So, you own, or work for, a small business, and your marketing budget is small – almost non-existent – what can you do? Contrary to popular belief, marketing doesn’t have to be expensive! There are plenty of cost-effective means of getting your brand and message out there, you just have to get creative and put in the work. One thing’s for sure. If you abandon your marketing strategy, your brand could suffer, and you might be missing out on bringing in new and return customers. Take a look at some of the low-cost marketing ideas below.
Have a Social Media Presence
This one’s a no-brainer for most folks. Social media is no longer a “nice-to-have” – it’s pretty much a requirement for any size business. The problem is, some people don’t think of social media as a marketing channel, but what they don’t realize is that it has become one of the most influential sources in consumer purchasing habits. No matter if you own a restaurant, sell handmade crafts, run a vehicle repair shop, or are some sort of personal consultant, social media is where you are going to be able to cultivate a fan-base and get engagement. It is also a perfect place to learn about your customers and participate in discussion. Once you’ve gained the trust of these folks, you can begin to use social media as more of a marketing tool to distribute information about your product or service, provide links to your content, post photos of your work/products, and more. The possibilities are really unlimited to what you can do. If nothing else, having social media is another place for consumers to find information about your business and get in contact.
Start (and Maintain) a Blog
In addition to social media, having a blog is another easy opportunity to engage with customers and drive more business. A blog is also the perfect place to show your knowledge and expertise on a particular subject. If you want to create a successful blog, It’s all about providing useful content to your customers. For example, if you own a local hardware store (yes, those do still exist,) your blog could be focused on simple DIY projects that your customers can do around the house. Towards the end of your posts, you could insert a small plug of your store as a place in which readers can purchase the tools and materials they need for the projects. The goal here would be to engage local consumers and drive them to, or back to, your store. When it comes to cost, there are plenty of options around for free blogging. Some of the more well know options include Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress. Once you’ve created your blog, you can simple link to it from your business website. P.S. Don’t forget to tell people that you have a blog!
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Host Special Events
Don’t be intimidated by this section. When business owners hear the word ‘event’, they tend to panic, but it’s not as bad as it seems. For most small businesses, there are lots of opportunities to host small events that build awareness and bring in new customers. Let’s use a small, family owned and operated restaurant that I used to work for as an example. If memory serves, every Sunday night, the owners would bring in local musicians to play for our dining area of maybe 30-80 customers. It started out small when they first began to bring in music, but gradually it became more of an expected event, something that our guests looked forward to attending each week. We saw repeat customers, customers staying longer than usual, we sold more beverages than normal, but most importantly, we saw new customers that came by because of the music, and came back for the food. Any business can create some small event such as this to create a buzz around town and get more foot traffic in the door. It doesn’t have to be music – it can be anything. Don’t overthink it. If you own a bike shop, host a monthly bike ride. Give away free t-shirts and stickers along the way. If you run a small advertising agency, host a non-profit night. Gather local non-profits and marketing minds to figure out ways to bring awareness to the organizations. It’s simple – invite people to join you for something other than making money directly, and if they have a good time, they’re likely to come back!
Promotions & Loyalty Rewards
One of the hardest things about owning a small business, especially if it’s a new business, is getting people in the door. This where marketing comes in. Promotions, in addition to special events that I mentioned before, are another great way to get new customers to come by. If big companies can hold promotions, so can you! For an idea of different promotions you can do, see below.
- Offer new customers a discount off of their first purchase.
- Hold a buy one, get one, or a buy one, get one half off sale. This can apply to anything from food, services or goods.
- Offer store credit or coupon for bringing in a new customer.
- Hold a sale for a particular brand or item in your store.
- Ask customers to come in wearing something specific such as flip flops to receive a discount.
Don’t forget, you’ll need to advertise these promotions (maybe by way of signage out front, or hey, maybe on your social media channels!) in order for current or new customers to know about them. Once you’ve got these customers into the door, your loyalty rewards come into play. Opposite of promotions, which are meant to bring in new customers, loyalty rewards are meant to bring those customers back. The most common form of loyalty reward, which you’ve undoubtedly seen before, is a punch card. Punch cards can be made at home with a thicker stock paper and a simple design. Ask your customers to bring the card in each time they visit, and after a certain number of visits, give them something free or at a discount for being a loyal customer.
Cross promotion with other businesses
The last tip for cost effective marketing involves working with other businesses. The key here is finding other businesses in your local area that can also benefit from working together. Once you find a good business to work with, you can take the simple route by trading and displaying marketing collateral (flyers, business cards, coupons, etc.) in your stores to gain some extra exposure, or you could get creative. A perfect example of getting creative comes from the city that I currently live in, Virginia Beach, VA.
There are two places here that my wife and I love to eat at. One is called Citrus (a breakfast a lunch place) and the other is Fuji Yama (the best sushi restaurant ever). Both of these locations are very popular – especially Citrus where you have to wait an hour + no matter when you get there. On Citrus’ and Fuji Yama’s menus, there are ‘healthy’ sections labeled ‘Jim’s Choices’ or something to that effect. This section of the menu is sponsored by Jim White Fitness, a local gym offering fitness and nutrition training programs. The sections on the menus offer specially crafted meals that have been deemed healthy by the good folks at Jim White’s Fitness. How clever of them to offer nutritional guidance while you are at your favorite restaurant. If you happen to decide it’s time to consult a professional about getting fit and eating healthier, there hope is that customers will come to them first.
So, as you can see, there are plenty of options for you as a small business owner/employee when it comes to marketing. Spending money in advertising will inevitably gain you more exposure, but when it comes to really engaging with people and converting them into loyal customers, it isn’t about the money. It’s about interacting, providing value, and giving them a reason to come back.
Have any tips you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below or connect with me on twitter – @HOOKDin. Also, be sure to subscribe to get notified of posts such as these!