Although marketing should be a crucial part of any business owner's strategy, without a huge budget it can seem difficult to get a company's name out there. However, the modern business world throws up a host of cheap and even free marketing opportunities which are perfect for the small business entrepreneur.
- Be sociable
You can't fail to heard about the Web 2.0 phenomenon and the rise of social networking. Websites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter are all the rage and are being used by businesses of all sorts and sizes to promote their products and services. A group on Facebook for example allows you to network with clients and customers looking for the very sort of thing your business is offering. Use it to promote your offerings and keep people up-to-date on the latest content on your website. You can also use social networking sites to email members.
- Become a video star
Post videos promoting yourself and your business on sites such as YouTube and Google Video. If your video is amusing or informative, word can spread fast and before you know it, it has been emailed all over the place bringing great publicity for your business.
- Blog your business
Blogging is a great way to keep your website fully up-to-date. Outdated content can be a real turn-off to site visitors so ensuring it remains fresh is vitally important. As well as blogging specifically about what your company is up to, you can also write your opinion on subjects affecting your sector, your customers or events in the news. Blogging software such as Wordpress which can be incorporated into your website is available online.
- Win! Win! Win!
People love free stuff so why not run regular competitions? Organising contests relevant to big sporting events or specific times of the year such as Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day is one good way of promoting your company and making people think favourably about it.
- Rewarding loyalty
There's nothing to stop you copying the techniques of big businesses and providing your customers with a loyalty card. This method is particularly useful for retailers, cafes or food stores but can also be used by online businesses. Encourage people to collect points or stamps in return for a free gift or service when they've reached a particular total.
- Share your expertise
There are always thousands of events which need speakers and publications which need content so why not offer your expertise? Seek out events and exhibitions focusing on your sector and contact the organisers about being a speaker. Similarly, online and offline publications – particularly those in your local area – will generally be happy to consider articles and most will be happy to give you a byline and a website link. Find out the names of local journalists and get in touch. And if you feel you are particularly knowledgeable sign up to media contact agencies which put journalists in touch with experts in particular fields.
- A sporting chance
You may not have the resources of AIG to spend on sponsoring the likes of Manchester United but you are likely to be able to afford sponsoring a local sports team. Backing an amateur or school football squad for instance and getting your company logo on the players' shirts can be a cheap and effective way of raising your profile in the local community. And you never know, the team may end up doing a Havant and Waterlooville and end up playing at Anfield.
If you've got lots of happy customers, shout about it! Get them to give you a quote saying why they liked your product or service and put it on your website or promotional literature. Also consider fuller case studies which new customers can read to find out how great your company is. Be warned though, don't make up testimonials; you will get found out!
- Become a campaigner
If there's something that the government is or isn't doing that is really winding you up, then start a petition. Setting up petitions on the Downing Street website has become hugely popular and is a great way of promoting your business. During the recent controversy over the government's capital gains tax reforms for example Duncan Cheatle of networking group The Supper Club started a petition which attracted more than 18,000 signatures. As a result, he was quoted in several media articles by journalists seeking comment on the issue.
- Network online
Internet services such as UK Business Forums allow small business owners to network with thousands of other entrepreneurs. If you become a regular poster who offers useful advice you will soon be seen as an expert in your field. As well as promoting your firm to other companies you can also use forums to actually do business. Make sure you have something worthwhile to say though, as spamming will do you no favours.
- Network offline
Similarly, there are a host of offline networking meetings available. Run by several organisations including business groups and trade associations, the events allow you to network face-to-face with other business owners. Make sure you take along and business cards and if possible prepare what you're going to tell people about your business in advance.
- Join a trade association
Joining a trade association or business group such as the Federation of Small Businesses, Forum of Private Business and British Chambers of Commerce not only brings credibility to your business but also a whole host of other benefits. Most offer cost effective advertising opportunities in member publications and access to cheap networking events. Many also run their own award schemes which, if you win or are nominated for, can be a great way to publicise your firm.
- Poll crazy
With the plethora of news pages both online and offline, journalists are always looking for stories so carry out some research and send out a press release. Several online tools such as Survey Monkey exist which allow you to gather survey data while forums such as UK Business Forums allow paid-up members to carry out online polls. When you've got some data put together a well written press release that has a story to tell. You could consider taking on the services of a PR company to help you but it is very possible to do it yourself. If you're happy to spend a bit of time searching for the email addresses of journalists from particular publications it can bring big benefits.
- The customer's always right
It may be obvious but ensuring you offer good customer or client service is essential to building business success. Answering calls and emails quickly or at least having a useful answer phone message is key. In these days of online forums and social networking websites, negative comments about your business can spread like wildfire so it's vital you stay on top of it.
- Business cards – don't forget the back
Cards are a key business tool so make sure you have some to hand out at meetings and networking events. Although it's not necessary to spend thousands, quality and look is important. Make sure the cards include all your contact details such as email address, direct line telephone number, postal address and website url. And don't forget the other side. Use it to outline the products, services or benefits offered by your company.
- Use RSS feeds
Adding Really Simple Syndication feeds allows visitors to be automatically alerted to new content on your website. It is also good for search engine optimisation purposes. There is various free software available online which allows you to add RSS feeds including FeedPublish and FeedForAll.
- Stay in touch
It's all very well attracting new customers but making sure they come back for more is a different matter. A newsletter can help do that. Gather email address from customers and ask them if they're happy to receive future communications. Send out a regular e-bulletin outlining your company's latest news and special offers. You could also include articles on subjects of interest to your customers or clients which brings added value.
- Be a winner
Entering award schemes is another great and cheap way of promoting your business. Many are available with an international, national or local focus. Most are free to enter and if you're nominated you're likely to be given a free dinner at a posh awards ceremony! If you're successful make sure you make the most of it. The majority of organisers will have a PR team on standby to get the news into the media but even if they don't contact local journalists immediately after your win and let them know. Adding 'winner of X award' to your website is also beneficial as is posting about your success on online forums. Prestigious national schemes like the Queen's Award for Enterprise, the highest honour that can be bestowed on a UK business, are particularly valuable. And of course, don't forget The Pitch.
- Be a guerrilla
Given that guerrilla marketing is defined as an "unconventional system of promotions on a very low budget, by relying on time, energy and imagination instead of big marketing budgets", it is particularly suitable for small businesses. Many options exist but a great buzz around your business can be gained from staging some sort of wacky event and getting your staff to dress up in silly costumes. Famous guerrilla marketing incidents including men's magazine FHM which projected a 60% high image of a naked Gail Porter onto the Houses of Parliament and website About.com which sent out fake hitchhikers who handed promotional masks to drivers who picked them up.
- Charity begins at home
Offer to clean or paint a local community centre, give money to the local Scouts group or offer your staff up for creating a garden in a local school. Make sure you invite the local press along to any charitable event you stage and mention it on your website. You could also consider backing a cause long term. Pick a charity and make regular donations. Many charities will put a link to your website on their website in return. You could also raising money through events such as marathons and fun-runs and encourage customers and clients to sponsor you.
- Send out products for review
If you sell a particular product, contact relevant publications and ask them to review it. Editors are always looking for content and if you get a good write up it's a great thing to put on your website.
- Bookmark your website
Add your website to the new breed of social bookmarking websites. By adding pages from your website under relevant subject tags using services such as Del.icio.us, Technorati and Digg other internet surfers looking for the sort of information or services you provide can view them. If someone finds your website, likes it and bookmarks it will benefit your business in spreading the word. You can also add buttons to your website which link directly to the bookmarking sites.
- Don't forget your people
It's not all about customers and clients, your employees matter too. In fact, they are your most valuable asset so make sure you treat them right. Ensuring you provide an enjoyable and rewarding place to work can only benefit your business. Visiting customers or clients will notice it and staff will talk to their friends and family about how great their boss is. Offering regular rewards, bonuses and social events are good ways to keep workers happy but often just a simple 'thank you' will go a long way.
- Get accredited
Receiving official accreditation from schemes relevant to your industry can help your business stand out from the crowd. Gaining such recognition can be pricey but will be worth it in the long run. As well as accreditation initiatives pertinent to particular sectors, more general schemes such as Investors In People exist.
- Tell your friends
It's another simple one but something that is often overlooked. Tell your friends, family and neighbours and anybody else you come across about your business. It's free publicity and you never know who they know.
- Easy contact
Making your company as contactable as possible is important. Different people like different methods so offer them all: instant messaging, email, telephone and mail.
Almost everyone has a mobile phone so don't ignore it as a marketing tool. Get customers to opt-in to receiving text messages and send them regular company updates and special offers. But don't go overboard or people will class you as a spammer.
- Free advertising
- Partner up
Get in touch with other businesses and see how you can work together. And don't just limit it to the UK; partnering with businesses overseas can also be beneficial. Swap links to each other's websites or trade advertising space. You could also publish articles in each other's e-bulletins and promote each other's product or service launches.
An email signature is another often neglected marketing tool. As well as your contact information such as website url and postal address, add details of current special offers or new product/service launches. Modify your signature on a regular basis to keep the content refresh. Remember, especially if you're messaging the general public, that you never know to whom your email may be forwarded.