Lots of businesses - especially small businesses with limited budgets - wonder “is marketing really worth the expense?” The answer is yes. Understanding the critical role that marketing plays in launching and growing a business will make it clear to any business owner that marketing, while it is an expense, is an investment. A wise investment.
Marketing will raise awareness of your business and drive potential consumers and clients to you. Every dollar you spend on marketing should yield a return of more than a dollar, in some cases substantially more. Depending on the marketing efforts, it may take a long time to see that return, or it may be immediate.
Your small business will fail unless you get the word out to your customers. But with a minimal budget, you've got to do this in the most cost-effective way. You can do this by prioritizing your efforts and using low-cost or even no-cost strategic marketing campaigns and tactics that stretch every marketing dollar. The following are a few marketing efforts that should be at the top of your marketing strategy. Executing and maintaining the following tactics, will cost you less than $3,000 and ensure a return on your investment.
Develop a website for your business
Every business should have a website. According to Blogher, more than ¾ of US adults are online. (See the graphs above.) Search engines are replacing those huge business directories. Google has become the new yellow pages. Essentially, if Google’s not finding you, neither are your customers.
A website domain name is inexpensive to buy. Building and maintaining a website can be more costly, but worth outsourcing to a marketing professional since your website should be one of your top marketing priorities. You can find a marketing professional (like Dow Creative Solutions) who can create an effective, user-friendly website for anywhere from $800 to $2,800. A presence on the web is an incredibly cost-effective way of raising awareness of your business and also promoting your products, services, events or promotions.
Be sure that your website is optimized for search engines. There’s no sense in having the flashiest website with the best design if it shows up on the 20th page of search engine results. In fact, 75% of those searching the web, never scroll past the first page on search results! While it can take time to get near the top of the list in search engines, you do want to get found online - so start optimizing your website now. A marketing strategist can help you with your website’s search engine optimization.
Find free publicity
Getting publicity is challenging and it can be time-consuming, but it costs nothing other than the time you put into it, and it can really build awareness of your business. It’s also an effective way to integrate more traditional media in your overall marketing strategy.
When you host an event, offer a promotion or release a new product or service, issue a press release to your local media. Small, local newspapers are often happy to run information like this. You might want to search for a charity or community event that is in line with what your business offers. Sponsor the event, or at least be there to provide services, products, coupons…something. Pitch a press release to local media outlets before the event to drum up awareness of the event, and (of, course) your participation in it. But also pitch a press release after the event, indicating what a success it was and how great your business is for supporting a community or charity event. If there is no such event, sponsor a customer appreciation day at your place of business. Try to establish and build relationships with your local newspapers and reporters. Sometimes they’re hurting for something to cover, and your business may come to mind if you’ve cultivated a relationship with them.
Communicate with and engage your customers
Communication with your customers is critical. You can’t effectively market your product or service unless you know how your customers think about what you have to offer and how they get their information. These days, more and more people are turning to the internet for information and recommendations on everything from iPods to fishing rods. And, nearly 2/3 of internet users regularly use a social network, according to Emarketer, 2011. Whether you like it or not, social media conversations influence purchases.
Determine which social networks are right for your business. If you’re a B2C business, Facebook or Twitter are probably appropriate avenues. If you’re a B2B business, consider LinkedIn to raise awareness of your company and generate leads. Once you’re a part of the network, solicit friends, followers and colleagues to engage with. This doesn’t mean oversell yourself. Social networks aren’t billboards for your business. It’s an opportunity to engage with your customers or clients in a conversation. Share news and information. Ask questions. Listen to their information or feedback. The greatest part is that it’s essentially a no-cost marketing opportunity! Here’s one of my favorite quotes that really conveys the relevance of social media for small business marketing:
“While social media is not the silver bullet that some pundits claim it to be, it is an extremely important and relatively low cost touch point that has a direct impact on sales and positive word of mouth. Companies not actively engaging are missing a huge opportunity and are saying something to consumers—intentionally or unintentionally—about how willing they are to engage on consumers’ terms.” - Josh Mendelsohn, VP, Chadwick Martin Bailey