Money’s too tight to mention, as the song goes. So how do you get hero returns from your zero marketing budget? What are some of the cheap and cheery things you can do to get your small business noticed?
Here’s a list of 13 marketing tips that require very little money but maybe a little of your time and ingenuity. Some of them you’re probably already doing, while others might be worth adding to your marketing plan.
1. Social media done well is free!
Okay, so I bang on about this one quite a lot and it’s absolutely true. Social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have opened up a whole world of marketing opportunities for small businesses that never used to be there. You can build a community of fans and followers with regular and interesting posts about your business – just keep it relevant and keep it classy. Pick the platforms where you think most of your target market will be and put a little time and effort into rewarding them for stopping by with decent content.
2. Offer your expertise to local media
This one can be a little overlooked by small businesses, but it’s worth taking a leaf out of what bigger businesses do and offering your services to media outlets. You’ll see spokespeople from big corporates like banks spruiking their expert opinions on TV and radio but there’s no reason you can’t look to do the same.
Think about your area of expertise and knowledge and then look to match that with something like a local radio show or even a YouTube series. Talkback radio shows are often looking for guests to talk about all sorts of topics, from gardening to tech and everything else. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the producers of a show and let them know you’re available to talk.
3. Go to business networking events
I love online and think it’s a godsend when it comes to marketing for businesses. However, it’s very hard to beat the persuasive power of an in-person meet and greet. Don’t get stuck behind the desk and forgo the power of meeting people face to face. Head along to business networking events and mingle with people in your field and beyond because you never know where that next big break is going to come from. Talking to people in real life can really break the ice and ease the path to rewarding business relationships. Keep an eye out for local business events as well as events specific to your profession or industry.
4. Get blogging, write for trade publications
This can be tough because we’re not all confident writers, but that’s not the point – you’re not writing a novel, you’re writing about your profession. Once you start writing you’ll be surprised at how much you know and have to say about your field of endeavour. Having a regular blog on your website makes sense from an SEO standpoint but it also demonstrates to customers that you know what you’re on about and care about it.
Once you’ve got your blog up and running, try your hand at writing an article for a trade publication or even pitch something to bigger publications, like my friends here at SmartCompany. There’s no guarantee it will be published, but if it is, that’s thousands of more people who will have heard of you and your company.
5. Write an industry white paper
This is an extension of the above, but is more of a vehicle for showcasing just how much you know about an industry. Producing a white paper positions you as a thought leader in your field and it is a great marketing tool to have on your website. You can simply ask people to provide their contact details in exchange for access to the white paper on your site. This gives you plenty of qualified leads and contacts to follow up with an email campaign.
6. Make sure your business is Google-optimised
This is housekeeping stuff but you should be making sure you’ve given Google all the necessary information so that people can easily find you. The more fastidious you are with Google the better you will do in search rankings. The best place to start is to head to the Google My Business site for a complete rundown on what you need to do.
7. Run contests on social media
This is an old chestnut that has been updated for the world of social media. A lot of companies used to run contests via their local newspaper or other media outlets. Now you can run contests on your own website and across your social media platforms. The more fun and compelling the contest, and the better the prizes on offer, the more likely you are to get traction with customers. Just be sure to check the terms and conditions required to run contests in your local area.
8. Become an educator
Similar to writing a blog, becoming an educator is a great way to share your skills and promote your business. Of course this will depend on your profession, but there is such a demand out there from people to learn new skills that you will probably be surprised at how popular this might become for you. It might be as simple as organising a one-off seminar at your local library or neighbourhood house. This gives you a great way to meet prospective new customers and to highlight your skills.
9. Get involved in local or charity organisations
People who give receive in return. There are plenty of great local charities and organisations crying out for local businesses to get involved. The immediate returns might not be obvious but local organisations can be fantastic gateways to building networks and making connections with influential people.
Find an organisation that might need your skills or one that resonates with your beliefs. Before long you’ll find that people within the organisation will be recommending your business to their friends and you’ll be doing good while promoting your business at the same time.
10. Create “how-to” videos for YouTube
I’ve covered how easy it is to make an instructional YouTube video before and you can do it at no cost. So many people are looking for instructional videos online for all kinds of topics that it’s really just a lost opportunity for your business not to get in on the act. Once you make your first video it just becomes easier and easier to keep making more.
11. Loyalty schemes and rewards for regular and long-term customers
This is a tried and trusted method for building brand loyalty. We see it everywhere from the local cafe with its customer loyalty card through to the more sophisticated programs run by the big corporates. This is all about looking after your loyal customers and gently reminding them that if they’re happy with your work, maybe they can recommend you to a friend and get 20% off on their next purchase, for example.
12. Apply for business awards
There are plenty of business awards out there, many of them industry specific. Have a look around and you might be able to find one that fits in perfectly with what you do. Being awarded a prize or award is a great feather in the cap for a business and it can provide some handy publicity as well. It also gives you something to promote on your website and lends credibility to your business.
13. Put business cards in local shops
Once again this is almost laughably old-fashioned, but it can work. Your local cafe will usually have space at the front counter for local business cards and it’s worth putting a little stack in there.
It’s also worth even going door-to-door at your local shopping strip and introducing yourself to fellow business owners, leaving a business card as a sign of friendship and goodwill. Your fellow business owners might be just the type of customers your business is looking for.
Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.