As The Balance‘s Susan Ward puts it, “business promotion is to running a successful business as practicing scales is to playing the piano well…” A tedious activity, in other words, but fundamental to success. In fact, Ward recommends that business owners devote one hour per day to promotional activities.
It doesn’t have to be tedious, though. Business owners—even those on a budget–can find effective marketing activities that are actually pleasant—even fun! Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Get the Word Out—Don’t Depend on Others to Toot Your Horn
While there’s profound truth behind the old Maori proverb touting humility, “The kumara (sweet potato) never talks about how sweet it is,” people will never know about the benefits a product can bring them unless they experience them firsthand.
- Free samples: That means it’s up to the business owner and employees to show potential customers how they will benefit from the product. For the sweet potato—or other consumable products, for that matter—free samples might be a great way to go. If those free samples come with a card listing the nutritional and taste benefits, customers can see for themselves. One doesn’t have to brag to get the word out. Just show others the benefits through free samples, free introductory sessions or lessons, or other freebies that can demonstrate products and services’ superiority.
- Reviews: Ask satisfied customers to write reviews about your product. When you frame it as helping others discover the benefits, it puts them in the power position—one in which they can grant help.
- Informative articles: Instead of making yourself or your business the hero, try making the products and services you offer the hero. That way, the company won’t seem like a braggart, yet can provide useful information that can help potential customers solve their most challenging problems by using your product or service.
- Web content focused on benefits: When social media and the company website sound like a cheesy late-night TV advertisement about how great the company is, people turn it off. Instead, brag about what the company can do for its customers. Focus on the benefits, and people will flock to buy the company’s offerings.
Always Be Branding
It’s important for a business—especially a new one—to build and maintain a certain image for itself. This process, called branding, must permeate all the business’s activities—especially in marketing and advertising.
- Logos and contact information: Use logos and contact information in all communication: It doesn’t cost much to design a logo that communicates the essence of your business. Use that logo—together with the business’s address, website, and contact information on each piece of communication the business sends out. Images are powerful. Just ask Nike.
- Targeted brand-focused promotions: When a business is on a budget, it needs to use its marketing budget wisely. No matter how tempting, advertise only on platforms that complement the brand. For example, if the business offers gourmet food, it shouldn’t advertise on platforms geared toward fast food consumers. Athletic wear stores would do well by advertising in high school athletic programs and charity runs, while real estate companies would benefit from advertising on home improvement platforms.
- Use promotional gear that reflects the brand: Though T-shirts are popular, budget-friendly promotional wear for athletic and more casual businesses, a polo shirt with a tailored logo might be a better bet for more serious, high-end firms, such as business law companies, diamond sellers, and exclusive resorts. Finely designed pens with writing in chiseled gold letters work well for boutique design companies, while children’s party businesses would do better with colorful plastic pens emblazoned with smiley faces in bold white.
Use Social Media to Spread the Word
Again, use these avenues to give customers a heads-up on upcoming promotions, sales, and other opportunities to grab a great deal. Show, don’t tell. A couple munching down on your signature filet mignon for two over a glass of wine is worth a thousand words bragging about how wonderful your steaks are.
- Use videos to inform and entertain: If the product or service your business offers has complicated directions or is difficult to use, provide videos that break down the directions step by step. If a business offers music, dance, or sports lessons, post videos of the teachers’ and students’ performances.
- Photos sell merchandise: Use Instagram to display your products in their best light. Make sure the photos are of fine quality, and chances are, others will share the photos with their contacts, helping to spread the word.
- Seize the moment: Turn challenges into triumphs with timely posts. If the power goes off in most of the town, but your business still has power, post that on social media. If a company sells bottled water, send out teams into the town offering free bottles of water to help residents cope with the basic necessities until the power goes back on. If a longtime favorite business’s owner retires, leaving a gap in services, see if your business can offer the same service or product—and then spread the word through social media.
Press Releases Grab Local Attention
Although a press release must strictly avoid blatant self-promotion, it can help draw attention to a business through timely news. If the business just received an award—or has an event coming up that can benefit the public, it’s a great idea to create a press release to let local news outlets know.
Use standard press release formats: Use proper formatting to create the press release; otherwise, many journalists will ignore it. There are plenty of online examples of the proper format—so don’t neglect this important step.
Make it newsworthy: Try to tie in the press release with current events or local need. If the press release only tells about a new product for sale and doesn’t tell why it will benefit people, it won’t see the light of day. Seasonal offerings, too, can be newsworthy and also promote a business, as long as it ties in with public interest.
With these low-cost promotional strategies, even a small business just starting up can compete with established businesses in their niche.