You’ve set up your Facebook business page. You’ve claimed your spot on Foursquare. You’ve painstakingly pinned images that reflect your brand to Pinterest. Those are all inexpensive marketing techniques that require more time than cash.
But where do you go beyond social media to market your company on the cheap?
“Although social media has changed the marketing game for small businesses, it hasn’t changed what’s truly effective,” says Joseph Szala, principal and creative director of Vigor, which specializes in restaurant marketing. “Relationships will always hold strong in thick and thin, so fostering strong bonds with the community will help build your business and keep it steady.”
Szala recommends introducing yourself to potential customers and people who might recommend you to others — and offering discounts for those referrals.
Laurie Morse-Dell, an entrepreneur and business consultant, says you can’t beat old-fashioned networking for marketing yourself and your brand.
“One of the reasons that social media does so well is because it’s based on relationship-building and networking,” Morse-Dell says. “But it’s important to remember that offline networking is just as valuable, especially for small businesses.”
Morse-Dell recommends attending community events while wearing a garment featuring your company logo and taking advantage of chamber of commerce mixers and other venues where business cards are traded.
“The most important thing to remember about networking is that you don’t want to come across as the salesman everyone is trying to avoid,” Morse-Dell says. “Ask questions of the people you meet and be genuine in getting to know them. You will learn a lot from listening and then learn how you may be able to best serve them.”
One way to introduce yourself to groups in the community is to offer yourself up as a speaker.
“Just like small businesses across the country, many networking organizations, trade associations, and chambers of commerce are also short on cash,” says Stephanie Richards, founder of SowGrow Public Relations.
“Event budgets have taken a hit, which means that many of these organizations are looking for high-quality speakers who don’t charge speaking fees,” she advises. “Consider proposing a topic and offering yourself as a potential speaker. You may not get paid for your time, but speaking is often one of the best ways to establish your credibility and meet potential clients.”
If you prefer to market one-on-one, consider making a call.
“There is a very inexpensive marketing tool sitting on every business owner’s desk or in their pocket or handbag: the telephone,” says Wendy Weiss, a sales coach and trainer who bills herself as the Queen of Cold Calling.
“Prospecting by phone is direct, effective, and inexpensive, and it makes a human being-to-human being connection,” she says. “You can have a real conversation with a real prospect in real time.”
If you prefer the written word to verbal communications, consider issuing a press release.
“Traditional press releases done properly can make a big impact on a small business,” says Don Sorensen, principal at Big Blue Robot, which helps companies manage their online reputations. “The larger services like PRWeb and PR Newswire are great for this.”
Sorensen recommends putting a meaningful search term in the title of your press release so that search engines will find it and display your company high in online search results.
If your marketing strategy includes rewarding existing customers to encourage their loyalty, customer incentive programs can be implemented at a low cost. Simple punch cards (buy 12, get 1 free!), in-store events (free chocolate samples!), or extended sales discount days (20 percent off on Friday, too!) are all examples of building customer relationships with little cash outlay.
So is keeping in touch with pen and paper.
“The hand-written note is often overlooked in today’s age of email, Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media platform,” says Hillary Berman, founder of Popcorn & Ice Cream, a small-business marketing and consulting firm.
“A simple thank-you note to express appreciation for a customer, a birthday card to demonstrate recognition of a special day, or a letter to check in and see how a business can be of assistance, can provide substantially greater value than nearly any mass marketing campaign,” Berman says.
“These personal touches cost little more than postage and time.”