Experts Say This Is the Key to Marketing a Mom and Pop Business Whatever you do, don't stop too soon.

By Kim Kavin

This story appears in the July 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Marketing opportunities are endless, but marketing budgets are finite. Is it better for a mom-and-pop business to put money into online and social media marketing, or to invest in real-life sponsorships and events?

As with many things in business, you can only find out through trial and error, says Rus Graham, cofounder of New England-based Rushton Gregory Communications.

"The difficulty with marketing programs is that everyone is unique," Graham says. "There isn't a cookie-cutter approach."

Related: This is What You Need in Your 5-Year Marketing Plan

Image Credit: Zohar Lazar

Graham urges clients to think about the difference between qualitative and quantitative marketing. A qualitative opportunity might be something like a local summer fair where a business can set up a booth, and the owner can have high-quality, in-person interactions with possible customers. By comparison, a quantitative opportunity is something like digital advertising, where the goal is getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

"Often, if I'm doing a campaign for somebody new, it's a mix of things," he says. "I'll use an e-newsletter or sponsored content or something like that to tell the brand's story in their voice. That's a smaller reach, but it's more qualitative, so they can try to get people to engage. Then I combine that with straight banner ads on a website or in a newsletter. That's qualitative, because somebody signed up for the newsletter or went to the site. But with those, you look at impressions. You can put your logo in there, an image that projects who you are, and maybe four words or your URL."

Michael Babcock uses a combination of marketing tactics for The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, Ohio. Offline, he plans book signings with authors and partnerships with libraries and other local organizations. Online, the store is all about Twitter: "We use it as a humorous way to interact with people. Focusing on interactions and not 'promotion' in the traditional sense has drawn a great deal of attention and customers to our store."

Related: 10 Small Business Marketing Strategies That Actually Work

Jessica French and Damien Zouaoui, owners of The Beer Spa in Denver, say they also promote their beer-inspired spa services through a combination of offline and online methods. Offline, they replicate their spa experience at The Great American Beer Festival each year. Online, they do email marketing to share their story and mission, and use public relations and social media to showcase client experiences. They're mostly on Instagram, but they also post on TikTok and Facebook.

Trying out creative ideas is good, but it's key to track every effort to ensure marketing dollars are being spent wisely, says Wanda Kenton Smith, owner of Florida-based Kenton Smith Marketing.

"Always monitor your spend using all available marketing analytics and measurement tools," she says. "Determine prior to investment how you will quantify ROI, and then doggedly track every campaign so you know exactly how your campaigns are performing and can make adjustments accordingly."

Graham agrees, adding that particularly when you're just starting a mom-and-pop business, it's less important how much of the budget to put into marketing, and more important to think about what, specifically, you are trying to achieve.

"Get a feel for the competitive landscape" he says. Be thoughtful about the marketing plan you lay out, and then stick with whatever you implement. Graham says one of the biggest mistakes people make is quitting too soon on a good marketing plan.

"Once you put it in place, know that the horizon is farther away than you think," Graham says. "Don't second-guess yourself. You may make little tweaks to your plan, but if you're heading in the right direction, stick with it."

Related: The Importance of An Effective Marketing Strategy in Reaching Your Business Goals

Kim Kavin was an editorial staffer at newspapers and magazines for a decade before going full-time freelance in 2003. She has written for The Washington Post, NBC’s ThinkThe Hill and more about the need to protect independent contractor careers. She co-founded the grassroots, nonpartisan, self-funded group Fight For Freelancers.

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