Q: I've recently started my own custom wiring and home theater business and have a limited advertising budget. I've sent business cards to contractors and developers, made cold calls and even gone door to door in some of the newer neighborhoods, but we still have few customers. What do you suggest?

A: Launching a consumer product or service business on a tight budget can be challenging. To get your new business off to a solid start, try combining two proven techniques: strategic partnering and place-based, or "ambient," marketing.

Right now, you have limited funds and staff. To overcome these negatives, you can partner with other businesses that have more extensive marketing budgets and can provide a means to reach your prospective customers. Since you market home theaters, having a display in a retail store that specializes in upscale furnishings could expose the right prospects to your product and message. Their retail staff would sell for you, and your product could be included in the store's newspaper ads for considerably less than if you were to create your own campaign.

Place-based, or ambient, advertising reaches prospects wherever they happen to be--preferably in the right environment to be receptive to your message. You can now reach consumers the way search engine Ask Jeeves did--by sticking its name on 15 million grocery store apples. You can make blanket-sized impressions on public beach sand like Skippy peanut butter or Snapple, or purchase wraparound banners on gas station and convenience store light poles like Gatorade and McDonald's. Advertisers are putting their product names and logos on athletic stadium snack packs and on posters in nightclub bathrooms. It seems if there's an empty surface of any kind anywhere, there's a company selling ad space there.

Do-It-Yourself Savings
But why pay an advertising fee when you can create your own place-based opportunity? The key is to find the right environment and to stretch your marketing dollars by getting other businesses to market with/for you. Here's a good example: If you have a pet, you probably spend some time in the veterinarian's office. Ever notice all the rack brochures and posters that contain helpful information supplied by the makers of pet foods and flea remedies? These companies are taking advantage of place-based advertising opportunities. Chances are, since visitors to the veterinarian's office are thinking about pet health and nutrition, they'll be more likely to pick up, read and perhaps take home these marketing tools.

With a bit of negotiation, you could put a home theater display in a retail showroom frequented by your target customers. The display might be accompanied by signage with your company name and contact information and a rack brochure on your business and its products. You could give scheduled talks for customers on how to set up a home theater and create a contest or giveaway that could be promoted in the store and in its advertisements to draw attention to your display.

By combining marketing partnerships with place-based marketing strategies, you'll create a low-cost, high-reach campaign that affords multiple opportunities to make impressions on B2B prospects as well as consumers. Having a quality display in a good retail location will help you earn credibility as a viable business and will go a long way toward building the trust you need to gain valuable B2B contracts. It will also help you create effective marketing tools. For example, you could shoot a short promotional video demoing the installation and setup of the retail display to use as a presentation tool with B2B prospects. And you could use the retail display site to meet with select contractors and developers.

All in all, your marketing efforts can go as far as your imagination and your ability to foster successful marketing partnerships will take you. With a bit of negotiation and hard work, you'll get what most new entrepreneurs need most: lots of bang for very few bucks.