No matter the size of the company, marketing plays a huge role in developing and maintaining a customer base. Learn five strategies to market your business without blowing your budget.
By Tara Remiasz
Some small business owners aspire to create multinational corporations while others dream of cornering the market in their local community. Small businesses thrive on big ideas and lofty goals, but these things mean nothing if nobody knows your business exists. Fortunately, small business owners don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the word out on their companies. With a little creativity and planning, you can turn a few dollars into a lot of exposure.
Here are five cost-effective marketing ideas:
1. Define Your Target Customer
One of the five biggest mistakes small business owners make is failing to identify who their customers are. They don’t define their target markets. “It may be a Web designer that says, ‘Everybody in the country who needs a Web site is a potential customer.’ Well, you can’t develop a marketing program where you’re going to spend $10 million to go after everyone in the country,” says Gene Fairbrother, lead small business consultant for the National Association for the Self-Employed in Grapevine, Texas. “Go after the people in your own backyard in a very defined marketing method.” Concentrating on a specific group of people is especially important when working on a limited budget. Marketing is most effective when a clear target audience has been defined.
2. Connect with Your Target Customer
Once your target customer has been defined, create a plan to reach those customers directly. “If you’re a service business and you want to go after an executive level individual, you may want to look at networking organizations or social organizations that targeted individuals are likely to attend,” Fairbrother says. Make contact with your potential customers through the publications they read and the events they attend. If you are a good public speaker, volunteer to be a panelist on topics that relate to your business. If you are a good writer, volunteer to be a contributor for the local newspaper. “Originally, we got on the seminar circuit. We joined trade and business organizations whose members we felt we could network with and sell our services to,” says Phyllis Shearer Jones, president and CEO of Elan International LLC, a small business international consulting firm based in Wheaton, Md.
3. Create Relationships with Area Businesses
“The highest return on investment from marketing is from networking,” Fairbrother says. “It may not even be networking to a potential customer but through referral businesses.” For example, a plumber may build relationships with builders and hardware store owners, anyone people might ask for a plumber referral. Be sure to drop off business cards or inexpensive flyers when meeting with potential referral businesses.
4. Cultivate Your Clients
“You should never take a new inquiry call without asking, ‘Where did you hear about us?’” Fairbrother says. Keep track of how new customers are being turned onto your business because it will provide direction on where to invest future marketing dollars. “Good marketing is getting the e-mail address from every one of your customers,” he says. Sending e-newsletters or holiday and thank you cards are both ways of remaining fresh in your customers’ minds year round. Also, find ways of rewarding customers for their referrals. When possible, Fairbrother suggests calling customers at least once a year to thank them for their business. “The customer is the greatest marketing resource that any business has,” he adds.
5. Foster Goodwill
Volunteering your services or products for raffles or drawings is an inexpensive strategy for gaining exposure. “The name of the game is to really try to get the most exposure you can with limited resources,” Jones says. Jones also volunteers her time for several nonprofit committees. She initially began volunteering because she enjoys it, but soon discovered that these committees provided a great opportunity for networking. In addition, sharing an objective or common goal helps foster relationships with business and community leaders.