3. Get good "marketing mileage." Elevate your efforts so they include many opportunities for attention. When Daryl Lynn O'Connell, 38, opened Anita's Joy Gift Shoppe, she saw the value of working with charities. But rather than just cutting a check, O'Connell makes events out of their fund-raisers. The charities get a forum for raising money and cultivating relationships, and each soiree brings customers into the shop.
Besides using news releases, O'Connell publicizes events by posting signs in her store, sends mail to her customer list and taps the charities to spread the word. Because she works with nonprofit organizations, her events get picked up as free public service announcements on radio stations. The result is more marketing mileage than she would have gained by merely making a donation. Since launching in 2000, Anita's Joy has moved to a bigger store in Manasquan, New Jersey. O'Connell believes her promotions played a large part in building her customer base. "When they realize they're taking part in a fund-raiser," she says, "they return again and again."
4. Partner up. By partnering with other businesses in your marketing efforts, you can expand your circle of influence and slash your budget. Jennifer Graham, 27, owner of Le Palais Boutique, a bridal shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, has teamed with a photographer and a florist to pass around each other's marketing materials. Because they all targeted the same market-brides-the arrangement boosted business as the three businesses referred and promoted each other.
Pounding the pavement for partners worked for 37-year-old Dawn Forrest Armstrong. Her Phoenix company, K-OS Designs produces reflective stickers for motorcycle and other helmets. Armstrong sought endorsement from national and international safety organizations and used their testimonials in her marketing, giving her credibility with prospects. The organizations also link to her Web site. The increased traffic has resulted in double-digit increases in annual sales.
5. Find diamonds in your own backyard. Every time you reach out to customers, you have an opportunity to reinforce your marketing message. By using vehicles you already have, you can increase your outreach and get more business from existing customers. For example, turn monthly bills into opportunities to mail buying suggestions based on past purchases or to share good news about your company.
When Boston-based Palladion Services Inc. received a coveted write-up in The Boston Globe, the company turned it into a promotional mailer. As a result of the company's reputation, built through its marketing and service, customers are often referred to Palladion. "When people make a referral, they want to be sure you're going to do the job well," explains partner and vice president Patrick Knight, 36. "By showing them we received this positive coverage, we reinforced the fact that our reputation is well-earned."
Within your place of business, you may have ample opportunity to inexpensively reach out to old and new customers. When Armstrong got her business started, she had little budget for trade-show space. Instead, she attended motorcycle rallies and handed out free samples of her product as a "gift" to those wearing or carrying their helmets.
"That started a dialogue about the product," she says. "I got great customer feedback and new ideas for a cost of about $50."
While there are plenty of ways to mess up a marketing campaign, new business owners typically fall prey to four particular pitfalls:
1. Saying too much: When you jam too many messages into any one marketing vehicle, you risk losing your audience entirely. Focus on one or two key messages for each marketing effort.
2.Being inconsistent: If each piece of your print marketing materials looks as if it's from a different company, you're not likely to be effective.
3. Cutting your marketing budget first: When cash flow dips, it's more important than ever to keep up your promotional efforts. Don't be tempted to make marketing your first cut when it's time to slash expenditures.
4. Hiring a big agency with a small budget: Like most businesses, advertising, public relations and other marketing consulting agencies come in different sizes and price points. If you need to hire help on a shoestring, look for a small to midsized agency where your dollars and your business will be treated with the respect they deserve.