If you are marketing and advertising the same way you learned how to do it in college or even the same way as you were just a couple of years ago, you are probably wasting a lot of money! The world has changed dramatically in the last few years and a wise small business owner must change with the times to get the most from their marketing and advertising budgets. Add to this fact, the present economic climate, and the issue becomes of paramount importance.
For retailers it used to be that the most basic and important form of advertising was the Yellow Pages. However, today more people are using the internet and fewer people are using Yellow Pages than ever before. Therefore you might feel that it might make more sense to move some of your advertising budget to internet banner ads. Yet, the results from banner ads have also declined. So what is a small business owner to do? Many small business owners have moved much of their budget to newspaper advertising and have achieved lackluster success. Why? Newspaper subscriptions are also declining with many newspapers filing bankruptcy or going out of business. Again, these days, people are getting their news in other ways than the local newspaper.
To discover the best solutions possible, I have teamed up with Glynns Thomas, fellow SCORE Counselor specializing in marketing and advertising from San Francisco (Small Business Advertising Ideas blog) to bring you the top ten low cost advertising techniques. Small business owners should find these tips very useful:
- Create partnerships and cross promotions. Find other companies that hit your same target audience and are complementary to what you offer. Come up with a win-win barter proposal of how to steer clients to each other. Or, offer bundled promotions using the products/services of each to boost interest in both of your companies. Or, pool your marketing dollars together and create a campaign you could not afford on your own. It can be as small as one or two partners you barter with individually or a group, similar to the wedding industry where florists, hairstylists, veil makers, dress makers, bakers, and printers work together to help each other out.
- Find place-based advertising opportunities that are creative and free. Example: an author coming out with a book about parenting had post-it notes printed about it and they were posted above diaper changing tables in the area. A financial consultant had bookmarks created promoting his business and put them in financial books at local bookstores (very creative, however it may not have gone over well with the bookstore!). Think of how you could use your partnerships as mentioned in #1 for more place-based opportunities.
- Have an effective website. An old study says 70% of people will research online before walking into a store to purchase. That percentage is probably much higher now. A website is a must. There are free services you can use like joomla.org, etc. Or, you can use a blog format like WordPress.com. Having a custom made website with your domain and email is not cost prohibitive as some might imagine. Be sure to use search engine optimization (SEO) to bring people to your site, write articles and place them in free ezines to push people to your site; and use social networking to push people to your site (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). Of course, it may require that you invest a little time in learning new technology that you may not be familiar with, but the reward is well worth the time invested.
- Teleseminars and webinars (webex.com) are cheaper than doing in-person seminars. This is good for businesses that have a long purchase process or a complicated product that is best sold as a demonstration, etc. You can also film a demonstration/presentation and place it on YouTube.com and your website.
- Leverage your workforce to spread the word. This can be accomplished through inexpensive flyers or coupons and/or magnetic signs on their automobiles. This can also be accomplished through word of mouth but it is far more difficult to control the message.
- Create a lead generation system and contact them frequently. A form can be added to your website to collect names, telephone numbers and email addresses. You can provide an incentive to your prospective customers to provide this information. Examples might include “Join our mail list and receive advance notice of sales and specials…” or “Join our mail list and receive XX% discount on your next visit…” The more compelling your offer, the more prospective customers will sign-up. Using email to stay in contact with prospective customers is an inexpensive way to go. Use an email distribution service to stay CAN SPAM compliant: www.topica.com, www.verticalresponse.com, www.icontact.com and www.constantcontact.com.
- Targeted TV advertising. If you feel your business requires television advertising, consider using cable TV. Like conventional TV, you can probably get the cable company to create your ad at little or no cost. Then, unlike conventional TV, you can select only the zip codes in which you wish to advertise (those close to your location) thereby paying only for your geographic target market rather than a huge area like conventional TV where most of those viewing your ads are not in your geographic target market. Furthermore, the cable company should have demographic information about viewers of their many channels. This will assist you in matching your products/services to the correct demographic target market.
- Create publicity and press releases. You can use local “groups” within professional social networks (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to create free publicity and drive prospects to your website as well as your “bricks & mortar” location. Creative press releases can get you on local TV, in the paper and across the web. You can do this yourself if you have the talent or there are services that will do it for you.
- Track results properly so you can save yourself more time and money later on. This is the only way you can fine-tune your results to secure the biggest bang for your advertising dollar.
- Start and maintain a database of prospective customers. This is your goldmine for future success. It can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as elaborate as a MySQL or Microsoft SQL housed on a web server. You may only have one use for it today but as time goes by, you will think of many other uses and wish you had this data available to you.
Mostly though…it’s SO important to anchor any tactic to a solid strategic direction. For example, after you thoroughly define who your target audience is, develop key selling messages that resonate with that audience and set realistic goals. The best tactics can fail if this is not done well.
Glynns has written a tutorial called Low Cost Advertising. It’s meant for new business owners who are doing everything themselves (like sole proprietors). It includes writing a strategic foundation, reviews many low cost and/or free tactics for implementation, tracks results and shows you how to start your first marketing database. The resource section has 290 links to companies to help you grow your business. It costs $69 as an electronic download.
Additional information on non-advertising marketing ideas can be found in a recent post titled, “Fatal Distraction”. You will be amazed at how many ideas are available that can enhance the results from the funds you invest in advertising.
[Editor's Note - 2/8/11] I have received enough emails suggesting that this article is not accurate because it does not mention Social Media, that I felt compelled to add this note to save us all a little time. Social Media is not advertising, it is one pillar in a marketing strategy and advertising is another. Yes, Social Media is a very important part of any sound marketing plan but no, it is not advertising. Those that use Social Media as though it was, will surely fail. This is the reason that Social Media was not included in this article.
Posted by: Mike Clough