Small-business owners are perpetually faced with a daunting challenge: getting the most from the least. Facing a lack of personnel, money, or time, small businesses are always looking for cost-effective ways of spreading the word about their goods or services.
Here are five quick-hit, low-cost ideas to get the word out about your business:
• E-mail marketing. On the surface, it seems like this is beyond the capability of most small-business owners, but a little bit of research will show otherwise. E-mail marketing services like MailChimp and Constant Contact offer free accounts that help you reach your customer base with news, special offers, or reminders. The services are free, and offer a great deal of help getting started.
• Hit the streets. Sometimes the best marketing involves taking your message directly to the audience in a way they don’t expect. One example is in Texas, at an Austin barbershop located in a strip mall at a busy intersection. Normally, they get lost in the background of other businesses in the strip mall. So they decided to print special cards (which is easy to do using Microsoft Word and a computer printer) good for 20% off on Tuesdays, which is their slowest day of the week. During rush hour, the stylists took their message to the streets. With one standing on each street corner, they handed the cards out to motorists who were stopped at the light.
• Take advantage of texting. Imagine being able to send a text message to one of your best customers, either reminding them about your service or giving them a special offer. Now imagine being able to text all of your customers at the same time. Do an online search for companies who specialize in text-message marketing, rather than e-mails, to everyone in your customer database. One novel approach is to send a coupon via text; all the customer has to do is show the text message to gain the discount.
• Forge partnerships. Find local businesses or organizations whose goals are a good match to your own. For example, a hair salon could partner with a local women’s shelter to help residents there with free haircuts. Eventually, the residents will be back on their feet and out in the world, and they’ll remember who gave them a hand along the way. And remember: Word of mouth is the best advertising.
• Guerrilla marketing. Small companies can make a maximum impact with minimum resources by staging special events, or spur-of-the-moment marketing opportunities. One example comes from a hair salon in Minneapolis that offered a discount in the early days of the recession for anyone who had lost money in their 401(k) retirement accounts. All they had to do was document the loss, and the salon provided a one-time percentage discount equal to the amount the 401(k) had lost. The event gained so much attention, it became an item on the CBS Evening News.
Remember: Sometimes, the biggest constraint for small business marketing isn’t necessarily a lack of money. It’s a lack of imagination.