Small businesses across the country are becoming more and more tech-savvy and discovering marketing channels and tools that were previously too expensive or simply not yet invented.

It’s an exciting time to grow a brand and build your customer base – without blowing your budget.

What once was reserved for enterprise-level corporations is now, thanks to cloud-based computing, increasingly affordable to the smallest of local brick-and-mortar establishments – bringing advanced marketing resources to mom ‘n’ pop shops around the country. And yet, to effectively leverage the many options available – and stay within a limited, shoestring budget – small businesses still need to choose the channels and tools that they use wisely. It’s easy to do a lot of things poorly instead of just doing a few select things well.

The realization that ‘we need more customers!’ can be a little overwhelming, so it’s helpful to consider exactly what modern customer acquisition entails and then break it down into its constituent parts.

I believe that the core process of small business customer acquisition can be summed up with this simple mantra:

Wow Customers, Capture Their Details, Communicate Value, Encourage Word of Mouth, Drive Repeat Business!

Below I’ve broken out this mantra and then had a look at some of the tools, tactics and channels that can really make a difference to your business.’Wow’ Customers In-StoreIt might not seem like a core part of ‘marketing’ but the in-store experience is crucial. In fact, the most important step you can take to drive more customers to your business is to really ‘wow’ the customers you already have. Make sure your staff

It might not seem like a core part of ‘marketing’ but the in-store experience is crucial. In fact, the most important step you can take to drive more customers to your business is to really ‘wow’ the customers you already have. Make sure your staff are well-trained – meaning they should be both knowledgeable on the product/service you’re offering – and skilled in making people feel welcome and happy. If you’d like a primer in how to train your sales assistants, be sure to check out The Small Business Guide to The Art of Sales by our very own VP of Sales and Marketing, Brian Zang.

I’ve seen consumers walk up to a restaurant’s door, pull out their phone, check Yelp for a review, and then turn on their heels and walk away because of what they read. Yelp, Google, and other local business listings are probably the most powerful small business marketing tools available today and the only real way to ‘work’ these systems is to wow your customers so much that they want to leave reviews again and again.

Tactics here are the same as they’ve been for centuries. Go above and beyond, stand out from the crowd, and, above all else, deliver exceptional value for money (remember: this doesn’t mean cheap, it means value).

Capture Details

The next step that your marketing operation should take is to start capturing customer data for each transaction. Knowledge is power, and in the case of small business, knowledge comes in the form of contact details and preference indicators. This can take the form of email address, telephone number, address, shoe size, favorite color of maxi-dress, preferred type of muffin or a hundred other things. You need to exploit every opportunity you have to collect this data and establish an informed line of communication between your business and your customers.

To collect customer information effectively, you need to consider two key things: ease and incentives. Small businesses need to make it easy and seamless for the customer to divulge contact info – and then provide them with some form of reward for this action. Here are some tips:


  • Providing multiple points within your store where a customer can sign up for a mailing list or provide their details in some manner. Your point of sale system is a key ally in this regard, but you should also use a simple paper and pen sign-up list.
  • Mobile Payment technology provides an exciting way to build up this list, but make sure to choose a provider that shares customer data with you. They are your customers after all.
  • Ask people to ‘sign in’ to their social media profiles for access to your Wi-Fi (This is a service offered by a company called SocialSign.In).


  • First and foremost, you can’t go wrong with a good ol’ fashioned discount. Let people know that by signing up for this mailing list, they are going to receive discounts, special offers, etc.
  • Start a Members-Only club. Your discounts and promotions are only available to members. It’s free to join…but, the customer will need to sign up using their email. For certain businesses, say a boutique men’s barber, this kind of ‘membership’ approach can offer a lot of cache to the consumer.
  • Perhaps the least subtle of email collection techniques, ‘Sign up and Win’ competitions can, nevertheless, be highly effective. Especially if the prize is something really special.
  • You can incentivize customers to check out your Social Media profiles by letting them know about special deals and promotions only available via your Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Event marketing can be an effective tool for email collection. Put on a regular schedule of in-store events (cooking classes, salsa classes, etc.) and you’ll be able to ask people to sign up without it feeling like part of the regular ‘sales’ process.

Communicate Value

Once you’ve grabbed the contact information of your customers or prospective customers, your job has only just begun. It isn’t enough to simply add customers to a stale email list and push out promotions at regular intervals. You need to entice them to engage with your social media platforms, share your content with others and stay in touch regularly. You need to be remarkable, educational, and stand out from the noise. But how exactly do you do that?

Small businesses have a unique opportunity to connect intimately with their customers, often because of a local vibe or community connection. Social media, a natural outpouring of community connections, is an ideal and affordable channel to funnel all of your small business branding into an interactive and vibrant personality. Feature local news, team up with other local businesses to leverage each others’ audiences, and play up your local presence in every image and every message. Make it personal – because in your case, it really is.

Above all else, make it clear why shopping/dining with you is a value-added experience. You will never compete with big-box retailers or chain restaurants on price. So, you have to show why you are uniquely positioned to offer them a singular experience.

If you’d like advice on how to set up an email campaign, or how to devise a content marketing strategy, be sure to check out The ShopKeep Masters Series guides on Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Content Marketing. You’ll be a pro-marketer in no time.

Encourage Word of Mouth and Drive Repeat Business

Word of Mouth and Driving Repeat Business are listed here together because the most effective marketing merges the two. It can be encapsulated in the term ‘community’. You want to build a community around your store or restaurant and constantly engage that community in conversation. If you do this, the word will spread naturally and word of mouth is, without a doubt, the most valuable tool you have in your marketing arsenal.

Every local and regional community offers the opportunity to get involved in community affairs, social events, local business meetings or other grassroots affairs that will help cement your presence in the community. Do you run a local children’s clothing boutique? Consider offering your space to the local Girl Scout troop for monthly meetings, or donate clothes for a school fashion show fundraiser. Selling kitchen appliances? Offer monthly cooking classes via in-store demonstrations featuring easy-to-make, mouth-watering recipes – and post pictures of events on your blog, social media profiles and community event board. Don’t forget to share pictures of attendees with your customers; they’ll love tagging themselves and sharing your pictures with others.

Finding new customers for your small business takes work, but as a local small business you have the opportunity to leverage some assets that bigger brands and stores can’t – your local flavor and brand personality. Put that to work for you, and couple it with simple digital marketing tools, such as capturing email addresses and sharing content via email and social media, to get in front of new customers and grow your business.

So if you want to find a way to drive people back to your store again and again without spending a fortune on newspaper ads and Google Adwords, figure out how you can build a community and start an organic conversation.

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate who uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.