Creative Marketing on a Shoestring

Influence the Influencers

Say you're a photographer who specializes in wedding pictures. If you can get just one bridal store to recommend you to its customers, you've done the equivalent of advertising yourself to the dozens or hundreds of people who shop there every week.

Make it convenient for your host store to recommend you to its customers. Run off simple, persuasive leaflets that describe your service, a big glossy photograph of your product for permanent display (alongside business cards for people to take away), or coupons that offer special discounts. Then start approaching local businesses whose clientele might also be interested in what you sell.

"Would You Like Fries With That?"
This simple question rakes in so much extra profit for McDonald's, employees probably have it sewn into their shirt collars. There's a lesson in this for you: Don't be so focused on getting new business that you neglect your most promising and potentially profitable market-your past and current customers.

After a sale, always offer clients companion products or additional services at a discount-if they buy now. If your business has built-in repeat potential (pet grooming, accounting or carpet cleaning, to name a few), drop a regular postcard or phone call to solicit another appointment with past customers. There's a good chance that they'll become regulars who then recommend you to people they know.

Even if your business offers a one-time service, ask your clients' permission to retain contact with them. Then send them an e-mail announcing a new and improved product, a holiday special or a discount for anyone they refer to you. Think how much more successful this would be than to start over with folks who've never even heard of you.

Searching for some more creative marketing ideas? Search no more:

  • Small Business Now : a large site devoted to marketing, with free quizzes, a collection of more than 50 articles, numerous links and more
  • BusinessTown.Com : a large index of business articles, with separate sections for marketing and advertising
  • "Stand-by space": If you think newspaper ads could work for you but you can't afford the rates, ask your paper if it will hold your ad until they have unsold space left. This usually gets you a discount of two-thirds or more.
  • E-mail marketing programs: If you like the direct-mail approach but can't afford the postage and printing costs, consider e-mail marketing.
  • Niche newsletters: The circulation might be small, but if you pick a niche that fits your business, you'll pull lots of leads for ads that cost a tiny fraction of what a general publication charges.
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This article was originally published in the April 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Creative Marketing on a Shoestring.

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