The past few years have been brutal from an economic standpoint. Although challenges remain, the outlook is improving, especially for small businesses: 27 percent are increasing their 2013 marketing budgets to grow their companies, according to a recent poll of more than 500 small business decision-makers. Research by my company supports this rosier picture.

Still, since money doesn’t grow on trees, you need to spend your marketing dollars wisely. Here are some areas that can lead to big payoffs.

Turn your website into a portfolio

With 52 percent of small business owners working on their websites to help keep current customers and reach out to new ones, fine tuning your site can be money well spent.

I used an interior designer a few months back who fell into this category. She told me about her plans to add a photo album and videos to her site. That’s good, but I told her to take this one step further and create a tablet-friendly site that showcases her best work when visiting potential clients.

Use email to start a conversation

Email can be a powerful tool to help educate and interact with customers. This is especially true for professional service providers. Once a customer opts in to your email program, you can use it to nurture the relationship for years to come. Small business owners know this, rating email (51%) just below updating their websites as the marketing tactic they intend to focus on most this year, according to the poll.

An email newsletter can be an excellent vehicle for providing tips and updates. For example, a medical practice could include health and wellness advice and Q&As about common health concerns, while an accounting firm might highlight changes in tax laws and cost-saving strategies. In addition, appointment reminders sent by email can help reduce no-shows and cut costs.

Fine-tune your social media presence

After a cautious start, small businesses are enthusiastic about social media, rating it as their third most important marketing tactic for 2013 (37%). I recently read an interesting blog post on how dance studios are successfully using social media. Here are some tips for similar businesses:

  • Celebrate customers with Facebook.

Post photos, videos, and customer success stories on your company’s Facebook page. You can also use the page to post announcements and other breaking news, keeping everyone up to date.

  • Use Twitter to make special offers.

Twitter’s wide reach and zero cost make it ideal for publicizing discounts and other deals. By sharing your tweets, followers can help you win business from people you never knew existed.

  • Connect with prospects on LinkedIn.

Among the major social channels, LinkedIn is the only one to focus exclusively on professional networking. This makes it a great way to find and engage with new prospects, especially if you run a professional services company like a management consultancy or law firm.

Win customers with online conferencing

Much has been written about how online conferencing can help small businesses expand their reach. Imagine logging on to your computer to make a sales pitch to someone thousands of miles away. With features like a whiteboard for viewing documents and tools for fielding polls on the fly, online conferencing can make viewers feel like they’re in the same room. Conferencing can also help nurture relationships once a sale is made, since you can hold virtual meetings without spending a dime on travel.

How will you spend your marketing dollars in 2013? I’d love to hear your plans. Enter them below.

 

*The Small Business Omnibus poll was fielded December 17-19, 2012, among 511 decision-makers in companies with 5-99 employees. Interviews were conducted online through the U.S. Research Now business panel. Panelists indicated that they participate in decisions to purchase supplies or services for their companies and that the companies have more than $100,000 in annual revenue.

 

Alice Bredin is America’s foremost small business expert, with more than 15 years of experience in the small business market. She has provided highly practical, actionable advice to millions of business owners through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary, and small business forums.