How to Promote Your Small Business, Effectively and Cleverly, for FREE

How to promote your small business

Promotion requires ongoing efforts. There is no end to the cycle of attracting and retaining customers, especially for local businesses with a limited customer base. Plus, to achieve better profit margins, most either strive to increase sales or decrease costs. How about doing both? Grab your pen and take notes on tips to boost your market presence at low to no cost.

To connect with stakeholders…

1. Research your target customers carefully

Information spells success. The more you understand their needs, the better chance you will have (later) to make a sale. Many small business owners are so eager to sell that they forget to use an approach that’s comfortable for their potential customers. This often leads to disappointment.

If you are targeting individual consumers, try to find a pattern in their purchasing behaviors. It’s no longer just about age, occupation and marital status. There are better questions to ask:

  • Where do they hang out?
  • How active are they on social media sites?
  • What is their most recent interest?
  • How was their last shopping experience?

If you have no money for professional market research agents, go the extra mile to gain insights. Be where your customers are. For example, study trending local topics on Reddit or read customer reviews for similar products on Amazon.

For B2B businesses, apart from looking at your targets as organizations, try to identify decision makers and the best way to contact them. Plan your attack based on their business cycle. As it is harder to caress a hungry tiger, dig deeper into a company’s performance and get the timing right. The winning tactic is to provide solutions to not-yet-identified problems.

Initially, trying to make a sale is not necessary. Getting to know them is enough. Record all information and use it as a reference for your marketing plan.

2. Try to see things from your customers’ point of view

Once you know who they are, try to see things from your customers’ point of view. Your customers do not want to buy your products or services. They want to buy an experience. If you sell ink cartridges, your end users want to experience peace of mind that their printer’s cartridge will work, and last, for as long as possible. If you provide auto services, your customers want to experience a reliable car, the car that you’ve fixed soundly, so they don’t need to worry about it for as long as possible. Once you understand this concept, instead of asking: “Do you need a new ink cartridge?” you might ask “Do you need a reliable, high-yield ink cartridge?

3. Actively engage pre-existing clients through PR, social media and email

You love to have positive influences, and so do your customers. Let them know that their purchases make your day. Appreciate and address all feedback, including both encouraging and depressing ones. Sympathetic and relevant replies to complaints are sometimes more impressive and persuasive than glowing customer reviews.

You can do all this by exploiting your current social network accounts and mailing lists. You must have already thought about LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the like, but don’t forget to sign up for email services to make your conversation more personal. Be sure you ask for permission to send email before putting any person’s email name on your list. Services like Constant Contact can give you a hand in creating and managing professional emails.

Most importantly, reward followers with interesting information and good deals on a regular basis. This is when your market research worksheet comes into play. Keep in mind that you must be helpful instead of annoying or irritating. Make your house enticing, and always leave the door open. In other words, the mailing Unsubscribe button should be as obvious as its counterpart.

4. Attend meetings and events of professional groups like your Chamber of Commerce or MeetUp groups

Arm yourself with stacks of business cards and be ready to ask relevant questions. Meetings hosted by organizations like Chamber of Commerce, NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) or civic associations are ideal to gain market insights and opportunities. Actively contribute to two or three groups that are most relevant to target customers and consider paying for membership to get your contact information officially listed on all publications.

5. Offer a free, no obligation consultation

Showcase your product or service by offering free consultations. The ultimate purpose is to offer an experience with your value proposition, thus persuading targeted customers to take action. Most importantly, never oversell your capabilities. Customers will sooner or later detect your exaggerations or excuses. Fixing a bad reputation is always trickier than building a good one from the start.

To become an outstanding local player…

1. Use public bulletin boards and ask for referrals

Go hunting for community bulletin boards and pin your business card to them.

Take some time to pass by your suppliers’ places, including local hairdressers, printers, supermarkets or places with high visitor traffic. Have a nice chat with your hairdresser about his/her business and your own. This will build relationships and rapport, and you’ll find them more willing to refer your business to potential contacts.

Other options are nonprofit organizations, schools or colleges where your products or services are relevant. Offer free consultations or samples (if possible) in exchange for space on their bulletin boards.

The best referrals, nevertheless, come from your existing customers and acquaintances. If you are providing a genuinely valuable customer experience, tactfully involve your business and personal network in spreading the goodwill.

2. Engage in cross-promotions

Do a Google search for local businesses that provide products and services that complement yours. For instance, look for stationery providers if you sell ink cartridges. Contact them to work out a cross-promotional partnership to help each other.

Another unconventional approach is to work closely with your competitors. Offer to handle their work overloads. However, it is not advisable to steal their customers as it might harm your reputation as an ethical business owner.

3. Set up a listing for your business in search engine local directories

Since 92% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses (Search Engine Land 2015), make major search engines (like Google & Bing) your free billboard by signing up for their business listing services. With Google My Business, for example, after updating your business details (description, address, working hours, contact info, etc.), you will have a customizable page where customer can give reviews. Page owners, in return, get insights on how customers interact online with businesses.

What makes Google My Business stand out is that customers can not only call you (Clicks and Calls) but they can also find directions to your store (Google Maps) right on the search results page. Of course, you shouldn’t leave out Bing and Bing Places for business, but it is evident that Google wins the internet search sector with up to 80.52% of the market share (Net Market Share 2017).

And, to go beyond geographical constraints…

1. Set up a website

The benefits of having a professional website are immeasurable, especially when there are lots of content management system (CMS) platforms that provide free or low budget solutions to construct and manage websites. A well-designed website is an efficient marketing tool that operates around the clock and across borders. Many small businesses think they can’t afford a website, yet in fact, they can’t afford to compete without one.

2. Create social media company pages and be active on them

We already talked about the role of social media pages in communicating with current customers. Nevertheless, influences of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. pages on recruiting new customers are even more impressive. According to TMP Directional Marketing and ComScoreNetworks, 7 out of 10 consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social media site. Good descriptions, keywords and a link to your official website are must-have elements on your pages. Remember to share content across platforms and join groups where your customers hang out, but be careful with your advertisements at such places, as hostile advertising efforts will bring more harm than good.

3. Produce helpful content and share it online to grow your subscriber base

Use your expertise to put together useful articles like these and share intelligently on your websites, your social media pages and your mailing lists. Look for outstanding or unusual aspects of your business and publicize it. If you sell ink cartridges that can be refilled automatically, make sure everyone in your network knows about it! Include multimedia to make your information more attractive. There are multiples sites that provide photo or video design templates and tools at a budget-friendly cost or no cost. Spend time exploring, or, to name a few.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of promotional approaches that are practical and effective, yet free of charge or available at a low cost. We are confident that there’s at least one item on this list that your business has not yet attempted. Give it a try and enjoy better connections with stakeholders, superior local positioning and a good reputation that extends beyond borders!

Phong Nguyen

BA from St. Olaf College
MBA from University of St. Thomas
SEO from "the School of Hard Knocks."

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