All business owners must balance budget and growth. It is particularly difficult in the beginning when expenses are high and market share and customer loyalty don’t exist yet. When push comes to shove and the dollars diminish, the marketing engine — the lifeblood of sales! — often takes the first spending hit.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 low-cost marketing techniques that apply to almost any small business.
1) Business Cards
Business cards are essential, but you’d be surprised how many people do not invest in this primary marketing tool. For example, local farmers regularly approach us to supply meat and produce at our neighborhood grocery. Most do not carry a business card. Those who expect us to write down their contact information wonder why we don’t consider them professional enough to warrant a vendor relationship. This isn’t because farmers are not professional; it’s because some farmers do not treat their business with the respect it deserves. This is true in other professions, too.
At minimum, your business card should include your business telephone number, and website address. (You do have a website, right?)
2) Free Content or Information
Content marketing is hot, hot, hot, and for good reason. With so much information available at our fingertips your prospects will be searching online for solutions to their problems. Make it easy to “pop” in front of prospects by providing content and other free information. Don’t skimp. If you “give away” knowledge generously this can make your expertise be perceived as more valuable.
3) Consumer Guides
One way to start your “free content” marketing plan is to create an informative consumer guide around the need your business serves. Make sure the consumer guide is the highest quality possible and be sure the emphasis is on the reader, not self-promotion. Brand it, and distribute your guide through your social media networks and offer it on your website for free download.
4) Personal Letters
Delivering a personalized letter through the “old-fashioned” post office route can have extremely good return on time and cost investment.
The key is to compile a small but highly targeted list of current and prospective customers or clients. Remember: It is easier to sell to existing customers/clients than find new ones. If your actions and messaging are consistent you’ll earn your customers’ trust and they will recommend you to others.
5) Service/Community Groups
Every one of us has a community, and each of us is capable of serving others. Serving your community also happens to be a great way to generate awareness about your business and its products or services. If you give with a generous and genuine heart you’ll discover your volunteer efforts will be repaid.
No marketing is stronger, cheaper, or more effective than word-of-mouth referral. What’s the problem? Word-of-mouth (“WOM”) is the most difficult thing to earn because for it to work it has to come from the heart of your existing customer. So, don’t focus on artificially generating “WOM” — focus your efforts on “WOW.” Give your absolute best, no matter your circumstances, and give it at every opportunity. Few businesses truly aim to “WOW,” and when you do, “WOM” takes care of itself.
7) Referral Incentives
Multi-level marketing (“MLM”) businesses deserve to get a bad rep if the business veers into the illegal “pyramid scheme” territory. However, MLM businesses do one thing well, and every cash-strapped business owner should take note: they incentivize business referrals. You can do the same with your business by rewarding customers who bring new customers. Rewards should be generous enough to entice, but be sure to check legality. There may be restrictions in your specific industry (like financial planning services) or laws regarding specific kinds of referral incentives (like giving away alcohol), for example.
8) Marketing Partners
Look around you — there are several businesses you know of, use, or interact with on a regular basis that could become formal or informal marketing partners. Cross-promotion benefits both parties. Ask allied businesses to refer you and offer to do the same in return. These arrangements can be online, offline, or both.
9) Empty Storefront Ads
Are there empty storefronts in your neighborhood or along your typical commuting route? Approach the owners about advertising your business in the window until they find a tenant. You may be able to score prime advertising space at a fraction of the cost of billboards.
10) Social Media (with caveats)
Social media — Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus — can be a great way to connect with current and prospective customers/clients. However, social media alone won’t produce sales. Set up a regular time to interact on social media. Use the time to strengthen these relationships. One word of caution: Don’t get hung up on social media and neglect the real work of business-building. For example, Facebook business pages no longer offer their former value. Now considerably fewer fans see your updates unless you pay for a sponsored post ad — which is, of course, not inexpensive.
What are your favorite frugal marketing tips?