You are doing well – your business is all set up and ready to go, and your enthusiasm to get the ball rolling is through the roof. However, there is one small problem. Your advertising budget is slim to zero.
There is nothing so frustrating than to follow your passion to start up your business, only to find that lack of funds prevents you from going out there to promote it.
But don’t lose heart just yet! There are some simple marketing strategies you can implement right away to get your name, products or services out there, even on the tightest budget.
It’s all in the list: We all know how important it is to build an email list of interested customers, but for a small business or sole trader just starting out, the main worry is not having a list to email to. But you do have a list! Everyone has to start somewhere, and most small businesses start off by using their existing list of personal contacts. This will be made up of your friends, family, groups or clubs that you belong to, work colleagues, and contacts that you have picked up through friends.
You can tap into your existing contacts list and use them as a testing ground to practice the art of constructing your email messages, outlining what you have to offer, and your hopes for the future of your business. Most of the people on your list will want to see you succeed, and will be encouraging and helpful. Even if your business is of no particular use to them, you could ask them to circulate your messages amongst their friends and family, and you could end up attracting some potential customers who would be willing to sign up to your email newsletter or to follow you on social media. The cost to you? Only your time.
Set up a double opt-in email newsletter. MailChimp for example offers a free option to get you started, and once your list starts to grow you can choose to upgrade to a more comprehensive package. Post a sign-up link on your social media accounts, and include a sign-up link at the end of every email you send out. The cost to you? Only your time.
Offer a freebie: We all like something for nothing, so put together an informative report or free e-book that offers something that really helps people with information or answers questions within your specific niche. Always end the report with a call to action, either ‘follow us on Twitter’ or sign up for our newsletter etc. Encourage sharing by including a message to ‘share with friends’, and chances are your freebie will be passed around amongst like-minded people with a lot of new contacts signing up for more. Give this free book or report away on your website, via your social media platforms, and have a link to the free download at the end of every email you send out. The cost to you? Only your time.
Get real-life contacts: There is a danger for some sole-traders and small business owners to become a little isolated when all of your time is spent tied up in the office or workshop. Take a look at your local business community and seek out new contacts by attending trade shows, council meetings, business meet-up groups, and chamber of commerce meetings.
If your business is something that the local community can benefit from, then by joining in with some local community organizations you will become known as the local go-to expert in your field. Always go armed with your business cards and keep your ears open for more local based opportunities to attend where you can get your business recognised. The cost to you? Only your time.
Become a press-release diva: Why pay for local newspaper advertising when you can give your business a decent feature for free! Crafting your own press-releases can be very effective as well as lots of fun. PR experts use press-releases all the time to keep their clients name in the limelight, and you can do the same too.
If you are not sure how to construct a good press-release, then do a little bit of free research online to get samples and guides of how to write effective press-releases. Read a few local papers to see what sort of stories they like to feature, and look for any local or ongoing reoccurring angles that you could connect with if at all possible. Many local newspapers are always on the look out for a good story or press-release to fill their pages or to update their website with, so you may be lucky!
If you can tie your press-release into a good human interest story, then all the better! For example, you may have your own business making organic paints in a range of customisable colours. You could combine your press-release with a competition for a local playgroup or nursery to come up with a new shade of low-odour organic paint, and give it a name. The winning playgroup or nursery would win a prize of enough paint in the new shade to redecorate their playroom.
Press-releases are very effective, but not absolutely every time – don’t expect the local media to be on your doorstep asking for an interview right away. It can take a little time and a few consistently good press-releases to get your name recognised in press circles. Often you may find one of your press-release gracing a page within a newspaper weeks after release. This can often happen on a slow news week where the paper will search their records for interesting stories to fill their pages.
Seek out complementary businesses: It costs nothing to approach people or companies that can complement your own. There is strength in alliances, and teaming up with others can end up being a win-win scenario for both of you. For example, there is a local dog grooming parlour in my town run by a lovely lady with school age children. She met and became friends with another mum with kids at the same school, and it turned out that her new friend made dog biscuits and dried meat treats from home and sold them over the internet. The dog groomer now sells her friends dog biscuits and treats in the reception area of her parlour for a small commission, and the lady making the treats has increased her sales, as well as saved a fortune in postage and packaging.
Social media marketing: Social media is a great way to get your company brand recognised, and all for free! You can use it to broadcast any special promotions, end of line clearance sales, and new product or service launches, so make the best use of your time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, StumbleUpon etc.
Most new thriving businesses owe a debt of gratitude to social media sites, especially when money is tight. Social media has been the real key for start-ups that would never have stood a chance twenty years ago, such as micro-businesses and sole-traders. It provides a level playing field for everyone from a single entrepreneur to large-scale businesses.