The doldrums…every small business hits them eventually: The phone isn’t ringing, email isn’t pinging, and the coffers are too slim for a splashy ad. Now what?
Getting a small business going is the first challenge entrepreneurs face. Next comes the task of maintaining a steady demand for your products or services. If times are slow, go old-school gumshoe—find excuses to leave some shoe leather in your city, getting the word out about what you do, one person at a time.
Here are a few simple ideas for small businesses to market themselves and drive demand, without breaking the budget:
1) Sponsor a community event.
In Carlsbad, California, many local businesses sponsor summer jazz concerts in the park. In return for a small sponsorship fee, businesses get their names and websites in the program. Some businesses even set up a small table at the event or hand out additional flyers.
Keep your ears open for possibilities in your area, such as a neighborhood food crawl, a home tour, a 5k race…or even better (for PI firms), a scavenger hunt.
2) Create a referral program.
Nothing is better than word of mouth. The best referral programs encourage your current customers to refer friends and to take advantage of an additional service—that’s why many businesses offer 10% off to customers who are referred and also a discount to the customer who recommended you. However, gift cards or other rewards can work well, too.
3) Make news.
Getting a mention in the local paper is a great way to pump up demand. Sometimes it can be as simple as supplying a comment or quote for a story; or you can offer to write an article about a subject that showcases your expertise. If you’re an investigator with knowledge of computer forensics, write an article on computer network security and harddrive recovery for your local paper.
Don’t worry if you’re not a writer. Often, you can suggest a compelling article and simply be interviewed for it. You can also try signing up as an expert with a service called Help a Reporter Out (HARO) that helps connect reporters with experts.
4) Create an entry level “freebie.”
Sometimes you can create a relationship with a potential customer by offering a freebie service—such as an assessment. The key is to ensure that the cost of the freebie is relatively low.
Here’s an example: A friend of mine who has a marketing consulting group decided to run an event called “Create a Better Tagline for Your Business.” She got permission to hold the event outside a local bookstore, where business owners could sign up for a 15 minute time slot to consult with her.
The businesses in the shopping center allowed her to put a poster about the event in their windows. Two weeks later, she had 6 hours of appointments with prospects—many of whom signed on for additional services, garnering her great new clients.
5) Comarket your services.
If there’s an obvious service that goes with your expertise, sometimes it pays to comarket. A great example of this is a sheet music store called “Music Central” that routinely comarkets with the “Piano Warehouse,” a piano store. Presumably, they have the same target audience, so taking out ads together and sharing the expense is beneficial to both.
Whether your business is big or small, you need customer acquisition activities to keep generating revenue. Try one of our top five and drive awareness and customers for your business today.