Does your service business have a marketing budget? Does the term "marketing budget" seem like it shouldn't apply to your small landscaping, plumbing, or house cleaning business? Whether you're already putting money into marketing and advertising, or you're afraid to give it a try, we'll give you some tips that work well for small service businesses.

What a marketing budget is

Let's start off by talking about what a marketing budget is. A marketing budget is an estimate of what it'll cost you to promote your service business to your customers. That's it.

Budget vs Plan

Often a marketing budget is part of a marketing plan. Marketing plans are really common with medium to big business, and it makes a lot of sense there. The plan might say that you'll put x amount of dollars into Google Ads and x amount of dollars into Radio Ads, and it could outline what you expect to be the return on that marketing investment.

When you're running a small service business (especially if you're an owner/operator handling most business aspects solo) you probably don't have time to sit down and research a complex marketing plan. It's more likely that you have a slow season and need to do a marketing push to drum up some new work until the slow season tapers off and work picks back up again.

You're not alone, and that's how most small service businesses operate. The good news is that it's okay! Marketing can still be used effectively to boost your business through the slow seasons and to help it grow all year long.

Come up with a budget

We'll just come right out with this: you need a monthly marketing budget.

You need to take a little bit of money every month (good and bad) and put it back for marketing. It doesn't have to be a lot. In fact we'd advise that you start off small — put back $100 or $200 dollars when you have a good month.

And here's the hard part... don't touch it. Don't use it for supplies, don't use it because you've worked hard and think you deserve a little gift. Treat it as a rainy day fund, and your rainy day is when you don't have work and need to use marketing to drum some up.

When you come up with your budget, plan a little. Think about when your slow seasons have been and how much you'd like to have available for marketing during those times. Having too much work is often a good thing... unless you paid to get that work and don't have the time to do it. You don't want to spend $200 bucks and have more jobs than you can handle, which then forces customers to look elsewhere because you can't get to them in time — that's bad for the customer and bad for business.

Spend it wisely

There isn't a magic bullet here, it just takes trying things. There are a few things you should keep in mind when deciding on how to spend your marketing budget:

1. Try different things

Ads, Classifieds, Yard Signs, Flyers — all of these are good places to start for smaller businesses. There are plenty of other ideas out there too, but the important thing is to spend careful and keep spending on things until you find something that works for you and your business.

2. Know your customers

If most of your business comes from a certain type of person (old, young, well off, etc) you're likely to be able to use that to your advantage when it comes to marketing. Younger and middle-aged people may find you with a Facebook ad, whereas older people may be more likely to spot you in the classifieds for your local paper, or pick up a copy of the phone book and look you up.

3. Know where your customers came from

This is really, really, really important. If you're spending money to get customers and you don't know where they came from, you're wasting your money.

Trying various marketing approaches is a great idea, but what we don't want to do is to continue trying things that don't work.

The only way to know if they're working is to track where your customers are coming from. Whenever a customer contacts you about a job, ask them how they found out about you and record that information somewhere.

These are a few good rules to apply, but the key is to just be smart with your money.

Track how you did and keep it moving

Now that you've got a budget and you're spending some money, you'll need to start looking at how you did and continue evolving your budget based on the results. You should keep track of each marketing plan you've tried, how much you spent on that specific approach, and the number of new customers you received as a result. With this info you can easily see what is and what isn't working and make an informed decision of where to spend your money. WorkWeek makes it simple to monitor where your customers are coming from by letting you to pick a source (Facebook, newspaper classifieds, etc) when creating or editing a customer. Once that's done, the total amount you make from each customer source will automatically be calculated, allowing you to determine which marketing strategies are successful.

Marketing may initially seem intimidating or even unnecessary for smaller businesses, but once you've got a plan in mind and a budget set, it can more than pay for itself. Don't be afraid to try different things and be creative, however remember to track where you customers are coming from and their numbers so you're not wasting money on unsuccessful approaches. As time goes on and you try things, you'll find what works best for your business. With a bit of smart marketing, you'll begin to see an increase in revenue and growth of your business, even during the slow seasons.