Building a marketing strategy on a shoestring6 min read

By Rachel King

Marketing Director, Breathe HR

As a company specialising in helping SMEs – and as a former SME ourselves – we know what it’s like to work on a tight budget.

Over the years, I’ve gathered many hints and tips for start-ups or businesses just beginning to invest in their marketing efforts to help them along their way. So I’m here to share some of those and to prove you don’t need the big bucks to have a successful marketing strategy.

Planning is key to marketing. Your first step should be to outline your aims. Ask yourself some key questions. What do you want to accomplish this year? Have you got a revenue target? Would you like to grow your network? Or do you want more website visits? Once you know what direction you want to go in, it’s easier to take the first step towards producing a marketing strategy on a shoestring. Here are some tips to help you achieve that.


TIP ONE: Using your network for case studies, partnerships and advice

If you’re just starting out, it’s important to use the resources you already have. A good initial step could be to reach out to your existing network. Look for customers and clients who are happy with the service you provide, or perhaps someone who you already have an established relationship with and put together a case study.

If, on the other hand, you haven’t grown your client base yet then look for peers who may be willing to test your products for you, then ask for their opinion. Organic marketing and word of mouth still works. Much of the time, we react to the recommendations of others. So don’t underestimate the power of a good case study or quote.

Your peers aren’t just useful for recommendations – why not also ask them for advice? Find out what worked for other businesses to help you develop your plan and understand your objectives.

One of our major assets in our marketing efforts at Breathe is our partner network. We work alongside other companies, often our clients, to reach a wider audience. We have about 500 HR partners in the UK now and these companies are reselling Breathe software for us, which is invaluable. This is living proof of the importance of building a strong network. One day, your connections could become partners, meaning free, organic marketing and sales. We find our partners by connecting on a common goal of wanting to help ease the pain points of SMEs. So we all share a passion for trying to make their lives easier. If you can identify a commonality between yourself and a client, they could be a partner.


TIP TWO: The secret sauce – outsourcing

It’s important to realise that marketing is varied – that’s the beauty of it. There are so many parts at play in a customer or client journey from when they first hear about a brand all the way up to making their first purchase, buying again and recommending you.

Your team may be small at first. Perhaps there’s only one person on the marketing team, like there was at Breathe when I first joined, and the chances of one person or even a small team being able to access each available point of influence in a customer’s journey is slim.

So, how can we combat that? One word: freelancers. Of course, most of us want to keep as much of our activity as possible in-house but that sometimes isn’t an option. If you can pay someone with years of experience in writing to create a magnetic blog post with a fast turnaround for a couple of hundred pounds, then my advice is that you should.

The same goes for SEO and your website: people spend years studying search marketing. So if you’re not an expert, outsource the task to make sure you’re covering all the basics. I realise it may seem counterintuitive to be talking about spending money when this article is for SMEs with low budgets but – hold on! – there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet and that’s testing.



TIP THREE: Test, then invest

It may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many companies begin their marketing efforts by identifying their pain points and throwing huge sums of money at them. You don’t need to do that and it can actually be counterproductive to your efforts.

I would suggest putting a small budget behind something you think could be successful for your business, perhaps it’s SEO or social media advertising. If it works and you can see an increase in website visits, leads or sales, put more money behind the initiative. Then go onto testing the next thing. Keep growing and expanding. At Breathe, we invest heavily in Google AdWords, but that started from a very small budget and now we have a whole agency looking after that account so it’s definitely worth looking into that as it’s something you can start off doing yourself.

Bear in mind that marketing changes all the time, especially now because of the pandemic and budgets tightening. What works one year might not work the next – so keep testing, learning and talking to your network to adapt to your customers’ needs.

Something to think about for the future of your business is your technology and internal investment. With smaller teams, having the right software to help you work efficiently is key to time-saving and to more accurate marketing efforts.

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, for example, could greatly enhance your marketing potential and they aren’t just used by big corporate companies. We have had a CRM in place at Breathe since the get-go. They shouldn’t be underestimated as they can help grow your business very quickly and so it’s important to think about the future when making larger investments.


TIP FOUR: Use content to communicate your purpose

During my time at Breathe, we have worked on defining our core mission and values. One of them is a passion for understanding and helping improve company culture within SMEs.

To help support this we’ve produced countless pieces of material, the biggest being our annual Cultural Economy Report. It looks at research around the UK to understand what’s important to businesses in terms of how they manage and look after their people. Obviously, this is directly linked to what we do as an HR company and so we are finding ways to keep the conversation relevant and the content engaging.

The content you put out about your industry helps to mould the conversation. So research the topics on the minds of your clients and publish relevant pieces of content as part of your marketing material.

At Breathe, we have set up something called the Culture Pledge, which is a way for businesses to pledge that they are trying to do the best for their employees and we release content around that demonstrating that we are really trying to make a positive impact on the HR space in general.

As you grow, you can employ new ways to contribute to your particular industry space, perhaps by launching events or summits. Maybe a weekly newsletter or a specialised partner conference, these things will also help maintain your network.

Marketing definitely isn’t ‘one size fits all’; your approach needs to be tailored to your business. But if you remember the basics – networking, outsourcing, testing and investing and producing content that’s true to your purpose – you’re halfway there already.

Rachel King is the Marketing Director at Breathe. She is passionate about supporting SME businesses grow and thrive by providing them the resources and tools they need to be a true People First business. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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