Generating leads is the backbone of your business. Without leads, you don't make any sales. And with no money coming in, you're in serious trouble. Every small business owner has felt this pressure.
But how do you go about getting leads?
How do you let people know about your business and convince them to start the buying process?
How can you make sure you're getting the right leads?
Unless you've been doing it for years, it's hard to know. So we're here to help you with this guide.
We'll go over how a lead is defined, and also 12 proven ways to generate leads for your small business:
- Run Google pay-per-click ads
- Run Facebook ads
- Create lead generation landing pages
- Create lead magnets
- Use your CRM to find lead generation opportunities
- Offer live chat
- Spend time on social media
- Start an email newsletter
- Start a referral program
- Use a lead database
- Send direct mail
- Exhibit at an event
What's a lead?
A lead is someone who's interested in the type of product or service that you're selling. You might know that they're interested because they contacted you with questions about your product or service. Or they could have filled out a form on your website with their information.
It's important to note that leads aren't necessarily interested only in your company. If you sell graphic design software, a lead is just someone who’s interested in buying graphic design software.
If they're interested in your product or service specifically, then they're a "better" kind of lead—they're a qualified lead.
What's a qualified lead?
A qualified lead is
- interested in your product or service,
- needs what you're selling,
- has a budget for your product or service, and
- has the authority to make a purchase.
In short, they're the people you want your sales team to be in touch with.
Leads can be qualified in many ways. They could qualify themselves by requesting more information about your pricing structure, or one of your salespeople could find out that a lead is considering buying from your company.
The important thing to know is that qualified leads are more valuable than unqualified ones because they're more likely to become (or "convert" to) customers when they stop by your store or when your salespeople start making calls.
In this article, we'll focus on how to get leads. (You can qualify them later.) But keep qualifying in the back of your mind. If you can use any of these methods to target qualified leads instead of potentially unqualified ones, you'll save yourself some time.
Now, let's get into the best methods for small business lead generation.
1. Run Google pay-per-click ads
Google handles billions of searches every day. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads can get your company in front of a huge number of potential leads.
It's not uncommon to see four or five ads before you get to the first search result. These are above the "organic" search results, which Google ranks based on how likely they are to satisfy a user's search query.
Here's a not-so-secret secret: you might have the #1 organic search result . . . but you'll never get placed above the ads. These are what the PPC ads look like:
Pro-tip: Yes, getting a #1 ranking on Google is worth a lot. But you'll always get beat out by paid ads (they say "Ad" next to the URL).
To get started, head to ads.google.com. The site will walk you through the process of placing your first ad. And be sure to check out Unbounce's great guide to writing effective ad copy. If your ad doesn't get clicks, it's not doing you any good!
The most important thing to keep in mind when you're running Google PPC ads is to be patient. There are a ton of factors to experiment with, from the text you use to the audience you target. You may have to go through many iterations before you find what works.
Here's an important thing to remember: these ads don't actually get you the contact information of your leads—they just get people to your landing page. Once they're on your page, you can use lead generation forms and lead magnets to get contact information. We'll talk about those in a bit.
Let's look at an example of an ad. Say you’re looking for an agency to help you with these paid ads. A search for "adwords agency" shows several ads at the top of the page:
Notice the friendly language of Solutions 8. It stands out with its casual tone and concise description.
Clicking on Sol8's ad brings us to their landing page, where we can click a button to get a free action plan (in exchange for contact information, of course). Now, Sol8 has identified us as a qualified lead:
If we click the "Get Your Free Action Plan" button, Sol8 knows that we're interested in what they do.
Again, it's not just about getting people to your site. It's about getting their information. Your landing page and ads have to work together to make that happen.
2. Run Facebook ads
You've probably heard that on Facebook, you're not the customer—you're the product. And as a small business, you can take advantage of that arrangement. Facebook ads let you target very specific audiences that are likely to become leads for your business.
For example, you can target Philadelphians between the ages of 18 and 25 who are interested in cars:
Facebook has incredibly detailed targeting out of the box, and this is especially useful for small businesses. If you run a store in a town of 5,000 people, you don't need Google to show your ad to people all over the world. You can specifically target the people who are most likely to visit your store.
And Facebook ads have a couple of big advantages over Google search ads. First, you can include images and video to grab people's attention. You can also add all sorts of cool things to your Facebook page, like events, a signup page for your newsletter, links to your site, product listings, and more. Those kinds of pages can net small businesses even more leads.
And second, unlike Google ads, you can include lead generation forms right in your Facebook ads. So if someone clicks on "Sign Up," they can enter their contact information right away. That's one less step that your leads have to go through to give you their information:
Facebook lead generation forms let you get contact information directly within your ad instead of sending someone to a landing page.
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3. Create lead generation landing pages
Okay, so you've got paid ads running . . . now what? You need your leads' name and contact information so your sales team can get in touch. A landing page's job is to convince your visitor that they should share that information.
A landing page is a page on your website that's built specifically for people who are coming to your website from a specific source—this is often an ad, but can be anything from a social media post to a special offer from another website.
Pro-tip: You can often recognize landing pages by the fact that there's usually no navigation menu at the top of the page to the rest of the website. This is because it's meant to focus the visitor's attention on only one thing: sharing their contact information.
For landing page to capture information about leads effectively, its content needs to be specific to the messaging that your visitor saw when they clicked on your ad.
If your ad emphasized your competitive pricing, your landing page should include a lot of information on pricing and why you offer the best value. If your ad focused on your great customer service, your landing page should, too.
The best practice here is to have your ads send visitors to landing pages, which should have messaging tailored to each ad or campaign. Don't just send them from your ad to your homepage—gives them a sales pitch that's tailored to the ad or post they clicked on.
If you click on an ad that says "Get a free 15-minute psychic consult" but land on a page with a headline that says "Downtown Psychic," you'd probably get frustrated and/or confused because there's no mention of the consult you expected from the ad.
Here's an example of a landing page built with Unbounce (a popular tool for building landing pages). Imagine that someone clicked on an ad that said "Learn how to test and optimize your website." This page gives them exactly what they're looking for and asks them to hand over their contact information:
Monetate's landing page emphasizes the value of their offer and makes it easy to get visitors' contact information.
You could read entire books on landing pages. But the general idea is to show a lead that your company can solve their problem. If a visitor clicks on an ad that says "Click here for a free business consultation," your landing page needs to make it clear how to get that consultation.
It's easy to forget the goal of your landing page, but remember: the point here is to capture lead information for your sales team.
And speaking of landing pages, they're best used in conjunction with...
4. Create lead magnets
Ads and landing pages are all about getting people to your site and getting their contact information. But what if you already have people coming to your site organically (such as by Googling you)? If you have a lot of traffic, but not a lot of these people are giving you their information or doing much shopping, you might try using a lead magnet.
A lead magnet is a piece of premium content that people exchange their contact information (most commonly email addresses) for. If you have a lead's email, you can send "nurture emails" that showcase your product (without hard-selling or being pushy) to gradually guide them to become customers.
Copper's Guide to Maximizing CRM ROI ebook is a perfect example. It's more informative than a blog post and contains high-value information about how to use a CRM—while conveniently highlighting Copper—so that readers would be more (in theory) willing to give their contact information to download it.
Here's what the landing page looks like:
For lead magnets to work, they have to be very enticing. Make sure you're offering the content that visitors want if you're looking to capture small business leads.
It's also worth noting that you can use lead magnets to get more information than just contact details. CoSchedule uses their headline analyzer tool to get a better picture of who's coming to their site:
This form uses only three dropdowns, which is easy enough for visitors to complete in a few seconds.
And don't forget that you can use lead magnets to get people to click on your ads, too. If someone searches for "cheap computer parts," they might click on an ad that promises a downloadable checklist for saving money when building a PC.
5. Use your CRM to find lead generation opportunities
Lead generation is all about data. And that doesn't just mean contact information. You need to understand your audience and their problems.
You might get some of this information from a survey, a lead generation form on a landing page, and social media. Different leads could have different pieces of information stored.
How do you keep it all straight? Well, with customer relationship management (CRM) software.
CRMs typically let you tag prospects, add notes, and sort people into lists—among many other tasks. But with that preliminary information, you can start identifying patterns.
You might find, for example, that your customers with the highest lifetime value tend to have fewer than 30 employees. You can use that information to target companies of this size with your marketing, advertising, and sales initiatives.
Pro-tip: With more specific targeting, you'll get higher-quality leads.)
Or you might find that buyers who first got in touch via a chatbot are more likely to refer other customers. Knowing this, you might send those customers an email asking them to refer their friends and colleagues to you to get more warm leads from referrals.
The first step in taking advantage of your CRM for lead generation is simple: capture and record as much useful information as possible.
Let's look at an example: say you use a lead magnet that requires people to share their contact information as well as a few facts about their employer (like the CoSchedule lead-capture form above).
Pro-tip: Not everyone who fills out your lead capture form will be a lead.
Some of them will want your lead magnet but not be a good fit for your company. Imagine that you sell to businesses with 50 employees or more. You can use your CRM to filter out the people who filled out your form who don’t meet that requirement, so that you're left only with leads who are worth contacting.
This is just one example of how a CRM can help you identify and prioritize leads. When you start contacting, tracking, and nurturing leads, it becomes even more useful.
6. Offer live chat
Live chat apps and chatbots have become common, especially for companies in the tech industry. And there's a reason it's so common: it works.
Conversational marketing tools like Drift are great for getting small business leads. And they double as customer support tools, too.
Here's a statistic for you: responding to a communication from a potential customer within five minutes makes you ten times more likely to be able to get in touch with them. Waiting more than five minutes means you're likely to miss them. Live chat lets you respond in seconds.
If you want to use live chat to generate small business leads, though, you'll need to keep some specifics in mind. For example, a chatbot should ask questions to qualify your prospects—and get their contact information if they seem like a valuable lead.
This chatbot on Drift.com knows if you've been to the site before:
The bot asks if you're ready to get started.
The chatbot asks a series of questions to qualify you as a lead. If you click certain options, you'll be directed to a page that you me into the sales process.
When you click "Yes! But I have some questions," the chatbot presents a list of frequently asked questions that I can get answers to with just a click
Use similar principles for your live chat or chatbot workflow—which, conveniently, are also applicable for landing pages:
- use clear, concise language;
- emphasize the benefits of your product, not just features; and
- make it easy for people to give you their contact information (i.e., don’t hide the form they have to fill out at the bottom of the page).
This Instagram giveaway post attracted over 68,000 likes, and asks every entrant to tag three friends in the comments—that's a lot of leads that Veet India can now pursue.
And because everyone loves to win free stuff, an Instagram contest can get you a lot of leads. You'll need something to give away and a plan for how you'll get people to interact with your page.
- 2. Host a Facebook Live event or series.
Since its launch in 2016, there have been billions of live videos shared via Facebook Live. And while excitement over the tool seems to have cooled a bit, it's still a great way to engage your viewers. Live videos get six times as many interactions as traditional uploaded videos.
Use these interactions to find qualified leads. If someone is commenting on your video about SEO, they might be a good lead for your marketing agency. You can either direct them to a form on your Facebook page where they enter their information or you can have your sales team reach out to them.
At the very least, even just people sharing your entertaining video with their friends can result in more visits to your website to find out what you're about. (And, of course, more leads.)
- 3. Run a Twitter chat.
Twitter chats are live exchanges of tweets on a single topic. It's a bit like being in a chatroom, but on Twitter.
By running a chat on a topic of interest to your target audience, you can increase brand awareness and get your name in front of more people. Even if everyone taking part in the chat has already heard of your company, you may get some retweets for added exposure:
#bufferchat was a very popular Twitter chat about everything related to social media. It's been retired, but marketers still remember Buffer's weekly online get-togethers.
Because participants in your chat are likely to be interested in the type of product or service you sell, this is a great chance to get leads. But to get the most out of your Twitter chat, don't use it to just talk about your company or your product.
Use it instead to create connections, increase your social following, and showcase your expertise. You could include a call to action at the very end of the chat encouraging people to check out your website or a specific landing page—just try not to overdo it.
Capturing contact information from leads on social media
No matter what kind of social media tactic you use, you still need to capture leads' contact information. Some social networks give you the tools to do that. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn let you include lead generation forms directly in your posts:
Some networks also let you add links to your profile—include links to landing pages to get the most out of your social media presence. Hootsuite uses the one link you're allowed in your Instagram profile to send people to a page with links to popular content on their website:
You can also direct people to specific pages on your site in your posts:
Fat Face's post will appeal to women interested in buying sandals. The link in the post brings those leads directly to a page highlighting those products. You can do the same with your social media posts, no matter what you're selling.
You have a lot of options for qualifying people and capturing their contact information on social media, and generating small business leads on social media is a big undertaking.
It can take a long time to start seeing a return from social media—anywhere from six months to two years. (There's a reason why people say that building a following big enough to influence brand awareness and brand loyalty is a marathon, not a sprint.)
Consumers today expect businesses to be on social media. But you can do more than just respond to questions and solve customer service issues. If you provide compelling content and build real relationships, you can start generating leads too!
8. Start an email newsletter
Building a relationship with potential customers is a great way to fill a long-term lead pipeline. Like social media, an email newsletter puts you in regular contact with your future customers and lets you show them how your product or service can benefit them.
The Litmus newsletter is known for great graphic design and concise writing:
Of course, you'll need your prospects' email addresses. There are lots of ways to collect these addresses; you might, for example, ask visitors on your website if they'd like to be added to your newsletter list. Or use a lead magnet to capture addresses. You can even have an email newsletter signup list at an in-person event.
You'll also need to know what kinds of things your subscribers are interested in to create good newsletters. Here are some ideas for getting insights that can help:
- Look at your most popular blog or social media posts.
- Run a survey to see what people want to know.
- Reach out to your best customers and ask.
- Align content with your goals (for example, if you want people to download a white paper, summarize the content of the white paper and link to it from the email).
- Include information on your latest offerings and sales.
Here's where lots of businesses go wrong: they use their newsletter only to advertise and talk up their products. That's not what a newsletter is for.
A newsletter is for providing useful information that your prospects and customers want. A chiropractor's office, for example, could share back-health tips every week.
Every once in a while, you can include an effort at lead generation, like offering a coupon for first-time buyers to get them to start shopping:
Gap sends first-time subscribers a 25% off coupon to encourage them to browse the online store. You can use similar tactics to get people to your website.
You can also include a link in your emails that takes people to a landing page focused on getting contact information. (Campaign Monitor has a great article detailing 75 CTAs you can use in your email newsletters.)
But only every once in a while.
Don't blast people too hard with sales-focused newsletters—they'll unsubscribe right away.
Finally, no matter which tactic you use, you'll probably need an email marketing platform. These web apps help you manage your subscriber list, design your emails, and see measurements of how your newsletter perform. Popular options include:
9. Start a referral program
Generating leads takes a lot of time and energy—unless you get someone else to do it for you. And with a referral program, your current customers can take on some of your lead generation efforts.
You don't need to do anything complicated. Just let your customers know that when they refer someone to your business, they'll both get $10 off their next order. Or a free upgrade. Or some other kind of perk. A small bonus can make a huge difference.
One of the most famous examples of a successful referral system comes from Dropbox. Their explosive growth in the late 2000s was driven by their simple, but effective, referral program. When users sent a referral link to a friend and that friend joined Dropbox, both people got an extra 500 MB of free storage:
Dropbox's referral campaign is legendary for how easy and effective it was.
The system was simple, easy to use, and gave people something that they valued. If you can create a similar system for your business, you could see great results.
Why? Because, according to research, referral leads are more likely to buy. They're worth more. And people are happy to make referrals when they've made a purchase from your company.
The crucial fact here is that customers don't refer just anyone. They refer people who they think will appreciate your business. Which means you're not just getting leads—you're getting qualified leads.
The way you communicate with your customers will determine how you share your referral system. You could put that information in your email signature or newsletter. You might include it on a flyer or other physical piece of marketing material, or tell people when they're on the phone. (Dropbox put their referral offer in the onboarding sequence of their web app.)
No matter how you tell them, make sure to get the message out to as many customers as you can.
Bonus tip: To see how well your referral marketing program is working, create a tag or category in your CRM to mark referred leads. You'll be able to see how much they've spent and whether you're getting a good return on your efforts.
Here's how to add a "referred" tag in Copper. Just type it in the Tags field and you're set to go!
10. Use a lead database
This can be a very expensive tactic—but it offloads B2B lead generation to someone else. And that can save you a huge amount of time and effort.
Lead databases contain contact information for thousands of people, along with things like
- business locations,
- number of employees,
- annual revenue,
- social links, and
- the software they use.
The biggest advantage of using a lead database is that it gives you access to a huge amount of information that you wouldn't otherwise have. All you have to do is set up some searches and you'll get a big list of people who are good leads for your business:
Lead databases like UpLead contain thousands of possible leads for your small business. But they don't always come cheap.
Using a lead database with millions of contacts available, you need to learn to filter and narrow your searches. After you sign up for the database, you can start crafting searches. Each search includes a variety of criteria; you might look for companies with 100+ employees in the Fresno area that use Adobe products, for example.
Once you've filtered the database down to the people most likely to need your product, you can export the list and use it to start contacting those people. Entries include email addresses, phone numbers, job histories, and other information that will help you get in touch with leads and tailor your pitches to their needs.
There are some drawbacks, though, such as price. UpLead, for example, starts at $79/month, and that gets you only about 200 leads (additional leads are 40¢ each). If you want more leads, you can easily pay $300 or more per month for a lead database. Many small businesses might not have that kind of cash on hand. (Another thing is that these databases are primarily for B2B sellers.)
Finally, lead databases are mainly used for cold calling. Inbound methods (where your prospects find you by searching online) like content marketing, inbound sales, and in-person events get you warm leads that are more interested in your industry. Lead databases only get you leads that might be interested.
But, in the end, these databases do get you a lot of leads fast. And if you’re on a time-crunch, it could be an option.
11. Send direct mail
Didn't expect to see this one, did you? But direct mail is more powerful than you might realize. Here's why:
Direct mail, when compared to digital media:
- takes 21% less cognitive effort to understand,
- elicits higher brand recall,
- is 20% more persuasive,
- gets its message across faster, and
- is more likely to drive behavior.
Of course, to realize these benefits, you need to get people to actually open your mailer. Using creative formats is a big help here:
This gift card mailer from Mr. Lube is so creative. How could you not open this if you got it in the mail?
Like an email newsletter, you'll need to collect addresses. How you go about doing that depends largely on your business. For example, you might have a large database of customers whose addresses you already have on file because they shared their contact information when they made a purchase. You could send a mailer with an offer that encourages them to refer new leads to you.
Or if you run a brick-and-mortar store, you could send mailers to everyone in the neighborhood, encouraging them to stop in and check out what you're selling. If you provide services to other companies, look up the addresses of organizations that might make good customers, and send them some information about how you can help them.
The important thing to remember when you're working on a direct mail campaign is to focus on getting people to take action. If they don't take action, you're getting at best, just brand awareness—not leads. Use coupons, sales and offers, special deals, referral bonuses, and anything else you can think of to get people to visit your website or store and give you their contact info.
12. Exhibit at an event
Getting a lot of people together in one place makes for a great lead generation opportunity. Industry events are especially valuable for attracting many members of your target audience at once.
For example, if you want to reach health professionals, you could exhibit at or sponsor a health policy conference. If you sell athletic clothing, you could get a booth at a local 5k run. Trade shows are another opportunity, depending on your industry. These events are prime posts for gathering leads' contact information by asking them to sign up for an email list, offering a coupon in exchange for their details, or having an "Enter our drawing by leaving your business card!" box.
Effective event lead generation walks a fine line. Yes, you want to gather contact information. But if you want someone to care about your booth, exhibit, or sponsorship, you need to provide something they're interested in.
That might mean free giveaways, short consultations, or deals on products. Whatever it is, it has to appeal to your target audience. That's how you're going to get them to talk to you, sign up for your email newsletter, or start a free trial.
An important note about small business leads
There are two things you need to seek out when generating leads: quantity and quality.
Having a large number of leads is useful because your sales team won't close every deal. Not every lead will buy from you—that's just life. So, if your team closes 10% of deals, bringing in 120 leads instead of 100 will get you two more sales.
Most companies understand that. But don't forget about quality, either. Going from a close rate of 10% to 15% will net you five more deals—without you needing to get those extra 20 leads.
If you're adding a lot of low-quality leads to your pipeline, you could hurt your close rates and you'll convert fewer people because your sales team will spend more time talking to leads who aren't likely to buy.
When you're experimenting with lead generation, make sure to track your results. Some tactics will result in higher-quality leads that are more likely to make a purchase. When you find those tactics, stick with them.
Fill your pipeline with small business leads
Your sales pipeline starts with leads. Without them, your outbound sales team doesn't have anything to work with. And that means they're not closing deals.
There are as many small business lead generation tactics as there are companies (and more). You just need to find the ones that work best for your business.
So start with a single lead generation method. Spend a bit more time on social media, or sign up for Google Ads and create your first ad to see how it performs. Then grow from there. Never stop experimenting or trying new ideas!