You open your television and see the 30-seconds commercial launched by your competitor. You flip open a glossy trade magazine and you see the 2-page ad spread for the same campaign. You browse through sites and all you see are your competitors’ banner ads.
Jealous? Don’t be!
Home businesses often lack the resources to engage in multi-channel marketing campaign that could help make their products or services become a household name. Unlike your competitor, you do not have huge marketing budgets nor could you afford to hire some hotshot PR or advertising firm to launch your campaigns. You only have yourself and your skills to rely on.
Have no fear, though. Many small and home businesses have proven that lack of resources is not necessarily a hindrance in developing innovative ideas to market their products and services. In fact, knowing that you do not enjoy the level of resources others have will force you to be creative and come up with ways to get around the usual channel of distribution, the traditional advertising media, and the expensive outside agencies. You need to make your dollars work twice as hard. Drop the idea of hiring typesetters, public relations firm, ad agencies or marketing consultants — and start doing your marketing in-house!
The biggest argument for doing your marketing yourself is the cost. Public relations agencies could cost you from $10,000 to $25,000 in retainers plus monthly expenses. Many ad agencies will not even talk to you if you only have a $10,000 advertising budget. Even quality and professional search engine optimization companies charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per month. You need money, lots of it, to be able to contract third parties for your marketing campaigns.
Small entrepreneurs are also finding that doing their own advertising and promotions is not only less expensive, but also much more effective. As the business owner, you know your product and your market well. Hiring outside parties require them to understand your business, and the learning time can lead to costly marketing mistakes. Plus, for many PR or marketing firms, yours is just another account, and they may not be able to provide you with their best talents, time and resources.
You just need to take the time to write interesting publicity pieces about your business and submit to industry publications. Or, do the creatives and copy them for your catalogs, print ads and other marketing campaigns. Technological advances, particularly desktop publishing, have allowed even the solo entrepreneur to do the design and typesetting in-house.
Building trust and credibility for your product may not be addressed by advertising, even if you have the funds for it. To foster faith, your products or services must be vouched as superior, beneficial or useful by someone close to your customer, or someone your customer trusts. It can come in the form of a glowing recommendation from a friend, an endorsement from a credible member of the industry or a storeowner, or perhaps from family members.
You do not need to cough out millions just to get Michael Jordan to endorse your product. Some inexpensive alternatives include distributing product samples to a select group of people who have the capacity to influence a wider segment of your target market. This is called “seeding the market,” and the trick is to find the fewest people who can do you the most good. If you have created a new product, for example, you can send out free samples to journalists, key hobbyists, professionals and retail buyers. If a journalist like your product or service enough, he or she may even write about it! A product review, or a mention in an article, goes beyond advertising it gives your product instant credibility!
Others offer free products or services, including schools, churches and charities, in exchange for free mention. Michael Reagan, operating a FAST Signs franchise in Arizona saw his business grew through word-of-mouth alone, after giving free graphic signs to “strategic” recipients.
Television ads can get lost in the clutter. Print ads may be forgotten after you close the magazine or publication. But your company name or ad will always be with the consumer if you emblazon or print it in a key chain, mouse pad, notepad, calculator, pens, mugs and other giveaways. Specialty advertising or promotional products represent one of the most powerful and most affordable form of marketing that every small business owner should explore.
One of the great advantages of this kind of marketing is customers see the name repeatedly. Plus, when you give a customer a mouse pad or a magnet, they don’t think about it as advertising, they consider it a gift that they can use, yet they have your name on their desk or the wall all year round. Giveaway items put your name right in front of customers.
For this kind of marketing to be effective, however, you need to choose items customers use and see repeatedly. It may be useful, different, or interesting; but make sure that it is suited to your target audience. If you are operating a pizza parlor, you may think of giving away magnets to your potential customers. So the next time they want pizza delivered to their house, all they have to do is to run to their refrigerator where your magnet is placed to order pizzas from you.
Sponsoring events can turn your products into public spectacles and, as a result, transform your marketing into news events. Events help launch products, gain wider distribution, build awareness, and just plain sell. Betty Crocker sponsored bake-offs; perhaps your business can sponsor a trade fair in your locality. Others start their own contests, and send out press releases to announce the contest. The interest generated by your contest may attract the media and give you the free publicity that you need!
The New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT. started a unique cooking contest to attract new students. Their efforts have paid off, and the contest has attracted national publicity, including a coverage on “Good Morning America” and articles on various publications including The New York Times. While the expense for the competition is only $1,500, school enrollment increased by 25 percent as a direct result of the contest.
There are various other ways that you can market your products without burning yourself out of business. All you need is to put your thinking cap and let your creative juices flow.
However, you also need to realize that marketing is eternal: one good write-up in a major publication is not enough to land you in the consumers’ consciousness. Marketing is a time-consuming event, and you must be prepared to put in the required time if you are going to do it yourself.
Recommended Books on Inexpensive Do-it-Yourself Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs:
- Free Marketing: 101 Low and No-Cost Ways to Grow Your Business, Online and Off
- Powerful Marketing On A Shoestring Budget: For Small Businesses
- Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring
- Marketing and PR: Getting customers and keeping them…without breaking the bank (Business on a Shoestring)