Startup businesses need to maximize every opportunity for promoting themselves. Surprisingly, that doesn't necessarily mean pricey advertising campaigns and time-consuming promotional programs. Many startup business owners overlook simple, inexpensive opportunities to promote themselves, reinforce their brands and increase sales through vehicles they already have in place. These opportunities cost far less than most traditional marketing methods and have been very effective for many entrepreneurs. Here are 20 methods to get you going.
1. Invoices: Stuff your statements with special offers or
information about new products and services. Graphic designer and
marketing consultant Jo Schloeder, 41, sent coupons for a free hour
of services from her Wall, New Jersey, firm, Creative Approach
Inc. Since few people in her line of work use coupons, it got
attention-and several new projects.
Cost: a few cents to print an information sheet.
2. On-hold programming: Use on-hold time to communicate
to a captive audience. Instead of playing elevator music, use that
valuable time to remind customers about special promotions or relay
Cost: Record it yourself, and it's free. Professional systems may run upwards of $40 per month. Find providers in the Yellow Pages under "Phone Systems" or "On-hold Messaging."
3. Cash register receipts: If you generate receipts for
your customers, they should include more than just a transaction
record. Dave Ratner, 52, owner of Dave's
Soda & Pet City in Springfield, Massachusetts, an
award-winning chain of pet-food and soft-drink retail stores, uses
register receipts to periodically tell customers about specials,
events and product reminders in his four stores.
Cost: If your register offers customizing options, $0. If not, staple receipts to information slips for pennies.
4. e-Mail signatures: When you get an e-mail from Eva
Rosenberg, 50, publisher of TaxMama.com, you'll also get her
contact information, a description of her site's unique selling
points, and a tip about what's new at her site. The Northridge,
California, tax consultant says her e-signature has helped
customers find her contact information easily and has also helped
facilitate media interviews.
5. Voice-mail messages: Instead of wasting time with
instructions on leaving a message, remind callers to visit your Web
site or take advantage of upcoming seasonal promotions. You could
also use your company's tag line or slogan in the message to
6. Phone manner: Be sure whoever answers the phone at
your place of business is upbeat and helpful to callers. "That
person is your vice president of first impressions," says
Ratner. Employees fielding phone calls should be able to answer
simple questions or know where to get answers, especially when a
customer or prospect calls.
7. Stickers: They're not just for preschoolers. When Rosenberg launched her tax consulting business and Web site, she bought 100 red heart stickers that said, "We love referrals."
"We plastered them on everything that went out of our
office, and business poured in," recalls Rosenberg.
"Simply telling people we wanted referrals made a big
Cost: $7.50 for 100 stickers.
8. Frequent-buyer clubs: Ratner believes in rewarding
loyal customers with gift certificates to his store. He tracks
purchases, and when customers get to a certain dollar amount or
quantity, they get a gift certificate for anything in the store.
For nonretail businesses, other ways to apply this might be a
discount or free gift after a certain number of hours or frequency
Cost: For 500 small, black-and-white punch cards to track purchases, approximately $50 to $75. If your point-of-sale or invoicing system already has a method of tracking volume, you can do so internally for even less.
9. Product shipments: When you ship or deliver products,
include an extra catalog, sales sheet or coupons in the package,
making it easier for customers to place additional orders.
Cost: a few cents to a few dollars per piece.
10. Occasion cards: Send birthday cards, Thanksgiving
cards, congratulations cards-they're great ways to let
customers know you care.
Cost: about $1.50 per card, plus postage.
Help on the Cheap
If you still need assistance in developing your marketing plan, here are a few places to turn for low- or no-cost help:
- Your local Small Business Development Center: This resource can provide help with marketing and much more.
- The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE): SCORE offers free counseling to start-up or established business owners.
- Your local college: If you can offer a meaty assignment, you may be able to attract a marketing student to intern with your company in exchange for credit. If not, see whether the college has a marketing or advertising club that can help.
- Trade associations: Your industry group may offer assistance, statistics and research that can help you refine your marketing. Visit the association Web site, or call for help.