Marketing Within Your Budget

If you’ve attended marketing seminars, you’ve probably heard that marketing and sales departments must be kept separate. Marketing’s job is to engage in creative promotional activities such as advertising, public relations and designing campaigns to direct potential customers into the sales pipeline. Sales people interact with customers, following up on leads from marketing, making cold calls, visiting customers, quoting prices and "closing the sale." Most of us don’t live in that world. In our world we wear multiple hats, and budgets are tight.

Big businesses can spend a lot of money on marketing, including repeated ads in major publications aimed at promoting brand recognition. These ads just give you features of the product or service, or they entertain you without asking you to do anything. Brand advertising is focused on the product or company instead of the customer. This is not typically where small businesses should be spending their money.

Successful small business owners usually have expertise in their field, but few have marketing skills. And we’re all busy, so we tend to stay in our comfort zones, like spending money on the same old methods that aren’t working as well as they used to. Competition and economic slow-downs have eaten into profits for many, increasing the need for cost-effective marketing. So what can small business owners do to increase business while making the most of their resources?

For our purposes here, let’s assume your products and services still meet your customers’ needs. If you aren’t sure, the place to begin is by asking them what you do well, and what they think you could do better, then acting on the results.

Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas, rather than just copy what you see other businesses doing. Is there some equipment or process you can demo, or maybe a workshop you could present free that would interest locals and bring you some new business? You can give away inexpensive free products or services to encourage attendance and increase future business. It is critical to get contact information and feedback from attendees. And be sure to keep notes and records, so you can evaluate the success of your actions and know what worked.

Direct response marketing techniques can be used without incurring a lot of expense or effort to get immediate results. Today you have multiple inexpensive or free options for how your messages get presented or delivered to your customers and potential customers, such as text messaging, emailing, postcards, and websites. Ask the recipient to take some kind of action now, whether to purchase or get more information, and clearly provide them with ways to respond, such as phone numbers or web submission forms. Bear in mind that people today want continually fresh information, not the same boring ads they’ve seen for years.

Be sure to track your marketing results. Continual tracking, preferably automated, is very important to make adjustments to your messages so you are maximizing your conversion rates, i.e. the rate at which prospective customers take the action(s) you have asked for in your ad, or the rate at which potential customers who have contacted you because of the ad are converted into sales.

Harness the power of the Internet to advertise your business inexpensively. The cost in terms of time spent can be well worth it. Do a web search on your business and you may be surprised to find out where you are already listed. Contact them if there are material errors in the listing. Search engines (Yahoo, Google, etc.), “yellow page” type listings, industry-related websites, and social media websites, have free or low-cost options for posting your business information, including linking to your website. If you don’t already have a website, or even if you do, spend research time and money to make sure it looks professional, is user friendly, stays current in terms of information and messages presented, and that your website will be seen as a valuable information source for potential & existing customers. Having your own website that meets these criteria, in addition to using the free listings sites, will increase the exposure of your business. With your own website, you can utilize the direct response techniques mentioned above, and more easily automate tracking of conversion rates.

If you use a business management software system that tracks your customers, you have an invaluable marketing tool at your fingertips, especially if the system includes email capability and printable postcards. Keep customers informed when they are due for services, and include coupons to bring them back to you sooner. Most businesses offer more products and services than a customer can process at one time. Consider conducting a monthly drawing, and incorporate information about your products and services when you announce the drawing winners. Start an email newsletter about your products and services, along with helpful information and tips. You spent money to get customers, and you can market to your current customers for very little cost. Increase your profits by capturing and using customer contact information well.

Adam Irby