There is no better, more cost-effective form of marketing than word-of-mouth. If new business comes by referral, then you already have a marketing team in action: your customers. If you aren't getting new customers, you may need a marketing fix.
There are no one-size-fits-all rules when it comes to business marketing. You may be able to handle all of your marketing with a series of beautifully designed postcards or with a well-designed booth at a national trade show. What works for you depends on your personality and your business. For example, a gregarious, extroverted business owner may be well-suited for live product demonstrations and similar public events. On the other hand, an arty, introverted business owner may do a better job of reaching customers with personalized letters or customized mailings. You'll need to explore the marketing resources available and choose what feels right for you and your business.
Postcards, handouts, and brochures. For centuries, small business owners have relied on a relatively inexpensive method of conveying marketing information: cards, brochures, and circulars. For example, you can purchase 1,000 color postcards for your business for approximately $100 to $200; you can get 1,000 two-page color brochures for $400 to $500. Be sure to put forth a simple message and include your contact information.
Samples and free offers. Can your business afford to offer something for free? Giving away something you make is usually an inexpensive marketing gesture that will leave customers appreciating the value of your products. Customers never seem to tire of these special offers and gifts. But if you say that goods or services are "free" or "without charge," be sure there are no unstated terms or conditions that qualify the offer. For more information, see Nolo's article Avoid Unlawful Advertising: Seven Rules for Your Business.
Coupons. Consider using a coupon mailing service to send coupons to homeowners in specific neighborhoods in your area. Typically, it costs about $300 to $400 to reach 10,000 households in a specific zip code. Check out valpak.com and moneymailer.com or, even better, a local coupon service in your area.
Yellow Pages. Despite the continuing growth of the Internet, a large number of consumers still use the local yellow pages. Over 70% of the respondents in one survey had used the directory to contact a local firm, and half of them had made a purchase. If you place a yellow pages ad, emphasize your specialties and put in as much access information (address, phone number, email address, and hours) as you can. Compare what your competitors are doing and track responses, test new ads, and modify your ad when necessary. For more information, see Nolo's article Listings: Advertising That Works.
Public relations. How often have you stopped to read a restaurant review posted in a window or a framed article posted in a waiting room? That's public relations at work. To get your business in the news, send a press release you draft yourself to every newspaper in the area. The trick is to give the reporter an angle or hook that makes the story interesting to readers, such as a grand opening, a contest, or charitable activities your business is sponsoring.
Signs. Don't forget about "signage." Signs work best if they're bold, professionally done, consistent with your business, well-lit, and tell the viewer your message quickly. Signs don't have to be in fixed locations -- T-shirts, shopping bags, and bumper stickers are also signs and can do a swell job of advertising your goods to the general public. And don't forget your car -- you can get a magnetic sign for your car door with your business name and a slogan or some art for about $25.
Classified ads. Depending on the size and publication, you may spend $20 to $50 for a first insertion of a classified ad. You'll get a "frequency discount" if you run it three or four times. In addition, many newspapers now run classified ads in print and online. As with all your advertising, your message must be succinct and convincing. If possible, log responses to the advertisement to measure its effectiveness.
Direct mail. If you're considering direct mail, know that the response statistics are not good. It's often difficult for a small business owner to compete with the big-buck marketers who are content with a response rate as low as five per thousand mailings (0.5%). Where do you get your direct mail address list? Contact one of the many companies that sell or rent them to small business owners (for example, www.infousa.com).
Trade shows. For many small business owners -- especially those in a business-to-business market -- trade shows are a key marketing tool. It's at the trade show that you meet the sales people and retailers. Choose a trade show with good attendance and get the biggest booth you can afford in a decent location at the show. If cash is really tight, consider sharing a booth with a related business. You can find trade show listings for your industry in a trade publication, at industry websites, or by using the search feature at the Ultimate Event Resource (www.tsnn.com).
Seminars and product demonstrations. This type of presentation may be a class -- for example, cooking lessons at a kitchen supply store -- or you may want to demonstrate a product or service -- for example, if you offer framing services, ask a local photography club to let you demonstrate how to best preserve photographs. Seminars and demonstrations can add vitality to your business and provide value to customers. For more information, see Marketing Without Advertising, by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry (Nolo).
Outdoor advertising. What about large outdoor signs like billboards? Considering current traffic statistics, you can probably get a decent number of exposures (number of viewers) for outdoor advertising. But the cost is prohibitive for most small businesses -- between $3,000 and $5,000 per month to rent a billboard. A less expensive way to reach people with outdoor advertising -- between $500 and $1,500 per month -- is to purchase transit advertising, such as shelter panels at bus stops or bus posters.
Radio and television. Radio (80%) and television (75%) reach more people than newspapers (70%) on a daily basis. Repetitious radio and TV ads can build awareness of your business rapidly. But for small business owners, using radio and TV can pose so many problems that it's probably not worth pursuing. First, you must target your advertisement so that you're reaching the right listeners or viewers. Second, you must allot quite a bit of your ad marketing budget to produce radio and television advertising. (You might pay $1,000 to $20,000 per minute for video production, depending on the quality.) Third, more than other forms of advertising discussed in this chapter, radio and TV ads require that you develop a style or angle -- for example, humorous, real-life, educational -- and that you engage listeners or viewers for 15 to 60 seconds of air time. Finally, the expense and uncertainty of their effectiveness make radio and TV ads an unlikely marketing tool for many small businesspeople.
For more information on marketing strategies, including how social media can be used to promote your business, see The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo (Nolo).