A successful business is a well-marketed business – it’s a truism that was probably written somewhere on Moses’ tablets. 

Measuring small business marketing success doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive, and small businesses should not despair. There are all sorts of smart, low-cost tools available for measuring your marketing ROI and below are seven tools for you to start using right away. 

1.  Ask every one of your customers how they found you. 

While this sounds drop-dead simple, few small businesses truly take advantage of this low-cost, but highly effective, measurement tool.  Whenever someone interacts with your business -- whether it is in-person or over the phone/web -- ask them how they found you.  The trick is thinking through your primary customer entry points and making sure you ask at those points.  Maybe it’s a receptionist; maybe it’s a cashier; maybe it’s an extra box in a web form.  Whatever it is, just make sure you are doing it – and doing it consistently.

2.  Use call tracking

Even the smallest business will have multiple marketing channels where they ask the prospective customer to call the company.  Whatever your channel mix (maybe you have a website and do some advertising in the local newspaper and on late night radio), call tracking is a great way to understand which channels are most effective. 

Call tracking entails using the services of call tracking companies like Twillio or CallFire.  For each of your marketing channels, buy a unique telephone number so that you can track how many calls you get from which channel, the duration, caller ID, etc. 

3.  Use unique URLs

Many people would rather visit a website than pick up the phone so unique URLs are another great tool for measuring your marketing effectiveness.  You may even use them in tandem with call tracking – i.e., have a unique phone number and URL for each of your marketing channels. 

Setting up a unique URL entails purchasing that URL or simply creating a folder or subdomain for a URL your business already owns.   So, in your newspaper advertisement, the copy says, “Visit us at www.acme-cares.com” but your radio spot says, “Visit us at www.acme1.com”. 

It is often best to point unique URLs at different “landing” pages – i.e., web pages that can be identical but are in different web locations.  This allows you to more easily track your marketing channels by tracking the visitors to and activity on these separate pages.

4.  Use promo codes

Small businesses will often run promotions in print or online publications to drive customers to their business.  Whatever your promotions channel, include a unique code for each promotion + channel combination.  So, for a newspaper advertisement it will often look something like this:  “To take advantage of this great offer, mention the promotion code “CARE” when calling our offices.” 

You can also use call tracking or unique URLs for promotions – e.g., “Visit www.acme-cares.com to enter!” However, promos tend to be shorter lived and don’t always warrant the extra call or URL tracking time and expense.

5.  Use Google Analytics

As more and more marketing moves online, few tools are as valuable (and affordable) as Google Analytics.  Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to monitor traffic to a single website.  You simply add the Google Analytics code to your website and Google will give you a dashboard providing the number of unique visitors, repeat traffic, page views, etc.  If you are not monitoring the activity on your website or blog, you are missing some of the lowest hanging fruit.

If you cannot afford your own website, don’t despair.  Many websites will offer you a presence on their website with site-specific analytics tools to measure your ROI.  As an example, see Avvo’s analytics package as part of our Avvo Pro offering.  You should consider it a red herring if a site takes your money but does not offer such analytics. 

6.  Use social media tracking tools

The allure of social media marketing is that a small business can cheaply tap into different networks where its target audience resides.  The question is whether these networks are responding.  There are all sorts of low-cost tools that alert you when your business is mentioned in social media conversations.  Tweetdeck (owned by Twitter) and Hootsuite are two great, free tools in this regard. 

Google also crops up here with their “Google Alerts” product.  Anytime someone mentions your company on a webpage that Google has indexed (which is trillions of pages), Google will send you an email alert with a link to that mention.  It won’t catch every mention, but it’s free and it’s a great way to listen to what is being said about your products and services on blogs, in smaller social media communities, in news stories, etc.

7.  Leverage CRM platforms

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platforms help businesses more efficiently track their relationships with prospective and existing customers.  Tracking your prospective customer relationships is elemental to understanding marketing ROI.  So, if you can afford a CRM platform that helps you with both, you should do it. 

CRM platforms have historically been a “big company” concept.  However, companies like Salesforce.com, Hubspot and Infusionsoft are changing that, offering solutions that scale with the size of your business.   There are also niche CRMs like Constant Contact and iContact, great email production and management systems that allow you to see which email campaigns are most effective and to follow-up with prospects from those campaigns. 

What other low cost tools are you using to measure your marketing ROI?

This opinion column was written by   Mark Britton ,  the founder and CEO of Avvo.com, a free social media platform that provides trusted answers to consumer health and legal questions every 10 seconds. In Avvo's professional directory provides comprehensive profiles, patient and client reviews, peer endorsements and the industry-recognized Avvo Rating for more than 90 percent of doctors, dentists and lawyers in the U.S.