If you talk to the head of any small- to medium-sized company, you’ll see that one of their key areas of concern is how to grow their business in these difficult economic times.
Many believe that they need to allocate a large sum of their revenues to their marketing initiatives.
While it is advantageous to have a large sum to spend on marketing, small businesses would be happy to know that there are many low-cost and no-cost ways of marketing their products and services to generate quality leads and prospects. It is now more important than ever for companies to do their research and think outside the box in order to market their products or services effectively and still maintain their bottom line.
Below are some examples of what Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) can do to market their products and services creatively.
Some of your biggest opportunities will come from customers that are already buying from you. Your customers already know your business and know what you have to offer and they can provide a personal referral to others — prospective clients and customers.
The calibre of your work is emphasized when they comment on the great service they received or how your product has been invaluable to them.
Look for opportunities to ask for more business from them. They probably know someone who can use your product or service, and if you truly provide them with value already, they should be more than willing to recommend you – without you having to spend a dime.
On a more formal basis, businesses may opt to set up a referral program. An inexpensive way to do this is by creating “referral cards” that you hand out to your customers. These cards can have a customer’s name pre-printed on the back and be given to their friends and family. The cards would then be submitted back to your business when the new client comes in, entitling the referring customer to a reward such as a “freebie” or a discount on their next visit.
The only expense for this approach would be the cards or paper bought from your local office supply store and the discount provided to your customer. However, when you factor in the value of the new client and their potential future revenue, the return is well worth the investment.
If you are in business, then you need a website. This is a no-brainer. Your website is your 24/7 sales and marketing “employee” for which only you pay a one-time fee, or a nominal maintenance fee.
Of course, just having a website is not enough; some websites may actually turn off potential buyers. It is critical to use a qualified, professional designer who has experience building sites.
There are many low cost companies out there; it is important to do your research and check their previous work. In addition, once you decide on a potential designer, it’s good practice to visit different sites (especially those in your industry) to develop your taste and get a better idea of how your site should function. Pay close attention to things like ease of use, clarity, and opportunities for feedback from the website’s users.
Your website needs to “tell your story.” Potential customers should be able to understand what products and services you offer. The importance of your company’s website cannot be underestimated – potential customers visit to decide whether they want to buy your product or service, but your competitors may very well be visiting your site too.
If you sell directly online, the process should be safe and easy for your customer; if not, it needs to be clear how they can reach you. Lastly, don’t forget to update your site regularly, adding more pictures, promotional notices, and testimonials from satisfied customers. Updated content can often attract a customer who has already visited your website.
Unless you have been living under a rock in the past few years, you have no doubt heard of social networking websites such as Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and YouTube.
These social media channels are a great way to expand your network and can therefore have a major impact on your business. Joining any or all of these websites is free, and these online communities can help to spread the reputation and popularity of your business, often presenting opportunities that you may not have known about before.
You can invite your customers to join your Facebook group or follow you on Twitter, then reward them for their loyalty and “friendship” by granting them access to exclusive savings.
David Meerman Scott offers a series of books on The New Rules of Social Media including: The New Rules of Marketing & PR and Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment, by Jim Sterne.
More information on Scott’s series of books on social media can be found at: http://www.davidmeermanscott.com/book_series.htm
This is another great opportunity for many small businesses. The trick to this is finding a business that provides complimentary services for your customers.
For example, a website developer could “buddy up” with a web hosting company, a fitness facility with a spa, a wedding gown retailer with a flower shop, the possibilities are endless.
Strategic alliances allow you to pool resources and offer extra value to your respective customers. Each business should have a database, and each should treat the partner business as an extension of their own company.
Be sure to display brochures, business cards, newsletter, etc. from your partner business in your establishment. They should be known as your “preferred vendor” and there should be a partner discount applied.
For example, if I buy flowers on a weekly basis from the local flower shop and I consistently see brochures, and business cards about a local wedding gown shop, my first instinct when it came time for me to plan a wedding would be to visit that particular establishment.
A very nice perk and special bonus would be knowing that I am entitled to receive up to 10-15% off the gown store’s regular price, as a customer of the florist.
This goes hand-in-hand to having the partner link on your website (and vice versa) as mentioned above.
Website Links from Strategic Alliances (Inbound Linking)
Most if not all of your business prospects are spending more time online, either seeking new business opportunities, searching for suppliers or checking out new tools and resources.
Partnering with a reputable business that compliments yours is a great way to bring clients to your company website. Inbound linking plays a huge role in increasing a company’s online visibility. Have them include your logo with a hyperlink to facilitate the transition to your website.
If yours is a new business, it would be wise to partner with a company that is already established and successful so that you may take advantage of the traffic that their website already generates. (Also see Strategic Alliance, below.)
Charity and sponsorship opportunities are a great way to gain prospects. This includes offering door prizes at trade or fundraising events. Collect participants’ contact information (email addresses are probably easiest to manage and utilize) in exchange for the opportunity to win your prize.
Once collected, the contact information can be used to send out notices of promotions, flyers, coupons, etc.. It is important to ask for permission before sending out business-related information to avoid alienating your prospects; permission should be obtained on the same ballot where their contact information is collected.
Sponsorship is another way to bring visibility to your brand. It is important to maximize this opportunity by adding information about your company (a brochure, business card, etc.)to the donation basket or gift certificate being given.
The power of networking should never be underestimated. Connections formed in meetings or gatherings play an important role in future business relations. This is especially critical for business-to-businesses companies.
Professional events not only introduce your company to many future prospects, but they also help you learn from other businesses that may be facing similar challenges to yours. These events can give you critical information on tried and tested practices to implement in your business.
In addition to socializing and meeting people, make sure you always have your business card and company information handy. Without business cards, you are denying yourself—and your business—potential opportunities.
It is also key to be able to speak succinctly about your business’ features and benefits while focusing on the unique value you provide. This statement is known as your “elevator pitch” or a summary of your business in 30 seconds or less.
Follow-up is another important key. Keep in touch with your contacts on a regular basis in order to ensure that yours is the first business they think of when they need your product or services.
When you stage a press release, you are using the media to help you communicate news and information to the public. You need to have a unique angle and a story to tell in order to capture the attention of the news and entertainment writers, and convince them that your company’s press release is newsworthy.
Press releases get your company’s name out in the public and capture an audience, often with little or no cost to you.
Investigate trade magazines and newspapers or your local community press. Many of these local and specialized media may have more space to allocate to your news than would a major publication, plus it will be localized to your trading area.
Newsletters are a great way to advertise your company while educating your customers. You can publish newsletters to your database on a monthly or quarterly basis.
It is important to make sure that the newsletter contains valuable information for your customers other than a sales pitch; however, some marketing and promotional information should also be in your newsletter.
Businesses can custom-create their electronic newsletters to match the look and feel of their website, logo, company letterheads, etc. Consistency and brand identity are key.
You can create excitement through events and educational seminars to market your products and services. Invite your clients, and extend the invitation to their family and friends; the more attendees who already use your business or who might become future customers, the better.
These seminars should also be open to the general public. For example, a chiropractor could host a seminar on neck and back pain. The seminar could include a brief lecture on the importance of chiropractic health, a demonstration of simple ways to help avoid and alleviate common complaints, handouts for every attendee which would include the chiropractor’s contact information, and perhaps some light refreshments.
Of course, the chiropractor would be wise to send invitations out to the local community, targeting businesses whose customers would benefit from his/her services,
At the seminar, there would be a sign-up sheet to capture the contact information of everyone who attended, and the chiropractor would follow-up accordingly. An event like this would be a great way for any entrepreneur to expand his or her business locally.
Small business owners have many options to choose from when looking for low-cost (or no-cost) ways to market their businesses. Each option should be researched further in order for you to find and harness the techniques effectively; focus your resources efficiently, be creative, and enjoy the process of growing your business on a budget.
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