16 Ideas for Low-cost Promotion
So you have a business. Your product and service will benefit the community…if only more people knew. Take heart, because you don’t need to buy billboards or spend loads of money on advertising. With a little creativity and help from social media, small business owners have more options than ever to advertise for less–or even for free.
1. Make a plan.
First, assess your talents, capabilities, and knowledge. Figure out what you can do well and what you don’t do well. Play to your strengths, and get help where you need it. For example, if you’re a bit shy, enlist the help of a sociable, outgoing employee for your spread-the-word campaign. Next, make a budget. Figure out exactly how much money you can afford to spend, and if you can supplement that by trading goods or services.
2. Make a website.
If you don’t have a website, get one now. The Small Business Association reports that businesses who have a website gain 39 percent more revenue than those who aren’t online. Web hosting can be found for a very low cost; for example, GoDaddy’s Ultimate Package is less than $8 per month. Free website templates make page-building easy and give you a professional-looking product without having to pay a designer $2500 to $5000 for the most basic website. (Here’s a secret: unless you pay for a completely custom website design, the pro designer is probably starting from a template anyway!)
3. Get a listing for your business in local search engines.
Google and Bing will do it for free! Yahoo will charge, but if you buy their YahooLocalworks service for $29.99 a month you get listed in 50 different directories, including Yelp and Mapquest.
4. Set up your business profile on social media.
Like setting up a website, this should be a given: you want to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and GooglePlus. These tools are free, at your fingertips, and open 24/7. If you’re not a social media person, delegate the job to someone who is–but do it, and make sure these stay active, interesting, and up-to-date.
5. Business cards: use them!
You can design your own business cards through companies such as VistaPrint and get a great-looking product for low cost. Every time you pay a bill, slip one of your cards in the envelope. Hand cards out to tellers, clerks, cashiers. Dining out or ordering delivery? Give a card along with your tip (but make sure it’s a generous tip, or you’ll have an annoyed service worker spreading your name in a BAD way).
6. Get involved in groups that attract your target customers.
Find out what’s going on in your community and see if you can make connections there. Lectures at the local college, book discussion groups, recreational clubs, and volunteer organizations are a great place to network for people whose interests dovetail with your business.
7. Be visible.
You can get screen-printed t-shirts and hats at low cost for your employees. Look into other print promotions as well: bumper stickers, mugs, plastic cups, pens, stress balls, magnetic signs for your company vehicle. If it exists, you can find a way to put your name on it.
8. Run a contest.
Put together an attractive package of products, or a gift certificate for services, and take your prize to a place with high traffic and visibility where you can reach your target audience. Tell people about your contest, pass out your business card, and let them know they can enter by liking you on Facebook.
9. Offer to be a speaker.
Industry conferences, colleges, libraries, civic clubs, business organizations, and volunteer groups are often in need of speakers for different events. You probably have a compelling story to tell, so why not offer to share it? It’s free publicity and name recognition, plus the chance to make valuable contacts.
10. Set up a blog or YouTube channel for your business.
Your website can link to a blog or YouTube channel, and either of those can in turn link back to your website. Use your blog or web videos to offer demonstrations, give helpful tips, advertise specials, and discuss current developments and trends in your general field of business. Network with people who run related blogs or channels and you’ll reach even more potential customers.
11. Public service.
With a small investment of time, you can get high visibility in a positive way. Pass out water at a charity run, or volunteer to beautify a local park one afternoon. Have a pet grooming business? Offer free nail trimmings for all newly adopted pets when the local shelter hosts their next adopt-a-thon.
12. Be a landmark.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, paint an eye-catching design or mural on your shop. In my city, there was a local small bookshop/coffeehouse that drew attention from the street by painting creatures from Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” on the building. Such whimsy might not be the way to go for, say, a law office…but you could still turn heads by painting your shutters and/or trim with a bold color.
13. Donate prizes for local radio contests, church or school raffles, etc.
Personal anecdote time: one summer I entered a radio contest on a whim and won a $25 gift certificate to a new café that had just opened across town. I treated my supervisor to lunch! We returned to the office comfortably stuffed, raving about the food and the service to everyone, and passing out takeout menus. (That restaurant has since grown from one café in a strip mall to three full-size locations across the city.) I woke up that morning not even aware of the restaurant’s existence, and by the end of the day I’d told everyone I knew about it and urged them to try it out. All because of a radio contest.
14. Consider joint marketing.
Look for a related, but not competing, business in your area. Ask if they’d be interested in joint promotions or sharing leads.
15. Good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
This doesn’t mean “stick a flyer under every windshield wiper in the parking lot.” Flyers are great–and inexpensive–but take the time to look people in the eye when you pass them out. Smile and very briefly invite them to try your business, product, or service. Ask customers who do come in if they would recommend your business to friends and family–and then ask them to do it. You can do this without coming off as desperate just by saying, “We’re proud of our work and we’d love your help in getting the word out.”
16. Say “thank you.”
It’s simple, free–and effective! A small handwritten card or even just a warm, genuine “thank you” will make customers feel appreciated for their time and money, keep them coming back…and make them feel good about recommending you to friends and family.
With a little creativity and planning, you can spread the word about your business and get new customers in the door…then the rest is up to you.
Good luck in your promotion campaign!
If you are looking for additional promotional ideas that you can use in your business be sure to check out our article on Cost Effective Promotional Ideas for Your Business, which covers real world examples of cost effective marketing tips from a successful franchise owner.
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