Building a business image is not something invented by a public relations firm: It's a reflection of what you do and how you do it. Marketing your business brand means running a first-rate business and letting people know about it. Every action your company takes sends a marketing message.
When most people think about letting the world know about their business, they imagine a clever ad. But advertising is one of the most expensive and least effective forms of marketing. After all, why broadcast your message to many uninterested members of the public, when you can address people who have a demonstrated interest in what you do, merely by creating a strong referral system?
To begin learning how to market your business effectively, check out this list of tactics.
1. Make it look good. Creating a solid, strong physical impression lends credibility to your business and invites customers in, whether you have a store front, a brochure, or a website. You'll want to suit your look to the type of business you have. An accountant's office should be well-organized and tastefully decorated with business furniture. A dog groomer might choose a whimsical design with bright colors and fun murals on the wall.
2. Create a website. A simple website is relatively inexpensive and can work wonders in terms of drawing people to your business or telling them more about who you are and what you do. Be sure to create a professional look and feel, one that suits your business, and take care to optimize your site for search engines. For more information, see Get Your Business Online.
3. Create straightforward, easy-to-understand pricing. You'd be surprised how many businesses use a complicated pricing structure -- and try to hide their prices from their customers. Streamline your pricing and make it clear, especially if you run a service business. Exactly how much can your customers expect to pay for which services? A pricing menu is often a good idea.
4. Encourage personal recommendations. The single best way to get new customers is through personal recommendations. Why? Because almost nothing is as powerful as an endorsement from a friend or relative (and because it's free). Or you can consider rewarding customers for referrals. For example, a hairdresser might give a client who has referred a friend half off her next cut. For more ideas on attracting customers, see A Marketing Strategy for Every Business.
5. Maintain good employee relations. The people who work for you can be strong assets to your marketing strategy. Employees who love their jobs and believe in your business will not only display/wear/use your merchandise or services, they will also recommend you to their friends and families. Treat them right, and they could be the foundation of your personal recommendations web.
6. Use the press. It always helps to get a little PR -- and you don't need to hire an expensive firm to do it. If you can come up with a newsworthy angle on your business (for instance, your grand opening, your "story," what you offer that's different), you can write a simple press release and send it to local publications.
7. Do a referral exchange. If there's a related business you find yourself referring clients to, or have a business referring clients to you, set up an exchange. Place brochures or cards at the other business's office (or store), and display their marketing materials in your place of business. Examples of successful referral exchanges are those between chiropractors and massage therapists, dentists and orthodontists, and financial planners and tax preparers.
8. List creatively and widely. Unlike advertising, listing your business is usually low-cost or free, and it's a great way to draw people to your business. Make sure to list in the obvious places, such as the Yellow Pages and Chamber of Commerce, and find some not-so-obvious places to list as well. For example, does your city have a website where parents make referrals about services for their children? Does a nonprofit organization in your area have a listing of businesses with good environmental and social practices? Get on as many lists as you can.
9. Maintain a customer database. A customer who used your business once will likely use it again (assuming that the customer had a good experience). Keeping an existing customer database to mail or email promotions to is much less expensive than acquiring a new one. Maintain a database with your customers' contact information, and ask customers whether they'd like to be on your mailing list to receive special offers. A direct mail campaign is much more successful when targeted to existing customers who have opted in to the mailing list.
10. Make a marketing plan. Draw up a marketing plan. A formal plan should outline your mission, and include an analysis of your market and your competitors, your marketing objectives, and marketing ideas: How do you intend to market your business? Will you use a referral program? A website? Issue press releases? Also, outline your marketing budget, set specific performance goals, and determine how and when you'll meet them. Check back regularly to track your progress.
For a guide to marketing your business creatively, see Marketing without Advertising: Easy Ways to Build a Business Your Customers Will Love & Recommend, by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry (Nolo).