Creating a successful online brand takes hard work and commitment. Despite its many challenges creating…
Suffice to say, most small businesses aren’t privileged with the type of large marketing budget large corporations enjoy, but even if you have no ambitions for market domination, you probably want people to know about you, your company, and what it is you offer. No matter how small your business, marketing and branding must always be important, necessary components of your business strategy.
So how do you market on a small business budget, or establish your brand in the public consciousness? Forget TV spots, pricey web ads, or airplane banners, and get ready to get your hands dirty with some grassroots marketing and budget brand awareness. These strategies play off one another, and will help propel your business toward greater exposure without taking a boat-sized bite out of your wallet.
1. Mailing Lists
Grassroots marketing is about word-of-mouth, so your strongest assets are the enthusiasm of satisfied clientele. Your customers will tell their family and friends about their experience with you, whether it’s a good or bad one, and, assuming you’ve done well for them, you should encourage them to speak up. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of reaching out. Have you been collecting contact information from customers? You might have a point-of-sale system that requests email information for receipt delivery, or maybe you take commissions by email or phone.
This contact information is valuable. Before spending any money on targeted ads or printing fliers to get the word out, put together an email list made up of prior customers’ addresses. Send out a newsletter once a week, or biweekly, letting them know if you’re offering something new, your thoughts on current events or the industry you inhabit, or just reminding them they’re always welcome back. If you’re at a loss for email addresses and phone numbers, there’s no better time than now to start collecting; set up a clipboard with a sign-in sheet at your place of business, inviting new or returning customers to volunteer their contact info. Sweeten the deal with the potential for exclusive offers and bonuses for return business — we’ll talk about what that might entail in the next section.
2. Deals and Giveaways
Do you have a surplus of product stock, or feel secure forking up some inventory or labor hours in exchange for positive word-of-mouth? You can use these resources to your advantage by offering exclusive deals and bonuses to bring back old customers and attract new ones, or run sweepstakes-style giveaways. When your customers appreciate you, make them feel appreciated by welcoming them back.
Depending on how much you have to spare, you can offer buy-one-get-one or other purchase-dependent deals, “free” or discounted goods or services that reward return visits, or various incentives for referrals that bring new clients into the fold. If you have limited resources to devote to this type of plan, a giveaway might be your best bet; people will be excited by the possibility of winning a free product or service voucher in exchange for making a purchase, and giving away one prize will incur less strain on your business than honoring broader discount or B.O.G.O.-type programs.
3. Inexpensive Promotional Products
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book: distribute promotional products — everyday, usable items — with your name on them. Branded products have the double function of making customers feel appreciated and advertising your brand, and while it might sound pricey, it doesn’t have to be. In today’s market, you can order just about anything with your brand stamped on it, in a quantity that strikes the right balance between convenience and effectiveness.
Gareth Parkin, CEO of GoPromotional, advocates for affordable spending on branded promotional products. “We steer our smaller businesses with smaller budgets to notepads. They’re cheap, but get a lot of visibility, and they can be mailed easily and used in sales calls.” Whether you’re ordering notebooks, ballpoint pens, flash drives, or lanyards, there’s a wealth of inexpensive product options, giving you plenty of ammunition for giveaways and other customer appreciation efforts.
4. Social Media Presence
Don’t worry about buying ads on social media networks; down the line, this might be a good idea, but right now, you should focus on cultivating an organic social media following. For a small business, especially one operating primarily on a local scale, Facebook and Instagram will be your meat and potatoes.
Facebook business pages are typically among the first search results on Google, especially if your business lacks a dedicated website. Facebook isn’t just useful for supplying essentials like operating hours, location, and contact information. It’s a valuable, integral way to communicate directly with your client base. Publish Facebook posts whenever you have some downtime. Like your email list, Facebook should be used to keep yourself in the public eye and provide important updates on the status of your business or information regarding deals and special offers. Make your posts personable, engaging, and friendly, so your followers are encouraged to leave comments and “likes.” If your business is especially visual in nature, pay special attention to Instagram; its image-focused structure is perfect for showing off new products, and customers should be invited to share pictures of their purchases and tag your business page in stories published to their personal accounts.
5. Community Involvement
Are there any farmer’s markets, school sporting events, or festivals coming up in your area? Locally-focused small businesses will benefit from being seen as active, valuable members of the community, so it’s a good idea to make yourself part of the local conversation any way you can.
Consider purchasing a sponsorship in a local event. Depending on the type of exposure you’ll receive, you can pay very little for a comparably broad advertising presence. Local event planners are typically accustomed to working with small budgets, and will naturally prioritize local businesses. If your name and phone number will be mentioned on an event flier with wide distribution in your town or city, and placement on the flier costs only $20, you’d be remiss not to take the opportunity to advertise your brand to the community.