The most common question entrepreneurs ask me, is “how can I improve my marketing with no or little money?’ That’s literally the million-dollar question! So I sat down and hammered out my 50 best ideas. Skim them or read them in detail, but whatever you do make sure you go through the list. Just one of these ideas may trigger a marketing opportunity that you never considered before. It only takes ONE good idea, well implemented, to launch you to greater heights. I’m betting you’ll find at least one in the batches below.
Social Media Marketing Strategies
Social media is about connecting with the people in your niche: customers, potential customers, people who are interested in what you do, or who share similar interests and circles or hubs with you. It’s about building relationships and networking, not selling, although that does come as a result.
Get Out of The Store
Business owners with a brick and mortar store need to reach out to a bigger audience online. Social media isn’t new. People have always gathered to talk about business, life and community events. Social media is about doing that online. Establishing a presence on the Internet even if you have a physical store, is critical. Create an interactive, regularly updated site or blog, or by build informative yet informal profiles on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Being active on social media sites will not only increase brand awareness, it’ll also boost your company’s rank on search engines, and prove that you’re a business that is in sync with the times.
Share Your Expertise Freely
Let the public know what you’re an expert at and use that to boost your credibility and value. Publish tips, share your expertise through public speaking, even try pitching the media… make it super easy for people to associate you and your business with excellence and expertise in your field.
Many communities now have online forums/bulletin boards that offer varying levels of paid memberships. Purchase a membership that allows you to advertise your business and USE IT. Every time you post with your business ID, your business name (and web page link) you’re putting yourself out there in front of potential customers. Just remember not to get caught up in community drama as every post represents you and your business!
Not all exposure is online. Make yourself the expert in your field in your local community as well. Volunteer to teach seminars through your local Chamber of Commerce about your area of expertise. Your business will receive promotion through the event itself, as well as through all marketing for the event.
Never Stop Growing Your Network
Expand your network of contacts and potential clients. Ask your best, most powerful, most influential friends or business associates to introduce you to the five people they think you should meet to expand your business. Take each of the contacts out for coffee and get to know them. Discuss your plans and future goals, tell them about why your business is special and ask for their advice. You will be amazed at how these new contacts will pay off ten-fold with recommendations to you for new business and innovative ideas you hadn’t thought of.
Give away your product or promotional item on Twitter. Ask a question about a product on your website or blog. The first person to answer wins. When you send the item write, “Retweet upon receipt,” to be entered in a second contest.
Network Your Networks
Network with friends who then network with their friends. There’s power in numbers. Don’t spam of course, but utilize your network to get the word out to your people who know people who know people. Someone ultimately knows someone that can help you out…and believe it or not…will want to. When networking, do NOT focus on getting a referral or lead. Instead, focus on helping others. If you help them first (by adding value to their life/business), they’ll help you later.
Maintain Relationships With Clients
The difference between a successful company and a mediocre one often boils down to an owner’s commitment to building (and sustaining) relationships with clients and prospects. While it’s important to keep up traditional communication and PR, business owners should also be extending their relationships through online forums – website, blogs, and social networks. Conversations are happening all around you – are you listening, are you participating? Are you a thought leader? Be visible!
Listen. Tweet. Listen. Listen Again.
Identify your ideal clients and find them on Twitter. Then start following them! Spend weeks listening to them; you’ll be amazed what they will tell you about their concerns, their ideal products, their current frustrations with their vendors. It’s a great way to get open honest market research.
Get a Twitter account in your business name. Post links to your articles educating people in your niche market. At the bottom of the article have links to your products & services. Also offer discount coupon codes to twitter members. This has worked very well for me.
Join as many Linked-In groups as you can that are related to what you sell and post a question or tip on a regular basis. If you have a blog or e-newsletter, post an announcement to your Linked-In groups with a link whenever you release a new issue or blog posting. It’s free, you’ll be recognized as a leader, and you’ll reach thousands of business people interested in your field.
Your Facebook friends can be your greatest free marketing tools so enlist their help! In Facebook, use the NOTES application to create a special, limited-time “friends and family” promotion (i.e.: enter “facebook09″ at checkout to receive 10% off), tag all your friends and ask them to pass along your exclusive deal to their own friends. A great offer goes a long way quickly…especially through our favorite social networking sites!
Twitter is a great place to share photos (TwitPic), host contests, shout out to loyal customers, have scavenger hunts, and promote events. Think of ways you can incorporate Twitter into your promotions in a fun, engaging way. Thank loyal customers, retweet their tweets, and even host fundraisers. All the cool kids are doing it. Why shouldn’t you?
Traditional Marketing Strategies
Blog tours are like book tours, but without all the flying and cheap hotels and fast food temptations. They’re a great way to get seen and discovered outside your usual niche, all from the comfort of your own office, or home. Simply contact bloggers at any specific blog sites that fit your product and ship out a t-shirt, book or other product you offer and then also ask them to do a contest with their viewers. Point your readers to each blog site that reviews your product.
Readers at the blog tour site are told to go to your site to sign up for a free sample, or chance to win a free sample, as well. By having contest entrants choose among several products you get them familiar with your other products and get their email address too!
Inspire Customers To Call You
Do something really different. Send a monthly postcard instead of a hard copy newsletter. Self-printed cost is $0.46 ea. including the stamp. Make it fun and colorful with a strong “Call to Action” title, like: “100 reasons to call us. List 10-to-20 reasons, including your skills, talents, and tasks. Give customers a coupon for a discount, or a free doughnut, or something fun to inspire them to call.
HARO Gift Bags
Each Friday in the second edition of Help A Reporter Out (HARO) there are Gift Bag Requests. Look for decision makers with events that are a match for your product or service. Good fits mean quality networking opportunities. Make sure your gift bag offering has your website address, business card and additional offers that inspire recipients to follow up or at least check you out. For instance, if you’re giving away t-shirts, include a list of celebrities who also wear the shirt they’re getting.
To keep customers loyal to you, instead of a frequent buyer program, send your customers small “surprise” gifts. Customers come to expect rewards when they are members of a program. Surprises always work to instill loyalty and retention.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that promotional items are only for conferences and tradeshows. When given out with (or in place of) a business card at a lunch, a meeting or in passing, small promotional items become a gift. People expect free stuff at conferences, they don’t expect gifts. Keep a small, branded (and useful) item with you. You can be sure they’ll remember you. They don’t have to be expensive. Tip calculator cards, tea bags, pens and pads, small flashlights or things very target specific to your industry, like small packets of flower seeds for a gardener or landscaper with their contact information on it.
Donate several of your products or services to a non-profit organization that is sponsoring a live auction and the proceeds will be donated to the charity. Your store name will be displayed on the products for the duration of the event and the donation is tax deductible. Plus, you’ll be helping others.
Own Your “Wow”
Marketing gurus often refer to it as “differentiation.” Academics who fancy themselves as marketers – they’re the ones who write marketing textbooks – prefer to call it a USP, your Unique Selling Proposition. What they’re both taking about is more correctly described as the “Wow!” factor. Whatever it is that separates your Stuff – your products or services – from the similar Stuff your competition is selling, that’s your Wow!
Low Hanging Fruit
Turn to those in your field for the low hanging fruit. Find larger companies, or older, more experienced businesses and invite them to lunch. Ask them to consider referring their smaller cases or business they don’t have time to handle, to you. With every successful referral send them a hand written thank you card enclosing a Starbucks (or their favorite restaurant) gift card thanking them for their support. This will help you build your customer or client base without having to spend a lot on advertising.
Feed Them And They Will Come
Anything involving food gets attention. At least it gets my attention. Partner up with local neighborhood businesses and a restaurant (or other service providers in a complimentary but non-competing industry if that’s your gig) to throw a special event, complete with noshing. Combining your database with other businesses will expose you to an entirely different segment of people for a shoestring of the price. Use food to generate PR for your event too — one company I know of sent S’more’s kits to local TV newsrooms to help promote a camper and RV show. They got great results. Make it fun and different.
Help Other Employees
Offer employee incentives to various big businesses, or to smaller businesses in your hometown. For example, offer Southwest Airline employees 20% off their bill. Call their HQs and ask how you can offer discounts to their employees. It’s usually called ‘Employee Perks Program’ or something similar. All you need to do is tell them what the discount is and they will post it on their website or post it in some other capacity. You can also print off coupons for their Human Resource department to distribute, or send them a digital coupon they can email to employees to print off. Don’t forget to put an offer ends date (usually 30-60 days) and a “customer must show employee ID to redeem coupon” requirement on the coupon!
Online map listings are essential for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations. They are the first thing people see on search engines. They offer a concise snapshot of business info so customers can easily contact you or visit your store. And best of all, they don’t cost any money!” Make sure your business is on Google+ business, as well as all the local review sites and other map listings you can find.
It only takes one person to start a movement. So don’t hesitate to start an informal group that can provide something of value to the market in which you specialize. For example, a monthly breakfast discussion on current news and events in the smart phone app industry, or manufacturing or outdoor gear retail industry. Leaders and business owners will come together in this informal, low-pressure situation, because keeping an eye on the state of the industry is their job. Since you’re the one providing the benefit of this group, they will already be predisposed to a positive relationship with you, and it’s a short leap to noting your business savvy in their field.
Content Marketing Strategies
Content is any articles, information, video, infographics or stuff people can read, watch or look at that tells them something they didn’t know already about your product or service. If you can consistently amaze and thrill readers with new content and new information or entertainment about your product or services, you’ll grow quickly!
Great Relevant Content
We all know content rules, but what kind of content should you use? Simple. Relevant and related content the reader can use. Lots of people have the relevant content part down, but also create content areas, not just content. These areas should be able to (1) attract users and (2) position you and your business as an expert in those areas. For instance, if you’re selling hunting knives, create a content area on how to sharpen knives, or how to skin certain kinds of animals, or how to filet a fish. The content area should utilize your product if possible, but mostly it should have related content that attracts knife owners to your site.
Write For A Trade Magazine
If you want to get people’s attention and have them call you, there’s nothing like writing an article for a trade magazine (for B2B) or local magazine (for B2C) to gain credibility and get the exposure you want. This may be content you have in some form on your website already, but having it in a trade magazine dresses it up and sort of puts a tuxedo on it. I mean it makes you seem more credible because a publication is publishing your content. Demonstrate your expertise and position yourself as the go-to person for your product or service with this service. You’ll attract people in the “ready-to-buy” stage. Here is a list of trade mags to help get you started.
A convincing (and free) marketing strategy you can use to sell your service or product is by telling true, credible stories (hopefully that include awesome facts and incidents involving your product)—give specific and practical examples of what you have accomplished for clients. Use real-life examples of projects you completed, specific problems you solved or successes you achieved. If you’re a new entrepreneur, create a realistic scenario about how you would help your ideal client overcome a typical challenge. Relate your story through articles, blog posts, public speaking or by publishing a special report.
Mobile marketing connects businesses and each of their customers—through their mobile devices—at the right time and at the right place with the right message and requires the customer’s explicit permission and/or active interaction. Kim Dushinski’s “5 Steps to Creating a Dynamic Mobile Marketing Campaign” are 1) figure out what your target market wants and offer it, 2) align what your target market wants with your desired outcome, 3) choose the right mobile marketing tool for this campaign, 4) launch your mobile marketing campaign and market it, and 5) track what is working and make any necessary adjustments.
Who doesn’t love free, right? Offer your customers, potential customers, and visitors to your website a free resource, such as a guide or report that is packed full of solid information related to your product or services in exchange for their name and email address. The guide is delivered electronically to their mailbox so there’s little cost involved. Every two weeks, or so, follow up with more useful content, not a sales pitch, but do include your company’s info at the end. You’ll be building credibility, establishing trust, and reminding those potential customers of your product or services. When they’re ready to buy you will be the first company they contact.
Write A Book
Write a 150-175 page business book and self publish it with on-demand printing. Heck, write a 50-page book and self-publish it. The status of being a published author provides you with unprecedented access to media, speaking gigs, and other opportunities like nothing else can. (cost = $0 other than some time). You say you don’t have the time, knowledge or expertise to produce a book? Then write a white paper. Don’t have the time, knowledge or expertise for a white paper? Then write a series of short articles. Article marketing is a subtle way companies can gain exposure for their business by writing articles that provide information about news and trends occurring within their respective industries. Companies that incorporate article marketing into their marketing campaign demonstrate their expertise in their respective industry while simultaneously attracting new customers. If you can’t write, find someone who can and pay them to write your content for you. That’s legit.
Let your fans review your business, then incorporate their reviews in your blog post — good or bad, unless of course it’s obscene, not-safe-for-work bad. Online reviews are a critical component of your business’ reputation and can do wonders for converting new customers. Services like RateItAll.com/Promote allow you to submit anything for review – whether it’s a local business, a blog, a website, a product, or a brand. Other popular review sites include Yelp (local businesses), TripAdvisor (travel related items), and Viewpoints (products). And you can use this strategy for getting countless, legit, reviews on Amazon.
If you are introducing a revolutionary new product, an endorsement from a top expert makes all the difference. Read your trade magazines and write the expert. You will be surprised at how generous some of them are. Include their comments, or if you can snag an interview, put the highlights of that in your blog post as well.
Host a one-hour tele-seminar with time for content, a specific offer and questions from people on the call. People are hungry for information and like to learn. Create a web page with a sign up form and use email and social media to announce the call. Then make sure you have a really meaty, information dense, rocking teleseminar. Be awesome and attendees will return again and again.
Be The Local Expert
Volunteer to write a “Dear Abby” type Q&A column for your local newspaper on whatever your area of expertise is. Whether it’s plumbing, or chimney cleaning, or car repair, volunteer to answer readers’ questions in exchange for a link to your website and business name. If the paper isn’t interesting in paying or swapping you for the column, then pay for it yourself — and make it an ad. Once readers get used to seeing it and it disappears after three to six months, most papers will do what it takes to get it back if it’s popular.
Web Branding Marketing Strategies
A web presence is more than just having a website. Heck, even the animals at the local animal shelter have websites, some of them better than mine! A web presence is how people find you as well as what they find. To get found in good ways, like winning awards etc. is better than getting found because you have a booking photo or mug shot. To get found for the good stuff, do this:
Statistically, 3-out-of-4 Internet users live in North America, making exposure on the web critical. Even with all the changes to Google and to search algorithms, having a website that is keyword optimized is critical. You need to be SEO optimized for what your small business does and where you are located. Your website works as an online brochure as well as a “24 hours a day” sales person for your services and products, so make it work efficiently.
Participate in Trade Associations
Business-to-business professional service organizations get the most bang for their buck when they impress prospective referrers with their capabilities. One of the best ways to do this is through active involvement at trade associations where prospective referrers’ congregate. This participation enables them to a) increase their visibility and b) gain the opportunity for the consistent and frequent interactions it takes to build lasting relationships.”
Google AdWords On The Cheap
Run market research on the cheap by using Google Adwords to target an audience. Make the landing page a question survey. A snappy question to attract people, along with Google’s Geo-targeting can provide great results, for next to nothing.
Enter a Business Award Competition
There is nothing like entering a business award competition to strengthen the reputation of your small business. Winning an award can catapult your reputation within your industry and with the sales audience you aim to attract. Many competitions cost nothing to enter – except for the time it takes to prepare your entry.
Professional and trade organizations, chambers of commerce, Better Business Bureaus, universities – even churches are all organizations that host business competitions. Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Don’t forget, the secret to winning is taking the time to prepare well-written entries. If you can’t write, then pay someone who can to prepare your entry – or barter services if you’re trying to save money. The rewards for winning a business award can last seemingly forever. Brag about winning on your website; send a letter to clients; post the award in your office or store so whoever comes in will see it. And of course, send out a press release and get your picture in the paper!
I can’t say this often enough. Build your email list with quality names. Use opt in email marketing to talk to your best customers – this means the ones that want to hear from you and have signed up to receive your marketing messages and offers. No spamming! Be sure to deliver relevant, unique and valuable messages to their inbox. This can build loyalty, drive sales and cut other costs. Don’t be shy about creating a short but compelling video that succinctly explains your product or service. Short is under 3 Minutes MAX. Compelling is that not only informs, but entertains and/or personalizes you and your company. This can be done quickly and easily using a camera like a flip video. Post the video to your site and as many video sharing sites as possible.
Be On YouTube
Seriously consider starring in your own YouTube Series. I don’t know if the camera loves me, but I sure love the camera! You can learn to love it too! Take your product or service and dramatize it through a simple, homemade YouTube movie. Go a step further and script out a four-part series that you can post on your website. Heck, run a loop of the videos in your business.
Study the ad campaigns that get people’s attentions and come up with something of your own — unique counts. Virally spread your marketing message by making sure influential local bloggers see your video. Twitter short messages, driving traffic to specific pages of your website; Send a Network Update via LinkedIn conveying what you’re working on that will pique the interest of those needing similar services. Use Facebook to give your small business a “personality” so that people feel comfortable doing business with you — ask your customers to become Fans.
Get online locally, like on Craigslist, Yelp, and Angie’s list. There are hundreds of websites that people use to search out local businesses. Most are free to use and easy to find. Make sure your business is listed. Go the extra mile and upload pictures, menus, or something relevant for your service or product.
Host Educational Events
Partner with companies which target the same audience as your firm to host “educational” events. A small accounting firm can partner with a small law firm and a marketing firm to hold a seminar on “strategies for surviving the recession,” and invite small businesses to attend. Split the cost and the work that goes into creating the event, including inviting prospects and clients. It’s a cost-effective way to market to the other firms’ clients, to prospects, and to build a relationship with these other partners in order to gain future referrals.
Join forces to create posters, contests and other things that benefit all companies involved.
Pay Per Click
The fastest way, bar none, to create a strong Internet presence and get in front of potential customers when they are in active “search and buy mode” is pay-per-click search engine advertising. Start with Google – set a budget and bid, select your keywords and write a quick ad. Now you’ll be there when some “Googles it!”
Logo It Up
Use Your Logo- Now that you have a logo it is time to use it everywhere both online and in print. Put it on all of your marketing materials including business cards, letterhead and even envelopes. Include it in your email signature, on your Web site and use it in all correspondence to reinforce your company and encourage repeat customers and referrals. Once you have a solid logo that makes an impact, it should be synonymous with your company name.
PR Marketing Strategies
Blog, blog, blog and blog some more. PR is all about getting your business in front of people’s eyeballs. Keeping your own blog updated, and writing guest blogs for other well-known or popular bloggers in exchange for a credit and blog link, or a reciprocal post is a major part of getting publicity. You can also:
Make Reporters’ Jobs Easier
Instead of always pitching reports with story ideas, schedule a coffee or lunch meeting with the local (relevant) beat reporters in your market. Start the conversation by asking, “How might I be able to make your job easier.” When reporters know you’re out to genuinely make their lives easier without trying to sell them your story, you become a valuable resource, not a pain in the neck.
There are hundreds of charities you can help, but you’re better off picking one or two charity organizations or causes and only donating to them for the year. You’ll be able to do more and give more that way. That will make you more visible plus, the organization will get to know you and who you are. When you’re highly visible in one or two organizations, it’s easier to say “No,” politely, firmly and credibly to the twenty others who also want your attention, but who aren’t in your target market.
Sponsor Your Local Sport Teams
Sponsor a local sports team. For less than the cost of a 1/4 page ad in a local paper, you can buy team uniforms for a local soccer, basketball, baseball or other sports teams. Not only will you get the team, and their friends, family and fans attention and show that your business is a genuine part of the local community. It’s a great PR technique too.
Create An E-News For Your Biz
Having a great e-newsletter with valuable content may sound old school, but it works. E-News doesn’t have to be or sound like a sales pitch. Consider it an opportunity to position your business as an expert, provide relevant information, and to add another layer in relationship building. Build a strong database with a focus on media/bloggers. Give your clients the opportunity to subscribe. Publish frequently, but not obsessively. Done right E-News is one of the least expensive, but most effective marketing tools in our arsenal. Don’t be surprised by how often your content will be tweeted or covered by bloggers, or open the door to a more extensive PR pitch.
Tell Your Real Story
The best way to get noticed in today’s market is to tell a personal story. The more authentic, amazing and relevant, the better. As newspapers and magazines continue to lay off thousands of reporters across the country there’s an even bigger demand for well-written stories. Have ready-to-run articles prepared to send off at a minutes notice will create a great relationship with papers. They may edit or rewrite parts of it, but you’ll get their attention.
Long Shelf Life
Leverage your exposure by putting yourself into situations where your marketing efforts have a LONG shelf life. Web radio shows are a great place to start. Email or call those who are looking for guest interviews. Don’t forget to make sure you tell the host that “if your line-up is already scheduled, I’d make a great filler-inner when someone has to cancel”. Those words alone will get you remembered.
Network With The Media In Your Niche
Maintain relationships with media contacts that cover your industry, even when you don’t have news for them. Check in with them every month or so and ask how you can help them as an expert in your field. Better yet, send them tips and insider news they might not otherwise have access to. Become a resource. Follow reporters’ stories and take time to read their articles and comment on them without pitching yourself. Develop a professional relationship where you can spark dialogues about your community. Then, when you do have news, it’s that much easier to get them to print it!
Be outrageous, or weird, or truly innovative and wacky. Reporters want to cover the unusual/wacky/even controversial. One article about your business can be worth thousands of dollars. Give them what they want, but make sure that there’s steak after the sizzle is gone. Once people are attracted to you, you want to offer them something to keep them coming back or staying put.
Survey Your Customers
Reporters love numbers! It validates their story pitch to editors and piques the curiosity of their readers. So, look for surveys other companies have done on a national scale, and then conduct a survey with your customers and prospective customers to get a local angle to a national story. Most papers won’t look at a locally conducted survey unless it ties into a larger survey or is done by a major company. Compile the results, put them into a press release, and pitch to editors at your target publications. Write an article about it and post it as a downloadable PDF on your website. And of course, blog about it.
Leverage Existing Customers
Most companies do a poor job of leveraging existing customers to create new ones. If your company does events, give people a discount or free gift to bring (or just invite) a friend. If someone buys your product online, send them a coupon for the same item suggesting that they pass it on to someone they think will use it.
The foundation of marketing is being different. Be different enough that prospects, customers and the world takes notice. If there is one book that I can recommend on this subject, I strong suggest you read Purple Cow by Seth Godin. It is mandatory reading for every entrepreneur and every marketer.