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Seven Cheap and Easy Ways to Get the Word Out

Getting word of your business out on the street is worth a fortune. Use these techniques, and it won't cost you one!

It's the chicken/egg syndrome of start-up: You need to spend money to bring in customers, but you don't have money to spend until you get customers. Too often, new business owners treat marketing as an optional expense. The truth is, if you don't dedicate an adequate budget of time and money to marketing, it's unlikely you'll attract enough customers to sustain and grow your venture.

The good news is, many small businesses have successfully marketed themselves on a shoestring. By applying creative solutions to marketing challenges, you can get the word out to prospective customers without going for broke. Simply keep in mind these seven secrets to successful small-budget marketing, and you'll be well on your way to big-time results.

1. Have a game plan. By creating a marketing plan that includes goals, vehicles and budgets for time and money, you gain significant advantages. Planning six to 12 months ahead gives you a broader view of your marketing needs and expenditures. Use that information to take advantage of volume discounts on advertising, services and printing by committing to a schedule in advance. You may also be able to negotiate longer payment terms on products and services related to promoting your business. Most important, a plan will help you stay focused, and you'll be less likely to make purchases that aren't in your company's best interest.

Chris Larson learned about the importance of marketing focus when he launched O'Plenty Animation Studio in 1990. Because he launched his studio on the New Jersey shore, an unlikely place to find a character animation company, it was easy for O'Plenty to capture the attention of local media. Larson found efforts not targeted toward specific niche markets-TV producers, corporate advertising executives and animation producers-drew in large numbers of unqualified leads.

"Sticking with a plan helped us avoid marketing opportunities that would cost us a lot of time," says Larson, 35. "The more focused we stayed, the less we had to deal with that."

News releases about new productions and new hires are sent only to the trade media that his best prospects read. And low-cost demo reels of work his studio has produced for other clients routinely capture interest in his company.

2. Sell yourself. As you craft a plan, become your own toughest customer. Ask yourself why you should invest in each marketing opportunity. Does it hit your target? Is it cost-efficient? What will it do for your business? If your idea doesn't pass with flying colors, rethink it.

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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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