Every business needs to promote to attract interest and customers. However, cash-strapped startups often have trouble finding the money to devote toward expensive marketing campaigns. Not to worry: These experts have some smart ideas that won't cost a fortune.
1. Build a network
Whether online or in person, networking is one of the most essential marketing steps any business owner can take--and it can be done for free or for very little cost, says marketing and growth consultant John Paul Engel, founder of Knowledge Capital Consulting in Sioux City, Iowa.
Engel's tips: Attend a trade show (without spending money on a pricey booth) and pass out business cards. Look for local events that are likely to attract customers and influencers; there, you can introduce yourself to experienced businesspeople who can give you tips to help your business.
"Go out and actually get involved with your peers," Engel says. "Figure out what your demo is, and go find them."
2. Start a contest
Brent Thomas was looking for a way to promote his Bike Wrappers bicycle reflectors. So he created a scavenger hunt throughout the company's home city of San Francisco, where he hid products and used Twitter to give clues about the locations.
The entire event took five hours, got local bloggers writing about his product and generated a 200 percent spike in sales. Contests like this are a great way to get customers involved with and excited about your product and they cost very little, especially when you use news releases, e-mail and social media to promote them.
3. Be social
Whatever type of business you have, chances are your customers and prospects use some type of social media, says Tyler Sickmeyer, founder of 5Stone Marketing, a Kilbourne, Ill., marketing firm. Business-to-business companies often find success on LinkedIn and occasionally on Twitter, while Facebook and Twitter are often the favorites of business-to-consumer companies.
Sickmeyer suggests building fan or profile pages and loading them with relevant content and special offers for your followers.
"You have to be very specific in what you're doing and who you are targeting," he says. "For example, target trending topics and try to find people in your area you can follow and build relationships with on Twitter."
4. Reward loyalty
Engel says it's important to remind your customers to refer business to you--and to reward them when they do. He's created special reports for small businesses that he gives away when a client or prospect makes a referral.
You might offer a small gift or discount for referrals or repeat business, he says. At the very least, be sure to thank customers for referring business and for coming back.
5. Be a publicity hound
Sickmeyer suggests issuing news releases when your business has a new product or important change, as well as contributing bylined articles or blog posts to appropriate media. Thomas subscribes to HelpaReporter.com, a free service that connects sources to journalists seeking specific expertise. ReporterConnection.com is another such service, as is fee-based Profnet.
For additional marketing, advertising or promotional assistance, check out barter networks, which may enable you to trade your goods and services for the materials you need to succeed. Some of the more popular networks include The Barter Network and BarterWorks.