Advertising and promotion should be a significant part of the budget for any small business, and it's especially important for one that's starting out. After all, people need to know you are in business before they will frequent your establishment.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways to blow marketing -- and marketing dollars. To find out what not to do, read Avoiding Dreadful Marketing Ideas. When ad dollars are tight, creativity makes the difference. Use these tactics to create a lasting impression:
- Freebies. Everyone loves getting something for nothing. If you buy in bulk, small items, including pens, T-shirts, and tote bags can be had for a good price. Even balloons can draw in parents. A small gift that's tied into your products emphasizes the message. For example, accessories in clothing stores, headbands in sporting good stores, or mouse pads in computer stores are simple items that fit your customers' needs.
- Coupons. Offering two-for-one or 10 percent off can draw new business and keep regular customers coming back. Desktop publishing programs make coupons easier than ever to print. Design coupons that grab attention, are easy to read, and provide value to your customer. Distributing the coupons via the newspaper or other media lets you see how well other advertising is working.
- Give info away. Wisdom is something money can't buy, and it doesn't cost anything to give it away. Seminars, after hours-classes, and other means of teaching your target audience something new can be a great way to get them into your store. Selling cookware? Host a series of free ethnic cooking classes. Selling computers? Teach people how to use the latest software program or how to upgrade their systems. If you can't teach the class yourself, look for people who love to teach or are looking for experience.
- In-store events. Let a local theater group promote their show by performing some songs in your store. Have a special reading of the hottest new children's book or a signing by an author. Hold a grand opening party. Have a local celebrity stop in to meet fans and sign autographs.
- Contests. You don't have to give away a new car to draw people in for a contest. Focus on what your customers would love to win from your store -- and give them that opportunity. For example, a bakery might hold a pie-eating contest.
- Newsletters. A short newsletter, especially one delivered by e-mail, can be a cost-effective way to market your products. Find a convenient place for people to sign up in your store and online; you might even offer an incentive, such as a coupon, for signing up. Provide interesting and useful content that's worth reading. For example, if you sell men’s clothing, offer 10 tips on how to dress for a business interview. If you sell gourmet food, include a new recipe or talk about the trendiest new foods. Then surround your content with your ads and promotions.
- Word-of-mouth marketing. It's one of the hottest trends in business today and an inexpensive means of spreading the word about your goods. One of the best ways to get people talking is by having an innovative product seen. Sales of the Razor Scooter and iPod jumped when fashionable people sported them around town. If you have a unique product, find a way to showcase it. For example, you might have a couple of people walking around the mall in eye-catching swimwear from your store.
- Build name recognition. Go online and participate in discussion groups or make comments in blogs; include your store name and Web site address if you have one. At conferences and lectures, ask questions, identifying yourself as the proprietor of your store.
- Sponsorship. It doesn't cost much to sponsor a local theater production, a float in your town's parade or a Little League team. The signage or uniforms emblazoned with your store's name and logo will be seen crowds of people.
- Volunteering. Doing community or charitable work is a great way to get your name known, and it shows people that you care.
- Free press. Send news and information about your store to newspapers and other local media via press releases. Identify the person who edits the newspaper's calendar section, and make sure to send announcements about store events at least three weeks in advance. Press releases aren't limited to news. Think of ways to tie your business into local or national events or the seasons. For example, if you own a boat store, write up six tips for safe fun in the water and send that off in a release in April. Make friends with the local business reporters and offer to comment in their stories.
Conducting yourself as your store's best ambassador, and replacing dollars with common sense will create an impression of your business that lasts longer than any ad. For even more more cheap and effective advertising strategies, see Seven Low-Cost Marketing Ideas.
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