is the co-author of Off the Wall Marketing Ideas, a must-read for any small-business owner looking for high impact marketing ideas on a budget. According to Michaels, keeping in touch with clients and customers on a regular basis is critical to a successful marketing plan. She recommends practicing what she calls the "rule of four" and the "rule of six." She communicates four times each year with her entire database, sending out two postcards and two newsletters. An extra two times a year, she sends a special mailing to the top twenty percent of her clients, the "A" list of people who provide the bulk of her business.
Michaels, founder of Impression Impact in Concord, Massachusetts, is a frequent presenter of marketing seminars. She's made her own impact by sending out small gifts to clients on offbeat holidays, such as the Chinese New Year and the 4th of July.
Unlike many marketing consultants, she advises against spending a lot of money on a glitzy brochure.
"The minute they come back from the printer, there's something you want to change," she says. "And let's face it, most Americans open their mail over the waste basket. We get this stuff every day that we don't have a need for right now, and most of us just throw it out."
Visibility, Consistency and Repetition
Michaels' marketing mantra is V-C-R, and she's not talking about a video cassette recorder. VCR is an acronym that stands for visibility, consistency and repetition. Effective marketing plans must focus attention on all three, she says.
When it comes to visibility, she's got dozens of great examples of small-business owners who used their imaginations to get noticed without spending a lot of money.
For example, Steve Latour, who calls himself the "lei-man," sent samples of his handmade flowered garlands to TV weather personalities when Washington DC was hit with a freak snowstorm. His gifts, mentioned or worn by the weather reporters, generated publicity that even a giant company with a big advertising budget couldn't have earned. Knowing that the unusual snowstorm meant more folks would be tuning in to watch the weather reports, Lartour used the opportunity to creatively promote his products, with great results.
Another great marketing idea comes from the owner of Gold Coast Dogs, a Chicago hot dog restaurant. When business slows down in the afternoon, owner Barry Potekin, hails a cab in front of his restaurant and asks the driver to take him around the block. Once inside, he tells the driver about how great the food is at Gold Coast Dogs. At the end of the ride, he gives the cabbie a $5 tip. The result? Cabs, filled with customers, often line up three deep in front of Gold Coast Dogs. All this great word-of-mouth marketing costs Potekin only $10 a day.
Designing Your Logo
Although Michaels emphasizes money-saving ideas, she recommends hiring a professional graphic designer to develop your company logo. According to marketing experts, your logo represents your business on many levels, not just graphically, and you need to spend the time and the money it will take to create one that truly represents your business.
is a based merchandising and branding consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the jewelry business. One upscale jewelry client she worked with was known for his personal touch, but his logo had a very corporate look. Levine, founder of New York City-based Levine Design, recommended he change the logo and redesign his promotional materials to highlight the personal touch that set him apart from his competition.
"We pushed him to work on an emotional level," said Levine. "Now he has personalized brochures that talk about the bridal experience, and talk to men about how to propose."
Levine cautions, however, "that you can't develop a whole brand on a small budget. But you can do it in stages." Start by improving the first impression people will have of your business-whether it's the retail environment, your letterhead or your Web site.
Jane Applegate is a syndicated columnist, an author and the founder of SBTV (Small Business TV), an online network providing resources for business owners.