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Small Business Goals, Challenges, and Marketing Tactics

According to the Small Business Administration, 89.0% of all businesses in the United States have less than 20 employees. What are the primary goals, challenges, and marketing tactics of these companies? This survey from Taradel provides some insights.  

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: September 11, 2019

It would be great if every printer could have a stable of mid-sized to large customers spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per month on marketing, but that’s not realistic. The majority of businesses are small businesses, so surveys like Taradel’s “2019 Small Business Survey” provide important insights to help printers position their services to the bulk of the market. What are these customers’ goals? Their budgets? Their preferred marketing tactics?

First, according to the Small Business Association (SBA), “small businesses” are defined as those with less than 500 employees, and they comprise 99.9% of all businesses. However, relatively few “small” businesses are this big. Businesses with less than 100 employees actually comprise 98.2% of all U.S. businesses, and those with less than 20 employees comprise 89.0% of them.

Taradel did not indicate how it defines “small business,” but based on the numbers, we can assume the survey was largely comprised of businesses of 100 employees or less...if not 20 or less. When it comes to the business goals of these companies, the number one goal, according to the survey, is to drive sales, with 53% of small business respondents giving this answer. This is followed distantly by “generate leads/accounts” (19.5%) and “retain customers” (14.3%). Building brand awareness followed at 8.6%. Gaining efficiency barely created a blip at 1.7%.

In terms of challenges, they were much as we might expect:

  • Converting leads into customers (22.2%)
  • Finding time and resources for marketing (21.7%)
  • Figuring out how to use digital marketing (14.8%)
  • Retaining and re-engaging customers (13.5%)
  • Capturing leads (13.0%)

Those are some tall orders for small budgets. Taradel found that 68% of small businesses spend less than $1,000 per month on marketing. Only 6.8% spend $10,000 or more. The Small Business Administration recommends that businesses doing less than $5 million per year in sales (or, generally, those with fewer than 50 employees) spend 7%-8% of gross revenue on marketing. This means that small businesses’ marketing efforts are vastly under-funded. They have to squeeze out the absolute maximum from the dollars they do spend.

Where are small businesses putting those dollars? Here are the top seven channels they use:

Social media


Direct mail




Local/event marketing


Paid search/Google Ads


Organic search/SEO


Newspaper/local publications


These channels are increasingly being used in combination. More than 80% of small businesses indicated that they are using two or more channels in their marketing. Nearly 60% are using three or more. For more detail on this aspect of the survey, see my earlier WhatTheyThink post.

This emphasis on social media/direct mail also suggests that platforms that combine these two channels in a single integrated platform (many of which can be white labeled by printers) are something printers should be looking into. I’m talking to more and more printers who offer this service, and data like these suggest why.

There is a lot of discussion in this industry about what customers need and how to advise them in ways to grow their businesses. It’s not “what are they doing?” but “what should they be doing?” If something needs to be changed, what? There is also the practical approach of not necessarily trying to change what customers are doing, but helping them do what they are already doing better.

Regardless which approach you take, surveys like this that provide insight into what those customers are thinking, what they are doing, and how you can help.

Download your copy here.

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”



By Wayne Lynn on Sep 11, 2019

Heidi, this is great. Keep up the good work. This is very useful for the thoughtful small printing company owner.


By Maeghan Nicholson on Sep 13, 2019

Heidi, we are on the same wavelength. I just published a blog on mixing social media with print this week! https://www.suttle-straus.com/blog/a-recipe-for-marketing-success-mixing-social-media-and-print


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