Most small businesses face competition from much larger players with big advertising budgets and recognizable brand names. Your company may offer unique goods or services, but it's hard to get noticed when your rivals have a long track record, better locations, and more money to spend.
Hard, however, does not mean impossible. You can get attention for your company without spending big bucks. By being smart, becoming a part of the community, and spending your dollars wisely, you can get attention for your small business.
1. Be part of the community
Most towns and cities have community events -- everything from Fourth of July celebrations to farmer's markets and various festivals. Generally, it's not very expensive to buy a booth at one of those events.
Do so and use the exposure as a way to show off what your company does. That might mean offering a free sample of a service, showing off some merchandise, and/or building a mailing list with a giveaway.
It's also important to be a part of the community by joining groups like the Chamber of Commerce. Find organizations that let you interact with other small business owners and potential customers.
2. Work with other small businesses
Small businesses generally don't have the same advertising budget as their larger competitors. That's only one of the money issues facing small business owners, but it's one you can work around.
Partner with other businesses to pool advertising. Offer deals to customers who use multiple businesses that work together. Consider having event weekends or weeks with the other companies in your geographic area where each business offers deals, special activities, and other reasons for customers to come out.
3. Be charitable
If you're a service company, donate your time as often as you can. Every community has nonprofits that can use help in everything from accounting to tax preparation, and pretty much anything else your company might do.
If you run a retail business or restaurant consider having a day or part of a day where you donate a portion of proceeds to non-profit partners. School groups and youth sports are good potential partners that can help expose you to new customers while you are giving back to the community.
4. Be an expert
Most communities have local television and radio shows that need local experts as guests. Examine your own expertise and pitch yourself as appropriate.
Remember that you're not going on the radio or television to pitch your business. If, for example, you run a clothing store -- you might be asked to talk about back-to-school fashion trends. Let your expertise sell your business and the host should plug your company.
Spending a lot of money on ads or locating your business in a high-traffic area is easy. If you can't do both or even one of those, you have to be smarter than your competition to attract attention.
Embrace your community and support it. That includes not just pitching your own business but helping other small business owners advance theirs as well. Take a grassroots approach to building your customer base. Get out there and meet your potential customers. Shake their hands and invite them to come check out what you have to offer.