The Best Forms Of Advertising For Small Business

Some of the most effective advertising options for small businesses can be managed on a shoestring budget. If you need to move beyond referral-based sales, 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 SMEs, many in construction and agriculture and a high percentage of sole traders. Discovering the best form of advertising for  small business is one of the top growth challenges a small business owner confronts, typically relying on word-of-mouth and repeat customers to generate revenue instead.

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.

Ads To Generate Revenue

A megabrand will spend millions on ads, but a small business often has little left for marketing. The difference between the two is not just their size, but perspective. A large brand views marketing as a means to generate revenue, a small business sometimes views it as an expense.

The best forms of advertising for small business generate a return.

You may already be familiar with online reviews, email marketing, content marketing and social media campaigns, but are you maximising them? There's a reason they are referenced as one of the best forms of advertising for small business growth.

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 be interested in: How Much Should A Small Business Spend On Marketing?

Marketing Channels For SMEs With The Highest ROI

6 marketing channels that typically generate the highest return for small business include:

  1. Email Marketing (but you have to have a quality list)
  2. Google Business Listings (it's free too)
  3. Social media campaigns (if you have quality content & offers)
  4. Google Ads (if your sector has a low enough Cost Per Click)
  5. Content marketing (It's like bait, in fishing).
  6. Direct Mail (not for all businesses, but for some, it's excellent)

Of course, there are other forms of advertising that will be specific to your SME.

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.

Digital marketing for SMEs

Small business owners say that a primary reason digital marketing is neglected is based on the time commitment. And, outsourcing marketing as a solution can be viewed as:

  1. Unaffordable
  2. Risky
  3. Time draining


  1. It's affordable if it generates a return
  2. It's not so risky if you're using proven methods
  3. It's not a time drain if an expert you trust manages it for you.

It pays to find a marketing professional you can trust.


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.

Key point: your content needs to be of interest to the reader.

Promote Your Business On A Shoe-String Budget

Email marketing allows you to promote your business on a shoe-string budget. Most email marketing platforms are budget-friendly, but you do need to be a bit tech-savvy to maximise them.

  • Build your email list, organically by offering incentive to sign-up
  • Keep your email list clean by removing uninterested subscribers
  • Maximise email flows recommended for your industry
  • Create personalised, dynamic content

An example of a small business using 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.

You may be interested in: Email Marketing Services or this advanced email marketing checklist.

Google business listings

Google business listings are a super powerful tool for service-based businesses to grow and one of the best forms of advertising for a small business. Hairdressers, dentists, home builders, medical centres, people will look up reviews on you.

For example, if I was to search for a 'Hairdresser near [suburb]' the search results show me Google Business Listings in order of the number of reviews.

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

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Google Business listing:

  1. Complete your profile: I know it's stating the obvious, but make sure your profile is complete with accurate and up-to-date information about your business. It's amazing how many businesses I've seen have themselves listed under the wrong category (eg. are you a home builder or a kitchen remodeler?). Include your address, phone number, website, check your hours of operation, and photos.
  1. Use keywords: Use relevant keywords in your business description and throughout your profile to help potential customers find you when they search for related products or services.
  2. Encourage reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on your Google Business listing, as this can help boost your visibility and credibility.
  3. Use photos: Use high-quality photos to showcase your products or services (eg. before and afters) and give potential customers a visual representation of what your business has to offer.
  4. Post updates: Use the Posts feature to share updates about your business, such as promotions, events, or new products.
  5. Monitor and respond to reviews: Monitor your reviews and respond to them promptly, whether they are positive or negative, to show your customers that you value their feedback.
  6. Analyze your insights: Use the insights feature to track how many views, clicks, and calls your Google Business listing is receiving, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Maximize your Google Business listing 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. It allows businesses to target customers who are actively searching for products and services related to their business.

People are actively searching for a solution to a problem or a product they want to purchase, which means they are more likely to be receptive to relevant ads and take action on them. This makes Google Ads a powerful tool for businesses looking to drive conversions and generate leads, as long as you've set it up right from the get-go.

For more on this, you may be interested in: Are Google Ads Worth It For Small Business?

"One of the biggest mistakes a small business makes on Google Ads is DIY-ing then thinking it doesn't work."

One of the biggest mistakes a small business makes on Google Ads is DIY-ing then thinking it 'doesn't work'. OR, chopping and changing their campaigns/service provider before the algorithm even has a chance to 'learn' to deliver their campaign.

Tip: Setting up your goals correctly is one of the most important factors for a Google Ads campaign to succeed.

Google is a 'high intent' channel that can be very beneficial to a business that is relatively unknown in the marketplace, like a small business. You can be seen exactly when someone is looking for a product or service like yours.

Need help setting up your Google Ads properly? You may be interested in these Google Ads Management services or a Google Ads Audit.

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.

For example, a clothing store that specialises in items made for tall men, could trial a campaign that targets men interested in basketball. This could perform better than a broader campaign, as the audience is more likely to be tall.

However, in 2023, cost per acquisition is becoming more expensive on social media platforms. For this reason, you need to have a product or service that outweighs these costs. There's no point spending $100 to get a website sale if your average sale is $10.

Tip: Algorithm based platforms need time to learn

Social media ad delivery platforms are algorithm based, and as such, ads need to be set-up properly and then run for a reasonable amount of time to allow the algorithm to best deliver the ad to the right users, at the right times.

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

Whoever 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 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. See, in branding, the more familiar a brand is the more trusted it becomes - subconsciously. You doesn't necessarily have to be the best brand, you just want to be the more familiar one. It means that when they need a service or product like yours, you're the first they recall.

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.


Don’t just grow—grow smarter.

Let's Grow Your Business
Arrow up