Online marketing

How to market my small business in South Africa: 24 small business marketing ideas

Having strong online presence is extremely important for all kinds of businesses, it doesn’t matter if you’re a startup or an already established business racking in millions of rands, quarter after quarter.

As a matter of fact, majority of consumers learn about local businesses online than anywhere else. So you need to plant the seed in your potential customers online, before they even step into the street. By the time they see your competitor’s billboard by the road, their minds are already made up.

If you’re like most of small business owners looking for a way to track your marketing spend ROI and measure how impactful your brand is, you need digital marketing. In addition, you also need to constantly optimize your digital assets to maximize their effectiveness.

In this article, we’ll help you build a comprehensive digital marketing strategy using inbound marketing techniques, setting you up to attract new customers all over South Africa and ultimately grow your business.

Small business marketing in South Africa

As a small business owner, your energy and focus is spread across all areas of your business and marketing is often not your priority. This is a common mistake small business owners often make.

Look at it this way, the goal of marketing is to raise brand awareness and generate qualified leads that convert into sales. Without marketing, your business remains unknown and you have no customers. Small businesses depend on marketing to grab the attention of potential customers and increase their profits.

According to EDSE, as of 2020 Q3 there were over 2.3 million small businesses in South Africa. While this is good for the economy, as a business owner you’re looking at this as competition.

Sure, the number of competitors decreases drastically once you go into the specific profile of each business, but still you’ll have competition and you have to constantly stay ahead if you want to succeed.

Now, as a small business getting ahead of the competition can be challenging due to lack of resources (time, skilled personnel and budget). But, there are key marketing strategies that can help you maximize your marketing efforts, beat the competition and grow your small business.

Here are proven marketing ideas that will help you market your small business effectively in South Africa.

1. Start with a marketing plan

Marketing is about identifying your key target audience and sharing your message, the goal – to convert that audience into customers. To know what message to communicate, how and where to deliver it you need to research and identify your target market first. Researching your target market helps you craft a message that will make your business stand out.

A marketing plan works as a roadmap. It helps you set goals, understand your target audience and optimize the impact of your marketing campaigns. Put simply, it guides all your marketing activities.

Key aspects of a good marketing plan include:

  • Your long-term and short-term marketing goals
  • A clear description of your target market
  • One or more high-level marketing strategies and tactics

Here is a simple one page example of a marketing plan.

2. Identify your target audience

Not everyone will be your customer. The best way to maximize your marketing efforts, especially if you’re startup or a small business is to get narrow and identify your niche market. A niche market is a segment of a larger market that can be defined by its own unique needs, preferences, or identity that makes it different from the market at large.

As a small business, you can develop your own niche and appeal to your buyers within that niche. To do that you have to understand their pain points, challenges, trigger events, motivations and priorities.

You have to have some sort of understanding of what drives them, what they’re looking for and how they get to a purchasing decision. Gathering all this information goes a long way in helping you craft a message that resonates with them and makes a compelling case for your product/service.

To identify your key target audience, start by looking at your current customers. Find out what drove them to buying from you. From there, create a buyer persona. Creating a buyer persona will give you an even better understanding of who your buyers are and how you should approach them.

3. Differentiate yourself with a strong value proposition

Why should customers buy from you and not the competition? That answer you just came up with, is your value proposition. Notice it is very similar to your unique selling proposition (USP), but they’re not the same thing.

USP situates a business in relation to its competitors, the value proposition focuses more on how customers’ lives will be improved by working with the business. Put simply, a USP describes for your target market what makes your business unique, while value proposition answers the question: Why should they care about how unique you are?

You need that difference to differentiate your business from others. That difference is the reason why a buyer will be compelled to work with you and not your competition.

4. Invest in what’s already working for you

You’ve had some customers who’ve bought from you. Think about how you got them. As a small business it’s understandable that you might not have enough budget to experiment with different marketing techniques. In some cases you don’t have to.

You can still scale your business with your current tactics. You just have to pay attention to your data as it will inform you about where to put more effort.

For example, if you’ve managed to acquire customers through content marketing and you’re thinking about running social media ads and there’s not enough budget. You could instead double the amount of content you’ve been putting out which will result to more leads and customers at a relatively lower cost when compared to buying social media ads.

5. Retain your existing customers

It is less expensive to keep an existing customer than it is to get a new one. In 1990, Bain and Company found that it costs about 5 times more to acquire a new customer than to make a resale on an existing customer.

This means you should establish strong relationships with your existing customers and keep marketing to them. This presents many opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. The idea is this, customers who have experienced your product/service and customer service may already like and trust you. This is especially true if you’ve provided a great customer experience. Now they have a reason to keep coming back to you to do business with you.

6. Network

One of the better (and free) ways to build a business is to get out there, meet people, shake some hands and get to know people. Networking requires commitment and patience. But a strong network is one of the best assets you and your business will have.

So get out there and start investing in building genuine relationships with others. Get to know people, understand them and what challenges they often face. After all, how will you sell if you don’t know what people need and why they need it.

7. Create an amazing website

In today’s technology-based and super-connected world, the first thing a potential customer or employee does is Google your business. You need to have a professional-looking website for your small business. A website is one of the most important marketing assets a business can have.

Your website is where you will show who you are, what products or services you offer, where you are based, and how potential customers can get hold of you. Unlike other platforms which change policies every now and then, with your website you are the authority. You make your own policies and can always update to the latest design trends to keep your visitors interested.

On top of that, if you consistently publish relevant and valuable content on your website, it consistently generate organic traffic which you can convert into customers over time through re-targeting marketing. It basically a salesman working for you 24/7.

Here are the steps to follow to getting a website for your small business:

  • Decide on your domain name and check to see it’s available (domain registrars and hosting companies do this free of charge)
  • Get a domain registrar to register your domain name, host your website and emails. Most domain registrars will give you a domain for free if you host your website with them: Here a list of some of the best domain registrars in South Africa for your small business.
  • Next, prepare your website’s content (images and copy)
  • Finally, design your website using a CMS tool like WordPress, Squarespace, WIX, etc.
  • Or if this seems like a lot for you, hire our company to do it all for you.

Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and be sure to optimize for search engines.

8. Create a blog for your website to attract visitors

Having a fancy website is great but it becomes a liability if it’s just sitting there generating no leads for your business. Blogging is a great way to generate organic traffic to your website.

Your potential customers are out there looking for information relating to the kind of service or product your offer. There might not be ready to make a purchase yet. By providing them with solutions they’re looking for online you establish credibility and build trust.

By the time they’re ready to make a purchase, your brand is the first choice that comes to mind.

A blog is not a live journal for businesses. As much as you can post about your milestones and events, but a business blog is about producing educational content, around questions and terms your target customers are searching for online.

These search terms entered by your target customers are called keywords. The more content you produce around these keywords, the more opportunities you create for your business to get discovered in search engines.

Here are some blog posts ideas:

  • How-to and guide posts
  • Lists of strategies and resources (top 10, 5 best, 3 crucial, etc.)
  • Thought leadership posts showcasing your knowledge base
  • Example and template posts
  • Guest posts
  • Case studies and research findings

There are hundreds of tools, free and paid, that you can use to get started with business blogging. If you’re going to be creating your own blog posts make sure to read through this beginner’s guide to writing or read a complete guide to starting a business blog.

9. Share content on social media

To most people social media is just a platform for fun where people socialize and connect. But to a business social media is a powerful tool when used right. Besides getting your brand in front of millions of people, social media can also help improve your search engine rankings and boost your site’s visibility.

Social media works well if you post interesting content consistently. It’s a great tool for reaching out to millions of people in one place, and if you approach it right you might not even need to spend money on it.

You can post all kinds of content on social media, you can post images, videos, blog posts and written content. Visual content such as images and videos get the most attention and engagements.  

If you’ve been skeptical about marketing your small business on social media, here are some stats to convince you:

  • The number of social media users in South Africa at the start of 2022 was equivalent to 46.4 percent of the total population (28 million South Africans).
  • Social media users in South Africa increased by 3 million between 2021 and 2022.
  • 2 million people use Facebook in SA in 2022

If you’re not using social media for your business you’re missing out on underpriced attention and sales. Take a look at how much more likely social media users are to buy from brands that they follow on social media.

That percentage increases as more people are willing to buy from you if you provide a positive social media experience with your brand.

10. Advertise, advertise, advertise

Having a great product or service is a good starting point to building a successful business. But how will you sell your amazing product if people don’t know about it? This is why you have to get out there and tell people about who you are as a business, what you offer, how is it better than the competition and how to find you.

Advertising is one of the quickest ways to achieve that and immediately start attract potential customers. Organic methods such as content marketing and SEO may take a while for you to start seeing the results you’re hoping for. As a small business, you want to invest in guaranteed short-term methods.

Advertising is one of those methods. You will start seeing results almost immediately, especially with online advertising. There are various kinds of ads you can choose from.

There are Google ads, which are perfect if you know that your audience is searching the internet for the solution you provide. Alternatively there are social media ads, which offer even better targeting capabilities which guarantee that you only show your ad to your target niche market.

The best thing about digital marketing is that you can actually track your ads performance and tweak them as you wish along the way. Unlike print where you have no way of knowing how many people actually saw your advert.

Advertising is not a one-size fits all solution. Experiment if you have the means and find what works best for you, but whatever you do, you must advertise.

11. Nurture your leads with email marketing

Email marketing is a critical aspect of your overall marketing strategy. Email is simple, free and much easier to scale as your email list grows. All you need is an email marketing tool in place to help with your email campaigns and automation.

Many of these tools are cheap, some even free, like MailChimp which has a free plan suitable for email marketing beginners. As a business owner you’re busy and do not have all the time for running email campaigns. The best thing about these tools is that you can automate your campaigns.

For examples, you can set it up so that every time you get a new subscriber, they receive a pre drafted welcome email. And after a couple of days, they receive another one which could be a valuable piece of content. All this can happen without you having to personally send these emails every time you get a new subscriber. 

To get started with developing your email marketing plan, check out this guide from HubSpot.

12. Pay-per-click Campaigns

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is a form of digital advertising and is excellent for reaching more people online. It offers the benefit of generating highly targeted traffic to your website and potential leads.

To maximize the effectiveness of this strategy, you need to carefully select your keywords to target. The trick is to target long-tail keywords instead of broad search terms which will be more costly and harder to rank for.

For example, suppose you’re a corporate lawyer based in Cape Town. You will want to rank high for a key word “corporate lawyer” but the term is too broad and the competition is fierce. What you must do instead is target a long-tail key word such as “best corporate lawyer in Cape Town”

Long-tail key words have less competition and will generate more leads for you at a lower cost. So go on ahead and try to anticipate your target market’s needs and what search terms they enter in Google when they’re looking a product or service similar to yours.

13. Create a customer referral program

In general, a referral customer costs way less to acquire and convert. And when they finally do convert there’s a high possibility they become loyal customers.

Most people are willing to provide a referral when asked. They’re even more willing if they’re really impressed with your service/product. So don’t be shy to ask for customer referrals. Here are simple steps to help you get started with your referral program:

  • Put together a contact list of your current and old customers, and people you’ve done business with before.
  • Identify those who could be your brand advocates and give you a referral.
  • Identify those who appreciate your business, or who are valuable contacts based on their position and influence.
  • Decide on how you will incentivize your advocates.
  • Promote your referral program

14. Try out influencer marketing

Identify individuals in your area with a large social media following who are considered to be experts in your field. When you’ve identified these individuals, reach out to them and see if they’d be willing to endorse your brand and ask them to share an experience they’ve had with your brand with their followers.

Influencers have a large social media following that values their opinions. One shout out from an influencer could be a game changer for your business. Influencers put your brand in front of thousands if not millions of social media users. Seeing that their favorite influencer trusts your product, followers may also trust your products and even want to try it out.

Getting an influencer who will volunteer might be difficult, so also consider working out a deal that benefits both parties. You can also consider paying one or two on a freelance basis if your marketing budget allows. Currently it is estimated that there are 15 022 social media influencers in South Africa with between 1,000 and 10 million followers. That’s a lot of reach you could be taking advantage of.

15. Get started with SEO

SEO is a tactic that is used to entice Google to promote your business by ranking you first on their search engine results page (SERP). SEO isn’t just one tactic, it is a set of practices that align your website with Google’s ranking algorithms. These practices work collectively together to improve your ranking.

There are many factors that play into ranking at the top of Google’s SERP. Some of these factors include keyword placements, content length, and quality of your content, website loading speed and how often you update your content.

When a user enters a search term, Google tries to find the most relevant, highest-quality piece of content to present to that user.

SEO makes your website more visible to potential customers looking for solutions that your brand, product or service provide. HubSpot puts it this ways: it’s the basic concept of structuring your website and blog posts to be in the best shape for appearing first on search engines.

SEO tactics to promote business include:

  • Buyer persona research
  • Consistently publishing original high-quality content.
  • Maintaining high web page load speeds
  • Researching keywords and creating content around those keyword to include in your website.
  • On-page and Off-page SEO research

Together, these tactics will help you get a better understanding of how your target market is searching online and position website to get more exposure.

Small business marketing tips

1. Create a buyer persona

Who is your ideal customer? What are they like? What do they like? What are their pains? Do they listen to Amapiano music or Afro Soul? You have to imagine what they look like.

Creating your buyer personal will make it easy for you to personalize your marketing communication. You will be able to build a website that is optimized for them. You will know how to write copy that resonates with them.

While compiling your buyer persona you will get to know them better. When you’re done, you’ll be better positioned to figure out what type of things they are most likely to search for online so you can target those search terms as key words in your website’s copy, blog posts and SEO.

2. Set up your Google my business profile

Set up, verify, and optimize your Google my business profile. This is what allows your business to show up on Google Maps and Google local search results section.

The most important thing here is to verify ownership of the business being listed. Without verifying ownership Google will not show your business in Google Maps or local search results section.

Keep in mind that other local small businesses are also listed on Google. When customers looking for a product or service similar to yours enter a search term with your specific location or “near me”, your competitors will also appear in search results. This is why you need to optimize your listing so that your business will show up higher or first in search results. 

If you have your website and Google my business listing optimized and ranking high, Google will be basically promoting your business 24/7.

3. Create listings on online business directories

Consumers routinely visit online directories to identify a businesses that best fits their specific needs at that moment. These websites tend to get high traffic which you will be exposed to if your business is listed with them.

In addition to that, most online directories websites will have high domain authority. So your business profile page might show up on the first page of Google through one of these domains. These online listings can help enhance your online presence, promoting your business to high-intent customers.

Creating a listing on these sites won’t take more than a few minutes of your time. To make things even smoother, you can get started by going through this list of the top online business directories to market your small business in South Africa.

4. Leverage local events

Business owners often miss the opportunity get extra exposure from Attending, hosting, or sponsoring local events. Attending, hosting, or sponsoring events is a great way to promote your business while strengthening your connection with local customers.         

By event we’re not just referring to conferences or industry-specific events. Get creative, think outside the box and sponsor events where your potential customers might frequent.

You can run a class at you physical location, or at local community hall, organize seasonal events or competitions. There are so many options out there that you can choose from. What’s important is that you prioritize events that you know for a fact that your potential customers will enjoy or go to.

For example, if you’re a sport brand/store, you could host an annual sport competition of some sort or sponsor one – whichever makes the most financial sense for you. Be sure to have your brand name and logo around the event. These could be banners, screens, etc. Point is, make sure people see your brand. After all this is marketing.

5. Get local press

Reach out to your local newspapers, blogs and online publications and see if you can contribute an article or two.  You might find this idea of featuring your business in the local press somewhat intimidating. But it’s far less intimidating when you consider the fact that these publication are always looking for fresh content. Content is their lifeline.

Your contribution could be anything from a thought leadership piece to you offering and or giving advice and tips. You could write about an event you are hosting, or invite a local blogger to attend for free in exchange for a feature. It can be anything related to your field or business, as long as it is newsworthy.

If you’ve been the one doing the writing and the first couple of articles you contribute do very well, they might even consider making you a regular contributor. This would give your business more exposure and locals will grow to like and trust you.

6. Partner with local groups and organizations

Supporting a good cause by collaborating with local groups and organizations will boost your local visibility and show your prospects that you care about your community and want to help make it better. These partnerships will promote your brand and earn your business trust from potential customers who are in support of the same cause.

There are many ways in which you can get involved with such groups. For example, you could donate a fraction of your profits, organize a fundraiser, or host an event.

The trick is choosing the right cause to support. You want to choose a cause that is compatible with your business. If you are a school shoe manufacture, for example, you could support or make a donation to an organization whose mission is to make sure that every school kid has full uniform for school.

7. Adopt video marketing

Video consumption is on the rise. More people would rather watch a video to learn about a business, product or service than to read about it. Furthermore, research done by HubSpot found that more than 50% of consumers want to see videos from brands.

This makes perfect sense when you consider that visual content such as videos and images get more engagements on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.  So this is the time for you to get started with video marketing for your small business.

8. Host a free webinar

You could allow potential customers to sign up for a short online course that you’ll be hosting. This short course exposes your potential customer to your brand. During the webinar you can give tips and answer questions that potential customers may have relating to your industry, product or service.

This is one of the very best ways to build credibility and trust in your field and can also generate leads for you. In addition, you can record the live webinar and then upload that video on your website and on YouTube to increase your brand’s visibility.

9. Experiment with co-marketing

Co-marketing is great strategy for reaching an even wider audience you are otherwise unable to market to directly.

It works like this, you identify a local business in your area that is not a direct competitor but offers a product or service to a similar audience as yours. You approach this business and offer to work with them on a cobranded campaign where you promote each other through various channels.

This way, your partner brand gets access to your audience, and you likewise get access to their audience where their fan base learns about you and your business.

Summary of how to market a small business in South Africa

As you can see, there are many options to choose from when it comes to marketing your small business. Some are completely free and some require a serious budget. Implementing even just a few of these strategies will have a huge impact on your business.

Some tactics like Blogging and SEO may take a long time produce the results you want. While others such as PPC and social media advertising will give you results almost immediately. It is up to you which one you choose to prioritize. The most important thing is for you to regularly review and revise your strategy.

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