Traditional advertising and social media offer great ways to reach customers, but running an effective ad campaign requires a major budget commitment that many small business owners can’t afford. Marketing isn’t limited to advertising, and some of its most effective tools are simple and affordable. Here are some tried and true options. Not all of these ideas will be suitable for every type of business, but some will be worth your consideration.
- Become the Go-To Expert for the Media
Ever wondered how those experts on CNN got to be experts? It started when they began making themselves and their particular expertise available to journalists and delivering genuinely useful information. Start locally with your own news media. Contact them (most prefer email) and list your professional credentials and the areas of expertise you have. Offer to be an expert resource if they need assistance with story background. But remember that you are offering assistance; if you want to pitch specific story ideas, that’s a different tactic. When pitching a story idea, make sure that it is new, timely and will attract public interest. There is also an online subscription service called Help a Reporter Out (HARO), where you can list your expertise for reporters seeking story ideas and resources. It might be a good idea to test the waters locally before subscribing to HARO.
- Think Grassroots
Don’t neglect your local community. Get involved in helping to sponsor a local charity run, an arts festival or a school sports team. You’ll see that large corporate organizations flock to underwrite the large versions of these types of events because it is a very cost-effective way of generating goodwill while getting the corporate name and products in front of customers.
- Giveaways and Printed Materials
In this digital age, people have not lost their love for traditional print materials such as calendars, bookmarks, notepads, pens, bookmarks, refrigerator magnets, etc. Likewise, people still love freebies: mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps, backpacks, etc. There’s no shortage of ways to get your company name and logo in front of customers. You might even add some new items like iPod cases. If you decide to sponsor a local event (see above), you have a wonderful opportunity to make sure every attendee goes home with something bearing your company name, logo, website, phone number and email address.
- Network and Collaborate
Even if you are an introvert and don’t enjoy attending business networking events, go anyway. Get out there and get to know your potential business allies and customers. If socializing is hard for you, be a good listener. Lots of people enjoy the chance to talk about their work, plans and ideas. But don’t forget to let them know what your areas of expertise are, too. Follow up leads with a phone call or an email. You might be on the lookout for businesses (noncompetitive) that could collaborate with you to cross-promote via print materials, website links, etc.
- Free Samples
Whether you sell products or professional services, there are appropriate ways to allow potential customers to sample the wares. If you offer professional services, host a short lunchtime seminar for potential clients (try to determine who would be a good prospect). If your budget allows, you might host an evening seminar with hors d’oeuvres and beverages. If you sell products, find out if the owners of large office buildings will allow you to offer samples at lunch. Make sure to get the necessary permission to offer samples.
These are just a few low-cost ideas. They don’t involve large expenditures, but they do require an investment of time and energy. And they do work! You can build in some digital elements (social media, etc.) if you wish, but none need high-tech elements. In our digital world, there is still something to be said for the personal approach.