, yet it's surprising how often businesses overlook this one. Ensure your profile is complete with accurate and up-to-date information about your business. Check that your business is listed under relevant categories. Add as many that are relevant to your business.
  2. Use keywords: Infuse relevant keywords in your business description and throughout your profile to help potential customers find you when they search for related products or services.
  3. Encourage reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on your Google Business listing, as this can help boost your visibility and credibility. Respond promptly to all of them.
  4. Visual appeal: Humans are visual creatures. Use high-quality photos to provide a visual representation of what your business offers, whether its before-and-after shots, product showcases or your team in action, compelling visuals leave a lasting impression.
  5. Post updates: Use the Posts feature to share updates about your business, such as promotions, events, or new products. Keeping your content fresh not only engages potential customers but also signals to Google that your business is active and relevant.

By maximising your Google Business listing, you'll make it an asset. It's not just about being listed but presenting your business in the best possible light to potential customers actively searching for services like yours. Whether you're a local business or aiming for a broader audience, a well-optimised Google Business listings can significantly enhance your online presence and attract more customers to your small business.

Google Ads

Google ads is what we call a 'high intent' channel and for this reason it's one of the best forms of advertising for small business. However, there are caveats best mitigated by a professional. While it allows businesses to target customers who are actively searching for products and services related to their business, the impact of AI and platform changes is best navigated by a Google Ads expert.

Pro tips for Google Ads success:

  1. Review your goal setup: All ads will be optimised towards the goals established. This can be a bit technical, so often there's mistakes that are impacting return on ad spend. A Google Ads Audit can help identify any errors.
  2. Avoid compulsive editing: Significant campaign edits can reset AI learnings, taking your business back into a 'learning phase', significantly eating into results.
  3. Stick-with-it: The AI used on Google Ads takes time to learn to optimise campaign delivery.
  4. Careful with targeting competitor searches: Targeting competitor names is a bit of a black hat tactic that can deliver an initial return until Google realises your website doesn't 'match' so your cost per click goes up, someone flags you, then you get banned or worse, embroiled in a legal dispute with said competitors.

Google Ads can be a game-changer for small businesses, but to get the best return on your ad spend, make sure you work with a professional.

You may also be interested in: Are Google Ads Worth It For Small Business?

Social Media Campaigns

Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn offer a range of advertising options that can help small businesses reach their target audience, fast. These platforms allow you to target users based on their demographics, interests, and behaviours. However, as businesses have embraced the use of social media advertising, the costs to reach social media audiences have gone up as well. A rising cost per acquisition requires a strategic approach.

Pro Tips For Social Media Advertising:

  1. Product/service value assessment: Make sure your average sale value and customer lifetime value justifies the forecast costs to your business.
  2. Embrace diversification: As social media matures, platforms diversify. Focus on where your audience is going and use that platform for your social media ads.
  3. Go broad: Platform changes mean AI delivery is benefiting from broad targeting, contrasting to previous advice to go niche. However, this does require a larger and consistent budget for optimisation, which can impact a small business confidence in the channel. Work with a professional for best results.

Social media advertising can be a powerful tool for small businesses, but business owners will best benefit from the experience of social media professionals.

Content Marketing

Content marketing has actually been used for over a century. Think of the recipes on the back of a muffin mix, farming magazines and radio shows. Coles and Woolies both publish their own magazines, Salesforce publish reports, a hairdresser might post before and afters.

That's all content marketing.

Content marketing example
Supermarkets publish magazines - it's a form of content marketing.
80% of people prefer a series of articles over an ad.

80% of people prefer a series of articles over an ad according to a Roper Public Affairs study 2012. Online content continues to grow and now feed into the likes of Google Voice search and Google Bard. The catch is, quality. Spammy content is pretty useless.

Content marketing can be a time-drain making it less likely to be adopted. However, this barrier creates competitive opportunity for those that can take it on and overtime, it can pay off in spades. The challenge is producing engaging, high-quality content, and, content that actually sells.

An example of a small businesses that does content marketing well is Kettle & Fire. Kettle and Fire produce organic bone broth. Their blog focuses on health and wellness topics related to bone broth, such as gut health, immune support and joint health. They break their content into categories: benefits, product, recipes and support.

Kettle & Fire a good example of a small business leveraging contenet marketing.

Content marketing can feed into multiple advertising strategies for a small business, including SEO, social media and even PR.

Direct Mail

You may have heard the saying: 'one man's trash is another man's treasure'. Direct mail has a reputation for being thrown away, but for some small businesses it's the 'lost treasure'. Direct mail can be extremely effective for small businesses such as a plumber, a local takeaway shop or real estate agents.

It doesn't always need to be flashy either.

Here's some examples of excellent direct mail advertising for a small business:

Direct Mail: The Local Service Provider

The lead generation company that set up the direct mail campaign for the local plumber (literally called 'The Local Plumber') knows a thing or two about advertising for small businesses. The flyer comes with a branded magnet you can stick to your fridge, is covered in clear copy, offers and incentives. There's even a pic of the plumber that will come attend your plumbing woes. This will work best it's the actual plumber of course, and not a stock photo.

This is an example of direct mail campaign that gets an absolute A+ from me.

example of direct mail for a plumber
An example of an excellent piece of direct mail.

Apply the tactics used in this direct mail campaign to your own business by adopting the 5C's: Clear, Concise, Compelling, Credible, all with a Call To Action.

Another example of maximising direct mail as a channel is the real estate industry. Real estate agencies often inundate properties in their area with direct mail campaigns and for good reason - so their agents, and their brand, becomes familiar to you. The more familiar a brand is the more trusted it becomes - subconsciously. It doesn't necessarily have to be the best brand; just the more familiar one.

An agent that does this really well works for Sweeney real estate. Here's an example of one of the flyers he drops off around his neighbourhood:

example of direct mail for a real estate agent
Direct mail doesn't have to be fancy to be effective.

William has printed out an A4 piece of paper from his printer with a testimonial about how awesome he is and a happy pic of him and his clients. That's it. It's not fancy, it's not flash, but it does showcase his value. And, he does this on a regular basis.

It's an authentic strategy for someone that's in an industry that's haunted by distrust.

Ultimately, the best form of advertising for your small business will depend on your specific goals, target audience, and budget. Experimenting with different advertising channels and tracking your results can help you determine which strategies are most effective for your business.

Need advice specific to your business? Feel free to drop me a line. I'm a marketer that specialises in helping small businesses grow.


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