How to market your firm post-Covid

The most read publication for small and medium enterprise community in the UK, First Voice, has reached out to our CEO and co-founder Jaka Levstek for guidance regarding how small businesses should deal with the crisis while operating on small marketing budgets. Together with professor Omar Merlo, he has shared a series of approaches and principles that are actionable by SMEs.


Raising awareness of your business can be one of the biggest challenges for small firms that lack large marketing budgets. Omar Merlo and Jaka Levstek outline how it can be done.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a severe toll on businesses, with many having spent the past year and a half struggling to survive, and relying on Government grants and furlough schemes simply to make it through this tough period intact.

Of course, one of the first questions business leaders tend to ask themselves during a difficult period is: where can I cut costs? Often, companies that are strapped for cash will see the marketing department as an easy area to cut, believing it will have minimal effect on the wider business – but this is simply not true.

Brand marketing has never been more important, especially as it now looks as though we are entering some form of normality again, and businesses are competing with each other for customers after 18 months of just surviving.

However, some small businesses may have seen the pandemic impact their marketing pot, or lacked a big budget even before it hit – especially compared to the competition.

How can these firms get the most out of marketing on a limited budget? Here are five tips for marketing your firm successfully without breaking the bank.

1. Thought leadership on social media

Social media is a fantastic and free tool that business owners can use to market their business. One key approach that can garner the best results is using personal profiles and thought leadership to offer something valuable to your network. This is a great way to boost your personal brand and ensure you grow a following in a specific field, targeting the right audience.

Business owners can use sites such as LinkedIn to position themselves as an authority figure in their field, and therefore someone who can offer creative solutions to those who need them. You’ll be able to target the specific sectors to reach your intended audience, and subtly showcase your expertise as well as offering your products and services.

Building up a personal brand on these sites is inexpensive to do – it just takes time. However, the time you spend creating this valuable content for your relevant audiences will be worth it once your network grows and you and your company become well known in your specific industry.

2. Digital database tools for targeted emailing

Digital advertising on platforms such as Google and Facebook is becoming more costly. It’s incredibly difficult to be seen high up for a specific keyword or phrase unless you pump a huge amount of money into it.

Database-focused tools scan company and senior management profiles on sites such as Companies House and LinkedIn to keep you updated on any leadership changes.

For instance, if you sold a new, innovative tech solution, you’d be keen to find out whether a company has a new chief information officer or innovation director.

These tools use machine learning to update you, and offer you the opportunity to design and target emails to these new members of management, offering services or even just a chat through email. Not only will you receive real-time updates and a list of specific and relevant sales prospects, but you’re also not having to fight for advertising space online.

3. Offer free trials or products

Offering free trials or access to free products can get customers onboard quickly and easily. Many potential customers may be put off by the initial high cost barrier of your product, especially if they have no third-party trustworthy feedback, or need to sign up to a long subscription or contract.

By offering potential new customers the opportunity to try your products and services for no cost, you can easily attract a large number of people, many of whom may be keen to carry on using the product or service even if it eventually comes to a time where they may have to pay. This method, of course, is only successful if you have complete trust in your product or service, and know that what you offer is going to be appreciated and wanted by those customers.

4. Take care of your existing customers

Marketers often tend to obsess about new customer acquisition. However, it is much easier, and more beneficial, to keep the majority of your customers and grow by a few percentage points each year than to have a rapid growth in clients, but also a huge client turnover.

One relatively inexpensive way to keep current customers happy is to offer loyalty rewards, whether that’s discounts, exclusive access to services or even just customer participation, so they have a say in how the company moves forward. Current customers will value this, and will want to continue buying your product or service if they feel valued themselves.

5. Know the areas that benefit you the most

Keep an eye on the marketing, PR and advertising opportunities that work for your business, and know how to use them to the best of your ability. For instance, influencer marketing on Instagram won’t work for a manufacturing company, but it will for an ecommerce one.

It’s important you don’t invest in the wrong type of marketing for your company, industry or target audience. So, whether it is thoughtful content marketing, targeted earned media, podcasts and broadcast outlets, or influencer marketing, ensure you do your research and know which one would benefit you most.

Omar Merlo is Academic Director of the MSc Strategic Marketing programme at Imperial College Business School

Jaka Levstek is CEO and co-founder of d.labs and Executive in Residence at Imperial College Business School