Marketing on a minimal budget - ten tips!
Navigating the marketing minefield when you’re a start-up or small company with a shoestring budget can be somewhat daunting. There are lots of people who will be happy to take your money and there are lots of ways to waste your precious funds, so I want to share ten marketing ideas that are either low cost or no cost.
Every business is different and there is no ‘one size fit all’ approach to marketing, but these ten activities are something that most businesses can and should do. The good news is, they require little or no budget and they’re guaranteed to generate sales. What they do require is time, energy and commitment, but I’m guessing if you’re a start-up or self-employed, you’ve got those in abundance.
Before we get started, I want to stress the importance of understanding your audience. There’s little or no point doing any kind of marketing if you’re appealing to the wrong audience or your message is wide of the mark. It’s essential that you invest some time in conducting a customer profiling exercise and making sure your brand and your message convey what you’re all about and what sets you apart from the competition. For tips on customer profiling, read my blog - ‘The Importance of Customer Profiling’.
My top ten marketing tips
1. Website – Coming in at number one is your company website. Now, this is where you will have to allocate some budget, but a good website is absolutely essential. My top tip here is to spend a little bit more and use an established and reputable web design company, rather than your next door neighbour’s son who can whip up a wordpress site in no time and for beer money.
You want your website to last and that will mean adding to it and adapting it in the future. You need your designer to be there to help you, otherwise you will end up having to fork out for a new site earlier than anticipated. My other top tip is to make sure you have access to the back-end of your website (a content management system) so you can make small updates and add fresh content as and when you need to, without having to pay someone to do it.
2. Develop a social media plan – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, You Tube, Instagram and Pinterest accounts are all powerful marketing tools and can be set up at no cost and in no time. That’s not to say you should simply dedicate an afternoon to launching your business on social media. You need to carefully plan which channels are appropriate to your business and how best to use them. These platforms are a great way to promote your message and engage with your audience, but it takes time and commitment and very careful planning.
3. Newsletter – I’m a big advocate of email newsletters. There are lots of free tools (I use Mail Chimp) and they are a fantastic way of keeping in front of your audience and filling them in on what’s important to them. And that’s the key. Don’t focus on what’s happening within your business, balance each newsletter out with information that will be useful or interesting to your readers. For more tips on creating a successful newsletter read my ‘Newsletter Schmoozletter’ blog.
Don’t be afraid to start small. You don’t need to buy-in email address lists and spam people. Start collecting email addresses early on and at every opportunity. Emailing people who haven’t subscribed to hearing from you (spamming) is never a good way to start a relationship with a prospect. If you have an email address that you really want to include in your newsletter list, my advice would be, send them a personal email saying you’re intending to send them your next newsletter as you think it will be relevant/interesting to them. Give them the opportunity to say they don’t wish to receive it, and also tell them they can easily unsubscribe once it lands in their inbox. At the very least you’ve got your name in front of them. And on that note – make sure you have a professional looking footer in your email – with your logo, company name, website and contact details included!
4. Local PR – I recently met with a small business owner who hadn’t done any local PR. Her argument was, her audience was national. That’s all fine and good, but why not capitalise on local press who are crying out for news, and start to generate a loyal local following. Where’s the harm? People like to support start-ups and local businesses, so find an angle for a story and get in touch with your local press. For tips on how to pitch articles and ideas to journalists, read my blog ‘How to Successfully Pitch Blogs and Articles to Editors.’
5. Industry PR – Take some time to research your own industry press and the websites and magazines that your audience might read or subscribe to. Whilst it never hurts to promote your business within your own industry, you’re generally going to be promoting yourself to your competition. It’s worth concentrating more effort on the press that your audience is going to read and targeting those journalists. And don’t forget bloggers! They’re hugely influential these days. Find out who is blogging to your target market and try to establish contact with them and introduce your business.
6. Get listed – There are all sorts of directories out there – some which you pay to be listed in and others that are free. Depending on what type of business you are, it may be very worth getting listed in as many directories as possible. They’re often heavily optimised, so appear high in Google searches. That means they may be one of the first sites a potential prospect looks at when they’re searching for a business just like yours.
7. Workshops and classes – If you’re providing any kind of service, then you’ll be sitting on a wealth of knowledge and experience that is extremely valuable to potential customers. Why not build your credibility and reputation by inviting people to attend a workshop or class where you give away some of your tips. For example, a dog groomer might invite dog owners to learn ways to look after their pampered pooch's day-to-day grooming requirements. It won’t necessarily mean they never need to go to a dog groomer in the future, but you can bet your bottom dollar that customers will appreciate the advice and be more inclined to use that grooming parlour in the future. It's also a fantastic excuse to get them in to view your facilities and learn about the range of services you offer.
8. Promotions, offers and rewards – Once you’ve started generating an audience and a buzz, it’s worth rewarding your loyal followers with special offers and promotions. This might be a discount or an invite to an event you’re speaking at, or a workshop you’re running, or it might be a chance to download a specialist paper you’ve written that they’d be interested in.
9. Cross promote with other businesses – A very easy way to generate new customers is to find businesses that provide a product or service that complements yours and promote each other through your respective marketing. For example, our dog groomer might team up with a local kennels or a dog walker. Together they can promote each other’s businesses to their customers and prospects with appropriate offers and discounts.
10. Test and measure – And finally, coming in at number ten is testing and measuring your marketing to understand what’s working and what needs adapting. At the very least you should be analysing the traffic on your website through Google Analytics. It’s a fantastic tool that shows you how many visitors are coming to your site and through which channels, plus a whole lot more. I’ll write more about Google Analytics and how to use it in a future blog.
All that's left to say, is good luck. And if you need any further advice, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!