How to market your small business on a shoestring

Be smarter about your marketing spend
Be smarter about your marketing spend
Make no bones about it, if you’re not currently marketing your business then you need to start – and fast.

Yes, I know there’s a recession and yes, I know your budget is stretched to full capacity. However, with research from PriceWaterhouse Cooper showing that 5,483 UK businesses folded in the first quarter of this year, small businesses need to maintain or even increase their marketing activity to maintain their profile in the marketplace and continue to seek new clients.

The good news is, if you can make the effort and time, you can actually do this very effectively and cheaply.

Gone are the days of buying expensive contact names and addresses, paying pricey print costs for flyers and even heftier postage costs. Unrequested direct mail (“spam”) and even worse, “leaflet drops”, where the campaign isn’t even targeted and sent to a named individual, are very much frowned upon. “Opt-in” campaigns, where the individual has shown interest in your product or service and given you their details specifically to keep in touch, can be done faster, timelier and cheaper using special e-mail software, such as dotMailer or ConstantContact.

Blogging is an excellent way of increasing your web exposure. A blog is free, simple and quick to create, most using Typepad or WordPress. All you need to do is post regular items on a weekly if not daily basis. Ideally, content should be relevant to your target market and informative, although not formal. You could perhaps choose a mixture of your personal commentary on current affairs, any new changes to your product line or services and advice to your client base. The key word here is “regular”. Search engine spiders love regular, unique, updated content and are desperate to raise your rankings, so help them out. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey carried out among 125 small business owners, 62 percent recognised that a blog would help raise their profile, strengthen their brand image, reputation and search engine ranking. They therefore set up their firm’s blog. Unfortunately, 29 percent then said they updated their post 1-3 times per month, whilst a staggering 71 percent admitted they were too busy to think about it and had let it go. What a missed opportunity.

PR is generally considered to be an extremely credible marketing tool. The trick here is to identify what is actually considered by the editor and the audience as being true “news”. What you might think is something very exciting and relevant may have no meaning at all for the newspaper’s readership, and your carefully crafted (yes, there is a structure) press release will go no further than the editor’s bin. Good examples of a true PR lead might be new appointments, a new client which we’ve all heard of, any events that you’re holding or a commentary on something in the news which is relevant to your business.

Finally, Facebook and Twitter are the new darlings of the marketing world, known collectively as “social media marketing”. Again completely free, simply set up a page or an account and contribute to it regularly, with material much the same as your blog. What you must remember, however, is that these are not simply advertising platforms. To be effective, you must be patient and build up relationships with your steadily growing followers. These people are interested in you and what you have to say, but they probably aren’t ready to commit to spending money with you – just yet. Journalists and editors pick up news leads from social media, comments are picked up by search engines and you can often use social media to drive traffic to your website or blog.

To put it into context, over the period of three months, you’ve built up 400 followers on Twitter, simply by chatting about relevant topics every day. You’re ready to publicise that you have a limited sale offering 25 percent discount on all stock. Within one minute, you’ve informed 400 people, all of whom you know are interested in your products, driving them to your website for a better look. How long and how much would that campaign have cost using traditional methods?

Rural businesses especially, need to adopt these techniques. Footfall can be scarce, even non-existent, so publicising who you are, what you do and how you can benefit your target audience are messages which you need to send out across the globe to bring in new customers.

So yes, new marketing takes time, patience and self discipline. If you can’t afford to do it yourself, find someone who can do it for you. As a small business owner, can you really justify not taking up the opportunity?

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