10. Chat online. Find newsgroups that cater to your audience, and join the fray. "I didn't start [participating in online discussion groups] to generate business, but as a way to find information for myself on various subjects," says Shel Horowitz, owner of Northampton, Massachusetts-based Accurate Writing & More and author of several marketing books, including Grassroots Marketing. "But it turned out to be the single best marketing tool I use. It costs only my time. [One] list alone has gotten me around 60 clients in the past five years."
11. Offer an e-newsletter. Again, this establishes you as an expert, but it also provides another very important marketing tool: e-mail addresses of potential clients. You've opened up the gates to creating a relationship with these folks by offering free information. Now they may approach you to do business, or you can use these "opt-in" addresses to offer your services.
12. Don't wait for customers to find you online. Rather than purchasing an e-mail list for mass, impersonal advertising, spend some time trolling the Web, looking for businesses that have some sort of connection to your own business. Then write them a personalized e-mail telling them why you think they should build a business relationship with you. "Those letters have a high tendency to get answered because they are personal," says Crandall. "And if there is something we could do business about, I've opened the door. I've done thousands of dollars of business once that door was opened with people who were total strangers [before I e-mailed them]."
Spreading the Word
13. Go where your best prospects are. This is called play-space marketing. If you have a pet-sitting business, ask your local vet office and groomer if you can display brochures. Are you a landscape artist? Offer to do a display for the local nursery. Do you throw children's birthday parties? Buy a slide at the local movie theater to be shown before their family films. "Just be sure the environment is appropriate," cautions Gordon. "If you're a business consultant, you're not going to run ads on the movie screen. [Advertise somewhere] where people are [likely] to be thinking about what you're selling."
14. Become an expert. Cagnassola has developed her business know-how into a marketing tool by writing online articles. "Write articles to show your talents and give them as filler to any Web site owner that you feel is fitting," says Cagnassola. "Not only does it bring you more traffic and potential customers, but it provides you with an international business portfolio to demonstrate your business sense [and your] product or service."
Other ways to establish yourself as an expert: Answer questions in online forums; get yourself listed in a directory like Experts.com, Profnet.comor The Yearbook of Experts; send tip sheets to local media outlets; write a book or pamphlet; or do the next tip on our list.
15. Host a seminar. It's cheap. It's easy. And it's a darn good way to get over your public-speaking fear. Crandall offers the story of a business broker who conducts free weekly seminars. People selling businesses don't want to attend, as they aren't new to the business brokering process, but they do notice his ad and call for his services. Business buyers attend, and the broker now has "pre-qualified" prospects. "You're getting free publicity, you're getting prospects to call you, and you're building your level of expertise," says Crandall, who hosts his own seminars on marketing.
16. Get local news coverage. Play up your locale as much as possible with personalized news releases. Because which sounds better to your local press: A successful homebased caterer with a national contract, or a caterer from Hometown, Ohio, with a national contract? Heck, even if you used to live someplace, write them a letter. Crandall recently promoted his mother's children's book by sending letters to the newspapers both where she currently lives and where she previously lived, and both picked up the story.
17. Get ready for your close-up. Does TV sound out-of-reach for a homebased business owner on a budget? Not so. Get yourself a cable access show. "You can't blatantly advertise a product or service, but it's a good way to become better-known," says Bishop. "For example, if you sell crafts, you might start an [instructional] craft show. You could give away something for free or have a contest. When people call or write in, you can start a mailing list and then contact them about your business." Some other boons: It adds to your expertise and gives you a great hook for your publicity efforts.
18. Gracias, merci, thank you. Shower the top 20 percent of your clients who yield you the most sales (either in volume or dollars) with thank-yous, whether it's gifts, personalized notes or lunch. "It doesn't cost a lot of money," says Gordon, "but it's a great way to let your best customers know they're special."
19. Offer a guarantee. More people will be willing to try out your business and recommend your business if you offer "satisfaction guaranteed." End of story.
20. Get them talking about you. Word-of-mouth marketing is just about the cheapest thing you can do to boost your business. The main way to attract referrals is to just do a great job: Impress your clients, and they'll tell everyone they know. But there are more aggressive tactics you can use as well. Ask everyone you know to evangelize your business. Hand out several business cards to people rather than just one so they're more likely to pass them on. Even go through your favorite client's Rolodex (with his or her permission, of course) to find potential leads.
Spreading the Word
21. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Instead of lamenting your lack of business, drumming your fingers on your desk and forming new worry lines on your face, call a customer. Touch base, see how they're doing, visit their office when you're running an errand, see if there's anything you can do for them, even if it's not a paid piece of work. It'll improve your relationship, and you may jar their memory. After all, you'll never hear "I've been meaning to call you!" if you don't pick up the phone.