After thinking long and hard you have decided that is time to launch your own business. You have a great product or service, you’ve come up with a compelling business name, all the paperwork has been filed and you have picked out the perfect location (or setup a snazzy new home office). Everything seems to be set for your new independent life as a business owner. And then you realize that nobody except your spouse and cat knows about your new venture. So, how do you bring your fabulous new product to your target market's attention? One way is to use the “build it and they will come” approach. This is usually not particularly effective (even Google, who historically launches products with little fanfare, could benefit from a little more marketing). The other, more effective approach is to get out there and promote your business. Of course in the initial stages, marketing budgets tend to be miniscule. On the other hand, many new business owners have time on their hands, while they wait to be deluged by orders. Below is a list of 24 cost effective ways to promote your small business:
A regular ad on Craigslist and Kijiji is one of the best ways to advertise your business for free. Ensure that your ad is descriptive and includes all the relevant details that your customer will need to find you. You can also include a link (to your website etc.) on Craigslist, although you need to pay a small fee on Kijiji.
2. Google places
Setting up your business on Google places takes very little time, is free and is an outstanding way to direct potential customers to your product, even if you don’t have a website. They essentially provide you with a page where in addition to product and location details, you can post special events, photos and videos and have customers post reviews.
3. Google Ads
Google ads , particularly for small business owners, can result in significant targeted traffic. There is no minimum amount that you need to spend except for a setup fee and you are charged on a per click or per impression basis. You can set a daily budget, allowing to cap how much you spend. It is important to research your keywords carefully. The more specific, the more cost effective your ad will be with less competition. If possible, localize your keywords eg. if your business is located in Montreal, include Montreal in your keywords.
4. Business Website
Having a website is pretty much essential for almost any business these days. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It should provide details about your business and specific services and have an about page as people like to know the people behind the business. If you cannot afford a web designer, don’t worry. There are numerous free and low cost website building resources that are fairly straightforward. The starting point for setting up a website is a domain name and hosting company.
5. Business Blog
Having a blog that is regularly updated is one of the most powerful ways to improve the ranking of your website. Blogging can be a great way to present your expertise on a subject. By helping potential customers, you encourage them to connect with you. Writing about a topic also helps you to cement your understanding of it, thereby improving your communication skills. To get started, it can be helpful to look at competitors’ blogs, determine your own objectives and message and start blogging!
6. Search Engine Optimization
With a website and blog comes the need for effective SEO i.e. ensuring that your website ranks high for relevant search queries. You can improve your SEO by including key words that are pertinent to your business (the more specific, the better). Other ways of ensuring better website ranking is to build backlinks. There are an almost overwhelming number of resources to help guide you through the process, which can be found on Google. It is important to note that SEO should happen organically and is ongoing process.
For certain types of small business, a Facebook page can be an invaluable and FREE source of advertising. Similar to your Twitter account you should use the many resources available to share information about your business, industry and niche, link to blog posts and stimulate discussion. You will want to encourage friends and customers to “like” your page to extend your reach.
8. Facebook Ads
Advertising on Facebook, similar to Google, can be a cost effective way to spread the word about your business to an extremely targeted audience. You can select the location, education and interests of your audience and like Google you can pay for clicks or impressions as well as set a daily budget.
As a networking platform, Linkedin allows you to build a networking group, advertise your expertise and your business and get new business through online recommendations. There are several other ways in which Linkedin can help your small business which are worth looking into.
Setting up a Twitter account is free, but like most social media takes time to build a following. It is important to use your twitter account for more than just advertising your product to avoid being labelled a spammer. It can be a very effective tool to communicate with potential customers , provide useful information about your industry and niche and garner valuable information.
11. Business Cards
Since you never know when a networking opportunity will arise, it is essential to have business cards with you at all times. I recently sat next to a small business owner on a flight and was glad that I was able to give him a business card (it was my last one - be sure to replenish your stash.)
12. Email List/Signature/Newsletters
It is important to start the process of building an email list of customers and potential customers. This should be used to send updates about your business, and can be a very effective, targeted method of advertising. You can also send out a monthly newsletter, although you should avoid being too self promotional. Both Google docs or Microsoft Word have newsletter formats to help you get started.
Creating an email signature that includes links to your website, blog, facebook page etc. can be a good way of generating traffic and buzz for your business. Be selective in what you choose to link to, however. An overlong signature can be annoying. And although inevitable with promotion, you want to keep this to a minimum.
13. Yelp/Local Business Directories
Setting up a listing on Yelp is free and has a significant audience. Similar to Google places you can put details about your product and set up promotional offers. In additional to Yelp search for other business directories in your target geographic region eg. Hot Frog, as well as anything industry specific and submit your business details and website. Many of these are free and list high on search engines providing greater exposure for your business.
14. Community and College newspapers
Placing a classified or even a block ad in community and college newspapers can be fairly cheap and can be an excellent way to promote local businesses. One of the best examples are the daily commuter newspapers that are read by thousands of people every day.
15. Promotional Items
Anyone with a decent printer can put together a flyer . Of course it helps to get the input of an artistic friend or someone in marketing to help brainstorm some creative ways to do this. From customizing stamps to postcards to turning your vehicle into a giant ad for your business - the ideas are limited by your creativity. Pens and keychains and stress balls are other popular promotional items that also provide utility.
16. Word of Mouth
Getting family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and pets to spread the word about your business venture is going to be one of the most immediate and important ways of building a presence for your business. People tend to ask other people for recommendations for most products or services (except for perhaps things like haemorrhoid creams and adult products), and as such is an invaluable marketing tool. Every situation is a potential networking opportunity, and should be used, when appropriate, to maximize your exposure.
People love bargains and saving money (many tubs of ketchup of mayonnaise, that will never be finished, have been sold on this principle). Offer a discount or a referral bonus on your productto generate buzz. HR Block is currently offering preparation of simple tax returns for free until February 15th, which is potentially brilliant as it will increase traffic to their locations. Once they have signed up the customer, they can use the opportunity to promote loyalty, sell to their friends and family and (hopefully) provide them a superior services which will keep them coming back.
In addition to saving money, customers love to win. Creating a contest can get people talking about your business (Tim Horton's roll up the rim to win contest has been a resounding success) and at the very least, get them through the front door.
18. Press Release
Writing a well crafted press release can be a cost effective way of increasing your visibility and sending traffic to your website. Additionally it can give you backlinks and increase your credibility. Ensure that your press release is professional and ensure that you submit it to targeted publications. Marketwire and WireCanada are two services that help you distribute your release.
19. Radio Advertising
Local business can enjoy significant exposure through advertising on the radio, although it is not necessarily cheap. If you are a car mechanic advertising during a car repair talk show, this can be gearted towards a highly targeted audience.
20. Newspaper/Publication article
Having an article written about you in your local newspaper or a publication in your niche has helped propel the fortunes of many small businesses. Sometimes, even a reference to your business in a well known publication has been known to bring down websites with excessive traffic.
21. Networking groups
Most cities have networking groups for small businesses. Joining one of these, passing out business cards and getting to know other small business owners can be quite valuable in getting referrals. Of course, one must give to receive.
22. Community/Charity events
Participating time or sponsoring community or charity events is an excellent way to advertise your services and be involved at the same time.
23. Research Your Competition
By searching on the internet, analysing their website, looking at their advertising and testing out their product (and customer service) you can probably find out a lot about your competition. This can be very helpful when setting up your own promotional strategy.
24. Customer Service
The importance of excellent customer service in your small business cannot be emphasized enough. People, in the long run, tend to favour businesses that provide outstanding customer service even if they have to pay a little more. The word of mouth promotion that accompanies great customer service is also invaluable. When building your brand, your reputation is everything. Even with a somewhat generic product or service, exceptional customer service can be an excellent way of differentiating yourself.
Promoting a business is not easy and continues for as long as you have your business. However once you start putting the pieces in place, it starts to build it’s own momentum. There is nothing quite as exciting for a business owner as the sight and smell of new customers.
How do you promote your small business? Do some methods work better than others? Let me know it comments section.
Ronika Khanna is a Montreal based accountant who helps small businesses achieve their financial goals. To receive regular updates of articles pertaining to small business, accounting, tax and other topics of interest to business owners you can sign up here. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter.