When I started my business four years ago, I had enthusiasm and passion for my work, but a very small marketing budget. I also lacked a marketing plan for getting my message out to my target customer. I have learned a lot along the way and hope to impart what I’ve learned onto you. Whether you have just started your small business or are in your tenth year, there are some simple, affordable ways to keep your name in front of prospective clients and customers.
News releases. I recommend to clients that they distribute three to four news releases (better known as press releases) each year. This gives clients an opportunity to shout news out to the world about new products, services or partnerships; key hires; industry awards and certifications; new locations; events and more. News releases should be distributed on a timely basis to local media, trade publications and online. In addition, a well-crafted news release makes a great direct mail piece or a nice addition to your sales or media kit. Depending on whether you do the writing and distribution yourself, costs are variable. Distribution costs will also vary. Distribution via e-mail or fax is virtually nothing. Online distribution varies. Many news distribution sites are free, but I like to include a contribution to PRWeb.com to guarantee inclusion in popular search engines.
Online forums and networking sites. As social media continues to grow, relevant online forums and networking groups (Linked In, Connexions, Konnects) are a great way to interact with professionals and prospective clients. By actively participating in Q&A forums, you expand your reach. To take full advantage of these free opportunities, make sure you complete your online bio; include your contact information and web address; and participate regularly. Such participation can also help to position you as an industry expert.
Referral program. About half of my business comes from client referrals. To let clients know I appreciate their referrals and to encourage them to keep sending them to me, I include my referral program in my business agreement. In exchange for a prospect who does business with me, I offer the referring client two complimentary hours of writing, editing or marketing services. Aside from my time, this costs me nothing and benefits both my clients and my business.
Newsletter. There are so many affordable e-mail services these days that sending an e-newsletter to prospective clients is a no brainer. The service I use costs about $5 per month, and it not only maintains my e-mail lists for me, but it provides templates and tracks reader stats. Clients can opt-in, unsubscribe or change their e-mail address at any time. This is an inexpensive way to stay in touch with clients and prospects.
The next question, of course, is how and when to implement the above. I recommend pulling out your calendar and scheduling time for marketing and business development. Schedule a news release for each quarter, or at least three times a year. For online forums and networking sites, set aside a certain amount of time each week to participate. A referral program requires a little bit of set-up time and a notification to clients of the new program, but aside from that, it doesn’t require much time. For your newsletter, I recommend sending them to clients at regular intervals. If you can’t manage biweekly or monthly, at least put together a newsletter on a quarterly basis. Save ideas in a folder so they are all in one spot when you’re ready to get started.