Finding the right marketing strategies to use has always been a challenging task for small businesses. But the growing number of marketing channels available today make it even more difficult to find the best marketing strategies to build your business.
The consumer who's searching the web for the best price on printing business cards may never see your ad in the local newspaper. The woman who gets a text message at 11:15 am from a nearby deli telling her that today's lunch special includes a free diet soda may never bother to look at the coupons your bagel shop mailed with a similar offer.
The homeowner who needs a dishwasher repaired may look first at the classified ads in the local weekly newspaper. And, the middle school teacher who thinks her students and their parents spend too much of their waking hours using computers or other digital devices may never see the free sample ad you're running on Facebook.
So, what is the best way to promote your business today? Unfortunately, there's no one push-button marketing idea that will send a steady stream of customers to your door. Whether you sell products or services, you must use multiple marketing strategies to attract and keep customers.
The list below presents a variety of marketing strategies and ideas. Some of the ideas are pretty basic, but very often it's those all-important basic marketing strategies that businesses forget or ignore.
If you've been in business for a long time and haven't changed your marketing methods over the years, pay particular attention to the strategies that involve the Internet and digital marketing. No matter how your existing customers found you, businesses and consumers today regularly turn to digital media to gather information about their needs and research service providers before deciding which service provider they'll use. You want them to find your company.
1. Identify a target market. Create a profile of your ideal customer. What type of person buys this service most frequently today? Why do they need and strongly desire this service? What is their job function? If it's a consumer product, where do they live? How old are they? How much money to they earn? What other factors make them a likely customer? Where are they most likely to look for the service or hear about it? Who might they ask for a referral?
Once you answer those questions, ask yourself one more: "Where should I be networking or what should I be doing to make myself known to that potential customer or to people who give the prospect referrals." After you've answered the questions, act on them.
2. Promote what your customer wants to buy. Customers don't really want the service you perform. They want the solution to a problem or benefit your service provides. Think about it. A plumber's customers aren't really interested in plumbing. They want a leaky pipe fixed. A web developers' customers don't want a database or design. They want a website that will make them look good, get found in search engines, and help them get new customers. If you need help figuring out what your customers are really buying, ask them. Write down their answers and use Get better results from all the marketing you do by focusing on the specific problems your service solves or benefits it provides.
3. Make yourself a trusted resource to prospects and customers. People like to buy from people they know and trust. They also don't like to have anything "sold" to them. Become a trusted resource to your prospects by providing information that will help them make a good choice.
4. Make yourself a resource for the media. Members of the press are always looking for authoritative sources to quote. Keep in touch with local media through online and offline network groups and subscribe to HARO to receive inquiries from media who are looking for interview subjects for stories.
5. Set up professional profiles for yourself and/or your business on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google Profiles (which also serves as your profile on Google+). Be sure each of your profiles has a link to your website. If you meet a prospect and they lose your business card, they might type your name into the search engine to try to find you. Having a profile on the biggest social media sites will allow them to find you and the link to your website.
6. Claim your place on Google Places. Google places listings aren't just for fast food establishments or retail stores. You can search for any type of service by location, and Google will show a list of companies that match the service you searched for in the location you specified. If you live in a big city, there's no guarantee your places profile will show up on that first page listing. But having a profile gives you an edge.
7. Look for social media discussions groups that attract your target customers. Depending what you sell, look for topic-specific groups and/or location-based discussion groups. Set aside a few minutes a day to read the conversations, and then join in when appropriate, making informative comments or posting useful resources. If you don't have time to do this, hire a freelancer or an employee help by scouting out conversations that you may want to participate in.
8. Write informative articles related to the service you provide. Put some of the articles on your own site, and distribute others to articles sites and to other sites that reach your audience and use contributors' articles. Be sure to include an "about the author" resources box with a link to your website. (For more tips on article marketing, read Article Marketing Do's and Don'ts.) The articles will help get yourself and your company known, and help establish your credibility.
9. Print up flyers or brochures and distribute them at membership groups you belong to, if allowed. You can get free templates from HP and Microsoft you can use to create your own. Print small quantities of flyers or product sheets yourself on a color printer. (Be sure to use good quality paper – something heavier than standard copier paper.) When you know you'll need a hundred or more copies at a time, compare the cost of having them printed to the cost of printing your own. Be sure to allow enough time to have the printing delivered to you.
10. Volunteer to speak at local business groups. Local business groups always need interesting speakers to attract members to meetings. Your talk should be about some area of your specialty, but should focus on the audience's informational needs and the problems they want to solve.
11. Submit proposals to speak at industry group conferences. If you don't have a lot of experience speaking, see if you can get on a panel, instead of giving a solo speech. Be sure to promote your participation in the panel before the event, and link to any videos or other after-event promo the conference planner has posted.
12. Refer business to other businesses in your networks. Giving referrals is as important a networking tool as getting them. People recommend people they like….and business people usually like other business people who send them business.
13. Tweet, mention and link to blog posts and social networking posts made by other individuals if what they've written something of interest to your audience. Besides providing good material for your followers, it's a good way to win social media friends, expand your network, and get your name and specialty known.
14. Build an email list and send informative mailings to it on a regular basis. Your mailing list should be made up of people who have asked to be on it. (Having a newsletter signup box on your web page is one good way to get people to "ask" to be on your mailing list.)
15. Join and participate in local business groups and try one or two leads groups as well. The best source of business for many small service businesses is referrals.
16. Stick with groups that attract the types of people you want as customers. Even when people don't really know you, you become a more trusted resource just by showing up.
17. Keep in touch with potential customers and existing customers with a postcard mailing. The person who doesn't have time to talk to you today, may need your services (or know someone else who does) a month or 6 months from now.
18. Ask for referrals. Besides asking existing clients if they know anyone else who can use your services, consider what other professionals you know who could refer business to you – and vice versa. If you're an electrician, talk to local builders and remodeling contractors, plumbers, and people who lay tile. If you are a graphic designer talk to web designers and ad agencies, about referring work.
19. Pick up the phone and call likely prospects. Cold calling is hard and you have to be able to deal with rejection. But it does work. If you are fearful about trying it, check out this article about making cold calls easier.
21. Don't be too quick to discourage tire kickers. It's hard to know where to draw the line with people who keep asking questions without any indication they plan to make a purchase, but sometimes those questions are used as much to size you or your business up as they are to gain information.
22. Have a website and publicize it. It amazes me, but there are still businesses that don't have a website. I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting a few months ago and met someone who said he was a copywriter. I asked for a business card, and his card didn't include his website, so I asked for his website URL. Amazingly, the person who had just tried to convince me he could write copy for the web, didn't have a website.
No matter how much in-person networking you do or how much social media networking you do, you still need a website. Your prospects will want to see samples of your work, get more information about you, and if you're a consultant or other expert, they're probably going to want to read things you've written about your area of expertise. You can control what they see on your own website. You can't control what ads show up next to your posts or what the rules are on social media sites.
If you can't afford to pay a web developer, set up at least a simple website using free or low cost website hosting and design tools such as Weebly or GoDaddy. Once you have a website, be sure it's listed on all your sales literature, your business card, association member directories, and as many places as you can get listings.
23. Have a fully functioning website. Another circumstance I find amazing is the number of small businesses who join local business networking groups and have non-working websites listed in the group's membership directory. Occasionally it's because the directory listing was published with a typo in the domain name. But often, it appears the business that owned the domain name let it lapse – or never finished setting up the website. Don't let that happen to you. Be sure you register the domain name yourself (instead of letting the web developer do it), and be sure that you keep your credit card information up-to-date at the domain registrar. Double check your association directory listing after it's published to be sure there are no typos and the link works. Check each page on your site to be sure you didn't leave up any links going to blank pages or to "under construction pages."
24. Don't stop marketing. Once business starts coming in on a regular basis it's tempting to ease off on some of the marketing and networking you do. But that's a mistake. You need to market continually to keep business coming in regularly.
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