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Articles of Interest

Low-Cost Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses

By Craig Wagener Ph.D., MBA, MCNE

Small business owners know that business marketing is a hot topic and the only method by which a business will succeed. However, some small businesses do not have the necessary cash flow to support a marketing plan, which causes some owners to fail to establish a plan. The importance of pursuing cost-effective marketing often means employing various imaginative marketing strategies as well as involving unaffiliated yet complementary businesses that can drive consumer traffic using special offers.

A major step that must be implemented prior to designing a marketing plan is that business owners must prepare and maintain a balanced budget. The challenge of marketing a business begins in the startup years, as this is the time that business is slow. Oftentimes, the marketing budget is the first to be cut if it existed in the first instance. However, products and services of high quality are often relayed by word-of-mouth, the best type of marketing.

Cost effective marketing ideas:

1. Develop a Marketing Plan -

A written marketing plan should identify a target audience, as well as the methods used to locate customers and obtain repeat business, and identify problems and resolutions. A written plan makes review convenient and adaptable to the current business and economic framework.  David Lavinsky, contributor to Forbes online has written an excellent article for reference as to what items should be included in a marketing plan.

2. Use Business Cards –

Business cards should always be exchanged when connecting with other business owners and prospective clients. It should include all necessary contact information and should be designed with business recognition in mind. Meaningful designs that are commensurate with the products and services offered, as well as the businesses motto should be included as customers will be able to identify and connect with your business. If you lack design skills seek the advice of a graphic designer, it will be money well spent. Don’t forget to give your business cards to friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, current customers, vendors etc.

3. Start Networking  –

Visit as many local free networking events as you can find. The Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. Networking with other small business owners who offer complementary products and services can become “unaffiliated” partners with whom “deal” packages can be negotiated, which in turn will drive customers between the businesses, benefiting both business owners.

4. Word-of-Mouth –

An effective and inexpensive mode of marketing is by word-of-mouth. Customers who have positive experiences with businesses will usually, upon request, write positive reviews. Don’t hesitate to ask for a review. As well, ask them for permission to quote the reviews in advertisements. Keep in mind, that negative reviews can severely damage a business’s reputation. When dealing with negative reviews, take the criticism constructively and work in haste to address the review in the spirit of resolving the matter and toward pleasing the customer.

5. Get Involved in Service Community Groups –

An effective marketing tool that is used widely by large corporations is a contribution to the community. Contribution to the surrounding community brings awareness and recognition of a business and evokes a sense of loyalty in customers. To genuinely serve a community, a business owner must find the cause for which he or she truly has a heart and get involved!

6. Create a Business Web Site –

A website is necessary for all businesses that want to serve a large area. Most businesses have websites that allow them to offer products and services throughout the nation and in some instances throughout the world.  Many providers exist that offer free and/or inexpensive web hosting that includes website building software. A business website should also include blogs and notifications that will keep customers informed of events and specials. http://www.websitebuilderexpert.com/ contains a lot of information about free websites.

7. Use of Marketing Partners –

As eluded to in paragraph 3 above, Start Networking, cross-promote products and services by partnering with non-affiliated business owners whose products and services complement those being offered.

8. Be Included in Business in Directories –

A business should be listed in as many business directories as possible, providing details on the products and services offered. Visit this link to view different directories: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/10322/The-Ultimate-List-50-Local-Business-Directories.aspx

9. Use of Signs –

While it’s obvious that signs make excellent marketing tools, many business owners fail to design eye-catching or thought-provoking signs that list businesses details. Signs should be visible and eye-catching, thought-provoking is even better. Large illuminated signs hung above entryways, window signs, even sandwich boards listing products, services or weekday deals will attract customers.

10. Attend Exhibitions and Trade Shows –

While a small fee is involved, attending trade allows the exhibition of products and services, at which time business cards can be passed out and relationships began with business owners and potential customers. The customer base can be expanded as well as information gained about competing businesses and their offerings and practices – another tool to be used along with constructive criticism.

11. Join Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus etc –

Businesses use social media to promote business and establish relationships with current and future customers. However, keep in mind that in order for social sites to work, the interaction between the site owner and the visitor is a must. Visitors are likely to post comments or questions, which, if the business wants to remain in “good standing,” it must respond. If a business has a presence on every social site and yet is unable to respond to every comment or question, it can backfire.  Micah Solomon wrote a fantastic article for Forbes online.

12. Start a Blog –

Blogging is a great communication strategy, a direct link to current and potential customers. Review paragraph 11 for the perils of blogging. If comments are allowed on the blog, be prepared to respond to them quickly. Blogging allows a business owner to share information with customers, which they love, especially if it’s free. A blog can either be built into the business’s website or it can be an external blog using sites such as WordPress, which provides a free version.

13. Exchange Web Links –

When approaching complimentary business owners about a non-affiliated partnership, ask for permission to include a link to their website on your business’s website, be sure to include disclaimers as to your business in a pop-up that must be “Okayed” (physically clicked before continuing) that advises the visitor that the link will redirect them to the website of a non-affiliated business. Absent including this information could possibly subject your business to liability for any damages incurred by a customer who uses the link to engage in business transactions with the linked business.

14. Referral Incentives –

Use the existing customer base by offering incentives for referrals. Rewards should be generous enough to motivate customers to want to refer others. Free products, discount coupons, movie tickets, gift cards etc. are great enticements.

15. Monthly Newsletters –

The internet is replete with sites that offer professional newsletter templates, which in addition can be used to create a database list. Newsletters are informative and keep customers up to date on special promotions, discounts, and new services or products. Make sure to offer a subscription to the newsletter; otherwise, you may alienate customers if their inbox is always full of newsletters.

16.  Flyers –

Flyers are a great advertisement of services and specials on products. Microsoft Word contains hundreds of free templates for flyers and marketing materials. It gives you the power to design marketing materials using existing word processing software that can be emailed to an office supplies store for printing. It should be easy to find people to distribute the flyers for a nominal fee.

17. Use Testimonials –

See paragraph 4 above -- Word of Mouth – Ask customers for testimonials. Ensure that the testimonials are genuine and provide sufficient details as to the customer’s experience with the company.

18. Advertising Magazines –

Look for advertising magazines that charge a fee for publishing coupons, announcements or promotions. Wait until just before publication and try to negotiate a lower fee. If the magazine has failed to fill the quota, it may be willing to negotiate a lower fee.

19. Write and Submit Original Articles –

Write articles in an area of business expertise and post them to sites such as Scribd, Articlesbase and Ezinearticles. Demonstration of business expertise will introduce the business to a wider customer base. Remember to link the articles back to the business’s website for exploration of complete information of products and services.

20. Create a Video –

YouTube has become prevalent among young entrepreneurs and small business owners as a place to post self-created commercials and advertisements, as well as instructional videos and infomercials. Create a business promotional video, post it to YouTube, copy the YouTube link and post it on the business website.

21. Give Free Workshops –

Businesses oftentimes give free workshops on the use of products and services offered and the benefits derived from using them. The information should be useful, but the exclusive information saved for the paying customers. Avoid relaying information that would encourage the copying of your products and services.

22. Get Free Publicity –

Invite newspapers and local television stations to the business’s grand opening, charitable events, or relocations.

23. Sponsor a Charitable Event –

Charitable organizations, post sponsor ads in the line of sight on behalf of the companies that support and sponsor events. Sponsoring a charitable event places businesses in the forefront of recognition and also within the realm of community service, thereby marketing the business as a positive contributor to society.

24. Use of an Automobile –

Some companies will pay for wrapping company ads around privately owned vehicles. While this type of advertising will be quite costly, a magnetic sign on the door or a window film on the back window of a vehicle can market a business well.  Conversely, be aware that depending on the state laws in which business is conducted, if an accident occurs while driving the moving billboard, it may subject the individual and the business to liability should a lawsuit ensue. A business owner must weigh the pros and cons of using this method.

25. Run a Competition –

Competition creates an awareness and can be a fun method to establish annual attention and camaraderie between staff and customers. Of course, the prize must be able to draw in a various array of customers and must make the competition worthwhile.

26. Use Customer Surveys –

Customer surveys are an important aspect of the business. Surveys allow the tracking of performance and act as a tool to find out what kind of products and services customers would like to use in the future. Surveys should be used constructively as tools to adjust business practices or for research and development of new products and services.

Marketing need not be limited to print ads, radio jingles, or advertising on TV shopping channels. A small business should begin at the grassroots level and get the attention of the surrounding area, gradually gaining the outlying areas. Be honest in your offerings, willing to give incentives and appreciative of good reviews and testimonials. The key to promotion and advertisement is imagination.

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