Small businesses often have a large problem when it comes to marketing. While online business and large chains can dump millions into their marketing budgets, main street entrepreneurs are often left with small budgets to spend on marketing efforts and even smaller return on investment.

That’s why small business owners should take advantage of influencer marketing, a trend that 84% of marketing and communications professionals worldwide plan to use in their 2016 e-marketing campaigns. The good news is that it’s a strategy that works, even if your marketing budget is $0 and here’s why.


What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing seeks out key influencers and bloggers across social media platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) who have a significant number of followers. These are bloggers and social media personalities who have worked to build a name for themselves and have become a trusted resource on a given topic that is of interest to their followers.

There are influencers across all niches. If a mother attempting to balance a budget with a large family finds a blogger or social media personality that posts informative content about inexpensive meal preparation you can bet she is following that person on social media. If a car enthusiast enjoys learning about the restoration process of vintage automobiles, he is likely following someone on social media who presents informative content related to that topic.

92% of consumers pay attention to more than any other form of marketing.

Influencer marketing incorporates the idea of content that offers something of value to audiences whether tips or reviews or informative pieces. It also is the digital age?s version of word-of-mouth referrals, which according to marketing research, 92% of consumers pay attention to more than any other form of marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing generates double the sales and ROI generated from paid advertising, and remains one of the most effective forms of growing your business on a shoestring budget.

How to get started with influencer marketing

Step 1: Identify where your customers and potential customers are on social media.

This can be as simple as starting with your current customer base. Ask them which social media sites they frequent the most when online and begin looking for influencers there.

According to a 2015 study published by Pew Research, Facebook still has the largest percentage of total internet users (72%) compared to other popular social media platforms. Instagram has 28%, Pinterest has 31% (most of which are women), and Twitter has 23%. The same study breaks down the demographics of those users, including their gender, age, income, level of education, ethnicity and whether they live in an urban, suburban, or rural area. Since small businesses are mainly dependent on a local customer base, you’ll need to spend a considerable amount of time researching to find potential influencers in your area.

Another (and slightly easier) way to start your influencer short list is to ask your current customers if there are any local influencers they follow which will lead you to step 2.

Step 2: Identify the top influencers who are local who are highly visible across the social media platforms that are used by your current customers and prospects.

Making a short list of influencers involves time-consuming research on the front end, but research that will pay off quickly if you find the right ones. One of the best approaches is to start locally within your niche, and within online groups that are formed around that topic. For example, if you own a restaurant that specializes in vegetarian, vegan, and organic dishes, find groups who publish content about healthy eating, vegetarian/vegan recipes, and organic food. If you own a bookstore, find literary groups that provide reviews, suggestions, and information about great books and authors to their audiences. You’re likely to find one (or several) influencers using that tactic.

You’ll want to look for accounts that have a high number of followers and ongoing audience engagement, with followers commenting on and responding well to the posts that are published or videos that are made. While there are several paid services that help you find the right social media influencers, sites such as Buzzsumo do offer some features that will allow you to narrow down local influencers without paying anything. However, the bulk of their services are fee-based. Another way is to use the search features on each platform individually, and then narrow it down by city and keywords that relate to your business or campaign.

Step 3: Contact your short list of influencers and pitch a campaign.

This part takes a little trial and error, as well as an understanding of why influencers would want to work with your business in the first place. Top influencers with high levels of engagement and tens of thousands of followers will generally expect financial compensation in return. After all, they’re making a living just like you are and shouldn?t work for free. Newer influencers, or those still building an audience, are going to be more open to accepting free products or services from your store in exchange for helping you with your campaign.

Regardless of which approach you use to get influencers on board with you, it’s best to approach them with an exciting campaign. With the right content, you could help them build their audience engagement, so it would be a win-win.

That doesn’t mean pitching sales ads or simply linking to your website, because no audience wants to follow an influencer who publishes a series of commercials. It means finding innovative ways to connect audiences with your brand or company in a subtle way, such as contests, user-provided content, free giveaways, or special events that are open to the public.

Remember, audiences want content that gives them something in return, and they are most engaged with content that takes this approach rather than a sales pitch.