Money is an issue for all businesses, but particularly for small ones. Where a large company can put several hundred thousand on the table for promotion and hope to get it back by the sheer mass of sales, a small business owner is left helpless. However, the problem here isn’t just one’s inability to afford traditional promotion methods – what’s even worse is that if you cough up enough money to pay for them, they don’t bring nearly as much result as they are supposed to, based on their price. The eye-opener is this: costly advertising methods don’t bring in new business – at least not nearly enough of it to justify spending on them.
If you are serious about promoting your business without putting your entire budget into it, read on.
If you think that in today’s constantly online world the only viable promotion methods are invariably connected with social media, search engine optimization and suchlike, you are very much mistaken. On the contrary – offline, face-to-face marketing is on the rise. Probably because we’ve reached a stage when it feels like a new and original thing to try out.
1. Promote personally
Many small business owners forget that they themselves can serve as a powerful and completely free marketing channel. We suppose that you do meet people in person from time to time – be it in a professional or non-professional environment, but you are constantly surrounded by potential customers. You can introduce yourself as a representative of your company and offer your business card with a signed freebie offer on the back. It may sound unusual, but this is exactly why it is a good idea – people are not used to this type of promotion, and the personal touch serves as an additional motivation, improving your communication skills along the way.
2. Network with other local businesses
Your business doesn’t exist in isolation, and the time has come to make full use of it. Get in touch with the proprietors of other local businesses that don’t compete with you and cross-promote with them. For example, you can agree to give out coupons for each other’s shops with every sale. Win-win situation: one shop gets free advertising among the other’s customer base, the other shop gets to offer its customers additional value, and the customers get freebies.
3. Get in touch with local charities
Businesses help charities in a variety of ways: by contributing money, a percentage of sales (e.g., from an event) or products. Most charities would then list you as their sponsor, which is an excellent way to increase brand awareness and show your company as a community-sensitive business.
However, this should be done only if you genuinely care about a particular charity’s mission. If you are only after good publicity you will get out of it – the relationship with the charity is likely to be strained from the outset and it will probably not last.
4. Reach out to local employers
If your business exists close to a major employer, it may be a good opportunity to get to many people simultaneously. For instance, you can persuade the employer in question to give out your business’s promotional cards to his employees (these can offer a freebie for a limited period of time). At least some of those who receive them will come to try out what you have to offer, and a part of them will become regular customers.
Replacing costly experts
The assistance of specialists (web and visual designers, photographers, copywriters and others of the same ilk) can be exorbitantly costly, especially if you are just starting out. Good news is that these days with a little bit of effort and some technological tools you can do what they do. The results will probably not be outstanding, it will take a bit of your time, but it is entirely doable.
You can make passable photos with your smartphone camera and the right lighting, design your logo and website with the right tools, record videos about your products and write your own texts. Again, the results will probably be worse than if you hire experts (unless you discover an unexpected talent in yourself), but it will serve your purposes until you have enough resources to invest in them.
Taking your online efforts up a notch
1. Hang out on Reddit
Reddit, the self-styled “front page of the Internet”, is rather difficult to use for marketing purposes (its audience traditionally gets very annoyed when they notice obvious marketing tactics), but if used carefully it can be extremely powerful. The keys to do it are as follows:
- Only publish content that is fully original and very high-quality;
- Post to extreme niches (luckily, there are plenty of divisions, subdivisions and subdivisions of subdivisions to choose from);
- Never directly promote your business if you want to avoid getting immediately voted down into oblivion.
2. Create your own infographics
Believe it or not, but that last infographic you’ve shared with all your friends was created by your fellow human being, most likely using rather simple tools the likes of which you can easily find for free. Infographics are an extremely powerful tool that is often underutilized because most people believe that one needs some crazy skills to build one. Try it out a few times, and you will get the hang of it. As a result, you will receive a promotional tool that is easy to digest, looks awesome, and that people are going to willingly share among each other.
3. Breathe new life into existing data
You may not always have enough cash to hire professional content writers, and buying low-quality texts is usually not worth it. However, if you are low on money, there is a way to produce interesting and relevant content on your own. We are talking about using data that already exists on the Internet.
A lot of studies, surveys and statistics get published every day. Some of them become well-known and often quoted by the industry specialists, but most remain unnoticed and are soon forgotten. You can dig up such a study, clean it up, maybe add additional data from other sources and present it with your own comments. Take the most interesting or important parts of it, add your own images, charts and give your personal opinions on the subject. Perhaps build an infographic based on it for bonus points and additional referrals. As we all know, content is king, but creating it from scratch isn’t always a viable decision. This approach opens up this venue for any person who is capable of stringing sentences together.
As you can see, tips for building up a promotional campaign with zero or almost zero budget aren’t limited to generic ideas like “be active on social media”. With sufficient ingenuity and a bit of effort, you can market your business even better than if you had an opportunity to drown any problem in money. Use these suggestions, improvise using the same approaches, and we are sure that you will achieve your goals!
Melissa Burns is an independent journalist and business consultant. Business innovations, technology, and marketing are central topics of her articles. She started writing with a single goal of sharing her expertise with other people. Melissa also provides workshops for startups and small businesses.