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How to Market Your Small Business Without Breaking the Bank

by Kevin Mercadante

Marketing is often the Achilles’ heel of businesses, particularly upstart businesses. Many businesses and business owners have excellent ideas, products, and services, but they fail for lack of ability to reach out to the market and draw in paying clients and customers. If you have a business, marketing will be your life’s blood. How can you market your small business without breaking the bank?

Create a website and turn it into a cyber resume

A lot of businesses build a website that says little more than we’re in business, here’s what we do, here’s what we’ll charge, here’s how you can reach us. That’s the basic idea of a website, but it’s too bland to be successful.

You shouldn’t spend a lot of money on a website. The website should be something of a resume for your business, that will offer solutions to needs and problems that are typical of your basic client profile. You can design your website based on what you would look for in your company if you were a client looking for help. Here are some tips on starting a website.

Since you know your business – or you should – don’t spend a lot of money creating a fancy website. When people go on the web, they’re looking for answers; you’re website should be a place where they find those answers. It’s how you, as the service or product provider, connect with potential clients based on the fact that you can solve their problems.

Get visible on the social media

There are a growing number of social media sites available. Some are for serious business people, while others are mainly for entertainment purposes. Knowing the difference between the two can be the difference between thriving and wasting your time.

From a business standpoint, LinkedIn is one of the very best social media sites available. This is particularly true if your clientele is primarily in the business-to-business category. An increasing number of businesses are joining LinkedIn in an effort to promote themselves. You can turn some of these businesses into clients by engaging them in a constructive way.

One of the best ways to do this is by posting comments, information, or articles (preferably that you’ve written), that answer a question or solve a problem for potential clients. You could also start a LinkedIn group which will help establish you as an authority in your space. You need to approach this kind of social media in a serious way, rather than simply using it for entertainment the way most casual participants to.

Best of all, social media sites typically cost nothing to join – you can market through them in an indirect way with nothing more than an investment of time and creativity.

Network with potential clients

Find out where your potential clients and customers tend to gather – either on the web, or in physical locations – and figure out how to join the party. This is what networking is all about.

What most people miss when it comes to networking is that the worst strategy is being totally obvious – spending all of your time looking for clients. Most network participants will resist this approach like the plague. While it’s true that nearly everyone who networks is ultimately looking for clients or employment, you should never assume that they want to be sold anything. If they want anything from you it’s information. The more you can provide, the greater your credibility will be.

More than anything else, when you’re networking you should be attempting to prove your worth to other people in the network. The idea is always to position yourself as an expert, to be the answer to whatever the problem is, that way prospects in the network come to you for business when they have a need.

Once again, you can typically participate in professional networks without having to pay fees of any kind.

Create an email newsletter

If you like to write, or can afford to pay someone else who does, creating an email newsletter is one of the least expensive ways to market your business.

Again, the purpose of your newsletter shouldn’t be to get customers and clients – at least not superficially. The primary purpose should be to provide information and solutions. You’re positioning yourself as an expert, as the person or business who prospective clients and customers will turn to for help.

The tricky part with an email newsletter is building the database of potential recipients. This can be a time-consuming process, but not generally an expensive one.

You can offer some type of opt-in feature on your website, where people will willingly sign up for your newsletter. Of course, that works best when your website provides much of the information that they’re already looking for. You can also invite friends, family members, and associates to sign-up for your newsletter. As prospects become customers and clients, be sure to get them to sign up for your newsletter too. It’s a good way to remind them that you’re there after the sale, and hopefully they’ll come back for more business.

One of the big advantages of newsletters is that they can be forwarded. If your content is really good, recipients of the newsletter may forward it on to others who have a more immediate need for your products or services. This makes an outstanding case for keeping the content strong, and for always having a contact phone number or a backlink or two to your website so that you can turn readers into paying clients.

Here are some recommendations for newsletter providers:

  • MailChimp – great for those on a budget or just starting out. MailCHimp offers a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers. This is a solution used by many individuals, small businesses, churches, non-profits, and other small organizations. Customer service is email or chat only – no phone support. Try MailChimp now.
  • GetResponse (Recommended) – GetResponse offers a more robust email service than MailChimp and many other email service providers. It offers more powerful auto-responders, a better UI for designing your own newsletter, excellent stats and tracking, more flexibility for setting up subscription forms, and excellent customer service. This is a solution often used by organizations with a larger budget. They do not offer a free plan, but you can try their service free for 30 days. Their least expensive plan is $15 for up to 1,000 subscribers, with discounts for non-profits or pre-paying for one year. Their plans are less expensive than many other leading providers, including AWeber, iContact, and even MailChimp’s higher-level plans. Try GetReponse free.

Sub-contract for competing businesses

This is one of the best ways to get business, particularly if your company is brand-new. There may be some competitors in your industry who aren’t particularly fond of providing certain products and services, or dealing with a certain clientele. If you don’t mind working in those areas – and you need the business – make an offer to handle this business for them. In a way, when you do this you are beginning to position yourself as an industry specialist. If your reputation for that specialty grows, you could be creating and developing a specialized niche that will enable your business to prosper.

It will take some poking around and a lot of casual conversations to find which of your competitors are looking to offload an undesirable part of their business. It won’t be easy to find, but once you do you may be able create a rich source of cash flow.

Generally speaking, there should be no cost involved in looking for subcontracted arrangements with competitors, though some may insist on getting a percentage of the sale in exchange for referring business to you.

None of these methods cost much in terms of money, but they will involve an investment of time and effort. If you’re looking to market your business without breaking the bank, these suggestions should get you going in the right direction.


Published or updated June 13, 2014.
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