Small businesses, a powerful group of more than 28 million in the U.S., have grown by 49 percent since 1982. They also provide 55 percent of all jobs (66 percent since the 1970s) and 54 percent of total U.S. sales. Amazing!

The competition is fierce and it’s not getting any easier for small business owners and managers. What are the most pressing needs? And, what tools are small business owners using to help them compete and succeed?

Needs? Well, they’re obvious and validated. Three of the top five most pressing challenges for small businesses revolve around money: increasing profit, growing revenue, and cash flow. Makes perfect sense as business owners must continuously attract new customers and keep existing ones to grow sales and revenues. But, it’s an ongoing challenge as so many small business owners are working in their business more than on it.

Interestingly, according to a survey of over 1,000 small businesses conducted by Wasp Barcode Technologies, 62 percent of small businesses invest 4 percent or more of their revenue in marketing, with only about 10 percent making no investment at all. Email investments (tools and service) topped the list of marketing tools used by small businesses with 54 percent identifying email as a key tool, followed by website (51 percent), social media (48 percent), word of mouth (45 percent), direct mail (37 percent), and internet advertising (35 percent). TV, radio and print ads, print collateral, SEO and tradeshows/events rounded out the list. Not surprisingly as you drill down deeper into marketing tools used and business size, word of mouth is the top marketing tool used by businesses with 5 to 10 employees.

The great news for small businesses is that there are a ton of marketing tools out there today that are free or very affordable. You just have to know where to look.

Email: There are a few free email services that give businesses a great framework to start from. One of my personal favorites is MailChimp. It’s easy to use, scalable so it will grow with your business, and it’s free for lists up to 2,000 with 12,000 total emails per month.

Websites: Personally, I love WordPress. Like MailChimp, there is a free option, which is more content/personal based, but even the Business package is less than $25 per month and it features advanced SEO, unlimited storage, and a lot more. Companies like WordPress, Wix, Weebly and others have made building a website easy.

Social: Social media continues to grow and consumers are using social to aid their purchasing decisions. According to Business 2 Community, 46 percent of online users count on social media when making a purchase decision. If you own your own business and you don’t have a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter, you’re missing out. It’s free and it’s a great way to connect with your local community, engage with prospective and existing customers and build awareness for your products and/or services. If you’re posting content or creating your own articles, infographics or the like and you want to add some efficiency, tools like Hootsuite are a great addition. Hootsuite is a social syndication tool (free and paid versions) that allows you to schedule posts across multiple social media platforms from your PC, tablet or even a smartphone.

The list goes on and on. In the end, it’s about marketing, getting your brand and products/services in front of your target customer to keep them aware, engaged and hopefully buying!