Here's some good(?) news - having a big budget is no guarantee that you'll successfully market your business. You can also be successful at it without one.
Do you need to advertise?
Advertising is just one option to promote your business, but I find that many small businesses have come to confuse marketing with advertising. Advertising is a way of promoting your business, just one tactical tool - marketing is a way of managing how you get and keep customers. Everything you are currently doing (whether you realise it or not) in running your business, is contributing to how you market it. What is very important, is that you get more strategic about what you are doing and why.
Advertising can be very expensive if it doesn't bring you a result, and therein lies the risk. The allure of advertising is in the idea that there are all these people who can buy from you waiting to see your message. It was like that (sort of) once upon a time - now people do their very best to avoid advertising. People are exposed to dizzying amounts of things competing for their attention - your ad has the tiniest chance in the world of being seen and smaller still, of being acted on. Advertising relies on interrupting someone in the middle of consuming something entertaining or engrossing - sponsored Facebook posts can also be a little like that.
Picking advertising requires planning, understanding the potential audience, and it works best in a plan of activities that all support the effect of one another.
Your number one priority is to figure out your ideal customer and give them the quality product that they want. You can't promote your business successfully until you get clearer about that.
I was discussing this subject with @babingtoninteriors (who transform furniture in Cheadle, Staffordshire). This was on Twitter during #Worcestershirehour where small businesses tweet about their businesses, (8-9pm on Mondays). This blog post aims to help small businesses to think about other options as well as advertising.
To help you to decide:
These questions go a long way to helping you to find and pick options best suited to what you want to achieve for your business:
Who are you trying to reach?
You are going to be more successful focussing on a target market that you can actually reach - for instance, families that live adjacent to your shop's location is more achievable than celeb hunting, unless you have a special little black book.
To explain - you aren't going to put a TV ad space during XFactor if your target market watches Strictly, are you? Same goes for buying advertising space online or otherwise - pick options where the majority of the audience is identical to your target market.
If you have convinced yourself that ANYONE is your target market, may I suggest everyone is not your target market. (CLUE: anyone cannot buy your product. Be very specific.)
How many customers (or what value of sales) would you need to cover the cost of this marketing choice? This helps you to work out the cost per customer you could get from this option. This helps to understand why paying for marketing becomes an investment - if you can generate significantly more sales than your cost, why wouldn't you do it?
What do you want the person you are communicating to do?
Look at your website? Come into your shop? Call and buy? Send an email enquiry? Pick one thing, and focus the message on why it is worth their while to do so. (If you haven't got a clear picture on who you are talking to, it’s very difficult to be compelling with your message). Why should they care about what you are saying?
While you are building up to deciding whether advertising is worth it for you, here are 7 other ways of marketing that don't have the same upfront cost as advertising:
1. Start with where you operate from.
Where do you conduct business - a store/ store front or reception area? A website?
Take inventory of the space you have and consider the opportunity. Look at everything from signage to wall space and ask yourself ‘how can I use this space to help my customer?’
Every invoice, every time you answer the telephone, send an email, say hello to a browsing customer, it's marketing. The question is, what small details could you improve how you help the customer? Do you have an email signature that includes your web address anda link to your newsletter?
2. Work together.
Partnerships: what local businesses share the same target market that you would like to have as customers? Consider approaching them to create a joint offering, or brainstorming ways to deliver joint value to the customer - something irresistable. You can share costs, and enhance the overall value you provide. You could make use of each other's space to create an interesting display. This doesn't have to only work with complementary products or services, there may be real merit in seeking out businesses working within your field and raising awareness together- become a hub for your types of product, playing to each other’s strengths. You will most likely have slightly different end customers, and you could share experience and learn from more experienced businesses as well as pooling resources. It can even be fun to collaborate rather than working alone. Try to define clear boundaries before you begin to keep things infinitely friendly.
3. Get visible.
There are many different types of networking. If formal networking in suits isn't for you, look wider. You'll find that somewhere, there are your kind of people. If you start from having no idea, pick a big event where you'll get a chance to build confidence talking to all kinds of people. Business owners are also customers for products and services, and they can be very helpful allies to spread the word about you if you make a favourable impression, and they can be a great support network. Even if no one in the room is a possible customer, you will learn so much about which way to talk about your business to make an impact, what kind of people did and didn't respond. I don’t suggest that you must continue to attend events that don’t benefit you and your business, but do take the learning. Take business cards! (NOTE If can't find a networking group that appeals, make your own! Set one up on meet up.com, invite your twitter buddies for a tweet up, and take it from there - it's worth a shot!). You could increase your visibility by interacting online - offering expert opinion, guest blog posts, or being interviewed about your style and skill.
4. Build your list.
Keep hold of the interest you have already generated. Collect details for interested people in all kinds of ways - on your website, blog, in person (given to you with permission). Working out a way to give value in return for this information is a fun way to start to build a relationship - and start with that in mind, rather than just trying to score a quick sale.
Most small businesses forget about existing customers, in the hunt for new customers. Think of it as continuing the conversation with people who have already bought from you. I'm not advocating annoying them, I'm suggesting that you put some simple things in place to a) ask for a testimonial, b) Please recommend us if we've looked after you c) and set up a regular email or contact to say hello, thanks for buying, here's some other things you might like - even if it is only once a year.
5. Understand where you fit in the customer's life and how they would like to hear from you.
Go to where your customers are. How does what you do fit? How can you bring a bit of fun to seeing your product or service in action? Try outdoor advertising, maybe a mobile billboard? Think alternatively - point of sale electronic bill boards, get involved supporting the local schools, community projects, make appearances with some creative ideas at local events. Ask customers what would suit them, how they would prefer to hear from you, and what they want to know. It's easy to just think - pamphlet drop - and that can work for some businesses, particularly if the leaflet is creative. However, could you really stand out by trying something that is in line with how the customer wants to hear about you?
Teach people to do what you can do. Creating a workshop where you share your skills with people who like the end product of what you can do can be a great way to create a loyal supporter base who will recommend and talk about you.
6. Open a window on to your world.
Bloggingis not the preserve of those that can write - pictures can communicate a thousand words. Start writing for your close circle and existing customers. And then take steps to promote what you are writing about - share something of interest and value. Blogging is not about sharing one dimensional press release information. This is a chance to communicate your passion, interest and open a window into your world. Think of it as an insider peek to jump start a relationship with you. People often read blogs to help to help to decide to buy from you - to check out your personality, style and substance. You can demonstrate the process of how you work, the kinds of things you produce, and what inspires you. You could establish your expertise by sharing your wider view of the world you operate within, and how customers can get the most from what you do. Write for that ideal customer - tell them what they want to know.
7. Be found.
If your customers are on social media, you will need to be found where they can look for you. However, avoid spreading yourself too thinly - pick a platform and do it well before taking to another. Are you usingfree directories? Online business directories help to boost you as a result in search - start with free! There are a multitude of ways to create some sort of online presence if you haven’t got a website yet - you need something! A website can be an incredible hub for your business, working like a 24 hour salesperson, and adding to your credibility.
It helps to focus your attention on a specific location - close to you - to test and build your understanding of marketing, and then venture further field when you have an idea of what works best for you. What has been working for your business? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
* Note, social media is an obvious alternative - it can be a way of supporting many of the points above. Consider the best way to use it, if your customers are there, and have a clear purpose for the platform you are on.
*Picture - of a very moreish sample sent to me by Sue Gilmour Chocolate, which I thought was a spot on way to involve a customer who had expressed an interest. Look out for her Cardamon White Chocolate!
Bronwyn Durand founded JupiterJasper, the Marketing Mentor for small businesses. Bronwyn is also The Brand Whisperer, with a special interest in building commercial identities for businesses.
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