Author: Daniel B. Kline | January 22, 2019
You don't need to be extreme
Small businesses have sometimes gone to outrageous extremes to get attention. While shooting yourself out of a cannon will bring you attention, that's not a smart strategy for every business owner.There are lot of ways you can attract attention that go well beyond having inflatable men wave people in (though that can work in some cases). Here are a number of ways you can market your business without breaking the bank.
Throw a party
Parties can be expensive or cheap depending upon how you plan one. You might consider celebrating your company's anniversary or throw an event in honor of your customers.
No matter what reason you pick make sure you invite your best customers personally. Hand them an invitation or call them to welcome them to the event to make it more special.
Use your existing customer base as a recruiting tool. Offer them an incentive (a discount or even a free service) if they bring in new customers. Make this a personal appeal not just a program where you post some signs or put something up on your website.
Be an expert
If you run a tax preparation firm you probably know a lot about taxes. In many cases, it's not hard to offer yourself up as an expert to appear on local radio, television, or be quoted in a newspaper story.
Remember that the goal of these appearances is not to push your business. Instead, you want to offer sound advice that makes it clear you know what you're doing.
Do that and just the host mentioning your name will likely lead some people to seek you out. If you act as an honest expert -- not a shill for your own company -- it may also lead to repeat appearances or other local media seeking you out.
Share some advertising
Ads, especially ads on television, can be expensive. Mitigate those costs by sharing the expense with related or neighboring businesses. Maybe your office park, strip mall, or neighborhood could split the cost of advertising a joint event or special.
This takes some planning (and it helps to already have a good relationship with other business owners) but it can be a revenue driver. Yes it will still cost you, but shared expenses on an ad pushing something bigger than one business can be very effective.
Have an off-season sale
There are lots of traditional times when retailers (or service providers) have sales. The problem is that those are generally the same time their rivals have sales. It can be easier to attract attention by having a sale during a time of year where one normally does not happen.
Have fun with it. Offer big discounts on merchandise you'd like to just not be storing anymore. Consider working with your vendors to bring in special items or to offer deals on things that rarely go on sale.
Bring in a local hero
Sports memorabilia stores have often brought in athletes for autograph signings. While it's expensive to bring in a big star, it may not cost much at all to get the mascot and a few top players from your town's AAA baseball team or other lower-level outfit.
You might even consider bringing in a star from the past. This would be someone who the community would want to see and maybe get an autograph from that's not so famous that his or her price is an issue.
Use your social media lists
If you have a social media following, use it to communicate with your customers. Let them know when new merchandise is coming in or about specials you're offering.
You'll also want to build your list. Have a tablet or computer in your store/office where you can ask customers to follow you. Don't be pushy and have fun with your communication efforts.
Hold a school or charity night
Retailers and restaurants can attract a crowd by working with school groups or non-profits. Generally, this works by setting time aside where a certain percentage of your profits gets donated to the non-profit or school group which should bring in new customers. To make sure those new visitors come back you may want to offer a coupon to incentivize a second visit.
Consider direct mail
While advertising can be expensive, direct mail can be cost effective. Many markets have coupon books that are delivered straight to the mailboxes of thousands of potential customers. In many cases, for a few hundred dollars you can reach a lot of potential customers meaning that you don't need to bring too many in to make it worth your while.
Consider community events
Many communities have winter fairs or summer events (often around the 4th of July). In some cases, small business owners can take booths or buy ads at these events. Prices can vary but this is an easy way to get in front of your most-likely audience.
Buy very local ads
Local businesses can get a lot of bang for their buck by sponsoring school events, local sports, or buying ads in yearbooks. This has the added benefit of building goodwill within the community because you're spending money to support kids.
Work with other businesses
You can partner with a business (or multiple businesses) to offer deals for customers who shop locally. Maybe a shopper who buys tax services from you gets 10% off at the local toy store or maybe the reverse. Be creative and work with as many partners as you can.
Make sure you're digitally correct
The internet can be a free source of advertising -- if your information is correct. Make sure that your website is up to date and that all of the major sites have your information listed correctly. This may sound silly but you don't want to lose customers because a search engine sends them to the wrong address.
Offer off-peak incentives
The major coffeehouse chains offer deals in the afternoon because that's when their business slows down. That's a smart strategy for any small business that benefits from repeat visits. Let your loyal customers know that if they shop/eat/buy during off-peak hours that they'll save or get something extra.
Answer your critics (and supporters)
Many of the online review sites allow the business owner to respond. Thank people for positive reviews and respond politely to negative ones.
When someone writes something negative, address their concerns. Say how you expect to fix their problem and offer them an incentive to come back.
Offer first-time customers a deal
Everyone likes a deal and offering a one-time discount to first-time customers allows you to incentivize them to come in. Be generous and make sure you (or senior staff) interacts with the first-timer to build a connection.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.