If there’s anything owning a small business has taught me, it’s that people are the most important investment. Because I only have 14 employees, every person is absolutely vital to the success of the business and most play more than one role. My office manager also does our graphic design and my head designer pulls double duty as head of client relations.
When you own a small business, hiring each employee to fill one specific role is a luxury, and more often than not, tasks that larger businesses might hire out to other companies and firms need to be done in-house.
Public relations, or PR, is one of those tasks. Signing a contract with a PR firm or hiring a PR pro to manage social media, write press releases, and cultivate your brand is pricey and often beyond a small-business budget. What’s more, a smaller company doesn’t need the all-systems-go PR team that a large, international brand does. Therefore, small-business PR often falls on your existing team.
Small-business owners are usually used to doing a little bit of everything at work, but PR is trickier than running payroll or making hiring decisions. The role deals with shaping public opinion, which means that your PR strategy has to involve more than posting on social media. Instead, true PR tells a story about your brand and helps build trust among potential customers.
Small-Business Public Relations Tips
When working with a PR agency, you’d probably get a robust PR strategy that encompasses everything from social media content to news briefings and email newsletters. PR firms are adept at knowing how to tell your story and increase your reach. When doing PR in-house, however, a simplified approach is best.
Whether you’ll be executing your PR and marketing strategy or you’ve asked your employees to pitch in, media relations is often uncharted territory. Rather than overwhelming yourself with the possibilities, choose a couple of methods that you know you and your team can perform — and perform well.
As a small-business owner, your job isn’t to become a total PR expert, but to tell a story about your brand. As you create your PR strategy, you’ll notice that your messaging naturally matches with specific types of content and sharing platforms. Overnight success is exciting, but building relationships, trust, and awareness over time are the keys to a healthy and effective small-business PR strategy. Choose from these DIY PR tips for outreach and branding to get started.
1. Submit a Press Release
A press release is a short news document that gives journalists the necessary information to encourage more media coverage for your brand. Press releases are typically used when there’s a change in your small business, such as launching a new product or service, winning an award, opening a new location, or even restructuring.
Press releases should be short and to-the-point, but also offer some type of general-interest story or angle to encourage coverage. When writing a press release, consider who would benefit the most from the information and what they need to know. It should encourage the reader — often a journalist, blogger, or editor — to learn something new and click through to your website or social media pages to learn more.
Send press releases to your email subscription list, straight to blogs or journalists, or use an established press release submission site like Online PR Media.
2. Create an Email Contact List
One of the main reasons to outsource your PR is gaining access to a PR firm’s email contact list. Most established PR agencies have robust email contact lists based on their industry and media outlets, so they know exactly where to send your content for the most impact. Doing your own PR means creating your own email contact list to keep your followers in the loop and capitalize on past customer interactions.
Encourage users to submit their email address when they visit your site or compile a list of past customers. Use those emails to share newsletters, updates, or tips and tricks. With helpful, timely content, email subscribers feel like they’re getting useful information for free — a great way to shape positive public opinion.
When crafting content to send to your email contact list, it’s helpful to remember the 80/20 rule: Offer 80% information, value, or entertainment and 20% promotion for your small business. Followers are more likely to open emails that they find valuable. Constantly abusing your email list to sell, sell, sell dilutes the value users gain from being on your email contact list. Protect that relationship by respecting users’ time and inboxes.
Pro tip: Before you start building your email list, make sure you sign up for a reputable email marketing platform. ConvertKit gives you the ability to build opt-in forms, design attractive email templates, and even set up automations. Learn more about ConvertKit.
3. Offer to Write Guest Posts
Industry blogs, sites, and podcasts help drive traffic and influence behavior. One way to gain access to an audience is by seeking out blogs and influencers that post about your industry and offer to do a guest post or appear as a guest on a podcast. You’ll create free digital content that helps increase awareness and it’s a win-win situation — your business reaps the benefits of the blog’s audience and the blog owner gets free content.
Offering to write a guest post for a website or blog helps extend your reach and build relationships in your industry, but you’ll need to approach it in the right way. Follow these steps to pitch a guest post successfully:
- Research Industry Blogs and Sites. The best way to search for blogs and sites to guest post on is by running simple website searches. Use the same keywords that you would enter into a search engine to find your small business, followed by the word “blog,” or “guest post.” This will show you websites that connect you with your potential customer base and helps you find bloggers who post often and have used guest posting in the past.
- Get to Know the Site. Choose a handful of promising blogs and do some due diligence in learning about them. Check social media platforms and get a feel for the site’s general reputation, follower count, and tone. You won’t be the right fit for every blog, so choose a few that align with your messaging and brand.
- Send an Introduction. Before you pitch your idea for a guest post, follow the blog or brand on social media — don’t forget professional sites like LinkedIn, as well as more casual sites like Facebook or Instagram — and send an introductory email. Let the blogger or website owner know that you’re interested in their content and offer a specific compliment so they know you’ve read or watched some of their digital offerings.
- Offer Audience Value. When you’re ready to pitch, come up with a few different topics for the website owner to choose from. As always, focus on offering value before promoting your small business. Position yourself as the expert on a topic you know well, and brand awareness will follow organically.
- Share the Site. If your guest post is accepted and published, share it on all of your own social media platforms and with your email contact list. The owner of the blog will appreciate the extra content marketing and bump in traffic they see from your existing audience combining with their own. Social media marketing is based on creating connections and it’s important to promote other brands and blogs.
4. Encourage Positive Reviews
According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans get news and information from their friends and family. Online reviews are one of the closest PR strategies to good old word-of-mouth advertising. In a 2020 survey, review aggregation site TrustPilot found that 89% of consumers make an effort to read online reviews before they make a purchasing decision.
Online reviews are an important way to gain new customers’ trust. Obviously, positive reviews are best, but it can be difficult to encourage your customers to review your small business at all. Solicit reviews from past customers by sending a follow-up email after purchase. Try offering an incentive for reviews, such as a coupon code for a future purchase. Then post reviews to your social media or feature them on your website to leverage positive customer experiences for good PR.
5. Address Negative Reviews
It happens to almost every small business: a negative review. Whether it was warranted or not, bad reviews can cause big damage in regards to reputation. PR professionals know how to go into crisis management mode and address the issue as soon as it happens, but as a small-business owner, your strength is in your personal connections.
Don’t ignore customers who write bad reviews or negative social media comments. Face them head-on by reaching out to the user and working to find a solution that changes their opinion. If possible, rectify the situation and encourage the user to amend their review.
If you’ve exhausted your options and a user is still unsatisfied, reply to their review with a calm and positive message to mitigate any negative effects on your brand reputation.
6. Tell a Story
Every successful PR campaign tells a story. What was the last great commercial you saw? Chances are that you liked it because it made you feel something. Some PR campaigns are touching, some are humorous, others are familiar, but they’re all centered around a story.
Telling a story about your startup or small business helps create a connection between you and your potential customer. Use storytelling as a key part of your content marketing strategy and you’ll create a foundation for trust and loyalty.
Not sure what story you want to tell? Try this exercise: Imagine three potential customers and create a loose profile for each. Gives these hypothetical audiences a defined age, gender, family, household income, and even interests and hobbies.
When you create PR content — whether it’s a press release, a blog post, or even a tutorial video — use your “customer profile” to keep your narrative on track. If one of your customer profiles is a 30- or 40-year-old mom, for example, your story could center around streamlining a busy schedule or taking time for self-care.
7. Sponsor an Event
Your local community is a valuable asset for supporting small businesses, so give back and increase positive vibes by sponsoring a local event. When sponsoring an event, you donate money to help support local events and you’ll often receive free advertising in the process.
Event-based marketing is especially effective when you sponsor something within your industry. Doing so puts you face-to-face with your target audience so you can increase exposure and goodwill. Some types of events to consider sponsoring include:
- Marathons. If your small business is in the health and wellness industry, sponsoring marathons and fun runs gives you access to health-conscious consumers. Offer to add your product to a swag bag, give out freebies, or sponsor a mile and offer drinks and snacks along the way.
- Industry Conferences. If you’re heading to a conference, ask the organizers if you can sponsor a table, an event, or a mixer. You’ll legitimize your brand while getting your small business more exposure in the industry it needs the most.
- Charity Benefits. From hospitals to churches and schools, there are plenty of community services that solicit donations from the public via charity events. You may be able to pitch in and have your small business spotlighted as one of the benefactors of your community.
- Sporting Events. Sporting events bring your community together through teamwork and sportsmanship. Cities often allow local businesses to sponsor sports teams and events by providing the money for uniforms and equipment.
- New Community Amenities. Is your city in desperate need of a dog park or a BBQ pavilion? By donating money and other resources to the cause, you’ll be part of a useful amenity that lasts for years.
If you’re unsure of sponsorship events in your area, start by contacting your city office and simply asking. Following neighborhood social media can also keep you in the loop and you can use your own Facebook and Instagram pages to raise event awareness and increase attendance.
8. Track Google Alerts
Part of a solid PR strategy is staying in the know. Google Alerts is a service that monitors the web for specific keywords and lets you know about new articles, blog posts, and mentions of those keywords. Set up alerts for your small-business name so you’ll be notified when someone posts a new review. Or, use Google Alerts to keep track of your competitors or to monitor mentions of a particular product or service.
This allows you to address potential issues like a bad review and to write timely and topical articles based on what your audience and industry are already talking about. Combined with strong search engine optimization (SEO), Google Alerts allows you to tailor your messaging to lead more people to your website and helps you protect your reputation.
9. Take Your Time
You’ve probably heard about overnight success stories of marketing that goes viral and seems to skyrocket small businesses into fame and fortune. Although it sounds exciting, most small-business PR doesn’t happen overnight. A PR firm might be able to plan an expensive marketing campaign to thrust a brand into the national spotlight, but while you’re doing your PR yourself, it’s best to stick with a slow and steady approach.
Digital marketing can be tricky and, despite the old saying that “All PR is good PR,” a bad reputation is disastrous for small businesses. Instead of trying to push out content quickly, build relationships as the foundation for your public relations strategy.
Whether you reach out to influencers, get involved in your community, or simply participate as an expert in your industry, you’ll be creating and maintaining a reputation that engenders trust and loyalty — both in existing customers and potential leads.
If hiring a PR firm isn’t within your current budget, don’t feel discouraged: It would be nice to have, but you don’t always need to hire your PR strategy out. After all, fast and furious small-business growth isn’t always good for your public relations, especially when it results in less-than-positive interactions.
You and your employees are important assets as you build your small-business reputation and increase brand awareness and trust. Make your marketing efforts count by creating your brand story and actively seeking out ways to put your brand in front of the people who need it the most. As you enjoy positive interactions in your community and keep your customers in the loop, your DIY PR can be just as effective without the pricey retainer fee.