Courtesy of SCORE Houston
“If we build it they will come.”
That was an interesting storyline for the classic movie, “Field of Dreams”, but it doesn’t work very well in running a business. The attraction of customers requires marketing, and marketing cost money. Therein lies the dilemma. Most small businesses simply don’t have a lot of spare cash to spend on marketing.
That same kind of “if we build it they will come” myth seems to have attached itself to the Internet. As a result, businesses large and small are racing to build their own websites, expecting that panacea to provide a low-cost, effortless alternative to traditional advertising and marketing. It won’t happen.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m all in favor of websites. Your own site allows you to make information about your company and products available to millions of people, and in more detail than is usually possible in traditional marketing. But, the mere fact that your website is available doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody will actually read it. The Internet is an important part of your marketing solution, but it can’t stand alone.
“If we build it, they will come” doesn’t work. Potential customers will not be attracted to your web site unless you tell them where to find it, and also tell them why they might want to go there. Oops! We’re back where we started. Even your website requires marketing, marketing requires money, small businesses don’t have a lot of money to spend of marketing…and that vicious circle goes round and round.
So what can a small business owner do? How does a business do marketing on a shoestring?
Here are 18 proven ways to advertise your business without breaking the bank.
1) Business cards and business stationery. This is priority number one, and definitely NOT the place to economize. Your business cards, letterhead and envelopes should be first-class, giving you a really professional look, telling your customers that you take your business seriously, and so should they. Oh yes, and if you do have a website, be sure that you advertise it on yours cards and letterhead, and be sure your website is kept up to date.
2) Get those business card into as many hands as possible. Pay a visit to all your family and friends. Leave a small stack of business cards with each one, asking them to hand them out to their friends.
3) Don’t overlook the suppliers with whom you do business. Give them your business card. Since you buy from them, ask if they can use your products or service, or refer you to others who can. When you succeed, your suppliers succeed.
4) Closely behind your business cards and stationary, your “elevator speech” is crucially important. This is your 30-second commercial, which clearly and succinctly verbalizes who you are, what your business does and the value you bring to customers. Write it, polish it until it says exactly what you want it to say in the fewest possible words…never more than 30 seconds. Memorize and rehearse your speech until it effortlessly flows off your tongue. Never allow your “commercial” to sound canned or memorized. Make it warm and sincere. Then, deliver your “commercial” at every opportunity, every time you introduce yourself to someone for the first time.
5) Build a networking community. Attend business & professional groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, civic associations or other networking groups, and become actively involved in 2 or 3 of those groups. Have your “elevator speech” on the tip of your tongue, and have a pocket full of business cards where they are easily reachable. Every time you introduce yourself to someone new, deliver your “elevator speech” and hand the person a business card. Don’t forget to ask the other person about his/her profession, and to really listen when they tell you. They’ll be impressed that you are interested, and will remember you as a warm and caring person.
6) Differentiate yourself and your business from the competition. Become news. In your advertising, tell prospective customers how you are different. But, there are also other opportunities to set your business apart from the competition. The news media doesn’t usually concern itself with the “ordinary”. Something is “news” because it’s extraordinary, different from the norm. Look for something unusual about what you do, what you have done, or what you are going to do, and publicize it. If the story is of citywide interest, send out press releases to the Chronicle, and to the news departments of Houston radio and TV stations.
But, don’t forget the small area newspapers and magazines. They are on the lookout for stories of interest to readers in their particular area, and are more likely to publish your story than are the major news outlets. When submitting a press release to a print publication, be sure to send along a photo.
7) Write an article that demonstrates your expertise. Send it to Houston area newspapers and magazines (and perhaps even some business oriented web sites). Be sure to tag the end of the article with your name, business name, phone number and a reference to your product or service. If your article is actually published, get permission from the publisher to reprint the article. Make copies and include the article with your sales letters or other marketing pieces you might send to customers and prospects. Publication tends to elevate customer perceptions concerning your expertise.
8) Offer yourself as a public speaker. Volunteer organizations, civic associations, service clubs, Chambers of Commerce, libraries and other organizations often need speakers for meetings. Toastmasters International might be a good place to start. Toastmasters is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills.
After you’ve had some practice in public speaking, at least enough to feel comfortable in front of an audience, seek out speaking engagements. It’s a good way to get publicity for your company and to shine your image as an “expert” in your field.
9) Do product demonstrations. What groups might be interested in learning how to use some of the tools of your trade? Obviously, you won’t teach them everything you know but, in appropriate situations, you could demonstrate enough to get them interested in your product or service.
10) Stay in constant contact with customers and prospects. It has been shown that one exposure to a marketing message is usually not effective in changing a customer’s buying habits. That’s why you see the big, national advertisers running the same TV commercial, over and over, ad-nausea. Repeated impressions are essential to cut through the vast amount of advertising clutter to which we are all exposed on a daily basis.
Small business owners can’t afford that kind of constant advertising in the mass media. But, there are other ways to maintain an ongoing conversation with your customers and prospects. In exactly the same way that SCORE utilizes this newsletter to stay in contact with you, our clients, you can use e-mail (at very low cost) to stay in contact with your customers, reminding them of your products and the benefits they offer. It costs more, but you can also send out sales letters or other direct-mail pieces precisely targeted to your best prospects. Highlight your product features, but don’t stop there. You must explain how those product features will benefit the customer. Incidentally, drop a business card in every letter you send.
11) If you use a car or truck in your business have your business name and contact information professionally painted on the side of the vehicle. That turns your essential transportation into a traveling billboard. If you don’t want the business name painted on the vehicle, consider using magnetic signs.
12) If appropriate to your business, make “cold calls.” Either by phone on in a personal drop-by visits, call on those people who are most likely to need and want your products and services. Utilizing that “elevator speech” we discussed earlier, briefly describe what you do, and ask for a no-obligation opportunity to talk to them about ways you can help them meet a need or solve a problem.
13) Learn to ask existing customers, prospects and casual acquaintances for referrals. When you get them, be sure to follow up on the leads.
14) Use other people to sell your product or service. Instead of (or in addition to) selling your products yourself, look for existing mail order companies that would be willing to include your products in their catalogs. Could your product be effectively sold on such websites as e-bay?
15) Run a contest. Make the prize something desirable and related to your business.
16) Take advantage of every opportunity to have your business listed in a free directory. Professional associations often publish such directories.