Of course you want to spread the word about your small business. You have an amazing product, or offer a valuable service. You want everyone who needs what you offer to know about it.
You dream of billboards, full-page newspaper ads, banner ads on high traffic websites and full-blown email campaigns. You aren’t afraid to daydream big.
But even though you have champagne tastes, your bottom line tells you to stick to domestic beer. You can spend a little on marketing, but not much. Right now, you have more time than money.
What can you do to get maximum impact from the limited budget you have?
Start With a Plan
Any business venture goes better if you start with a plan, even if it’s a loose one. Plans will change, and that’s OK. Starting with some kind of structure will give you a solid base to stand on and make changes from.
To begin, look at the media your target market most often interacts with. Do they read the newspaper? Are they commuters who can listen to audio? Do they spend all their time online?
One way to waste your limited marketing budget is to throw money and time into creating media your target market doesn’t consume. Remember that the next time a sales rep tries to sell you on a special advertising rate in their publication or on their radio station, and ask yourself if your target market even uses that media before you sign the contract.
How About Starting with Free?
There are many, many ways to market your small business for free, and this post shares only some of them. Look through this list, and decide which ones are worth pursuing based on where your target market can be found.
Remember, these marketing ideas won’t cost you money, but they will take you time. In the end, the time you spend is more valuable than the money, so use it wisely and pick the marketing techniques most likely to succeed, then measure them for effectiveness and adjust your tactics as needed.
Social Media: Follow the 90/10 Rule
To make the most of social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, think proportions. You want your communication to be a mix of:
- helpful information
- interesting customer stories
- inside scoop
- links to resources your customers and prospects will find useful
- promotional content for your products or services
Notice the promotional content comes last!
No one wants to tune in to someone on social media channel who sounds like they’re spouting pure commercials. Offer a mix of information, and go for a proportion of about 90% of the first five items on the list above, and 10% promotion.
Start a Facebook page for your business if you don’t have one already. Plan to post to it at least 3-4 times a week. Make your Facebook page about your customers. This is important! For more on Facebook, visit this page where my favorite Facebook expert — Grandma Mary — will show you what’s what.
If your customers use Twitter, spend some time sharing interesting information, great links and solid tips within the 140-character limit. Thanks to Laura Roeder, I recently started using a tool called Timely to schedule and space out tweets. I’m promoting older posts that contain useful information I want to continue to share. To learn how to use Timely, watch Laura’s video.
There are many ways to interact via LinkedIn. You can join — and participate actively — in interest groups where your customers can be found. As with all social media, you are there first to be helpful: don’t dive in and start promoting your services immediately. You can also use LinkedIn Answers to provide information in your area of expertise.
Do your customers look to online forums for solutions to their problems? Are there specific forums they frequent? If so, plan to devote 10-15 minutes a day checking these forums to see where you can offer your knowledge. Make sure your forum signature features a link to your website and a way to contact you.
Social media can be a huge time waster if you’re not careful, so if you decide to use these techniques, approach them with a goal in mind and use a timer to keep you on track.
Sell Products? Show Google What You’ve Got
GOOGLE MERCHANT CENTER:
If you sell products online, submit them to Google Merchant Center. Google is the #1 search engine, and registering allows your product information to appear in Google Product Search and in other Google-owned properties on the web.
Squeeze All the Marketing Mojo You Can From Your Website
BLOG, AND OFFER A FEED:
As you may imagine, I’m a big fan of blogging. If you’re able to commit to posting at least once a week, a blog can be a wonderful way to establish authority and build trust with your target market. Offer a way to sign up for an email list (see the free ebook idea below), and you’ll have a wonderful vehicle for building a targeted list of prospects.
For site visitors who want to stay current on your posts and understand how to use an RSS feed, set your blog up on Feedburner so they receive an update every time you post.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION:
How do people find information on the web? They start with search engines. If you’re offering good information and you want it to be found, you need to spend some time optimizing your text so that it features the kind of language people will use when searching for it.
This way of writing doesn’t come naturally, but there’s a tool I use on this blog that I can highly recommend. The Scribe SEO plugin installs on your WordPress, Joomla or Drupal website. It works seamlessly in the background analyzing what you’ve written, and gives you an SEO “grade,” plus suggestions for how to improve your score.
Scribe also offers educational seminars to help you improve your copywriting and integrate good SEO practices. Click here to grab your free SEO report from the makers of Scribe.
OFFER A FREE EBOOK:
An ebook about a topic you’re an expert on doesn’t have to be something you sell. You can:
- Use it to spread your ideas and your business name virally by simply sharing it and encouraging others to do the same.
- Offer it as a lead generation tool by asking your website visitors to opt in to your email list so they can get it.
For ebook topic ideas that will spread virally or serve as lead generators, try these:
- Create a checklist for evaluating the type of product or service you offer
- Interview experts in your field and gather their feedback in one place
- Create an introductory ebook that covers the basics people need to know before they buy your product or service
CREATE AND POST YOUTUBE VIDEOS:
For a minimum upfront investment, you can share information-packed videos that will get the word out about your business. Once you’ve created them, add them to your promotional efforts in all the social media channels you use to help them spread.
Did you know you can list your small business on Wikipedia? I discovered this in the process of researching this article and will add this to my to-do list for the near future.
Every time you send out an email you have the opportunity to share your marketing message. Use the space below your name to reiterate your tagline and add a link back to your website. I can’t tell you how many of those I’ve clicked on: haven’t you?
Offline Efforts: No Cost, Big Payoff
OFFER FREE CONSULTATIONS:
When someone has a conversation with you and you’ve listened carefully to their challenges, they can’t imagine doing business with anyone else. Offering a short free consultation as a lead generator for a high ticket item can be a great way to market your business and all it costs is your time.
RUN A CONTEST:
Don’t we all love contests? They draw attention, bring new faces to your business and create something to talk about. What can you give away to create this kind of action?
When one of your happy customers says — in her own words — why she’s thrilled with your offerings, that’s powerful stuff. It’s more believable than if you said the same thing yourself, and more relatable, too. The next time you make a customer happy, take a moment to gather a positive testimonial — along with permission to use it — and add it to your website and print materials.
SEARCH OUT SPEAKING OPPORTUNITIES:
Local business groups look for compelling speakers to help draw people to their meetings. Can you develop a talk that’s applicable to a wide range of businesses and spread the word among meeting organizers that you’re available? Arrive stocked with plenty of business cards, and consider creating a take away checklist, worksheet or resource guide that’s branded with your business name and contact information.
CROSS PROMOTE WITH OTHER BUSINESSES:
Look for opportunities to market in conjunction with another local business. If you’re a designer, bundle your services with a copywriter. If you own a hair salon, bundle your services with a massage therapist. If you offer life coaching, bundle your services with a career assessment service.
Use your imagination to put together a package of offerings that naturally go together and that are stronger in combination than they are separately.
FACE TO FACE NETWORKING:
So much networking happens online nowadays, but don’t forget the beauty of face-to-face interaction. Attend business networking events, Chamber of Commerce meetings and business luncheons.
I’ll bet you’ve seen some of these ideas before, but maybe you found a few new ones. Pick a few that will work for your business and target market, and put them into action now so you can see results a few months down the road.
How about you? I know there are a lot of your reading who are bootstrapping your marketing efforts. What’s your favorite low cost marketing technique? Please share it in the comments so we can all benefit from it.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links: click freely, and I’ll get a little pocket change if you decide to buy.
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