Are you thinking about starting your own business? Perhaps you’ve already started. Either way, one of the biggest concerns you’ll have as a business owner is having a reliable sales funnel so you’re not experiencing feast or famine with your cash flow. And the only way to do this is to have a steady supply of customers, which is why your marketing is so important to the success of your business.
The good news is that marketing your small business doesn’t have to eat into your profits. These days there are plenty of opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs to promote their business, and some of them won’t cost you a cent.
1. Practice your message
It sounds so simple. But have you done it? If someone asks, can you clearly and succinctly explain who you are, what you do, and why you do it better than anyone else? It’s a really important stage in your business development because it forms the backbone of so much of your marketing material. Whether it’s in person or in print, you have only a short time to gain someone’s attention. So you need to make sure you can get the key benefits of your business across quickly. In marketing courses and books you’ll often see this described as your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. In networking circles it’s called your elevator pitch. Either way, it takes practice to be able to articulate your marketing message so it sounds natural. But once you can, it will serve you well.
2. Establish your network
Not so long ago the term ‘networking’ was reserved for paid gatherings where you turned up, swapped business cards, and felt very uncomfortable asking someone you didn’t know for a sale. Thankfully, the internet and social media is changing the face of networking. Plenty of free online business communities exist that allow you to interact with other business owners from the security of your own home.
The key to online networking isn’t to constantly spruik your services in the group. This is a turn-off to most members. The best way to establish yourself is to offer advice and support in your area of expertise. The more you’re seen to be helping other business owners, the sooner you’ll establish your reputation (and in turn your business) as someone who is knowledgeable, likeable and trustworthy. You’ll quickly become the recommended person within the group when somebody needs your service or product. Online networking is a long-game, but definitely one worth playing.
Of course, if you like face-to-face networking there are some fabulous opportunities out there. Live networking groups will not only help you master your elevator pitch, but also usually include a guest speaker or group member who can pass on useful information to your business. Again, the key is to attend regularly, offer your advice without the hard sell, and let people get to know the real you.
3. Marketing material
Your marketing material consists of everything you put your business name or logo on, and everywhere you do it. You can have online marketing material (e.g. your social media posts and your website) as well as printed material such as brochures, business cards and merchandise. However you choose to invest in your marketing material, make sure your message and branding is consistent across every platform and product. If you’re using online tools to create your business cards or product labels, make sure you use the same colours, logos and fonts each time. Look for a provider that allows you to set up your own templates in their system so you don’t have to recreate the design each time. Having this consistent look to your products helps customers to recognise your brand.
4. Email marketing
If you have a website, chances are you’ve already set up a system for collecting the contact details of its visitors. It could be signing them up for your specials, or asking for their email address so you can send them your opt-in gift or e-book. But are you using those details to your advantage?
Email marketing is a powerful tool that lets you communicate regularly with current and potential customers. But don’t just leave it until you have a sale or special offer. Instead, think about the problems your customers may be having and then send them information that offers the solution. It could be a simple newsletter that shows how other customers are using your products or services.
Another way to use email marketing is to collate useful or interesting posts from your social media and put them together as a curated list for clients who may have missed them. (MailChimp makes this easy to do, and it’s free if you have less than 2,000 subscribers).
However you choose to use your email list, we offer this word of warning: use it carefully and considerately. Whatever you do, don’t email your list every day with irrelevant content. This will quickly get your emails marked as spam, and will almost certainly harm your marketing campaign and your reputation.
And if you don’t have an opt-in or signup box on your website, get one.
5. Community involvement
Becoming involved in your local community is not only great for getting your business name out there, but will also give you some serious feel-good feels. You don’t have to go crazy with sponsorship dollars. Community involvement can also be about volunteering your time. Think about where your target market spends their time, and how your business can support them.
Another way to get involved in the community is through a sports team or charity event you’ve always wanted to work with. Offering to help can be a great foot in the door, and you never know who you’ll meet along the way that might need your products or services. Just make sure you have your elevator pitch and business cards ready for anyone who asks.
6. Have your say
Have you considered writing a guest blog for another business? What about a thought leadership piece for your industry? Not all writing you do for your business has to be for your website or social media accounts. In fact, you should be actively targeting collaboration partners and other networks to see how you can write for them. Start by searching online for publications and websites that accept guest contributions, and then write a piece especially for them. (You can share snippets of it on your own socials.) Don’t forget to include your bio details, including your website so you can get that all-important backlink and gain some authority with the Google gods.
7. Ask for referrals
Word-of-mouth referrals and social proof are both powerful marketing tools to have. So don’t be shy in asking a satisfied customer to write a review on your website or social media page. Obtaining a referral or testimonial should be the last step in your transaction with a customer. A good way to do this is to create an email template you send to all customers with links to two or three places you’d like them to say nice things about you. When your customer can simply click and type instead of having to go looking for the sites, they’re more likely to take the time to leave a review.
So there you have it, our seven steps to marketing on a shoestring. Of course, our favourite will always be making sure you have great marketing materials. See how easy it is to create a professional looking business card.