As soon as you say “marketing” you think “expense”. It’s true that spending money on marketing produces results, but when you are just starting out you might not have the money in the bank to spend. Or you may already have a good marketing budget, but there’s twice as much that you could be doing that would cost little or anything to implement apart from a bit of your time.
Here are The Design Mechanics’ top 10 tips for marketing your business on a shoe string:
1. Team up!
Building up good relationships with other companies who offer a complimentary service to you is a great way to generate new business. Write down a list of what someone buying your product or service would also be likely to be in the market for. For example if you are an IT company think about what other services your clients are currently buying – could you team up with a commercial cleaning company to generate referrals between each other? You could even produce a joint leaflet (paying half each for the design and print) that you could hand out to each other’s clients, one side offering a spring clean of your office and the other a spring clean of your IT!
Other examples could be a plumber creating a referral network of other tradespeople, a photographer with a florist, a business consultant with an accountant etc.
2. Create a voucher
If you sell a service rather than a product, where your only real cost of sale is the time you put into it, then you should consider offering vouchers to promote people to try your service. For example 30% off your first carpet clean; buy one session of consulting and get the second follow-up session free; get your fifth driving lesson free when you book four together.
Ask local shops and businesses if you can leave these vouchers on their counters, give them to all your friends and families to pass on, and also don’t forget your current clients – if they are happy clients they will be happy to recommend you on, and having something physical to pass on may just prompt them to do so.
3. Talk to your current clients
It’s far easier to get work from people who already use you than to find new clients. If you are a small business it’s simple to regularly review your client list and make personal contact with people who you haven’t spoken to for a while. A quick “how’s business” phone call or a personal keeping in touch email can stop clients slipping away and make sure you stay their first option.
A good trick to make a keeping in touch email seem really personal is go find the last email that person sent to you, and reply to this with your keeping in touch message rather than starting a new one. Then they know you’re actually thinking about them, not just sending a mass email out to your client base.
How many of your clients use you for just one product or service when they could be using your for a lot more?
Don’t pass-up any opportunity to cross-promote your services to your current clients. List all your services on your email footer; when you send out invoices drop in literature for the other things your company also do; if you have a waiting area or meeting room, make sure you put up posters showing your full range of services.
5. Be an expert
Indirect selling often works better than the direct route. Providing a gentle introduction to your business by giving talks on a subject, writing a column or providing workshops is a great low-budget way to find new clients and also gives you credibility.
Find any local group that regularly have speakers, from the Women’s Institute to the local guild or community group and offer to speak for free on your area of business. You need to make sure your presentation is interesting: Mechanics can give top tips on preparing your car for the winter, florists can do workshops, if you play an instrument make up a comedy song about your industry!
Of course, work your own business into the presentation and make sure you have plenty of business cards and literature available to give out at the end.
6. Get a sign!
Is there anywhere outside your place of work that you could put a sign that tells people what you do?
You will be amazed how many people on your doorstep don’t know you are there. If you’d struggle to get planning permission for a sign consider a moveable or non-permanent one. PVC banners and pavement signs do not usually require planning permission, so put up an A-board outside your front door listing your services and contact details.
For inside use, a pull-up banner stand can be kept in the car so you can create a branded area at short notice (such as networking events) and also be used in your reception area or shop when not needed elsewhere.
Of course, don’t forget your vehicle. This is a moving sign. If you don’t have the budget to get your car or van completely sign-written, look into magnetic banners that stick to the side of your vehicle.
7. Don’t forget your business cards
Get into the habit of keeping your business cards with you. Either buy a business card holder that you keep in your jacket, or buy a wallet that comes with some area you can keep cards in where they won’t get scruffy.
If you are giving someone your mobile number or email address socially, give them your card instead. You will be amazed at how many times handing a card over in a non-work environment prompts a conversation about your business.
Many places have notice boards or counters where local businesses can promote themselves. When you are out and about and spot one of these (cafes, chip shops and information centres are always good for these) ask if you can leave a card yourself. If you have come back as you haven’t got any cards on you at the time the chances are you will forget.
8. Get yourself in the newspaper
Local newspapers also usually publish their stories on their web sites, so they still have great coverage in this day of online news. If you are a business-to-business service then getting into the local business news is relatively easy as most articles will be considered.
As a tip, if you can write the story yourself then do. Journalists have to produce a large amount of news every day, and if they can copy, paste and edit a submission rather than start from scratch it will save them a lot of time and make them more likely to use your story. Most domestic digital cameras now produce high enough quality photographs for print so try and send a photograph also, even if the paper want to take their own it will give the editor a better idea of the story.
So what to write about? It doesn’t really matter – for “business news” simply taking on new employees or announcing new clients you have won will get a good chance of getting a few lines in print. Larger events like doing a charity event will almost always get coverage as will anything with a personal angle such as overcoming large personal odds to succeed in a business venture.
9. Ask for new business
It seems obvious, but don’t be scared to ask for introductions. If you know you have done a good job for someone, thank them for their business then ask if they know anyone else who might also need your services. You will be amazed at how many people say yes!
Once someone has said yes, make it very easy for that person to put you in contact with the potential new client. Send them an introduction email with an overview of your services and prices, and ask them to forward it onto their contact on your behalf. Or ask if they would give their contact a quick call to check if they would receive a call from you – try to avoid cold calling if the contact can be “warmed up” before hand.
And then make sure you return the favour. Ask them what business they are looking for and see if you can make any introductions in return, the more you refer business to others the more you will have referred to you.
10. Collect testimonials
You saying how good you are does not carry as much weight as someone else saying how good you are. If you have a waiting area or meeting room make sure it is covered in client testimonials. If you don’t have any free wall space, then create a testimonial folder and keep it on your meeting room table.