Without bloated budgets and big staffs, generating and implementing small business marketing ideas is never easy.

You can’t buy the communication power of a major television ad buy. However, when it comes to word-of-mouth advertising, you’re on equal footing with the huge corporations. When one person says something great about your small business it carries as much weight as when one person says something great about a global brand.

That doesn’t mean you can leave your word-of-mouth advertising to chance.

Here are three critical steps to help you create a purposeful word-of-mouth advertising program and leverage one of the most successful small business marketing ideas available to you today.

1. Consider the messages you want to send.

If you were buying advertising, what are the most important messages you would want to send?

Ask yourself, “If I could get someone to say one thing about my business, what would it be?” If you can’t answer that quickly, it’s time to improve or sharpen your offerings and/or customer experience.

Some word-of-mouth advertising will focus on what you provide — your product or service. “Burger Town has absolutely the best burgers in town!” At the same time, how you treat your customers will also be a major focus in word-of-mouth advertising. “The atmosphere and wait staff at Burger Town are incredible!”

If you don’t have a strategy to send positive messages in both of these areas, you may not want to use word-of-mouth advertising as one of your “go-to” small business marketing ideas. It could backfire.

2. Consider the messengers.

Most small business owners immediately think of their customers when they think about word-of-mouth advertising. However, that cuts this small business marketing idea short. Your customers are certainly not the only ones out there with something to say about your business.

Along with your customers, your employees and various influencers are critical to word-of-mouth advertising success. Customers, employees, and influencers need to be specifically planned for when you begin to plot out your word-of-mouth strategy.

What messages fit each of these groups? What will make their word-of-mouth advertising believable?

In today’s business environment, social media communication is part of word-of-mouth advertising. This includes posts people make, reviews they write, and any other online comments that can be viewed by others. Online mentions are certainly one of the most powerful small business marketing ideas you have at your disposal today.

3. Promote and follow up in your program.

After you have identified those who would be likely to be useful in your word-of-mouth advertising program, find ways to get them onboard. This can start with encouraging mutual social media connections, but you can get even more creative.

A friend of mine was eating at an extremely popular hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant last summer. He attributed its popularity to two things: great food and a fantastic owner. The owner engaged virtually every diner and posed for pictures with them that he posted to the restaurant’s Instagram account. Of course, diners would then share those photographs through their social media accounts.

Identify the bloggers or other industry influencers you would like to use to spread the word about your small business. Engage them. Send them samples and keep them informed about what you are doing. Don’t demand anything and don’t even suggest anything at first. Build the relationships.

Finally, when you begin to see the fruits of this small business marketing idea, follow up with people, thanking them for their positive mentions and directly addressing any negative comments.

Expand your reach through word-of-mouth.

Encouraging your existing audience to spread the word about your business means you’ll reach more like-minded customers.

When new customers hear about you from a person they know, rather than an ad, they’ll be more likely to trust your business right from the start.

Promote customer loyalty by providing a quality experience and staying in touch with customers with quality email marketing to build loyalty. Having multiple touch points with your audience means they’ll be more likely to sing your praises when they have the chance.

How has word-of-mouth advertising worked for you? Do you have any secrets that have helped you boost it to the benefit of your small business?

About the Author: Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert. Sign up for Susan’s Success Tips Newsletter and get your free copy of “Smart Marketing Strategies for Small Biz” ebook.