Small businesses tend to take the lean approach to marketing. They don’t outsource it much, and they often underfund it.

42% of the small businesses we surveyed invest less than 3% of their revenue into marketing. And only 14% of them outsource their marketing, public relations, and advertising.

This is notably different to how they handle the complementary tasks of graphic design and website design: 54% of small businesses outsource those.

Even in-house efforts tend to be scaled down. One study found that 71% of small businesses have marketing teams made up of five people or less. And that’s no outlier, either. Another study found that 68% of marketing teams were made up of one to three people.

But you probably knew all this. You know all too well about the tight budgets, the small teams, and the need to keep your company’s marketing in-house. You’re on one of these tiny but mighty teams. What you need to know is how to get the same results as teams with a dozen or more marketers. Well, it is possible.

You can beat your competitors, even if they have much larger marketing teams.

You just have to be smarter than they are. Here’s how:

1. Track your results

Small and micro-sized teams have no margin for error. They much spend their time on high-return tasks.

This requires two things:

  • They know what works
  • They have an action-based plan for how to do more of it

Let’s focus on that first bit. To “know what works” more specifically means you’ve got something like goals set up in Google Analytics for all the major events that happen on your website. You know where your leads and orders are coming from and how well and where they convert.

2. Have a documented marketing strategy

What’s the one marketing best practice that separates the successful marketers from the rest?

It’s not the size of their budget. It’s not the size of their team. It’s having a documented marketing strategy – a plan on paper - that’s data-backed and specific enough to keep your team on track as the deadlines fly and the campaigns keep coming. A road map, if you will.

It’s especially important to include goals in your marketing strategy. A survey of content marketers done earlier this year found that successful marketers are 4.3x more likely to set goals than average marketers.

3. Automate everything you can

Just because there’s work that has to get down doesn’t mean your team has to do it. It doesn’t mean any human has to do it, either.

So invest in some basic marketing automation. Do stuff like:

  • Automate your onboarding emails
  • Automate running reports
  • Automate sending invoices
  • Create a good enough self-support area on your website so customers and prospects can actually help themselves

4. Outsource everything you can

Your small team works hard. Very hard. They have to do a lot of different tasks – to “wear a lot of hats”, as some people say. It’s good that they should be constantly learning new skills, but some skills may not be worth learning.

Take video editing or sound editing, for example. It needs to be done, but learning the software, and doing this very specialized task can take a lot of time. And there are dozens of people on Fiverr who are total pros at video and sound editing. Those pros can get more done in an hour than your team member can do in a day. And they’ll charge less than what you’re paying that team member.

So outsource those edits.

5. Invest in good tools

Smaller teams need to maximize every minute. So if that means they need a couple of marketing or social media services or tools that will speed up their work… get them those tools.

6. Invest in training

Some skills should be outsourced; some skills should be maximized. So buy your team some training. If you do, you’ll automatically be in the top 21% of small business marketing teams.

Our survey found that only 21% of small business owners plan to “invest in training or tools to improve employee productivity.”  That’s not so great, but it could be competitive advantage for you if you’re willing to invest.

7. Have SOPs (standard operating procedures)

Creatives call these workflows. Whatever you call them, everything should have a procedure. And ideally, everything should also have a checklist.

Checklists are awesome for people who operate at maximum efficiency but cannot afford any mistakes. That’s why pilots use them. A good checklist, always checked, can save literally tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of mistakes every year. Not to mention all the time used up and the stress created by mistakes and emergencies.

8. Use an editorial calendar

Here’s another way to avoid surprises: Know what’s coming down the pipe. Editorial calendars make everybody’s life easier. They’ll also keep your team from overcommitting. Burnout is neither productive nor profitable.

9. Steal from your competition

Ethically, of course. So by “steal”, I mean track what your competitors are doing. Test what you see them doing.

Word to the wise: Just because your competitors are doing something doesn’t mean it’s working for them. Or that it will work for you. But if you monitor their moves carefully, you may be able to piggyback on some their work.

10. Build a “testing culture”

Thanks to the tracking you set up, you know what has worked in the past and what works now.

But things may not stay the same. And there may be ways to get even better results than you’re getting now. The only way to know is to test. An ongoing, statistically valid program of A/B split-tests (perhaps one per week) is a great way to be constantly improving.


Don’t let being part of a small team diminish your goals. Some of the most effective, admired marketing teams in the business are “only” about 3-5 people.

A small group of talented people who work hard and smart as a cohesive team can often beat larger teams. Even much larger teams. Especially in markets that change fast. The agility of smaller teams can often trump the resources larger teams wield.

So dream big, little teams. Use your competitive edge.

About the Author(s)

 Brian  Sutter

Brian Sutter is the Director of Marketing for Wasp Barcode Technologies, a software company that provides solutions to small businesses that increase profit and efficiency. He has contributed content for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Profs, the Washington Post, Fast Company,, and Huffington Post.

Director of Marketing, Wasp Barcode Technologies
How to Get Big Results with a Tiny Marketing Department