10 Marketing and PR Tips To Grow Your Small Business

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This is part 5 of my 12-part Mom-to-Mom Series for Beyond Mom: Building Your Own Business. For the past five years, I’ve been planning, launching and growing my business, UrbanSitter. At times it has felt like my fourth child— the ups and downs, triumphs, and disappointments of entrepreneurship are quite similar to the emotional roller coaster of parenting. And similar to being a mom, I can’t imagine my life any other way. – Lynn Perkins 

When you launch a new business there’s initial euphoria about the launch. You actually did it! Then the initial thrill wears off and you wonder where all the customers are. It’s time to take the next step and grow your customer base with some marketing and PR muscle. No matter the size of your team (even if you’re a team of one), there are marketing and PR strategies you can get started on today and see real, tangible results.

Let’s start off with a basic question: What is the difference between marketing and PR? Marketing refers to the promoting, advertising, and selling of your product or service. Public relations refers to the management of communications between your business and the press and general public. The two work hand-in-hand to help customers discover your business.

It is common for small businesses to handle marketing in-house and hire a PR consultant with established relationships with the press. In the early days of UrbanSitter, we were lucky to find a co-founder who specializes in marketing and a PR manager recommended by another startup in a similar field. As CEO, I dedicated a portion of my time to being interviewed by the press and dropping everything whenever an opportunity arose.

Five years and 1 million hours of babysitting later, we still run marketing in-house and work with the same PR manager. It’s a combination that has worked well for us along with this playbook of marketing and PR tactics:

Define Your Brand

Developing a brand identity early on will help set the direction for your marketing and create the consistency needed for customers to remember your brand and what it stands for. Put together a basic brand and style guide to serve as a reference for anyone working on marketing or PR for your brand. This should include your mission statement, information about your target, key brand messages, tone of voice, look and feel, and graphic assets (logo, images of your product, app icons, brand colors). Your “brand book” will evolve over time as you and your brand grow.

Make a Plan

In an ideal world, you’d develop a strategic marketing plan that details every campaign you’ll run throughout the year, who you’d target and in which channel, how much you’ll spend, and forecasted sales. Rather than put that pressure on yourself, resolve to make “a plan.” Take a step back, grab a calendar, and think through what’s going on in the lives of your customers in the next three months and when they’ll be most receptive to your product or service. Think through what’s going on with your product. If you can announce great new features right when your customers care the most, you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning their business.

Focus, Test, Track

Once you have a plan, figure out how and where you’ll market your message. There are many marketing channels to choose from: digital (search engine marketing, social media, email marketing, display, video, content marketing, viral marketing) or traditional (TV, radio, print, outdoor, in-store, event marketing, grassroots). Typically, digital media is more affordable for small businesses. If you’re not sure where to start, survey your customers to ask how they found out about your business and what types of media they consume. Once you have a list, systematically test those channels by running campaigns and collecting data to guide your decisions. Double down on the campaigns that are working and abandon channels that don’t work and revisit them later. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error!

Turn Fans Into Evangelists

Much of UrbanSitter’s early growth was fueled by word-of-mouth marketing—parents who discovered our service, loved it, told their friends about it, and their friends told their friends. Aim to turn your early customers into a marketing army by equipping them with the tools they need to spread the word. This could take the form of a referral program, a new customer discount to give to a friend, or something as simple as an email footer that says, “Don’t keep us a secret! Tell your friends about us.”

Don’t Fear the Unscalable

While digital marketing may seem like the most efficient way to spend your marketing dollars, don’t rule out grassroots marketing. Sure, it’s not scalable over time, but it’s a great way to gain brand recognition and ignite initial growth. At UrbanSitter, we hired part-time community managers (mostly moms) to become the face of our brand and local market expert. We tasked our team with goals to spread the word: participating in local events and forming key partnerships with parenting groups and schools—many already in their personal networks. Grassroots marketing helped us lay a strong, personal foundation in the community, not otherwise possible through digital marketing.

Find the right PR partner

If you’re not a PR expert, seek out one. Look for a partner who will strategize, hone your message, and help you stay top of mind with press. Ask for recommendations from other businesses that you’ve seen get great press. Pick a partner with applicable experience in your industry (i.e. technology vs. B2B vs. consumer) and someone you have chemistry with.

Become an expert

You know your business inside and out. Use your knowledge to become the expert in your field—and if your business is based locally, in your city as well. Work with your PR partner to see out publications where you can tribute guest posts and industry events where you can speak, asserting your position as an expert. I regularly contribute to Huffington Post, where I write about child care and other parenting topics.

Build relationships

Despite common perceptions, PR isn’t a one-time sprint, it’s a marathon. Identify and focus on the reporters interested in your space. Ask for coffee meetings to begin building what will hopefully become long term relationships, where you will be a resource they will come to when the time is right. Don’t just pitch the same news ideas to every reporter, tailor your message to each publication’s audience and each reporter’s beat.

Be proactive

Work with your PR partner to develop a well-framed narrative and strong industry point of view, so you’re prepared for every meeting with the media. Be armed with case studies, success stories, seasonal themes, market data and insights, so that even in the absence of news, you still have stories and angles to offer.

Create a PR campaign that you can repeat

You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Annual studies, infographics, good will initiatives, and holiday angles often can be repeated with success. Every year for the past five years, UrbanSitter has published an annual babysitter and nanny rates infographic that never fails to garner news attention. We simply take the data we have and show the average rates by city. Parents love to know if their city is the most expensive.

I hope my playbook helped spark a few ideas. If marketing and PR is feeling completely outside of your wheelhouse, my suggestion is to seek out individuals to help, who are smarter than you in these fields. It may sound overly simple, but if you believe in hiring experts and find people who believe in your company and its mission, you will build an outstanding business.

Lynn Perkins is the CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter. As a startup veteran, Lynn has more than 15 years of experience building and growing consumer Internet businesses. Prior to founding UrbanSitter, Lynn served as founder and CEO of Xuny.com and VP of Business Development at Bridgepath.com. Lynn is a graduate of Stanford University. She and her husband enjoy exploring San Francisco with their three adventurous boys.