How does marketing for small businesses work?

As a firm that was set up from scratch Northants Accounting have had to rely on marketing to initially grow our business, this is a summary of our experiences of the various techniques that have helped us to establish ourselves as accountants in Northampton.

The best option for you will depend on the type of business you run and the customers you are trying to target that is why we recommend trialling various techniques in relatively small batches before using up the majority of your marketing budget.


We regularly receive phone calls from various industry publications asking if we would like to buy space in their quarterly or bi-monthly magazine that goes out to thousands of readers, the fee they charge is generally around £600 for a quarter page.

Be aware it’s very difficult to be sure what the size of the readership is for their magazines and if they are actually local to Northampton. We have also been approached by some businesses that were clearly fraudulent so it is absolutely important that if you do choose this option it’s with a publication you recognise and you avoid paying upfront.


Telemarketing companies we have had discussions with in the past have generally wanted to charge around £2,000 for the generation of 5 appointments and then maybe two of them would turn into actual clients, this is incredibly expensive and only really worthwhile if you expect a client relationship to last over a period of a few years. There are many businesses this probably isn’t suitable for especially in high volume, low price related services.

You can actually arrange telemarketing yourself at a much lower cost, however it’s important to remember that the voice on the phone represents your business so it has to be someone you trust, for example it’s pointless using a call center in India to phone up local businesses in Northampton advertising your local services as accountants.

Direct Mailing

This involves sending information to potential clients and customers through the post or e-mail. There are various companies online that allow you to upload address lists and letter templates and then post them out, this is probably the fastest method however the post is far more likely to end up in the bin as it will be franked and clearly identifiable as junk mail. Hand writing an envelope takes more time but is likely to get the contents read.

The message has to have a call to action that clearly inspires the reader to enquire about your service, this could be an offer for a limited time only or it could be a guarantee that you will provide the best product or service.


This can help potential customers find you online and provide a way for them to contact you or get a bit more information about your business, this will generally help you to meet the right type of customers by tailoring the site towards them.

SEO (search engine optimisation) is critical when it comes to ensuring your website shows ahead of your competitors when people search for your services. There are several components in achieving good SEO and these relate to how relevant the content of your site is to the search query, how many links (backlinks) other sites have to yours and the quality of the material in the site, spelling mistakes are a massive faux pas.

A good example of effective SEO would be an accountancy business based in Northampton having the term “Accountants Northampton” somewhere in the text on their website. This would all have to be in context of course.

It helps to have the relevant search phrases in the website but having enough references to the type of business and your location even if they are not together can also help, for example quoting “Accountant” and “Northampton” in several different locations on your site will still add value to your SEO rating.

One thing to remember is that the Google robots that read web pages will pick up on website text that doesn’t flow naturally and they will recognise if you pay someone to create “backlinks” to your website. This could lead to Google moving you further down the rankings not up.

Leaflet Drops

There are several options relating to leafleting,  you can have a shared distribution for around £35 per thousand where your leaflets are dropped off along with those of a couple of other businesses or you can go with a solus distribution for around £65 per thousand and have them delivered on their own. The second option is more likely to get the leaflet read but due to the cost there will be less of them.

Leaflets are a great way to advertise offers especially when you create a sense of urgency by adding a time limit or expiration date, printing generally becomes better value the more you order and many printers can help design the leaflet as well. There are many companies out there that offer a GPS tracked service so that you can be a little bit more comfortable your leaflets had been dropped and as with any form of outsourcing the firm you use represents your business so it is important to go with someone reputable.

Google Adwords

If your business is in a sector that is so competitive in terms of online presence that effective SEO becomes unachievable, then (PPC) pay per click advertising can help. Google will promote your website to the top of the search rankings and charge you every time someone clicks on it, there are also options to have adverts for your business show up on various Google partner websites under the same arrangement.

Adwords involves creating specific search terms like “Accountant in Northampton” for example and then every time someone searches for that your ad will show, this is known as an “impression”. Your ad won’t be clicked on every time it shows.

Google Places for Business

Places for business gets your business on the map, literally. You set up a page for your business on your Google Plus account and then every time someone searches for something related to it, your business will show on Google Maps.

This is a great tool if your customers are looking for a local business without having to travel too far. Places for business can also be used if you don’t have a website as it will provide potential customers on the internet with your phone number and location.


Shop signs, billboards and posters are great in locations with plenty of footfall, however as with any other advertising you use they need to inspire your ideal customers to contact you. While it may be easy to put a sign over your shop or office in Northampton, hiring a billboard or sponsoring a roundabout can be very expensive so you need to have an idea of the return you are likely to get from the expenditure.

Social Media

These campaigns are generally about enhancing the awareness of your brand and business, it is probably the cheapest form of advertising but requires a lot of effort and often takes time to generate a return. Some commonly known platforms are Twitter, Facebook and Linked In, you can join various local groups based in Northampton and they provide an opportunity to share advice or information about your services but are generally not the place to go in for a hard sell.


Word of mouth and referrals use your existing clients to generate more clients, most businesses will do this naturally if they take pride in the service they offer, however there are ways to increase business from referrals further.

Let customers know that you are always looking for new business.

Offer existing clients incentives to recommend you.

Get regular feedback so that you can rectify any issues.


Discounts are used in conjunction with some of the other activities mentioned in this guide as they generally won’t advertise themselves, they can however act as a multiplier to increase the number of customers gained from the other activities this guide mentions.

It’s important to remember that the cost of the discount to you isn’t necessarily the face value of the coupon or deal you are offering the customer, it’s the cost for materials and additional staff you take on to cover the new customers. There will also be some existing customers who would have used your service at full price anyway if it hadn’t been for the discount, this means that during an offer your sales and profits could go backwards if you don’t get enough new customers in through the door.

Offering a customer a discount can often be far more cost efficient than paying for more marketing activities to generate clients at full price, it can also help you get them in the door so you can sell them additional services after. The danger with discounting is that if it is done consistently over a period of time then people will come to expect it from your business and may well avoid coming in until the next discount.

This guide is a brief overview of various marketing techniques I have used in my own business and is in no way an exhaustive list of every option available, the best advertising I have found is word of mouth however you need customers in the first place to achieve this.

If you would like more information on any mentioned in this article please contact us.

Nishi Patel

Looking for a new accountant?

If you looking for some assistance with your accounting services, we’d love to hear from you. Call our friendly team now on 01604 330129.

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