You don’t need me to tell you that marketing your fledgling business isn’t optional. No visibility, no customers, no business. No good!
However, business start up costs can be pretty intimidating and the likelihood is that, for the first few years, if not longer, you simply won’t have much of a marketing budget to play with.
Luckily there are hundreds (if not thousands) of low-cost or free marketing strategies you can play around with to get things up and running.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a to-do list the length of my arm to get through today. Rather than bombard you with ideas, I’m going to highlight the key strategies I’m focusing on at the moment:
1.Networking — in person and online
2.Using your existing contacts (you have more of them than you realise)
3.Cold emailing (how to do it without annoying people)
4.Creating valuable content
If you do nothing else to market your business, make sure you spend as much time as you can networking. Whether in person or online, this is, without a doubt, THE most effective low-cost marketing tool around.
There are some amazingly effective networking groups out there that charge an arm and a leg just for joining — and that’s before you’ve shelled out for your train ticket, the event ticket and the cost of the coffee/wine/valium you’ll need to purchase to get yourself through the event.
If we look at this from the point of view of your ROI (and this IS how we need to view these things), say you pay £500 for membership, depending on what type of business you’re running, you may only need to score one or two clients, at most, to make your money back. Add to that the fact that you’re likely (hopefully) to get repeat business, word-of-mouth advertising and referrals from said clients, it probably is a worthwhile investment.
However, I’m writing this post specifically for those of you who simply don’t have £500 to spare right now.
I have to tell you — don’t panic!
Assuming you don’t live out in the sticks, there are loads of networking events out there that don’t cost a penny. And some of them are downright awesome.
As soon as you’ve finished reading this, start googling. In fact, go and have a look right now and don’t come back until you’ve registered for at least one event. It’s cool, I’ll wait…
Right, is that you sorted?
While you were doing that, I searched for “networking groups Glasgow” and this was the first result Google hit me with: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/d/scotland–glasgow/networking/
Once I’ve sorted by date, I can scroll through and see which free events I can fit into my schedule. There are a good few to choose from and I know it’s just a matter of trial and error until I find the events that suit me.
Some will be great for meeting potential clients. Some will be more useful for meeting potential collaborators. Some will provide useful tips for how to improve how I run my business. None will be a waste of time and literally all I need to pay for is my bus fare into the city.
I’m a massive fan of networking in person, however, as an introvert and a busy mum, networking that can be done from my own living room (or from the café of a soft play centre) is worth its weight in gold.
It goes without saying that you should constantly be working on your own social media accounts, building relationships and posting useful content, but don’t neglect the possibilities of online forums and groups.
To use Facebook as an example, there are a million and one different groups for entrepreneurs. Some are specifically for mumpreneurs (sorry, I know, I’m not a fan of the term either!), some directed at women business owners, some are aimed at specific industries or specific countries or regions.
Before you get lost down the rabbit hole, it’s best to come up with a strategy.
Realistically, it’s better to join one or two relevant groups and take the time to use them properly rather than joining every group you come across and then not having the time to actually contribute to them all. Begin by building up relationships, offering advice and providing value. Keep an eye out for people looking for the skills or products you offer and don’t be afraid to pitch your business if there is a job posting.
2.Use your contacts
Don’t be so busy trying to find new contacts that you forget about the useful contacts you already have. I can almost guarantee that you know someone who needs your skills right now.
It may be your neighbour’s sister’s dental hygienist but until you put yourself out there you’ll never know.
So make sure that when you’re updating your business Facebook status, you update your personal status too. Tell your friends and family that you’re available for work. Assuming they like you and want to throw you a bone, they’ll share your status and help you spread the word.
And don’t forget to take your business cards everywhere you go. You never know who you’ll end up speaking to at your pal’s birthday party.
I’m the first to admit that this one fills me with dread. I can feel the sweat forming on my brow at the very thought of it but do you know what? I have heard so many small business owners swear by this that I’ve decided to give it a whirl.
Now, it’s early days for me but as far as I can make out, the key to this is not to be annoying; don’t be “salesy” and don’t try to be too clever.
Rather than plodding my way through an A-Z of business listings to find potential clients, I’m having a good think about the types of businesses I really want to work with. For example, there’s a kick-ass pizzeria not too far away that I absolutely adore. I reckon I’d be a great fit for their business, I’m a huge advocate of their product and I KNOW I could help them kill it with their marketing copy. So naturally, they’re on my list.
When it comes to actually drafting your cold emails it’s best to stick with honesty every time. Tell them why you’re contacting them — what do you think you’d be able to help them with, why are you attracted to that business, how can you help them thrive?
Be brief, be polite and, as with all marketing copy, highlight the benefits you’re providing, rather than focusing on your business.
More on cold emailing here
Obviously emailing is free but if you wanted to push the boat out you could try sending real, actual, I can hold it in my hand, letters. Stamps aren’t as cheap as they used to be but if you really want to keep the cost down you could target local businesses and hand-deliver your letters.
Assuming you find the right businesses to contact and your sales copy is shit hot, you might find that there is more chance of your business card (don’t forget to pop one in the envelope) being filed away for future reference than an email being kept and actually found when needed.
Do you have a blog yet? No? Why the hell not?
Given that many of my clients hire me as a blog writer, you’d be right in saying that I’m an itty bit biased when it comes to this free marketing strategy. However, if business blogging didn’t offer a decent ROI then I wouldn’t still be in business.
It’s vital that you come up with a strategy before you start throwing content around and hoping that some of it sticks.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your audience.
Sit down and think about your audience. Who do you want to read your content? Potential customers presumably? Now, rather than think about how you can sell to them, think about how you can help them. What do they want to know? What will help them improve their businesses or their lives?
Delivering quality content in this way shows your potential customers that you know your stuff. You’ll be building up trust and relationships. So when the time is right for them to put in an order, they’ll have confidence in you and will know your product is the right option for them. It’s a win win.
Just don’t go to the trouble of writing a blog and then forgetting to promote it! As soon as you hit publish, get your content out there. Stick it on Facebook, tweet about it, print it out and stick it to every lamppost in your neighbourhood. Okay, maybe not that last one…
(Writing a blog is free but it does take time, so if you feel like it’s something you want to try but you worry you don’t have the time to do it justice or you’re not too fond of writing — I gather not everyone relishes the challenge of a blank screen the way I do — then give me a shout with what you need and I’ll check my availability.)
Which will you try first?
As I mentioned earlier there are thousands of cheap or even free marketing tactics you can try to help grow your business. I’ve focused on these today because these are the ones that have either worked well for me or that I feel compelled to try after many hours of research on the subject.
If you’ve found any others that are working particularly well for you, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!