Lead generation can seem like a daunting – or confusing – task for small business owners, especially if you don't know which strategy will work best for your business.
First, what is lead generation marketing, and do you need some crazy budget to do it? Lead generation marketing is simply a strategy – whether online or offline – designed to promote your business and its products and services to your ideal prospects at the right time.
Let's first talk about your ideal prospects. These are people who are very likely to respond to your marketing and buy from you, whether immediately or after some nurturing. How do you know who these people are? Easy. look through your customer base, find your best customers (the most loyal, the highest spenders, etc.) and tabulate their demographics. Chances are, you'll find at least a couple demographics that define your ideal prospect.
What about timing? How do you reach your ideal prospects at the exact time they need you, so they instantly jump at the phone and spout their credit card numbers to you? Sounds nice, but with inbound marketing, you need to utilize a strategy called nurturing. Fortunately enough, today's technological advances make it easy to promote a business consistently, thereby nurturing your prospects over time to warm them up to your business, so that when they do need you (timing!), they think of and call only you.
I explain four budget-friendly lead generation tools below that you can use based on the results of our 89,030 small business clients, including:
- Lead generation strategy in digital marketing, i.e. digital ads run locally
- Inbound lead generation from two of the top social media networks
- Demand generation using a very underutilized but powerful marketing tool
- Employing marketing automation with an easy and affordable offline strategy
So, let's get started!
1. Get on Google AdWords.
Google has become a must-have lead generation tool. I don't personally know anyone who doesn't use Google every day. Here's how Google plays into your inbound marketing strategy:
When you search for something on Google – whether it's a dentist, restaurant, plumber, etc. – you see three things right away:
- Paid Google results at the top of the search page (with the tiny green box "Ad" symbol)
- Google maps results, directly underneath the paid ads
- Organic results (placement within which can't be directly bought)
And with most clicks coming from Page 1 of Google – and only a minimal amount of clicks happening on Page 2 – you must embrace Google as a vital marketing tool for demand generation of your business.
It is fairly easy to get your business on Page 1 of the search results using Google's paid advertising platform, called AdWords. In this case, your search result would fall into category No. 1 above and have a small green "Ad" box next to it.
Your ad's placement is determined by keyword phrases that are bid on. The higher your bid, the higher your ad will be shown in the rankings, and the more likely your ads will produce leads as part of your lead generation strategy.
Every time someone clicks on your ad to visit your website, you pay Google. Thus, these ads are called pay–per–click ads. Clicks can be as cheap as a few pennies per click or on the pricier side, depending on how competitive your industry and keywords are.
For example: If you were a dentist in Dallas, Texas, you would bid on keywords like "Dallas dentist" and not keywords like "auto mechanic" or "Dallas plumber." And, if you're bidding on "Dallas dentist," a $50 per-click bid will pretty much guarantee you the top spot on every search for that keyword – whereas a $0.05 per click bid may not get you any exposure at all.
Of course, those bids in the above example are outrageous for the sake of demonstration. An actual peek at AdWords (which I have open now as I type) shows that "top of page" bid estimates for the keyword "Dallas Dentist" range between $7.61 and $17. That means that any bid over $17 will pretty much guarantee you a top spot, whereas anything under $7 won't give you much exposure at all.
Of course, some other variables go into play here, such as:
- The quality of your website
- How long people spend there
- How many pages they click through and visit
- How past campaigns on AdWords have performed
- How relevant your ads are to the searched keyword,
- And a few more, but these are the key signals Google uses
Unless you want to spend a lot of time engineering an organic Page 1 ranking, it makes sense to pay a fee per click to get there fast.
If your business derives its customers locally (like most small businesses), you can run ads directly within Google Maps.
Your ads not only will be seen inside the Google Maps app (which has 1 billion downloads) with a purple ad icon, but they will also be shown on Page 1 of Google in the "Maps" area. (Given your bid is the top one.) This could offer a big advantage if your business serves the local area.
The other advantage offered by Google Maps ads is that you can use your real Google My Business listing for your map ad, which is great news if you have several Google reviews – this instantly adds mountains of credibility.
One more thing – for your local ads, make sure you enable the "location extension" in Google AdWords. This will sync your ads to your business's address and offer many perks to encourage foot traffic and local calls.
Now, the downside. These ads require active monitoring and tweaking to keep your spend under control, or else those $17 clicks will quickly add up.
Ideally, you will want to set aside a few hours a week on your calendar to check up on your ads to make sure this digital inbound lead generation strategy is not only producing clicks (which you're paying for) but customers that grow your bottom line.
2. Run coordinated ads on Facebook and Instagram.
You can reach your prospects where they spend time and consume content every day: social media.
Because Facebook owns Instagram, you can run ads on both networks simultaneously from the Facebook Business Manager, which operates on a pay-per-click model similar to AdWords.
Depending on your budget, you can cap how much you want to spend either as a daily budget, or run the ad for a set amount of time and limit the budget expenditure by set dates. For example, you run the ad for two weeks, and during those two weeks, you set your budget to $150 for clicks on your ads.
Here are a few tips for running Facebook/Instagram ads:
- Think each ad through to the goal – if you're driving people to your website, ensure the page they land on matches the ad and is set up to capture leads.
- Test different audiences against each other to see which ones generate the most clicks.
- Test different ads against each other to see what pulls the best.
The biggest issue I see small business owners run into with Facebook ads is that they spend money to send traffic and leads to their website, but there's no cohesion between the ad and the page they arrive on, or, worse, there's no clear way for these visitors to contact you.
Whatever you offer on your social media ads (and I recommend that you offer something of value to encourage interest and action from prospects), I recommend you broadcast that special offer on your website and put a contact form "above the fold" on your website so prospects don't have to hunt for how to contact you. (Above the fold is an old newspaper term for front-page items you could see on a newspaper rack. In website terms, above the fold includes website elements that are visible without any scrolling.)
When someone clicks on your social media ads, they should arrive on your website, recognize where they are and know exactly how to contact you quickly for the thing they want. A word to the wise: These ads also require ongoing management and maintenance, like the Google AdWords platform. Be sure to build this personal time cost into your budget at the onset.
3. Contribute your expertise to fellow blogs and magazines to build credibility.
Public relations is an area I don't see enough business owners dedicating time to … largely because they are so busy running the day to day of their businesses.
That said, the reputation of your business is more important than ever in generating credibility and trust in your products and services. Plus, PR is free to you and only requires a time commitment to make it work.
There are usually two types of PR pickup that work best for businesses:
- The type where a publication writes an article about you and/or your business and why it's relevant
- The type where you contribute an article to a publication relevant to your area of expertise
The second type of pickup is much easier to get, and I suggest you start there.
Here are some tips:
Locate blogs, magazines, newspapers, podcasts, and even radio shows that your audience pays attention to. For example, if you are a plumber, this could be as simple as your local newspaper.
Now, what do you say? This is the hard part.
You'll want to create an article idea that solves a problem for your target audience – usually a problem you are uniquely and professionally qualified to handle.
Here are some examples:
- If you're a plumber, write an article about how to avoid frozen pipes in the winter or improve water pressure.
- If you're a dentist, write an article comparing the different orthodontic aligners out there today – there are so many!
- If you're a real estate agent, write about neighborhood trends or design choices that have the biggest impact on a sale.
Once you have a few loose article ideas/discussion points down, contact someone at the publication or outlet of your choice to see if they're interested in your ideas. You can usually find contact information for editorial staff on an "About Us" or "Contact Us" webpage. And – this is important – don't give up! They may say they aren't interested or may not even reply at all, so you'll want to follow up until they bite.
Another easy way to generate media pickup is to be there when writers and journalists need an expert. But how do you know when they need you??
The answer is HARO, which stands for "Help A Reporter Out." Journalists all over the country constantly need experts to weigh in on their current piece, so they submit requests for experts via HARO.
For example, a home magazine might be writing a story about protecting your home against hurricanes. Their writer would send a request via HARO looking for roofers and contractors with expertise to sit down for a 10-minute phone call. You only have to respond to their request via the email they provide, and if they choose you, you'll be featured!
You can sign up for a free HARO account here, which will give you daily or weekly emails with many possible submissions that may apply to your business. If you reply to one, and your business is interviewed or featured, you just got yourself some free publicity!
Remember, the point of public relations isn't touting your accomplishments. It is a marketing strategy that positions your business with likable causes, brands, people and purposes.
Use direct mail to reach consumers.
Believe it or not, I'm talking about "old school" direct mail! And direct mail is still flying under the radar compared to the proliferation of digital outreach.
Let's look at the response rate by the numbers (These figures are all representative of marketing to new prospects, rather than current clients/customers.):
- Email, paid search and social media (2019): 1%
- Online display (2019): 1%
- Direct mail (average from 2003 to 2015): 1.6%
- Direct mail (2017): 2.9%
- Direct mail (2018): 5%
The biggest drawback to direct mail is the cost of postage, which is set by the United States Postal Service and makes up the bulk of any campaign's cost.
You can lower your postage cost by selecting more affordable delivery methods. The cheapest is EDDM (or Every Door Direct Mail), because every single door and mailbox receives your postcard. There is zero sorting or extra work, so the USPS offers the lowest price. But there is some tradeoff for the savings – and it's that you might end up wasting money on postage by mailing a postcard to unqualified households or businesses that will never become a customer of yours.
To maximize targeting capabilities while still keeping postage costs low, I recommend a mailing list type called "resident/occupant," and it is easily the best of both worlds.
Your postcards will be delivered to every door along a specific mail route (so you save money, like with EDDM), but you can select each mail route based on demographic information, like average household income, age and presence of children.
If your business is even more niche or selective, you may want to forego discounted postage rates for full targeting. In this case, your mail would only be delivered to those who meet your demographic criteria – and as far as what criteria you can target, the sky is just about the limit.
Regardless of your list type, you want a good quality list. Ensure your list provider will guarantee their list – any legitimate list provider should offer at least 90% deliverability. If they won't guarantee deliverability, proceed with caution.
There is one aspect of direct mail that's even more important than the right mailing list, and that is mailing consistently.
I'm talking about reaching prospects a minimum of three to six times within three months to reach the bare minimum of consistency.
I know this sounds oddly self-serving given I own a direct mail company, but this is advice I built my business on. We started mailing 1,000 postcards every week back in 1998, and now we mail 180,000 postcards weekly. Last year our revenue topped $59 million. So I speak from personal experience here.
Simply put, consistency trumps everything when it comes to direct mail. So whatever you choose to do, commit to it!
And, don't lose sight of your #1 most valuable resource – it isn't money, it is time. Once you have successfully piloted a marketing tactic and proven that the ROI is there, keep it going. Put it on autopilot (if you can).
When you are ready, there are companies that can handle all your digital marketing (Google, Facebook, Instagram, websites) as a coordinated effort with your direct mail, such as a product that I developed to help save business owners time.
My main point is this: Find a marketing formula that empirically works for your business first. You do not have to break the bank doing it. Once you find the best solution? Pour on the coals.
- Petrescu, Philip. “Google Organic Click-Through Rates in 2014.” Moz, Moz, 2 Oct. 2014, https://moz.com/blog/google-organic-click-through-rates-in-2014.
Haskel, Debora. “Direct Mail Response Rates Dominate Other Channels.” IWCO Direct, 15 Jan. 2019, https://www.iwco.com/blog/2019/01/16/direct-mail-response-rates-dominate-other-channels/