The pandemic was tough on small businesses in Canada, and even now revenues remain below 2019 levels and continue to drop.

“About 77 per cent are still under a sense of pandemic stress,” said Marvin Cruz, director of research for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “They’re still suffering from a COVID hangover.”

Marketing might not be a business owner’s first priority when weighed down with pandemic debt, but giving it a pass could mean missing out on opportunities to bring in revenue, experts say.

“Fundamentally the first thing is to take marketing seriously,” said Alistair Bradley, owner of Mariana Marketing in British Columbia. “Whether you’re large or small you rely on marketing.”

Marketing tips for small businesses

When your budget is limited don’t focus all of it on one or two channels.

“Spread out your marketing budget,” said Bradley. “Try and find a nice strategy where you are, and utilize new types of channels like web articles, local press ads and more … utilize what big businesses do, but on a smaller budget.”

Another key to success is identifying what makes your business different from the competition.

“Sit down, figure out who you are, what you stand for, what you do better, how you’re different and communicate that in a soundbite,” Bradley said.

Then, create a marketing plan.

Just like you would meet with a financial adviser to discuss your life goals, this is where a marketing specialist can be especially helpful. It creates structure in your marketing, Bradley said, rather than doing things “ad hoc and piecemeal.”

What about social media?

Social media can be great to get your name out there, but if you’re not consistent with your approach it can be a waste of time, say Bradley and Cruz.

“There is very little time available to create a digital presence in order to make online selling a priority,” the CFIB’s Cruz said. “It’s a full-time job … and you really have to invest in it.”

For some businesses, social media isn’t going to be beneficial because they don’t sell products online, Cruz said.

“Doing social media about your construction company may not be as beneficial as a retail shop down the street,” he said. “About one in three small business owners say they can’t sell their products online at all.”

Keep costs down

Cutting costs is especially important when businesses are being squeezed by high inflation.

“The best thing is to get the fundamentals right,” Bradley said. “Engage a professional website which clearly communicates why you are better than your rivals, and how to contact you. Be professional, engage and create great content.”

This can be quite cheap, he said, as small business owners can use companies like Squarespace and Wix to create their websites. These open-source websites allow you to save the costs associated with hiring a firm to create it for you.

Can’t afford it? Don’t ignore it

CFIB says about 40 per cent of small businesses have yet to repay their pandemic loans, and many expect to see a decrease in sales over the next quarter as the economic downturn takes hold.

With this in mind, both Cruz and Bradley say it may be better to wait on hiring a marketing company, and instead research what other companies in your field are doing successfully.