||Too many small-business owners think
marketing is like a trip to the dentist -- something you just have
to do every six months or so.
But when marketing is continuous and targeted rather that occasional
and generic, business gets easier. If prospects have a positive view
of your wares and reputation before you call or before they start
shopping, you're that much closer to getting a sale.
The next news flash is that ongoing
marketing isn't tied to a price tag. It's defined only by putting
the right message in front of the right person at the right time.
Here are 10 ideas for doing that --
on the cheap.
1. Take steps to make customers
Customers respond to being recognized,
especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. "Even with a
We-based business, good customer service is possible," says Denise McMillan,
co-owner of Plush Creations, an online retailer of handcrafted travel bags.
McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet in every jewellery and
lingerie bag she sells and also sends a handwritten thank-you note. "The
sachet end note cost pennies but add something special to the purchase," she
2. Create business cards that
Most business cards are tossed within hours of a meeting. Instead of having
your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use -- say, a
good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page. "The
business card notepad is referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so
and carries a high remembrance factor," says Elliot Black, a Northbrook,
Ill., marketing consultant who specializes in small businesses.
3. Stop servicing break-even
If this idea makes you gasp, think
harder. You're falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of
boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have
more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. "More
than likely, 20% of your customer base is contributing 150% to 200% of total
annualized profit (TAP); 70% is breaking even; and 10% is costing you 50% to
100% of TAP," says Atlanta marketing consultant Michael King. Take a
detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium
services and marketing to customers who count. (Microsoft Office 2010 with
Business Contact Manager can help you analyze customer histories. - for
4. Develop and electronic mailing
list and send old-fashioned letters.
Most businesses have harnessed the power
of e-newsletters -- and you definitely should be sending out, too. It's very
cost-effective. But because e-mail marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you
can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface mail letters
to customers and prospects. Just make sure the letter delivers something
customers want to read, whether an analysis of recent events in your field,
premium offers or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on
his next purchase of whatever he last purchased, for instance). "This
mailing has to have value to those who read it, so it reflects the value of
what you offer," sales Leslie Ungar, and executive coach in Akron, Ohio.
"Remember, the best way to sell is to tell." The process is simplified by
creating a letter template and envelope or customer label mailing list in
Microsoft Office Word in Office 2010, which you can print out. The mailing
list is easily created in Excel and then imported into Word.
5. Boost your profiles at trade
shows and conferences.
You can easily create signage, glossy
postcards with your contact information, product news inserts or an event
mini Web site -- all with Microsoft Office Publisher. Check out its
6. Combine business with pleasure
-- and charity.
Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause you care about. That
puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people, and shows off
your small business leadership skills. "I host an annual baseball game where
I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field," says Kate
Koziol, who owns a public relations agency in Chicago. "Last year, I took
300 people and we raised $10,000 for a local children's hospital. Few people
turn down a game and it's great networking opportunity for guests. It lets
me reconnect with current clients and impress potential clients."
7. Create a destination.
Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has
its coffee bars. Furnishings giant Ikea offers child-care centers and
cafeterias. Why? So customers gravitate to stores to enjoy an experience and
hang out a while. Sunday morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant
weekend routine, rather than a shopping errand. Steal this idea. This tip
isn't limited to offline destinations, either. Using pay-per-click
advertising, you can cheaply drive traffic to a one-time news event or
specialty offerings, points out Jay Lipe, a small-business marketing
consultant based in Minneapolis. Lipe set up a Web site for Games by James,
a retailer of board games, and quickly attracted customers via pay-per-click
ads. "The effect was overnight," sale Lipe. "Traditionally in the marketing
world, it takes weeks or even months to generate acceptable awareness and
traffic. Here we saw traffic spike overnight."
8. Become an online expert.
This is the "free sample" approach to
bringing in business. Research active e-mail discussion lists and online
bulletin boards that are relevant to your business and audience. Join
several and start posting expert advice to solve problems or answer
questions. You may need to keep this up for a bit. But the rewards come back
in paying clients and referrals. "E-mail discussion lists have been my
single largest source of clients over the last eight years," says Shel
Horowitz, a small-business marketing consultant based in Northampton, Mass.
9. Court local media.
Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than
paid advertising does. To get coverage
from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, from TV or radio
stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It's
usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories,
target appropriate media representative and write and send press releases.
Usually, you can work on a short term or contingency basis.
10. Finally, don't let customers
simply slip away.
Make an effort to reel them back in. It costs a lot less to retain a
disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven't
heard from a customer in a while, send a personalized e-mail (you can
automate this process), inquiring whether all is well. For a customer who
suffered a bad experience, pick-up the phone, acknowledging the
unpleasantness and ask if there's anything you can do. A discount can't hurt
either. Being kind to customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can