There are so many ways to do it yourself when it comes to marketing your small business - from social media and pay-per-click advertising to e-newsletters and events. But any marketing activity takes time - and for the cash-strapped small business owner, time is money
Cost-effective marketing methods
Here are a few low-cost marketing methods to look into if your marketing budget is tight:
- Social networking: A few hours set aside each week to be active on social media can build strong customer connections. Choose just one or two suitable social channels, rather than spreading yourself too thinly, and ensure you update regularly so that followers don't drift away.
- Customer reviews and testimonials: Potential customers can be strongly motivated by what other people like them say about their experiences. A spate of bad online reviews could sink a business - but some well-placed positive testimonials can go a long way towards convincing people to give your business a try.
- Search engine optimisation: To help your website rank highly on search engines, you can do basic optimisation yourself without much expertise - although investing in professional help may bring better results and a higher return.
- Email marketing: This is a low-cost way to stay in touch with interested customers and keep them up to date with your news, as well as offering exclusive discounts and other incentives. Staying in regular contact helps keep your business front of mind, for a very low cost.
- Content marketing: Writing genuinely useful content for your website and sharing it via social channels is a powerful way to show potential customers you really understand their needs - as well as demonstrating expertise in your field.
- Pay-per-click advertising: Unlike traditional advertising, where you pay upfront, pay-per-click advertising allows you to test the waters and only pay when customers click through to find out more. It's also easy to test alternatives and make quick changes, so you're not committed if your first tries prove unsuccessful.
- Events: Although some business events can be costly to attend, the return on investment can be high if you choose one that attracts the perfect target market. Choose your events carefully, and plan to make the most of your visit.
- Partnerships: Trade organisations and business support groups such as the Federation of Small Businesses often run free or low-cost networking events where you can meet like-minded firms, and potentially form a mutually beneficial marketing partnership.
It's important to remember that cheap is not the same as cost-effective. To ensure your marketing efforts are worth the effort, concentrate on testing and fine-tuning, and make sure you're getting a measurable return on the time and money you spend.
Take a disciplined approach
It's tempting, when you don't have a big budget for marketing, to simply try anything and everything, on the basis that any effort is better than nothing. But lack of budget is not an excuse for scattergun marketing. Anything you do can and should be planned and measured.
So-called "free" marketing methods - such as social media - must be approached with discipline. That means you need to set objectives, monitor how much time you spend, and measure results. Thanks to analytics software, this is easy to do.
Know your limits
The dilemma for many business owners is when the DIY approach is actually less cost-effective than getting outside help. A professional website design, proper branding, effective PR - all these are jobs that business owners frequently try themselves, before realising they need more expertise. Specialist freelancers often provide the most cost-effective solution here.
Every business is different. With a wealth of ways to reach your audience, it's up to you, the business owner, to investigate which marketing methods will work best, and to make sure they are delivering results - so your spend isn't wasted.