Advertising is notoriously expensive, even if you’re just trying to reach a local audience. Direct mail, print ads and even the phone book can run thousands of dollars a month. If you’re a small business, you might not have the cash to support that kind of advertising budget.
So how is a small business supposed to get noticed without spending a lot of money?
Retail expert, author and speaker Rick Segel suggests you ask another question: Why spend money at all? The Internet is the answer.
"Never before in history has it been so easy for a business to get noticed," he told BusinessNewsDaily. "You have tools at your disposal that you never had before: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook ." Beyond that, he said, “Start a blog. Create a website. Post a white paper."
Segel, the author of "Retail Business Kit for Dummies" and "Laugh and Get Rich," believes that startups can use the Internet to establish a global reach without spending a dime.
It should be noted, however, that other marketing experts still recommend other forms of advertising, especially depending on who you aim to reach. Not everyone uses Facebook or Twitter, for example, and local publications can be the best, and sometimes only way to reach certain demographics. It's also important to note that blogging or constantly updating a Twitter feed do come with a cost: time.
Differentiate your business
Segel said the key to getting your message out effectively is to decide in the early planning stages how you want your business to stand out. How any business differentiates itself may be as varied as the nature of the business.
The answer may be expertise or quality. Or, the answer may even lie in your mode of communication, Segel added. A startup might tell customers they can ‘just Tweet us’ for personalized communications that nurture customer relationships. Once you’ve decided how you want to promote your business, figuring out how the Internet fits in is the next step.
Rather than paying for display ads, think creatively. The Internet offers free opportunities to showcase your business acumen. Having a web site gives you the opportunity to announce deals, promote new products, feature customer testimonials, and tout new partnerships. Also use the web site to post reports and white papers. Your own web site also gives you the opportunity to post a link to your business blog.
Any Internet expert will tell you, however, that it can be challenging to get the word out about your web site, and to encourage potential customers to visit it regularly. So don't expect the Web to be a free silver bullet. In fact, many business spend significant amounts of money promoting their web sites in order to make sure the messaging reaches the customers.
How to grow web traffic
Regularly updated web sites and blogs allow you to keep growing your web traffic. Use the blog to describe business happenings and post links to outside resources. The blog is yet another tool, like your website, to showcase your business value and customer focus.
How to build your website? Check out Google Sites to create free web pages. Also, many web hosts offer free website-building templates. As for blogging, check out Blogger, WordPress, or other free blogging site builders.
Just remember: Creating all the content and promotions and inducements for a web site requires someone's time, and therefore money. Do you have the time? Do you have the expertise? The last thing you want to do is create a promotional web site that's poorly designed or poorly written — that's a sure way to drive customers away.
Still, the Internet is not the end-all for no-cost, effective advertising options. Jerome Osteryoung, finance professor at Florida State University and outreach services director at the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, said that “the cheapest form of advertising is networking, if they can afford the time.” Osteryoung advised owners of new businesses to get involved in the Rotary Club or some other networking group.
Another important way to save advertising dollars is to use your PR skills, if you have some. Write a press release about your new business and send it to your local newspapers or submit it to a news release service that will distribute it to journalists over the Internet (though this can cost hundreds of dollars). Getting others to write about your business is not only free, but coverage from media outlets gives your business additional credibility. Just remember that with any other marketing endeavor, the same caveats apply: You'll have to spend money, or time, to get the job done.
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