Marketing is essential to any business, but especially to start-ups. The irony is that, at the time you need it most, you often do not have the budget for professional marketing services. The good news is there is plenty you can do even on a meager budget. Here are some suggestions:
Business Cards: The business card is still the most valuable marketing tool you can have. Get them early and share them generously. Set goals for passing them out. There are plenty of low cost printing options on the internet. Many provide templates that can serve you well in the early days.
Website: Most people today (some say 85%) start their search for “anything” on the internet. If that is true, then a website is a must. Not only can it drive new business your way, but it gives you credibility. A website does not have to be a bank breaking investment. If you are a bit creative you can even “do it yourself” with tools such as Wix, Weebly or Fat Cow. You can also find a number of very talented web designers/developers in every price range. Do your research. Look at their portfolio. Have clear agreements to protect yourself.
Online Review Sites: Most online review sites are free! What is popular in your market?
Social Media: Build a community online. Be sure you have a FaceBook professional page (free) and a Google+ page (free) for your business and, if you are in professional services, consider LinkedIn. You might also want a Twitter account (free). Once established, keep them active. Post several times per week. Talk to an expert about what makes your page(s) “relevant”.
Speaking and Presenting: Look for opportunities to speak on your products and services. Anytime you are the person on stage you have the status of “expert”. When you are an expert people want to do business with you. Local service organizations are always looking for someone to fill their program. Occasionally you will even be offered a fee, but be willing to do it for “free” as long as the room is at least half full of potential clients.
Referral Groups: Many small business owners can benefit from joining a referral group. These groups typically meet once a week and are filled with 20-50 representatives from many business types. Most of them are owners. Each group allows only one member from each occupation, so you have little or no competition. The objective is for all members to support each other in growing their business. There is a price for membership. To know if it is right for you, identify what a new client is worth and decide how many you might realize from being a member of this type of group. Be patient. It typically takes 6-9 months to realize any significant gain.
Strategic Partnerships: A few of these can increase your business immediately. These are partnerships with other businesses that share your target client but do not compete with you. An example is an interior decorator and a painting contractor. In general you serve the same client and often at the same time. Be careful who you choose. Remember, your client assumes you are recommending them and guaranteeing their service. Try a few test projects and be clear that is what you are doing. If the project goes well, proceed with caution until you know you can trust each other.
I stated above that these suggestions bore little or no cost. Before I close, I want to remind you that there is always a cost. YOU and your time are the cost. What is an hour of your time worth? Before you decide that you cannot afford to outsource some of these services, be certain that this is the best use of your time as a small business owner. If you find you outsourcing is best for you, hire the resources for a reasonable wage, temporary or contract. Find someone who has experience but fits into your budget. Yes, there are plenty of resources out there. If you are not sure about any of this, invest in a meeting with a business consultant that specializes in start-ups and ask advice.