This is a huge topic limited only by your imagination. Let’s start with some basic marketing ideas.
Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson
If a dog-eared copy of this small business marketing bible isn’t sitting next to your desk, it should be. First published in 1983, this book revolutionized marketing ideas and strategies for small businesses. Spend $10 for solid marketing advice which costs little to nothing.
Marketing Ideas to Promote Small Businesses
Image: this is the concept people have of your business. It proceeds from all of the history that individual has with you: the items in the newspaper, the look of your establishment, the image generated in your marketing, the products or services you sell. Image is key to reaching the right customer and image is something you must manage because it dictates how people perceive your business. If you are a retailer of high end office furniture and your sales people look like they recently left a frat party, you are projecting an image which will harm you in the long run.
Select the image you wish to project and ensure that every encounter with your business reflects that image: all of your print, the look of your website, your employee dress and behavior, your place of business, should all support the same image.
Business Cards: No business owner should be without them. They should reflect the image you wish your business to project. A memorable card need not be tacky – just a bit different from most of the cards proffered by others in your industry.
Direct Mail: For those businesses who are able to contact prospective customers through the mail effectively, consider postcards. They are less expensive than many types of printed material, cost less in postage and may eliminate the problem of having the recipient trash the envelope as soon as s/he sees your return address (or lack of one). They are a natural choice for “Happy Birthday” or other greetings to your customers, for coupons or sale information, and, in the best of all possible worlds, may end up on the refrigerator.
Direct Email Marketing: Most of us are seeking ways to prevent advertisers from invading our inboxes, but this is a valuable and inexpensive tool when used properly. Check with one of the email marketing services for information on how to collect and use addresses. Make sure your content doesn’t become just one more message sent to the junk folder by careful targeting and quality content.
Wherever you get your mailing list, cull it for those who have the ability and interest to buy your product. An expensive direct mail or email piece touting a local builder is not likely to find many clients in a retirement home.
Social Media: You are already on all the key networks, right? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…etc. Of course you are.
Be a Sponsor: Your local children’s sports team could sport the name of your business, a local charity could thank you in their literature. A school, a club, a cause supported by your business will bring in others who support that group. Do be aware that different groups attract different kinds of patrons: that’s why Mercedes advertises in the opera program and beer is advertised at football games.
Say Thank You: To your customers, to the person who referred a customer, to the reporter who mentioned your business positively in a story, to your employees, to your vendors…to everyone who has done something to further your interests. It costs nothing and people remember.
If you want the best response, send them a hand written thank you note. Emails are nice, notes are special due to their relative rarity in today’s world. They will remember.
Information: Does your business have information which would be useful to the community as a whole or some part of the community? Broadcast it. Are you aware of attractions coming to town? Do you know what the ski conditions are? Link with a radio station, newspaper or website who will credit your business for the information: “We thank Jones Buick for information on the antique car show.”; “Thanks to Smith’s Sporting Goods for the ski report”.
Give it Away – for Free: Depending on what you do, giving away products or services may be an excellent way to introduce potential customers to your business. Food sampling is an obvious option, but there are many, many more:
A printer could create clever coaster with the business name and distribute them through a local bar or restaurant.
A party store could give away imprinted balloons at a public event.
I moved a lot. When starting in a new town I would join business groups and offer a first consulting visit to diagnose problems for free.
Work on Your Elevator Pitch. That 30 second statement about your business is possibly the most important of your marketing since you use it more often than any other tool. Every business should have a succinct, clear statement about who they are and what they do and every employee should be comfortable with it.
Contests. This ranges from the fishbowl on the restaurant counter into which you drop a business card, to giveaways of cars. If designed properly, it may garner you a good, clean list of potential customers. If not well designed (e.g. drawing for a gift certificate to an upscale gallery at a new car show. The people who are interested in next year’s models are apparently not art lovers.) Think about the customer you want to attract and design the contest to give them something they want.
See the Promote Yourself article under Marketing and Sales for more ideas.