It happens to a lot of small business especially that first year or so, and even I’ve been there. Now I know, I know…I create advertising, so how could I not afford it?? Well, there have been times when I had more time than money, and could not afford to print the marketing pieces or place ads that I’ve created for myself! So, what do you do when times are lean? Simple…there are a couple of areas where you should focus: networking and free or low-cost marketing opportunities.
Below are some networking suggestions for both local and online opportunities:
Join FREE online business networking groups like LinkedIn or Merchant Circle. This will increase your visibility across the Internet, and create more opportunities to meet more people offline. Some businesses are beginning to leverage social networking sites like LinkedIn for more than just connecting with friends. They’re being used for leads, referrals and recruiting. Fill out your profile, here check out my LinkedIn page.
If you have a service company, consider joining online referral organizations such as Angie's List. If you are a designer or web developer. Do you have a handcrafted product? You have to check out Etsy. These companies do have a small fee, but they specialize in bringing you leads or customers that you might otherwise miss. If you do join, be sure you fill out your profile as completely as possible. Now might be a good time to update your business photos of you and your work.
Make sure that your FREE online marketing sources are being utilized. Is your local business represented on Google Maps, and is your information correct? What about Bing? How about your profiles on any trade or business organizations that you already belong to? Now is also a good time to update your website perhaps with new products or samples to drive more business. How are your keywords? Could they use updating? Check out some of my other tips at www.31MarketingTips.com.
Join local business networking groups (BNI or your Chamber of Commerce). These will keep you accountable and guarantee you meet new people. They will help you to establish your identity within the community. Be yourself while presenting a professional appearance and always look for ways to help others. This is a great way to ‘try out’ your company message to those you meet, see what resonates with other businesses owners. Ask those you meet at these events to also connect with you in your online network.
Even in lean times, I always have business cards no matter what. I keep business cards in my car, my purse, and even in my husband's wallet. If you make it a point to network face-to-face with people who have the potential to help you grow your business, particularly people who are highly connected themselves, you can’t be left without a way for them to contact you. And I always leave a meeting with someone else’s card. Don’t leave it up to them to contact you. Follow up with them yourself.
Now is a great time to reach out to your current customer base. Send out those emails you’ve been meaning to send or hand-write a note or two to your top clients. You might even pick up some additional business you weren’t expecting at this time.
Now, keep in mind that the secret to advertising is that you can’t afford to stop advertising all-together, you will risk the chance of losing Top of Mind Awareness. When I say computer, what do you think of? How about cell phone or candy bar? That is called Top of Mind Awareness and you do not want to lose what you’ve already gained within your industry. But it doesn’t have to be expensive, whether you have time or money…invest both in your business and your brand.