Small business marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it does take time and effort to develop and execute a full range of low-cost or no-cost marketing tools.
Develop a marketing strategy
Before spending a dime on marketing, you need to be clear about your business goals and ensure your marketing strategy supports those goals. “Every small business owner should ask themselves what is the main object that their business is trying to achieve from their marketing strategy,” says Lisa Chu, owner, Black N Bianco. Once you define your business goals, you can create a marketing plan that supports those goals.
Research the competition
Before you develop a marketing strategy, make sure you research the competition. This will help you define your target audience as well as your business’ strengths and weaknesses, Chu says, and it will help you explain to potential customers your unique value proposition.
Once your research is complete, use that information to develop a road map for your first marketing campaign. There are a number of free and low-cost marketing tools you can use to execute your plan, including cultivating speaking engagements, asking customers for referrals, encouraging bloggers to share information about your product and using LinkedIn to connect with potential clients.
Now that you have a plan and researched the competition, here are 6 [cheap] marketing ideas to get in front of potential clients without blowing your budget:
1. Volunteer for speaking engagements
Show off your expertise and find new clients by offering to speak to business audiences at the local Chamber of Commerce or fraternal organizations such as the Lions, Rotary or Kiwanis clubs. “Getting yourself in front of a crowd is a powerful way to establish yourself as an expert,” says Steven Dubin, president of PR Works. Rather than being a sole speaker, Dubin suggests working with a local organization to put together a panel of speakers on a specific topic. This will help you create an informative discussion rather than a sales pitch. Partnering with other speakers will also bring more people to the event since each speaker would invite their business contacts and friends. Dubin estimated that about 20 percent of his business comes from speaking in front of local groups.
2. Develop engaging talking points
Develop clear, concise and entertaining message points to use in your presentations and marketing materials. Those message points should focus on the emotional aspects of your product or service, Dubin says, rather than the product’s features or benefits. A personal story is more likely to move a customer to buy a product than a list of features.
For example, he says, Emerson Bearing is one of the largest U.S. importers and resellers of bearings yet that isn’t what the company focuses on when it promotes its products. Instead, its message to consumers focuses on trust (Emerson Bearing is a second generation business that has been around since 1957), convenience (Emerson Bearing provides one-stop shopping with more than 3 million types and sizes of bearings to choose from), and customer service (knowledgeable sales staff is available to help customers choose the right bearing for their situation and budget).
3. Connect with bloggers
Get someone else to tell potential customers about how great your product or service is by developing a relationship with an influential blogger in your industry. “When an influential blogger writes a glowing review of my product it helps increase my brand awareness,” Chu says. Entice bloggers to write about your products by offering incentives such as discounts and giveaways for their readers, she says. However, she warns, finding the right blogger to connect with takes time.
Create a list of blogs in your industry, research each one to get a clear understanding of their audience and what they write about, and then use that information to develop a relationship with the blogger.
4. Don’t underestimate referrals
Current clients, friends and business associates can also help tell your story to potential customers. Don’t be shy about asking them to refer clients to you. Offer an incentive for successful referrals, such as discounts on services, a gift card or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
5. Leverage LinkedIn
Small business owners typically focus on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and they often forget about the power of LinkedIn. The platform offers access to a number of discussion groups focused on a range of topics, including regional business networking, niche industries and entrepreneurs, Dubin says. Join the discussion groups that fit your industry and then share news, updates and trends to establish yourself as a thought leader.
For instance, Dubin says, one of his clients specializes in high-end flooring, so that company’s CEO joined a number of groups related to commercial construction, facility managers and manufacturing. That CEO received a number of sales leads through LinkedIn by sharing legitimate news and trend information with the discussion groups. If you can provide answers to the kind of questions your targeted audience cares about, Dubin says, you can become a resource when they are ready to buy.
6. Create a monthly newsletter
One of the best ways to stay in front of your clients and potential customers is by sending out a monthly online newsletter that focuses on one piece of useful information each month. Most small businesses think that to create a newsletter they must provide six links to stories around the Internet but all they need to do is focus on one useful topic each month, Dubin says.
Businesses need to be in front of their clients and potential customers all the time, he says. You can’t predict when the customer will have an immediate need and be ready to buy. A monthly newsletter with helpful tips is a good way to have regular, ongoing and positive contact with prospective clients.
If your small business is operating on a tight budget, you’re going to want to save on more than just marketing. Learn how to become a savvy negotiator with these these small business negotiation tips.