Your Guide to Small Business Marketing (+ Real Life Example)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Create a strategic marketing plan for your small business and start earning more today.

[Featured image] Two women and two men sit at a conference table discussing business marketing.

As a small business owner, the path to success requires connecting your product or service to the right customers. There are a number of marketing channels you can use to reach different audiences, but before you begin messaging, it's worthwhile first to take a few foundational steps.

Marketing your small business can be simple and still effective. You will need a strategy and plan that is intuitive to your product offering, and you likely already have some ideas.

How to market your small business

When marketing your small business, you should ultimately aim to communicate your value. You'll likely end up doing this in two ways: by communicating the value of your company's product or service, and by communicating the value of your brand.

Both of these kinds of messaging will help you remain competitive over time. However, before you begin communicating anything, it's worthwhile to go through some formative steps to help you define aspects of the larger market in which your company will be situated.

Small business example: Terracotta

Across the steps that follow, we'll use a fictional company called Terracotta, a small ceramics business based in Toronto, to provide more concrete examples. Let's dive in.


1. Begin with the four Ps.

A marketing strategy is a long-term vision that defines the value of your product or service. To understand what your value is, begin by outlining the four Ps, which is a marketing mix that looks at four essential components: product, price, place, and promotion.

Answer the following questions:

  • Product: What do you sell?

  • Price: What do you charge?

  • Place: Where do you sell it?

  • Promotion: What, if any, messaging have you done to convey its value?

Terracotta’s brand needs

As the owner of Terracotta, you offer a product and a service because you sell handmade bowls and host pottery classes on the weekends. You have recently launched, so your customers have been friends and people who found your shop when passing by. You’ve created a brand logo and website and acquired social media handles but have done no promotion.


2. Conduct a market analysis.

A market analysis is an opportunity to define your target audience as well as the larger competitive landscape your product will be situated in, among other pieces of information. Both of these primary factors will lead you to develop more specific marketing efforts.

Target market

Your target market will be the groups of potential customers that your goods will most resonate with. You may want to conduct surveys or interviews or use marketing analytics tools to "listen" and understand their unique needs.

Once you have this information, it's a good idea to segment these groups by demographics (age, gender, marital status, education, and income) and psychographics (lifestyle, hobbies, and interests).

After you segment your audience, create personas for each group. These are fictionalized representations of your ideal customers and can help you market to them more specifically by addressing their needs and desires.

Terracotta’s brand segmentation

Terracotta’s target market is females between 25 and 55 years old who enjoy bonding over an activity like making pottery or shopping. Their salary ranges from $50,000 to $95,000. They live in Toronto or are tourists and attended college or a university.

Buyer persona 1: Fran is 27 years old and enjoys supporting ethical, sustainable brands. She loves plants and enjoys decorating her studio apartment. Fran has bought several Terracotta bowls and is considering taking up pottery as a hobby.

Buyer persona 2: Callie is a 43-year-old mother of three. She lives in Riverdale with her family and works from home. She does yoga and pilates three times a week. She enjoys picking up a few specialty items for herself or friends when shopping downtown.



After defining who you’re selling to, it's important to do a competitor analysis to differentiate your product or service from other businesses that exist in the market.

You can find competitors by conducting an online search to see what companies sell similar products in your area. Make a list of your five main competitors and spend time looking at their branding and messaging. Consider the following questions:

  • How do they convey their value?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to these other businesses?

  • What makes your product unique?

  • How does your pricing strategy compare?

Whether it is customer service, quality products, location, or price point, identify what makes your business special, and use this to position your brand.

Terracotta’s brand positioning 

With Terracotta, your main competitors in Toronto are two franchise pottery classes and numerous craft brands that sell handmade ceramic bowls. The differentiating factor is that your bowls and vases are naturally brown-orange and unglazed. The brand’s ethos relies on these earthy imperfections, so the price point is slightly lower than other craft brands.


3. Devise your business' marketing strategy.

Now it’s time to develop your marketing strategy. The marketing strategy you develop will depend on your unique needs, your marketing budget, and your audience.

There are many types of marketing to choose from, such as traditional (print, advertising); digital (social media, content, email, and SEO); event, influencer, and guerrilla. You will likely work with a few different types of marketing, rather than choose one and pursue it exclusively.

Considering your target audience and your competitors, which channels make the most sense to focus on? For example, if your audience is highly active on social media, then developing a robust presence on Instagram and Facebook might make sense, or if you learn that your audience listens to a lot of local radio, placing a spot with local stations might be a good idea.

Small business marketing strategies in action

Let’s take a closer look at what strategies might work for brick-and-mortar, online, and hybrid small businesses: 

Brick and mortar: Strategies should be location-based for companies that sell products and services in a physical shop. You might choose from a combination of the following: 

  • Paper flyers at local businesses

  • Social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps, and Yelp, for promotions, updates, and geo-targeted ads

  • Signage and displays

  • In-store and local events

  • Content marketing (local neighbourhood guides and partnership opportunities)

Online: Online businesses can take advantage of the many types of digital marketing available today to drive traffic and convert them into sales.

  • Marketplaces, such as Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, and to your website

  • Social media and sponsored ads (targeted by interest)

  • Content marketing (blogs and videos to drive SEO traffic)

Hybrid: Small businesses can select from both strategies, using a tailored combination that works for their offering and audience.

Small business marketing venn diagram showing brick and mortar, online business, and hybrid.

Terracotta’s strategy

As a brick-and-mortar business, you create a strategy for Terracotta that involves a combination of in-person and online marketing:

• Official launch event, followed by monthly bring-a-friend pottery nights

• Weekly Instagram posts and daily stories featuring new products

• Paid Instagram advertising (sponsored ads)

• Booth at local craft shows, farmer’s markets, and festivals

• Etsy shop

• Media features from select publications


4. Create a marketing plan.

A marketing plan is how you will go about enacting the marketing strategy you've created, such as hiring a social media intern, working with local contractors to develop blog content, and the timeline for your marketing campaigns.

It helps to figure out which channels you'd like to focus on. Understanding those factors will determine the plan you eventually put in place.

Terracotta’s marketing plan

For Terracotta, you created a Google marketing calendar with different colours for each part of the plan. You hired a full-time intern to help with event planning, digital marketing, and in the store.

You are in charge of measuring impact and tracking sales. After three months, you compare the percentage of monthly sales to refine the strategy and plan.


When marketing your small business, a strategy and plan can help you stay organized and on budget. Show off what makes your brand unique because this is how you can connect with prospective customers and sustain them long-term. Building and nurturing a strong customer base can be essential for a small business to succeed.

5. Review your efforts.

Marketing doesn't end once your messaging is out in the world. It's important to monitor how potential and current customers receive and respond to that messaging, as well as your return on investment (ROI).

ROI explains how the efforts you've made have paid off. If your marketing efforts increase sales, that can be a good indication that you've successfully conveyed your value. However, if you find that's not the case, you will likely need to adjust your marketing strategy and marketing plan.

It's important to use analytical marketing technology (MarTech) to track and monitor how things are going. Data is a big part of marketing now, and different software applications can tell you what's working and what's not so you can adjust your strategy.

Next steps

Build the skills to help market your small business with professional certificates from industry leaders. Learn at your own pace with either Google's Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate or Meta's Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate, which both emphasize developing key marketing skills. No degree is required; you can start learning today.

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