The Master List: 50 Small Business Marketing Tactics

I believe small business owners should be wary about relying on social media for marketing, so today I’m giving you 50 ideas for small business marketing tactics you can use instead.

I see many agencies breathlessly describing what’s possible with social media instead of describing what is probable. The reality is, one in 1000 small businesses is raking in huge leads from social media, and everyone else is wasting a ton of time trying to match their success. And feeling like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t! (Hint: there isn’t.)

People’s attention is more difficult to capture than ever. There are too many other businesses using the same channels to achieve the same goals. It’s difficult and time consuming to stay on top of the ever-changing best practices. Social media isn’t free, it’s very, very expensive. I did the math. With that in mind, here are 50 ideas for marketing that don’t use social media.

READ THIS LATER: If you don’t have time to read this article right now, you can download the PDF version to your phone or computer and read it when you have time later.

50 Small Business Marketing Tactics

1 – Be a guest on a podcast

Better than having your own podcast, being a guest on someone else’s exposes you to an entirely new audience you don’t have to go out and find.

2 – Write a letter to the editor of a community newspaper
Surprise! People do still read their little community newspapers/news websites. Contribute an article or write a letter about an issue related to what you do.

3 – Sponsor a conference
If brand recognition is your problem, this is a great way to establish yourself.

4 – Enter awards
When you win an award, the people issuing the award do the promotion for you, so you’re exposed to new audience members without having to recruit them yourself.

5 – Hold a professional round table
Get a bunch of business owners together who are not in direct competition. Either with or without an audience, have a guided discussion on the state of your market today. Brainstorm ways you can introduce each other to your audience.

6 – Legal yard signs
There are different rules in every community, but typically there are places you can legally stick lawn signs that advertise your business.

7 – Door hangers
If you deliver your goods or services out in the community, take a few minutes and put door hangers on your customers’ neighbours. This can do a great job of creating FOMO. Here’s an example of one I made for a client.

8 – Hand-addressed letters
A great way to get people to open what otherwise might seem like junk mail is to hand-address the envelope. I knew when I saw my mega-successful business coach using this tactic that it’s got real potential.

9 – List swing
Find a fellow business owner, podcaster or influencer with whom you aren’t in direct competition and propose a list swing. You send the people on your email list some information about this person, and they send the people on their email list some information about you.

10 – Radio ad
Who listens to the radio? People who want traffic reports, that’s who. Those ad spots that say, “Traffic on the ones brought to you buy Bill’s Bait and Tackle” are surprisingly inexpensive, and definitely cheaper than social media.

11 – Out-of-home advertising
Out-of-home advertising basically means billboards, bus bench ads, subway ads, urinal and bathroom stall ads, and most recently, these little phone-charger-ad thingies you may have seen on bar and restaurant tables.


12 – Stickers
To make a sticker campaign really great, it needs to have a dynamic QR code and a great design. It can be funny, cheeky or cute as long as people want to stick it somewhere other people will see it.

13 – Email campaign
The reason we send regular, helpful emails to our list is so when we have something to sell, they’re used to hearing from us and read our messages.

14 – Teach a workshop

Instead of trying to teach people something in 30 seconds on social media, why not run a lunch and learn or webinar and teach potential buyers something meaningful?

15 – Review campaign
Create an automated review system using your email management software. When you wrap with a client or close a sale, send them step by step instructions on how they can give you the 5-star review you deserve.

16 – Referral program
I meet so many small business owners who feel sheepish they get most of their business from referrals. However, a healthy referral pipeline is a small business super power, so lean into it! A formal referral program will help.

17 – Reciprocal referral campaign
Pick someone with a complementary audience to yours who isn’t a direct competitor and strike a deal to send clients to each other. Lawyers and realtors, stylists and massage therapists, accountants and personal finance advisors: find a friend and trade.

18 – Present to a group
Look for presenter opportunities at conferences in your industry. You may have to apply a few times before you get accepted, but it’s a great way to build your profile.  

19 – Reddit
I don’t really count Reddit as a social platform because it’s far easier to break through the noise on Reddit. If you have information that is in demand, share it in relevant subreddits. Just don’t sound salesy.

20 – Give away a free tool
Lead magnets are an item your audience wants and is willing to give their email address to get. Checklists, worksheets, cheat sheets and guides are all popular examples.

21 – Quid pro quo collaborations
This has elements of both a list swing and a reciprocal referral campaign. Make some business friends in complementary but not competing industries. Help each other out in the form of guest blogs, or co-events and multiply the number of people you reach.

22 – Update old blog content
So I write one blog about Kim Kardashian and of course that’s the one that brings the most traffic to my website. Am I annoyed about this? Yes. Am I going to go back and update that blog so it stays fresh? Also yes.

23 – Join a speakers’ bureau
Speakers bureaus maintain stables of expert speakers and help you book gigs for a cut of your fee. Helpful hint: charge a healthy fee, because the account executives get a percentage. The more money they make from you, the more they’re motivated to book you.

24 – Lukewarm calls (contact people you know-ish)
I don’t mind cold calling because it’s not unlike what I did as a reporter: try to talk to people who don’t want to talk to me. However, I prefer lukewarm calling™, where you reach out to people you’ve met or with whom you know someone in common. Make a list. I bet you have more people in this category than you think.

25 – Link swap
Reach out to a complementary but not competing business owner with a blog. Propose that you each include the other’s link in an upcoming blog. Backlinks help your Google search results.

26 – Add a time-limited offer
Offer a discount or upgrade but make sure it ends soon. That fear of missing out will help people make the decision to act, which is an oft-forgotten bottleneck in the sales funnel.

27 – Join a networking group
You’ll notice throughout this list I suggest reaching out to your “business acquaintances.” A networking group or service club is a great place to find those.

28 – Introduce yourself to your neighbours
By “neighbours” I mean the people who live on your block or in your building. Everyone should know what you do, so they can choose you or refer you.

29 – Decal your car
If you have a business that fellow drivers are likely to require, wrap or decal your vehicle. Make sure you add your dynamic QR code. This is another tactic that may be far cheaper than you expect.

30 – Boost your web speed
Before you put a second of time into social media, make sure the place you’re sending your audience -your website- is useful to them. Google has started emphasizing the speed and functionality of your website when it comes to ranking you in search, so perfecting this is a good use of your time.

31 – Make jazzy business cards
I know lots of people who don’t even use business cards anymore, they just drop their contact info directly to someone’s phone. That’s great, but if your business card is as cool as these ones, you know for sure you won’t get lost in the shuffle. Don’t forget your QR code.

32 – Parse your data
Your website can tell you where your visitors are coming from. Do you notice any new patterns? Can you spot anywhere new to look for buyers?

33 – Leverage your email signature
I recently saw an email signature that had a couple of video thumbnails in it, linking to some great how-to videos. It’s your real estate, might as well use it.

34 – Create a piece of “real” content
What I mean by this is a product that has intrinsic value; an asset. If you’re a trainer, maybe this is a workout plan. If you run a recruiting firm, maybe it’s an eBook on how to conduct the perfect job interview. Not only is this valuable to your audience, it lends to your credibility in your field.

35 – Parse your competitors’ keywords
Use online web analysis tools to see what key phrases your competitors are ranking for in search. Make sure you’re not missing any that might help you.

36 – Make your Google Local Business profile shine
Ensure your Google Local Business profile is fully filled out, including semi-regular update posts. This make Google happy, and when Google is happy, you get more visitors to your site.

37 – Guest blog
Contribute a post to a blog with a larger audience than yours. Their readers then have the opportunity to become your readers.

38 – Shoot a video testimonial on your phone
Don’t think you need to hire professionals to shoot a good testimonial video. from one of your clients. Viewers don’t care if a video is professionally shot, they just care if the video is relatively steady and the sound is good. This mic is a great cheap option for good sound, as long as you aren’t somewhere too noisy.

39 – Website opt-in form
Create a form on your website that helps people access information they want, such as a quote, in exchange for their name and email.

40 – Charitable campaign
Raise money for a non-profit organization that speaks to your business’s values. You can help the organization and do a little self-promotion at the same time. It’s truly win-win.

41 – Speaker series
Connect with likeminded and complementary business owners and plan a weekly Zoom speaker series. Each week, the entire group of speakers promotes that week’s speaker to their audiences. It’s like a chain letter except people actually want it.

42 – Revamp your “about us” page
We all spend so much time making sure our social media bios are compelling, but so many people haven’t done this for their website’s “About Us” section. Your visitors should understand your values and your “why.”

43 – Review your offer
How you present what you sell is an often-overlooked barrier to sales. Do people understand what it is they’re getting? Can they examine your offerings like a menu? Do you have too many options to choose from? Designing your offer should be deliberate and make sales easier.

44 – Get on a gift guide
If you have a B2C company, that is, if you sell to individuals not companies, offer your product or services to one of the many gift guide websites.

45 – “Extra value” gift cards
My hairdresser is doing this right now and I think it’s genius. You sell gift cards for a limited time only. When someone uses the card, they can redeem it for a value of 20% more than the purchase price. This is a great way to boost cash flow during slow sales periods.

46 – Trade Publications
Contribute articles to trade publications and websites in your industry.

47 – Commission a real poll

It’s not just governments and media organizations who can hire pollsters and commission a poll. You can too, and then you can release the findings to the news media and others in your industry.

48 – Circle of Friends campaign
When was the last time you asked the people who love you most for support? Just by reminding your friends and family what you do and asking them to spread the word, you can drive referrals.

49 – Create a pretend newspaper
I realize this looks like an item from my to-do list when I was 7, but I’m serious. Print several articles on your industry in a “newspaper” type format, grab a few friends, and hand them out on transit platforms. Make sure to include your QR code.

50 – Plan a FAM experience

FAM stands for familiarity marketing. This is basically inviting a bunch of people who have the power to get the word out (influencers, media, fancy people. You get it.) to experience what you do first hand, for free. People feel compelled to help you out if you’ve given them something.

I want to end on one bonus tip. Instead of burning all your free time promoting yourself on social, get your clients to do it for you. Encourage them to post about you (and create the conditions to make that easy for them) and you can enjoy the benefits of social media with none of the work. If you have questions about any of these tactics, I’m happy to explain in a bit more detail, no obligation. Just book a Zoom call. Can’t wait to hear from you!

picture of author bridget brown