Posted on Wednesday, Mar 28th 2012
By guest author Greg Muender
The old axiom is true: you do indeed have to spend money to make money. Your business will never get off the ground if you can’t get the word out, and you can’t get the word out without money.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you have to already be a millionaire in order to market your business. There are plenty of marketing tactics you can consider that will help to grow your business that aren’t especially costly. Some are even free.
Here are some unique, cost-effective ways to market a business when you’re broke:
- Use your relationships. Many small businesses start out with primarily friends and family as their first customers. In many cases, friends and family will turn out to be some of the most vocal advocates for your business. Talk up your business to them, give them some free products if possible, and ask them to spread the word.
- Distribute business cards. They might seem like an outdated mode of marketing, but in some businesses these cards can be very effective. You can get a unique, professional design for less than $20 from online vendors like VistaPrint. Posting these on bulletin boards all around town will generate some business. Consider finding retail businesses whose customers are in your target demographic and ask if you can put a display of cards at their registers.
- Get involved in the community. There are plenty of community networking opportunities out there. You can volunteer at a charity, join the Rotary Club or the Masons or even get involved in a local small business association. These activities are cheap or free and a great way to meet customers and get referrals.
- Create a Web presence. You can have a website up and running in a matter of hours and for less than $10 a month. There are many free and inexpensive website templates out there as well. Eventually, you’ll want a custom design, but anything is better than nothing to get started.
- Blog. You can set up a free blog, or you can set up your own hosted blog for just a few dollars a month. Blog about local activities, about trends in your niche and about what exactly it is your business can do for customers.
- Give something away. This seems counter-intuitive and even expensive, but it’s not always. Consider writing a free report or concise guide that you can hand out to potential customers. If you’re in landscaping, for example, write up a 10–15 page pamphlet about maintaining yard plants and email it as a PDF to prospective customers. Partner with other local businesses to distribute your free product, too.
- Reward loyal customers. Offer incentives to encourage your existing customers to come back, and offer other incentives for them to bring new customers to your business.
- Use social media. Much has been written in the past couple of years about social media marketing. Some of that information is useful; some of it isn’t. That said, pick a platform (such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+) and start actively using it. Provide useful updates related to your niche. Your goal is to establish authority and build rapport, not make direct sales, so avoid putting out too many sales links via social media.
- Create a press release campaign. Press releases can give your brand exposure. Done correctly, they can also increase traffic to your website. Create a list of local as well as national websites and publications related to your niche, and create weekly or monthly press releases highlighting your company, your products or how your company is involved in your community.
- Implement an email marketing strategy. It doesn’t take long for a dedicated business to build a pretty hefty email marketing list. Use that list to provide truly useful information. Your goal should be that everyone who receives the email will find it valuable enough to keep or even print off. There needs to be something of value in it so that the reader can come back to it later and, when she needs something, contact you to get it.
Building your business from the bottom up takes hard work. You’re going to spend a lot of time on these marketing activities and often not see any immediate returns. Building a business is about the long game. If you stick with these strategies, over time, they’ll pay off and pay off big.