Promote on a shoestring
Every small business’ dilemma is how to promote themselves on a small budget!
Small business may be defined as employing under 20 people, but in actual fact a large proportion of small businesses consist of only one to two operators. The reason why so many of these business ventures close down is due to a lack of cash flow.
Now you may have the best business idea and the most innovative product or service, but if you can’t manage your cash flow, you will not succeed. Therefore the purpose of this article is to show you how to effectively promote your small business on a shoestring.
First of all you need to understand the basic principals of marketing. Marketing is based on recognising the importance of customers to a business, and the two main principals are:
- A business must direct all of its activities towards satisfying customer needs and
- It is more important to have a profitable sales volume rather than maximum sales volume.
In a nutshell, you need to know who your customer is, their spending habits, how they purchase their goods, and what their needs are. You should also be aware of who your competitors are and analyse what you do differently to them, and how to best communicate this to potential customers.
The best approach is to know what makes your product or service different, and develop your marketing strategy around that. Owners of small businesses have limited resources, and by concentrating your efforts on only a few market segments, you will get the most return from your investment.
So once you have set up your business and put in place your products and/or services, you’ve researched your target market and are ready to sell to them, the disappointing truth is that the consumer is not out there looking for you! You need to inform and inspire your potential customers to buy your goods and services from YOUR business, not your competitions.
Following are some great techniques for developing customer leads and promoting your business. Not everything will apply to you, but you can adapt this information on how you too can save on your promotional costs, on a shoestring.
1. COMPANY IMAGE:
Your Logo: You do need one, and this should be entrusted to a professional, but you don’t necessarily need to be charged top dollar for it either! Money saving hints are to know what you like before you brief the graphic designer. Know what style you want, what image you want to project for your business and what your brand is. Even mock up some rough ideas so the designer has as much information as possible. The tighter the brief the easier it is to keep costs down.
There are some great small business starter packages on the internet if you search under “logo design”, however if you want to see what we at Icon Innovations can do, look under our Small Business Logo Design Packages section on this website.
Your Stationery: Professionally printed business cards are essential and well priced. The rest can wait if money is really tight. Have your designer give you the logo as a jpeg file and create a template on your computer for letterheads and invoices until you can afford something better!
Your Company Brochure: What will you send to prospective clients if they request information? If your competition have promotional material, well you really will need it too. Include great images, information that is concise and well written, and relevant graphs and data that showcase your expertise. Refrain from tired old lines like “for all your business needs”, it is so generic and unspecific to your industry.
A great starting point for a new small company is an A4 sheet printed front and back folded to DL size. It is not expensive to reproduce and if you don’t put information on it that will date quickly (such as price lists), the design expense will be good value for money as you can reprint it many times over.
Your Website: We believe every business should have one, BUT, a decent one costs money. A half hearted attempt by some distant relative will reflect very poorly on your company image. You can purchase website templates on line, which may include industry related images. You just insert your logo, company name and some basic information and away you go! Doing it this way might be a temporary solution, but you run the risk of other businesses having the same website as you!
If you want a custom designed website or are starting an e-business however, we strongly recommend our article Websites that Work for some very valuable information. We also provide very competitive design packages for small to medium sized businesses, so go to our Website Design Packages for more information.
Conventional methods of advertising can be expensive and you should read our article Does Your Ad Work before you even think about doing it. Small businesses cannot really afford to invest money in “brand advertising” that may or may not pay off in the future. Small businesses need a regular income NOW!
A client of ours made the mistake of investing their small promotional budget for an on-line gift shop in large publication advertising. The campaign only had a short life span, the response was poor and the resulting sales were even poorer. Within a few months her budget was blown and there wasn’t much to show for the financial outlay.
Remember, each financial decision you make in small business is critical, and you really need to do your homework. Contrary to popular belief, advertising does not give instant results, so remember these important points: Advertising does not create an instant database
• It does not cause an instant sharp increase in sales
• Advertising will not solve your cash flow or profit problems
• If your customer service is poor, advertising will not substitute this
• Advertising will not sell useless or unwanted goods and services
You are your business’ best sales representative, so put yourself out there armed with your business cards, neat appearance and positive attitude. The sky is the limit when it comes to networking. There are local networking organisations who meet weekly or monthly (find them in your local newspaper, Yellow Pages or the internet), community groups such as Rotary, your own personal network, and even your child’s school can provide great networking avenues.
4. COMBINED MAIL OUT:
This does not have to cost the earth if you can piggy back off another related business not in direct competition with you. A simple black and white A4 flyer with great content and a special offer can be inserted in a more established business’ regular mail out. Ask your accountant or solicitor if they do periodical mail outs, and if their database is relevant to your target market. Or maybe your beautician or hair dresser, your gymnasium or sports club suits your customer profile.
You could also form a strategic alliance with the people you are meeting from networking events with similar target markets, and share the costs of a mailing list and mail out. For more information about how to best utilise direct mail, read our article The Power of Direct Mail.
5. CORK BOARD ADVERTISING:
It is relatively cheap to produce a hundred A4 size colour mini posters promoting your business or product, and when you start looking, you will be amazed at the places you can put your posters! By including a great special offer such as “20% discount for mentioning this poster” or “buy 2 get 1 free”, will only further heighten your chances of getting a good response.
Think who your market is, and then go for it! Your local gym, your child’s preschool or school notice board, local shopping centres, a community announcement board at the library, council chambers, the local fish and chips shop, the doctor’s surgery… Imagine how much your A4 poster will stand out amongst a sea of cheap, tattered business cards that communicate very little.
6. ALIGN YOURSELF WITH A CHARITY AND FUND RAISING EVENTS:
Not only is this a rewarding experience for yourself, but by publicly being seen to assist a local charity, you are creating good will and once again exposing yourself to a wider market. Schools, hospitals, and charities are very welcoming of any assistance from the business community. Whether you make a small donation for their raffle, or co-host a fund raising event, the benefits and positive exposure can be enormous.
7. PRESS RELEASE:
The greatest advertising of all is the free type! Know what your angle is going to be and sell it in a fresh and interesting way to your local newspaper or an industry publication. Perhaps you are launching a new website, an innovative product you have developed or you are looking to gain even greater exposure for the charity event you are sponsoring. Either way, you must read our article on Your Press Release Kit before you go any further!
8. GREAT STREET SIGNAGE:
Can your clients find you easily? Could you gain greater passer by traffic if you improved your signage or had a special offer sandwich board at street level? This isn’t relevant for every small business, but if it applies to you, just remember to keep the signage consistent with your company stationery and other material.
9. YOUR CAR AS A BILLBOARD:
A female friend told me that if she sees a relevant or interesting web site address on a car while she’s in traffic, she makes a note of it and looks it up the SAME DAY when she returns home! How many of us are driving around day after day and not making use of our greatest and cheapest billboards, our own car!
Keep the information streamlined, for instance the phone number and website address should be very prominent. Also, if your business name doesn’t communicate what your business is about, then a few concise points will help. A catchy, fun tag line will also draw interest and be more memorable.
If you have been implementing the above promotional strategies, by now your data base must be growing, so why not utilise this and create a newsletter. This can range from an in-house simple A4 black and white photocopied sheet to a full colour multi page masterpiece.
They are a great vehicle to reach your target audience with specific information, news, articles and topics of interest that appeal directly to them. For more information, read our article Selling In Publications.
11. DEVELOP A LOYALTY PROGRAM:
A lot of businesses don’t work with their existing customer base because they are too busy chasing after new ones. However repeat business is still the best type because you don’t spend precious time looking for it, it just keeps coming back to you!
So why not reward them with a loyalty program that is relevant to your industry. For instance, a child’s play centre in my area provides regular visitors with a VIP card that gets marked every time you visit. On the fourth visit, you get a cappuccino for free. It isn’t a great outlay on their part, but it is very enticing to their budget conscious customer. Everyone loves something for nothing, and it’s a good reason to keep going back.
12. PARTY PLAN SELLING:
If you are selling a range of products and wondering how to reach a wider and more enthusiastic audience, party plan selling is a great option. Be warned, it’s not for the feint hearted – you go to the host’s venue (usually their home) and they provide the customer (anywhere from between 3 to 20) the food and the drinks. In return you then provide a sample range to look at and present a lively sales demonstration. To make it more appealing you generally have a host gift and offer a considerable discount to the host’s order in relation to the sales and party bookings made at the party.
Party Plans selling is a form of selling that should not be underestimated. You potentially have a very captive and hungry-to-shop audience. If you want to research how the party plan experts do it, go to www.tupperware.com, www.marykay.com or www.nutrimetrics.com.au. Party plan selling is their main method of sales, and it has certainly worked for these companies!
13. SELLING PRODUCTS AT MARKETS
Another way to gain heightened exposure for your business and products is to sell at markets. Picking the right market for your product is critical to your success. Bric-a-brac and second hand goods markets are filled with bargain hunters and antique dealers. Trendy markets from affluent areas attract people with disposable income looking for fashionable and cutting edge items.
Do your research and really utilise the exposure. Increase your data base by having a competition, giving away one of your products. The people who will bother to stop and enter it will most likely view any special promotional material you send to them in the future in a favourable light.
14. PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS ON EBAY
Everyone is doing it, from second hand goods to jewellery, computers to antiques and larger items such as motor vehicles. If you have an online selling business it is imperative that you devote a portion of your business marketing to Ebay. It is the true worldwide online marketplace, with more than 114 million registered members around the world, in over 200 countries. Try and find another way to reach such an enormous market at the same cheap price as Ebay provides!
If you’re not doing it, you really should be. With each sales listing you can redirect visitors back to your website, so for more information, go to www.ebay.com.au or read our article Your Business and Ebay.
We hope that these marketing tips have really inspired you to promote your small business. If you have any other great ideas that you have utilised and that don’t break the bank, we would love to hear from you. (Particularly any actual accounts of how you turned your small business venture into a great success!)
I am currently writing a book on Promotions and Marketing for Small Business, and the more real life story contributions the better, and of course, it is just more free exposure for your venture! Email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
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