I've been on 3 road trips recently and noticed that several of the billboards were blank or said, "Advertise here. Call 555-5555." A clever one said, "Do billboards work? Just did!" This reminded me that one of the first costs businesses cut in tough times is advertising. But advertising is crucial in slow times. So what can you do to promote yourself on a shoestring budget?
- Check the season. Is your business seasonal or cyclical? Increase your advertising budget as your busy period approaches.
- Use the web. Make sure your business has a website - even if it's a simple one-pager. Consider asking other businesses in your area to link to your website. For example, a restaurant might ask local hotels or tourist sites to link to their website.
- Get out there and network. Attend meetings, conferences or other get-togethers (like holiday parties) where people in your profession meet. This can put you in touch with potential customers--and with people who can refer customers to you. Consider joining the local Chamber of Commerce. Then, volunteer on a committee and do a good job on the committee so people know you are dependable.
- Ask for referrals. Your best source of future business is from your existing customers. So ask them. And remember those businesses who you buy from - ask them for referrals as well. An accountant might ask his office supply rep to recommend a potential client. Be sure to follow up on referrals ASAP and let them know you have been referred by a mutual acquaintance. Then, call your mutual acquaintance, thank him for the referral and let him know you have already been in touch.
- Power of the card. Your business card is a mini-billboard. Make sure it is crystal clear from looking at it what you do. Shoot for clarity over creativity. You can even include a list of services on the back of the card. Vistaprint provides a great low cost business card!
- Hand it out. Your business card, that is. Hand it out to everyone you meet in a business setting. Leave them on the counter at local businesses. Don't leave home without them!
- Take advantage of bulletin boards. You see them everywhere - at the grocery store, donut shop, dry cleaners, college lounges, etc. Post your business card or a business flyer at locations that cater to your target market.
- Participate in community events. Donate your services or products in community fundraisers, charity events and charity auctions. Many times you will receive publicity in the fundraiser's publications and be allowed to distribute promotional materials at the event.
- Go local. Advertise in the local community newspaper, weekly shoppers or neighborhood newsletters where the ad rates are pretty low. Just make sure the ad reaches your target audience.