4 Small Business Marketing Tips to Grow Your Customer Base

This post was contributed by Bonfire.

When it comes to managing a small business, getting the word out about your company can be challenging. Small businesses don’t have nearly as much money to splurge on marketing as large companies that are backed by thousands of customers. 

However, promotion is just as important (if not more important) for small businesses. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get a new company off the ground or if you’ve been in business for several years and simply want to grow your audience — effective marketing is crucial.

Not only does a smart marketing strategy connect you with new customers, but it also empowers you to grow loyalty with existing and past consumers. That’s why you should constantly brainstorm new ways that you can engage your audience and connect with qualified leads.

With a bit of creativity, you can promote your small company and grow your customer base without blowing your entire budget. This guide will share four small business marketing ideas that your team can easily implement starting today, including:

  1. Create custom t-shirts.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Engage with customers using digital marketing.
  4. Partner with local nonprofits.

Whether you’re looking for digital methods or would like to take a more traditional face-to-face approach, there’s something on this list for everyone. Let’s kick things off by discussing a strategy that any business can (and should!) use.

1. Create custom t-shirts

Company t-shirts are a long-standing tradition that can build brand awareness, even when the design is as simple as a logo. Some companies choose to give custom merchandise to employees as a free gift to boost morale, but you can also sell them to your loyal customers.

T-shirts are a highly efficient way to advertise your business. Think about it: it’s hard to walk down the street without seeing someone wearing a t-shirt that’s branded to a company — regardless of whether they work there or not. In this way, they work similarly to a word-of-mouth referral. When people see someone wearing the shirt, it communicates that the individual trusts the company. 

Plus, each time someone puts on your branded t-shirt, they’ll be reminded of your business, keeping you top of mind. With t-shirts, you get the double benefit of connecting with new prospects while reinforcing brand loyalty among current customers.

Here are a few tips on how to make merchandise that your employees and customers want to wear:

  • Brand it to the company. Be sure to use recognizable elements like your company’s logo, name, and official colors. You can also tie in illustrations and phrases that communicate your business’s core purpose. Even if you aren’t confident in your artistic abilities, designing a t-shirt doesn’t have to be intimidating — it actually can be as simple as putting your logo on the front of the shirt with your official colors. If you still want to be creative, you can always enlist the help of your t-shirt provider’s design team who will help bring your ideas to life.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality for a lower price. Small businesses don’t want a single dollar to go to waste, but any effective business owner knows the value of spending some extra money on high-quality products. That includes your company’s t-shirts. Material that falls apart or a design that fades after a few washes will result in unhappy buyers and the t-shirt in the garbage. Make sure you go with a t-shirt provider that has a track record of creating high-quality products. They should also be willing to work with you to find a solution if your products are misprinted or poorly printed in any way.

Putting thought into your company’s t-shirts will help you create something that people actually want. If you’re struggling to come up with a design or choose the right colors and shirt styles, you can always ask your employees and customers what they’d be interested in. As we’ll discuss in the next section, knowing what your audience wants will help you create opportunities that they’ll engage with.

2. Know your audience

It doesn’t matter what market you’re targeting. You could run a musical instrument store, a dog daycare, or your own landscaping company. Whatever the case may be, if you want to develop effective marketing strategies and messages, you need to understand what makes people want to buy from you. 

Understanding who your customers are allows you to develop strategies for connecting with people who share those same needs and interests.

The quickest way to get to know your audience is by looking at the data you’ve gathered. By leveraging the data in your CRM, you can discover similarities and create buyer personas based on your customers’ characteristics. This process is called customer profiling, and it enables you to create representations of your ideal target customers using their demographics, behavioral patterns, and motivations.

You can then leverage these customer personas to:

  • Send targeted messages based on where they are in the buying funnel. Personalize your sales and marketing outreach to those who are likely to respond. Segmentation allows you to have conversations with the right customers at the right times. For instance, someone who’s only signed up for your email marketing list might need more nurturing through additional outreach, whereas someone who has engaged at multiple touchpoints and might be ready to buy would benefit more from specific recommendations.
  • Develop products that fit their needs. Your marketing won’t do any good if your products aren’t up to par. Your service or product development team can use your customer personas to create offerings that align with your customers’ motivations, interests, and goals. Thus, your promotional materials will naturally yield greater results.

Knowing your audience empowers you to create relevant and valuable content that they’ll want to interact with. Instead of flooding their inboxes with countless sales pitches, show your audience that you’re listening and catering to their needs.

Be sure to routinely clean your customer database, too. “Dirty” data can throw your entire marketing strategy off, and keeping your database clean will allow you to maintain an accurate representation of your audience. 

3. Engage with customers using digital marketing

Small business marketers have a lot on their plates, and digital marketing has made outreach much more accessible to organizations regardless of limited budgets and time constraints. Whereas traditional marketing such as sending direct mail and making phone calls can be time-intensive and costly, technology simplifies backend processes and makes it incredibly easy to communicate with customers without breaking the bank.

Social media and email marketing are two of the most accessible platforms that can help you meet people where they already are: online. Let’s take a look at both of these types of platforms and how they can help you expand your customer base.

Social media

Social media has taken the world by storm. With more than 4.2 billion active users, these platforms enable you to break down geographical barriers and get your messages in front of more people than ever possible before. Traditional platforms like Facebook and Instagram on top of newer ones like TikTok are a great way to communicate with your customers. However, you have to leverage them strategically if you want to pique users’ interest.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or are reassessing your current approach, here are some tactics that will help you refine your social media strategies and connect with your audience:

  • Interact with customers in your posts’ comments. Compared to other forms of advertising, social media is unique in that you can start a two-way conversation using comments. Whatever you post, be sure to read and respond to comments, whether people have questions or they’re looking to voice feedback.
  • Take a look at how your competitors are leveraging social media. While you certainly want to develop your own strategies, you can reduce the learning curve by seeing what works for similar businesses. You’ll gain inspiration by looking at real-world examples, and you might even be introduced to unique strategies you might not have otherwise considered.
  • Boost your posts with paid social media advertising. While social media is free for anyone to use, you can also leverage advertising tools to boost your posts and get them in front of the right people. With help from data marketing technology, you can target custom audiences using the demographic, behavioral, and interest data that social media platforms automatically gather.

Be intentional with your social media strategy. Posting without a clear content strategy or regular schedule will ultimately be a waste of your time. Pay attention to what types of posts your followers seem to interact with the most, whether they’re commenting, liking, or sharing them. Then, tailor your future strategy to account for that.


Email marketing is one of the most cost-efficient ways to communicate with your audience. Whether you’re sharing updates on new products or following up on a recent purchase, existing customers will enjoy staying in the loop with your business. However, email is also great for acquiring new customers. Someone who isn’t quite ready to make a purchase can easily sign up for your email list to stay connected. You can engage them with content special offers based on what they’ve shown interest in, and then, when they’re ready to buy, they can easily do so.

When it comes to acquisition email marketing, there are several best practices that your team can leverage to kickstart and cultivate relationships, such as:

  • Make it easy to sign up for your newsletter. Present people with plenty of opportunities to sign up, whether they’re exploring your website or browsing in person. If you interact with them in your store, offer to sign them up. Then, for online consumers, make sure to include the option in your website’s header or footer, so it appears on every page. Consider also including a pop-up encouraging them to sign up, so the option is incredibly clear as soon as someone visits your site.
  • Create custom email lists. Instead of sending the same generic appeal to everyone, create custom lists where you can send targeted messages. As we mentioned, segmenting your audience makes it easier to target people in different parts of the sales funnel. Plus, you can present specific products and services that different groups are likely to be interested in.
  • Respect when someone unsubscribes. If someone requests to unsubscribe from your marketing list, don’t make it impossible to do so. If you don’t respect their decision, they might grow annoyed and decide not to return to your business in the future. The last thing you want is to tarnish your business’s reputation.

Email is an essential element of any organization’s digital marketing strategy. Along with these strategies, pay attention to what content drives people to open your emails and click through to the landing pages you link to. Whether it’s a particular subject line or the way you word CTAs, you’ll start creating more engaging emails in no time.

4. Partner with local nonprofits

These days, businesses are becoming more aware of their corporate social responsibility. What this means is that they provide support to charitable causes, whether through donations, volunteering, or free promotion. 

Nonprofits treat partnerships like a trade where the business offers financial or in-kind support, and in exchange, the nonprofit promotes that business. While you commonly see this done by bigger businesses, small and local businesses can get in on the action.

Partnering with nonprofits is a proven way to generate referrals. Supporting worthwhile causes — whether financially or in-kind — positions your business as a philanthropic company that cares about the community it’s a part of. 

As you get started with corporate philanthropy, keep these tips in mind:

  • Partner with organizations that have similar or complementary values to yours. Instead of partnering with any organization, do your research beforehand. Your business will be associated with the causes and organizations you choose to support, so make sure you don’t support organizations that go against your company’s core values.
  • Sponsor events if there’s room in your budget. Even if your budget is limited, nonprofits will often offer sponsorship tiers, in which they offer different perks for different prices. That way, you can still be publicly recognized even without being a headline sponsor.
  • Provide volunteer and in-kind support. Remember, being socially responsible doesn’t mean you have to give financially. Encourage your employees to volunteer at local nonprofits’ events. Chances are, they’ll be able to advocate for your business in some way (like by wearing your company’s t-shirt or by including your company’s name on their name tags). You can also provide in-kind gifts depending on what your nonprofit partners need. This might include venue space or free products and services.

However you get involved with local nonprofits, you’ll be able to build your brand reputation in your community and benefit from the valuable relationships you form. Not to mention, according to Re:Charity’s guide to corporate philanthropy, boosting employee morale is a primary benefit of creating a well-crafted CSR program. You’ll get your employees involved in bettering their community and communicate that you support their values and personal development by doing so.

Marketing your small business doesn’t have to be time- or labor-intensive! You just have to be smart about the strategies you implement, so you can get in front of the right prospects. Whether you sell branded t-shirts or invest in digital marketing, there are plenty of ways to grow your customer base and strengthen existing customer relationships. We recommend that you start with these proven strategies and then branch out to new strategies as you come to understand what drives your audience’s loyalty to your brand.

About the Author

Kevin Penney, CMO & Co-Founder of Bonfire

Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.

Written by Gabrielle Perham, MBA