When I quit my corporate engineering job to move back to Nashville and start a clothing retail store 6 years ago, I knew practically everything there was to know about starting a business from scratch—business licenses, taxes, merchandising, buying, selling, etc. But in retrospect, I had no idea how to do the most important thing of all—marketing. No idea. None.
The truth is, you can have the greatest store, product, company or service, but if no one knows about it…well, you are shit out of luck, basically (I can say this becuase I’ve been shit out of luck myself. Check out my post: You Are Not a [Fill in the Blank], You are a Marketer to avoid this fate). It’s like that proverbial tree in the forest…if no one hears that you’re in business, then you can’t have any impact or make any money. But I guarantee you’ll hear crickets loud and clear.[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I’m a huge fan of delegating, but let me sum out how well it worked out to hire someone else to promote my business: IT DIDN”T[/quote]
What I didn’t realize then was that marketing was the most important part of my business, and was the part I should have been spending most of my time and energy on (and getting good at FAST). But at the time, I just thought, I’ll hire that out. So I did. I hired a local PR company to do the promotion for my store.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of delegating, but let me sum out how well it worked out to hire someone else to promote my business: It didn’t. I spent a ton of money with very little to show for it in return. I put advertisements in all the local magazines and papers among my PR agent’s recommendation without seeing the benefit. In the end, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars to learn that traditional advertising doesn’t work very well for certain small businesses (mine in particular).
You definitely don’t want to learn this lesson the hard way like I did. In my next entrepreneur venture—health coaching—I paid little (if any) money to market my business and got MUCH better results. In fact, I built my entire practice and client base using free marketing techniques. Also, now that I’m a photographer, I do things the same way. I’ve never had to buy another advertisement to this day.
If all your paid marketing isn’t giving you the results that you want, it’s time to dig deeper and get in the marketing trenches. Below are 9 inexpensive marketing ideas for your small business. Keep in mind that some of these ideas will work well for your type of business and some won’t, but hopefully they will all help you get your creative marketing juices flowing.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #1: Present a free workshop
When I was a health coach, presenting free community workshops was the most effective approach for my growing my client base. A free workshop gives potential customers a chance to see you in action and directly interact with you which is extremely powerful. Whether your business is online or offline, presenting a free workshop or class will position you as the expert in your subject. Also, it gives people an easy way to see what you have to offer before they commit to buying from you. Then if you design the sales portion of your workshop correctly, you’ll have them lined up for your services or product—all at little to no cost to you.
Afraid of public speaking? Join a local Toastmasters group like I did! http://www.toastmasters.org/
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #2: Find referral partners
Referral partners are an extremely effective (and free) way to grow your business. There are few marketing methods more powerful than a direct referral (or word-of-mouth). When a customer gets recommended to you from someone they trust, they almost always automatically trust you, which is the start of a good business relationship.
To build your referral partner list, reach out to people in similar businesses to you and ask how you can support them and their clients. Keep the conversation about how you can add value to their business instead of “can you send me some clients?” When I was a health coach, my referral partners included yoga teachers, chiropractors, personal trainers and even other health coaches. The key is to build a strong relationship with your referral partners and focusing on adding value to their business as well.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #3: Get good at networking—online or offline
Networking is crucial for small business owners and the good news about that is that it’s generally free or inexpensive. Just like presenting workshops, networking gives you the opportunity to interact with people one-on-one which builds connection and strong relationships. You’re more likely to remember someone and refer people to them if you’ve met them in the flesh.
Whether you’re networking on- or offline, focus on giving instead of taking. Focus on building relationships. Ask other people about their businesses and how you can help support them. Plus don’t forget to follow up afterwards, because it’s all about creating strong, lasting connections that will end up helping your business flourish.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #4: Improve your website SEO
Your business website is working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you want to make it count. And if you have a good product or service, it’s likely that your potential customers are already searching for it online. So you need to get good at your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to make those searches land on YOUR page so you can reap the benefits. Check out my post on 5 Super Easy SEO Tips that Drive Traffic to Your Website to learn how to improve your website SEO for free.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #5: Set up an email opt-in box on your website
If you don’t have an email opt-in box on your website, you’re missing out on a free way of expanding your customer base and growing your business. Having an opt-in box allows you to grow a solid list of people who have directly expressed interest in your business who you can market to anytime.
The key is not just to put something that says, “Sign up to receive our newsletter”, but to offer something of value in return…like an ebook or free product or training.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #6: Organize a local event, group or Meetup
Even successful 6-figure entrepreneur like David Siteman Garland, founder of The Rise to the Top, started marketing his online platform by starting a local monthly event in his hometown. People like connecting with other people with similar interest to them and getting excited about something together. If you can facilitate this and relate it to your business/services/products, you can effectively grow your audience and your client/customer list.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #7: Connect with the local media
Getting free publicity for your business can have a huge impact on your success. How many business owners have you seen go on national TV and then can barely keep up with the success that follows? When you’re first starting out, though, make an effort to connect with the local media. The local media is always looking for fresh, relevant and interesting stories and there’s no reason that you can’t be one of them.
To contact the local media, you’ll need to learn about press releases. It’s not difficult to put together a press release and send it out, but you do have to have some writing skills and the ability to create an interesting and appealing story angle, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do it yourself. Read this article on how to create a good press release: http://www.publicityinsider.com/release.asp.
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #8: Run a contest
Contests are a great way to introduce your services or products to a new audience at little to no cost to you. The great thing about contests is that you can use your existing customers/fans/audience to spread the word for you via social media and other platforms. While it might be unlikely that your existing customers would enthusiastically share with their friends about your upcoming sale or special deal, they probably would share about a contest because it doesn’t seem as “salesy”. Check out this article at Entrepreneur.com to learn how to run an effective Twitter contest: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226099
Inexpensive Small Business Marketing Idea #9: Participate in a local fair
When you participate in a local fair—whether it’s related to health, technology, pets, etc—you have the chance to network and reach an audience already interested in what you have to offer. Many local fairs are inexpensive and they’re a great way to get you and your business out in front of people, create one-on-one connections and expand your client base.