Q: We're looking for the best way to market our small business but are stuck trying to come up with new tactics to reach our prospects within our budget. Any advice?

A: Sometimes choosing the best marketing tactics is like going to a restaurant with an unlimited menu. Even entrepreneurs with tight budgets or small niche markets have dozens of options. And it can be hard to separate the best from the rest. A great tactic meets three criteria:

  • It reaches your most qualified prospects.
  • It puts your message in the right context.
  • It gives you enough space/time to tell prospects what to do.

A business that specializes in cabinet refacing, for example, could run local cable TV spots during home-remodeling programs, including kitchen design shows. The spots would reach a qualified target audience in the appropriate context--when they were in the right frame of mind and most likely to be receptive.

Every great marketing tactic allows space or time for a call to action. This can be as simple as a toll-free number on a billboard or as complex as a direct-mail package with multiple offers. But an effective tactic always tells prospects what to do next. Can't come up with a group of tactics? Here's a virtual smorgasbord of ideas to get you started.

  • Outdoor media: Some examples include billboards, subway and bus signage, taxi tops and skywriting.
  • Online advertising: Display ads on targeted sites, including skyscrapers and the new half-page ads, and ads in online newsletters that reach qualified opt-in lists are often affordable options.
  • Direct marketing: Try direct mail, where individual pieces are sent to rented lists, or marriage mail, such as ValPak, which is a low-cost way to reach households in targeted ZIP codes. E-mail solicitations to opt-in lists are a lower-cost alternative to traditional direct marketing and work best in combination with an effective Web site.
  • Broadcast advertising: Radio advertising can be an excellent choice due to its ability to reach specific target audiences through select programming. Television advertising is more accessible than ever, thanks to local cable systems and a range of networks with niche programming.
  • Print advertising: Whether you use trade or consumer press, you have many options for display and classified ads. You can purchase local, regional or national editions of many consumer magazines. And if you wish to market in select cities but find the major daily newspapers too costly, consider alternative weeklies.
  • Nontraditional media: From stickers on fruit in supermarkets to your message on stadium snack trays, here's your chance to be highly creative.
  • Shows and displays: Consumer expos, trade shows and conferences provide one-on-one time with prospects. For manufacturers and distributors, retail displays make products stand out from others on the shelves.
  • Public relations: There are many forms of PR, such as media relations, special events, promotions and satellite media tours. Lower-cost tactics include articles written for targeted Web sites and participation in discussion lists frequented by your audience.

Quick Tips
1. For a well-rounded program, combine sales activities with your marketing tactics. On a limited budget, more sales tactics may equal less out-of-pocket marketing costs, but you will expend more time interacting with prospects.

2. Build your program starting with tactics that reach prospects who are actively pursuing the kinds of products or services you offer. Then, add tactics as needed to reach prospects wherever they are in the sales cycle.

3. Track your responses by coding your ads, using multiple toll-free numbers and asking prospects where they heard about you. That way, if a tactic stops working, you can quickly replace it with a better choice.