Finding a budget for marketing can be challenging and overwhelming, especially as a small business with limited funds. That's why, according to a study by Verizon and Small Business Trends, 85% of small businesses rely on their customers to spread the word for them – in other words, "word-of-mouth marketing." That being said, just because you're counting on your customers to help with your marketing efforts, it doesn't mean that you should just sit back and hope they do your brand justice. Word-of-mouth requires effort on your part – you have influence over what your customers say and where they say it. Below are five ways to maximize word-of-mouth marketing to ensure that your customers are talking you up in all the right ways.

1. Identify a clear and simple value proposition.

A value proposition is a statement about your product or service that promises value to your customer in an effort to set you apart from the competition. It's important that it's as simple and clear as possible – the last thing you want is for your customer to struggle to find value in what you're providing.

In order to craft your value prop, start by identifying the problem your customer has and how your product/service solves that problem. How do you solve the problem better than your competitors? What benefits does the customer get by using your product/service instead of the competition? This discussion on Alignable highlights some small business owners' insights to discovering their value props.

Take Comnio for example, a small marketing and customer service business located in Austin, TX.

Without directly stating it, they're addressing and attempting to ease the struggles of time management throughout various aspects of running a business.

The important thing is to make sure your value prop is clear and simple, so that your customers can easily understand the value and will have no trouble re-stating it in their own words when they're telling someone else about it. Try this with a family member, friend or colleague and see if they can recite your value prop an hour after you telling them what it is.

2. Encourage customer reviews.

According to a survey by BrightLocal, 92% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a local business. Make sure it's easy for customers to review your business and make sure to encourage it. Add a link to leave a review in your monthly newsletter and email communications, and consider even running promotions and contests for the reviews, such as a monthly raffle for reviewers. Keep an eye on the reviews that come in – it's important to address any negative reviews quickly and thank positive reviewers for taking the time to leave their two cents. The reviews and your interaction with them will help build trust and loyalty for your brand. Check out the reviews on Alignable for the web hosting service 1&1. You can see how 1&1 has responded to each review of the brand.

3. Get involved in your industry.

One thing that will drive consistent word-of-mouth is becoming a go-to person in your industry or community on an on-going basis, you need to stay top-of-mind. As your content gains value and gets shared, your brand will work its way into conversations more and more. Start by building your online presence, if you don't already have one. Find and follow other industry leaders on social media, connect with them, and learn from them. Think about what you have to bring to the table in your industry, and start sharing your point of view in the following ways:

  • If you don't already have a blog, start one, and begin writing about your areas of expertise. (Check out Alignable user Stacey Riska's blog as an example of an active, interesting blog.)
  • Make sure your content is new, noteworthy, and most importantly, your own perspective.
  • Gain visibility by sharing your content as well as following, commenting on, and sharing other blogs.
  • Try to produce content at least once per week.
  • Look for speaking opportunities at local events, even if they're unpaid, to get your name out there.

Becoming a thought leader of your field will help build your credentials and make you a go-to person in your industry, giving your brand a platform to build on and gain visibility.

4. Create and maintain engaging social communities.

Yes, I'm talking about Facebook. If you don't have a Facebook page for your business, you should. Facebook gives you and up-close-and-personal look at your customers. It's easy to pass off Facebook as something you don't have time for, but honestly, it's worth making the time for. Having a business page on Facebook gives you the opportunity to give your customers a glimpse into your culture, creating a personality for your business. It allows them to interact with you, which in turn helps to develop trust and loyalty, something that is crucial for word-of-mouth.

Start by creating a Facebook page for your business and updating it with a description, website, profile picture, banner image, and any other vital information you'd want prospective customers to know. After your page is set up, start asking people to "like" your page. Add a link to it on your website and in your email communication, and make sure to invite your existing customers to "like" it. Check out this article for further instructions on how to set up your Facebook page.

Once you have your page all set up, it's time to think about how to engage your community. It's important to remember that your Facebook page isn't for one-way communication and soliciting. Update your Facebook page regularly with important announcements, product information, interesting and relatable articles, and even some photos that give your community a glimpse into your company culture. You can run contests that encourage customers to post photos on your page, and encourage reviews or testimonials that will help boost your image – just make sure to respond to any comments you receive on your page.

A great example of a small business with an active and engaging Facebook community is Kitchen Outfitters in Acton, MA. Their page is filled with visually appealing photos and videos, customer interaction, reviews, and content that isn't explicitly telling you to go buy their products.

By Tessa Kohn

Five Ways to Maximize Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing