Marketing on a Budget

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The marketing challenge facing most entrepreneurs is how to make a little budget go a long way. Fortunately, there are low-cost alternatives to expensive research and advertising costs.

Entrepreneurs must get the word out that their product or service is not only available, but the best value around. Among the best approaches for getting the word out are the following:

Do-It-Yourself Public Relations. Many newspapers and magazines are more interested in publishing information about your business than you may realize. They have news space to fill each day or week, and are often looking for news about local businesses. The news can include information about new people you have hired, new products you have launched, or new customers/contracts you have attracted.

You just need to be prepared to pick up the phone and make inquiries with local reporters and editors whose names you see in the publications. Most are fairly approachable, and will quickly tell you whether they have interest, or refer you to someone else who may have interest.

Bartering. Just because you can't afford expensive advertising or public relations services doesn't mean you can't obtain them. Consider offering your services or products in exchange for the marketing services you need. A magazine may welcome the opportunity to take clients to your restaurant or use your gardening services in exchange for providing you with advertising space that might otherwise not have been used. You can also join a bartering group. Remember to record both the income and expense portions of the bartering transaction in your accounting records so that income and expenses will be correctly stated. If both sides of the transaction relate to your business (income and expense), there is no effect on your profit, but both income and expenses will be understated. If both sides of the transaction are not business related, your profit may be affected. If you engage in a significant number of bartering transactions, you will lose valuable information provided by your financial statements if you do not record them.

Go Where They Ain't. In other words, be prepared to depart from the conventional wisdom of your industry in order to get attention. This might mean giving away free samples of your product at a special event that attracts your target market (giving away food or drink at a road race, for example). Or renting a hot air balloon or airplane to tote a banner about your product. Or sending a sample of your product to a celebrity who could mention it during an interview.

Of course, not everything will work as hoped. But if you throw enough balls into the air, some will come down where you want them. Creativity is a must for any entrepreneur seeking to market on a shoestring. The possibilities are limited mainly by your imagination.

Source: High-Profile Ways to Market on a Shoestring. Hewlett-Packard Small Business Tools. July, 1998.

Be sure to set aside dedicated time each week to market your business. Being extremely good at what you do is useless if customers don't know about you or can't find you. Too often, especially for small businesses or professional offices, marketing falls through the cracks because there is no budget for advertising, and people are too busy running the business to market it effectively. These ten tips to market your business or professional practice on a small budget can help:

1.) Attend and participate in networking opportunities.
From business open-houses to neighborhood picnics, and simply greeting people you've done business with when you meet them around town, always look for ways to remind people of who you are and the services and benefits you provide.

2.)Cooperate with other organizations to achieve name and brand recognition you couldn't achieve on your own.
Sponsor a local softball team, join with a radio station to sponsor a contest, or participate in a charity golf tournament, etc. Partnerships can bring huge rewards!

3.) Offer a seminar, class or workshop.
Local news media will often cover an interesting topic, and it's a great way to make people aware of your services. Charge little or no admission, have great handouts and materials, and get a crowd together.

4.) Use direct mail.
Typically, we think of this as "junk mail" going to thousands of people, but more often it's a matter of using your word processor to write a personal letter to 200 past customers, colleagues, or even competitors. Make it interesting, personal, and remind them of your special niche or unique services. Include a coupon or certificate. Make sure your direct mail is not "junk!"

5.) Form an alliance with your suppliers, colleagues or (even) your competitors to offer a "combo" package that neither of you could offer alone and share the marketing expenses.
Attorneys and accountants can offer specialized packages for start-up businesses. A massage therapist might pair with a gym, weight-loss or stop-smoking program.

6.) Announce a new program, new products, new hours, new personnel or new policies.
So long as it is real and improves the quality and level of your service, this is the news that customers, clients and the media will want to know about.

7.) Contact 5 past customers or referral sources to thank them for their business and ask them to evaluate the quality of your service.
Let them know they are the most important part of your research and development program. Listen to their suggestions! Be sure to ask them where they last hear about your business to track effectiveness of your marketing tool.
8.) Review everything a potential customer sees or hears when they do business with you.
How do you answer your phone? Do your signs need re-painting, is your lobby attractive and comfortable? Is your desk a mess? Do you personally take pride in your appearance and take time to make clients comfortable? It's all in the details!

9.) Re-submit your web page to at least 5 search engines this week.
Each search engine has its own rules and you don't want to flood them, but it is wise to update your listing at least every few months. (And, if you aren't on the web, well, that's item #11!)

10.) Re-do your business cards, brochures or letterhead.
Update your slogans, be certain your use of colors, textures and headlines is appropriate and represents precisely the image you want to convey. Hire a graphic designer. Don't skimp on your first impression!

Source: Top Ten Ways to Market Your Business on a Small Budget. Dr. Philip E. Humbert. March, 1999.

There is clearly no single marketing approach that's guaranteed to work for everyone or every type of business. What will work best for you will most likely be a variety of activities that are best suited both to you and your business. Nonetheless, we've found there are four methods of attracting business that seem to produce the best results for the most people relative to the time, energy, and money they involve.

1.) The Fastest: WALK Around the Neighborhood
For those who feel comfortable meeting people face-to-face, one of the fastest ways to get business to come to you is to pick out a target building, street, area, or type of establishment where you'll find people who need your services or who serve people who do. Then simply walk from office to office, booth to booth, or store to store introducing yourself and leaving your materials. Repeat this process regularly. By the third visit, those you met will probably remember you.

2.) The Least Threatening: TALK to Gatekeepers
If you hate to sell, working through gatekeepers is one of the easiest and least threatening ways of getting business. Gatekeepers are people who, in the process of what they do every day, come into regular contact with people who are in need of your service or product. You can get plenty of business by developing relationships with such gatekeepers.

3.) The Most Fun: SHOW What You Do by Sampling
If you love the work you do, sampling is one of the best ways to make getting business fun. If you find a way to let prospective clients and customers sample what you offer, your work can sell itself and your marketing efforts become additional opportunities to do what you like most. Whether you offer a service or product, there is always some way you can stimulate interest by providing a sample that gives people a taste of what's to come that whets their appetite.

4.) The Most Exposure for Your Money: TELL Your Story Through the Media
Publicity can be one of the best low-cost ways to become well known. Studies have shown that an editorial mention is often more effective than paying for advertising in that same media. The best publicity, be it in trade journals, newsletters, magazines, on-line, or on radio and television, can tell your story to the very people who are most interested in hearing it.

Source: "Getting Business to Come to You." Paul & Sarah Edwards, 1998.

In selecting business-generating activities, it's easy to lean toward the more passive methods like blanket direct mail, advertising, directory listings, Yellow Page ads, and so forth, where you hope people will see it and wait for them to call you. These methods are quite appealing because they're relatively non-threatening and don't require a lot of our time. After all, aren't these the methods used by Corporate America? If they work for the big guys, why shouldn't they work for us? As one woman said, I just want to put in some ads and wait for the phone to start ringing.
Our advice, DON'T WAIT!

Passive methods like advertisements and directory listings rarely work for self-employed individuals. They may work better in concert with other more active methods, like networking, meeting gatekeepers, giving speeches, or going where you actually make personal contact with potential clients. Guerilla tactics are much more cost-effective for small business firms using creativity to get into the mind of your customers and prospects. The most successful methods for getting a steady stream of word-of-mouth business are usually those that create visibility and credibility and build personal relationships. More passive methods can be used to follow up on contacts or as visual reminders of a relationship you've already initiated through other means. In other words, to build relationships and credibility, you need to do active things you can enjoy and do naturally, be they networking with gatekeepers, doing direct solicitation in person or by phone, giving free consultations or demonstrations, or speaking or exhibiting at trade shows. Then, if your budget allows, you can use more passive methods like mailings, advertising, and directory listings to keep yourself and your business in the minds of prospective customers, so that when the moment comes when they need you, they will think of you immediately and be able to find you.

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