The dirty little secret about entrepreneurship is that most people who start a business had no idea what they were doing when they began – myself included. Oh sure, they may have read some books and articles, gone to seminars, or maybe have even written a business plan. But actually knowing what to expect, what slings and arrows would come their way – no.
The good news about that, as one intrepid entrepreneur once told me, is that you don’t know what you don’t know. That is – you don’t know enough to be scared or timid. The bad news is that there inevitably will be a steep learning curve as mistakes are made.
One mistake I see often has to do with marketing. People usually start a business because they find something they love and want to do that every day, for example a gardener buying a nursery. But because someone knows how to grow orchids does not mean that they know how to grow a business.
Indeed, most small businesses discover one or two marketing ideas, use them, then beat them to death, and wonder why they are not getting any new customers. The reason it doesn’t work is simple: By doing the same old thing again and again, the same people see your business. If you mix it up and try something new, different people will discover you are out there and your business will grow. Here are some inexpensive and easy ways to implement marketing ideas that you can use. Let me suggest that you test several (maybe four or five) and then roll out two or three of the most promising:
1. Email marketing: The idea is not to send out spam, but rather, individualized email offers to targeted individuals. Email marketing is the 21st century equivalent of direct mail. Create a list via a search or other means, create a snappy email offer and send it out. Maybe you will send it to members of your local chamber of commerce, or all the lawyers in town. It doesn't matter; what matters is that you can get in front of new potential customers at almost no cost.
2. Create an e-newsletter: If you don’t have an e-newsletter, then it’s time to hop on the bandwagon. E-newsletters are popular for a reason – they work. By offering interesting content (and a few specials) you can get people to agree to let you regularly contact them. Best of all, it costs nothing but your time.
3. E-newsletter advertising: What about this cool, affordable trick – find some e-newsletters that you like, and think would appeal to your type of customer, and advertise in them. It won’t cost much because the circulation numbers, especially in comparison to traditional advertising, will be small, but it will be highly targeted to your target market. Even better, as with any e-newsletter, the recipients want to receive the periodical.
4. Pay-per-click: As with e-newsletter advertising, the beauty of PPC ads is that you only pay for qualified leads – people who like your ad enough to click on it. Use PPC on Google, Facebook, Yahoo, MSN, etc.
5. Search Engine Optimization: Why even pay for a click when you can get one for free? SEO is the way. Yes, SEO takes a bit of time to learn, but it pays enormous dividends.
6. Overnight radio: Drive-time radio spots on a big station can cost upwards of $500 a minute. However, if you advertise on that same station overnight, while the numbers are of course much smaller, the costs are likely to be significantly less, potentially as low as $10 a spot.
7. Co-op advertising: My dad used to have a giant billboard on the San Diego freeway in Los Angeles that said “Carpet World . . . Elegance Underfoot.” In the corner it also said “featuring Ban-Lon Carpets.” Ban-Lon paid for about 80 percent of that advertisement. This is a perfect example of co-op advertising. If you have a wholesaler or distributor with whom you work, see if they offer co-op funds. Mention their product in your advertisement (online, in print, or over the air) and they will pick up a good portion of the costs.
8. Social media: Engaging in social media, if done right, can create new relationships and extend your brand and again, requires little of your time.
Okay, you get the idea. By expanding your options and marketing more with inexpensive, shoestring options, you can grow your business in any economy. If you want to learn even more about different ways to market your small business, you can watch this video.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content. You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.