Low-Cost Ways to Market Your Business
Ongoing marketing isn't tied to a price tag. It's
defined only by putting the right message in front
of the right person at the right time. Joanna L.
Krotz of Microsoft Small Business Center gives you
10 ideas for doing just that on the cheap.
Too many small-business owners think marketing is
like a trip to the dentist something you just
gotta do every six months or so.
But when marketing is continuous and targeted rather
than occasional and shotgun, business gets easier.
If prospects have a positive view of your wares and
reputation before you call or before they start
shopping, you're that much closer to nailing a sale.
1. Take steps to make customers feel special.
Customers respond to being recognized, especially in
these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. "Even
with a Web-based business, good customer service is
possible," says Denise McMillan, co-owner of Plush
Creations, an online retailer of handcrafted travel
bags. McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet
in every jewelry and lingerie bag she sells and also
sends a handwritten thank-you note. "The sachet and
note cost pennies, but add something special to the
purchase," she says.
2. Create business cards that prospects keep.
Most business cards are tossed within hours of a
meeting. Instead of having your card tossed, create
one that recipients actually will use say, a
good-looking notepad with your contact info and
tagline on every page. "The business card notepad is
referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so,
and carries a high remembrance factor," says Elliott
Black, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing consultant who
specializes in small businesses.
3. Stop servicing break-even customers. If
this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You're
falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead
of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to
unprofitable customers, you have more time and
resources for customers who actually grow your
business. "More than likely, 20 percent of your
customer base is contributing 150 percent to 200
percent of total annualized profit (TAP); 70 percent
is breaking even; and 10 percent is costing you 50
percent to 100 percent of TAP," says Atlanta
marketing consultant Michael King. Take a detailed
look at your customer profitability data and then
direct premium services and marketing to customers
4. Develop an electronic mailing list and send
old-fashioned letters. Most businesses have
harnessed the power of e-newsletters and you
definitely should be sending out one, too. It's very
cost-effective. But exactly because e-mail marketing
is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out
by occasionally sending personal, surface mail
letters to customers and prospects. Just make sure
the letter delivers something customers want to
read, whether an analysis of recent events in your
field, premium offers or a sweetener personalized
for the recipient (a discount on his next purchase
of whatever he last purchased, for instance). "This
mailing has to have value to those that read it, so
it reflects the value of what you offer," says
Leslie Ungar, an executive coach in Akron, Ohio.
"Remember, the best way to sell is to tell."
5. Boost your profile at trade shows and
conferences. You can quickly create signage,
glossy postcards with your contact information,
product news inserts or an event mini Web site.
6. Combine business with pleasure and charity.
Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause
you care about. That puts you in the position of
getting to know lots of people, and shows off your
leadership skills. "I host an annual baseball game
where I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at
Wrigley Field," says Kate Koziol, who owns a public
relations agency in Chicago. "Last year, I took 300
people and we raised $10,000 for a local children's
hospital. Few people turn down a game and it's a
great networking opportunity for guests. It lets me
reconnect with current clients and impress potential
7. Create a destination. Bookstore chain
Barnes & Noble has its coffee bars. Furnishings
giant Ikea offers child-care centers and cafeterias.
Why? So customers gravitate to the stores to enjoy
an experience, to hang out for a while. Sunday
morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant weekend
routine, rather than a shopping errand. Steal this
idea. This tip isn't limited to offline
destinations, either. Using pay-per-click
advertising, you can cheaply drive traffic to a
one-time news event or specialty offerings, points
out Jay Lipe, a small-business marketing consultant
based in Minneapolis. Lipe recently set up a Web
site for Games by James, a retailer of board games,
and quickly attracted customers via pay-per-click
ads. "The effect was overnight," says Lipe.
"Traditionally in the marketing world, it takes
weeks or even months to generate acceptable
awareness and traffic. Here we saw traffic spike
Other tips to become a destination:
Add a free advisory service, whether party
planning ideas or investment seminars.
Add customer loyalty services, such as free
shipping for second-time buyers or rewards when
customers spend a certain amount.
8. Become an online expert. This is the "free
sample" approach to bringing in business. Research
active e-mail discussion lists and online bulletin
boards that are relevant to your business and
audience. Join several and start posting expert
advice to solve problems or answer questions. You
may need to keep this up for a bit. But the rewards
come back in paying clients and referrals. "E-mail
discussion lists have been my single largest source
of clients over the last eight years," says Shel
Horowitz, a small-business marketing consultant
based in Northampton, Mass.
9. Court local media. Editorial features
convey more credibility with prospective clients
than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the
local media, whether from the town newspaper, from
TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you
need a fresh, timely story. It's usually worthwhile
to hire an experienced publicist to position the
stories, target appropriate media representative,
and write and send press releases. Usually, you can
work on a short-term or contingency basis.
10. Finally, don't let customers simply slip
away. Make an effort to reel them back in. It
costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive
customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven't
heard from a customer in awhile, send a personalized
e-mail (you can automate this process), inquiring
whether all is well. For a customer who suffered a
bad experience, pick up the phone, acknowledging the
unpleasantness and ask if there's anything you can
do. A discount can't hurt either. Being kind to
customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can
Reprinted from msn (www.msn.com). Joanna L. Krotz is
the co-author of the "Microsoft Small Business Kit"
and runs Muse2Muse Productions.
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