With the holidays over, it's tempting to relax. The busy season for many small businesses has ended, and their owners have paid their bills and maybe put a little extra into their pocket.
That's an accomplishment, and it's reasonable to take a few days off -- maybe even a week. But after that, it's important to get back at it. A new year means new opportunity, and you should take steps to bring attention to your business.
Marketing isn't something you do only during the busiest times of the year. You need to bring in new customers year-round, while reminding your existing ones that you're still here. That does not mean you have to spend big bucks, though. It's possible to market your company without digging too deep into your wallet. Here are five suggestions:
1. Have an after-season sale
If you run a store, you may have excess inventory from the holiday season. Let the first half of January play out, and hope that people redeeming gift cards will lessen this problem. After that, however, an after-season sale might make sense.
Make it an event and celebrate your customers. Have door prizes, snacks, drinks, and anything else that might attract people. Use the occasion to move items that linger on shelves -- admit your mistakes and try to at least get back what you spent.
2. Activate your customers
Use your email and social media lists to make sure that your most loyal customers don't forget about you. Have loyal-customer-only sales or special events for insiders. This could include an invitation-only preview of new merchandise. If you have a service business, you might consider a discount for customers who expand their relationship with you or commit to doing more business throughout the year.
You can also use your existing customers to bring in new ones. Offer incentives -- added discounts or a giveaway -- for regulars who bring in new people.
3. Get charitable
Retailers can bring in new customers by hosting charity nights. Work with local charities and offer them a percentage of sales for every customer who walks through the door. That should encourage the nonprofit to market to their staff, friends, and family, thereby bringing in new shoppers.
For a service business, you can increase your exposure by allowing a nonprofit to give away a free service from your company as a prize. Many charities have auctions, dinners with prizes, or other events where this type of offer would be appreciated.
During the holiday season, it seems like every company floods the airwaves with commercials, making it hard to get attention. In the first quarter, that noise quiets down.
Consider targeted ads on local radio or television. You may also try direct mail and even newspapers if you live in a market that has one that reaches your customer base.
5. Be creative
Marketing is about getting attention for your business. You can do that by flooding the airwaves with commercials or sponsoring the scoreboard at high school soccer games. Obviously, both have different levels of reach. But done right, either can be effective.
As a small business owner, one of the key things you can do is be visible in your community. Be generous with your time and make an effort to have your business support local events, charities, and schools. Small investments in these areas can offer large returns. Something as small as taking a table at a community fair or holiday party can raise your profile in ways that may pay off better than pricier options.