How to Promote Your Business on a Budget
You don’t need to be Don Draper to successfully promote your business using tried-and-true marketing techniques. The trick is to plan your advertising, PR, social media and other promotional campaigns only after you’ve done your upfront strategizing. Following the Four P’s of product, price, place and promotion will help you create sales and messaging campaigns that have customers beating a path to your door.
What is Marketing?
Many entrepreneurs confuse marketing communications with marketing. A good marketing plan starts way before your messaging campaigns begin. You must first analyze your product in a variety of ways, decide how different prices will affect your sales and brand image, determine where you should sell, and then use this information to create your marketing messages.
Analyze Your Product
Marketing starts with the upfront analysis of your product or service and helps you narrow down your best potential customers. Once you know this, you can create your brand, which is an image based on your unique selling benefit supported by a consistent message.
For example, if you own an Italian restaurant, is your product really just Italian food? People can get that anywhere, so why come to your place? First, you need to look at your competition (including all the restaurants in the area). What do the most successful restaurants have in common? Quick service? Low prices? Family-friendly menus?
You might decide, based on your area, that you should be a low-priced pasta and pizza eatery that caters to families and seniors. Or, you might be a high-end Italian restaurant with a lengthy wine list and upscale menu.
Think About Your Pricing Strategy
Once you decide on your benefit and brand image, you can then price what you sell correctly. Your price is part of your image and can be a promotional tool in itself. For example, if you set your prices lower than the competition, you brand yourself as a good bargain. If you price your product or service higher than the competition, you can create a perceived value that leads consumers to think you’re the best in your space. If you’re an upscale salon with higher prices and you start offering discounts and buy-one-get-one-free coupons, you cheapen your image. This is why pricing strategy is more than just number crunching—it can be part of your promotion strategy.
The “place” part of the Four P’s focuses on whether you’ll make the most profits by selling online, through catalogues, using salespeople, in your own store, through retail chains, etc. Not only do you crunch numbers to determine where to sell, but you also consider your brand strategy. For example, some hair care products only sell through salons, not big boxes. This helps these companies create the impression that they offer better products than the competition and that these products are better and more desirable. Distribution strategy is part of promoting your business.
Now It’s Time to Promote
Many small-business owners have a limited promotions budget. Here are some low-cost ideas to help you get started.
- Create Your Message
Using your unique benefits, create a slogan you will use on all of your electronic and print communications. Your slogan will be a key part of your brand and should convey your unique selling benefit. For example, instead of promoting the features of their cars, automakers often sell their target customer’s desired main benefit, such as reliability, affordability, safety or luxury.
- Go Social
Create a website, Facebook page, Twitter account and LinkedIn page. Get listed in the major search engines, including Google Maps. Ask customers to review you and make sure you monitor your reviews, responding to any negative comments. Add a blog or valuable content to your website to position yourself as an expert in your space. Make sure people can Like, Tweet and otherwise share the content on your website.
- Cross Promote
Look for other businesses that target the same customer base as you and ask them if they’d like to swap promotional opportunities. Think of the wedding industry—caterers, musicians, photographers, limo companies, florists, event spaces and videographers all promote each other to great effect.
Exchange links on your websites. Offer discounts to their customers and give these businesses your brochures to distribute to their customers. Do the same for your new partners. Bundle sales, such as wine store and a restaurant bundling their products, or a shoe store and a dress shop offering bundled discounts. If you can afford to give away product, work with local charities by giving them donations for their fundraisers in exchange for exposure to their members.
- Offer Expert Advice
Magazines, newspapers and websites can always use valuable content for their readers. Offer to pen an article for free in exchange for a mention of your business at the end of the article. Create a press kit to send to different media outlets. Include photos, employee bios, industry statistics and story ideas. Join trade or professional associations and offer to speak at their seminars or conferences. Hold your own seminars via lunch-and-learns at a local restaurant. Charge attendees (who are your potential customers) $10-$15 for lunch and the seminar—the restaurant should give you a private room for your talk in exchange for bringing in paying customers.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been a small-business consultant and owner for more than 25 years. He has written for a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites, including Entrepreneur, The Chicago Tribune, Chron Small Business, AZ Central Your Business, TheNest, Zacks, Motley Fool, Synonym Money, GlobalPost and Opposing Views.