Many small businesses today start with a single person and a dream. The idea of doing something you love without a boss telling you what to do appeals to just about everyone. However, taking your dream and making a business out of it involves more than just doing what you enjoy. It is this need to operate with a business mindset where many people and businesses tend to fail. They get everything they need to run a business, get their products ready, and then….no customers. Marketing is an area of business that not everyone is successful with, but it is a crucial piece of the puzzle to business and customer growth. It is also an area that not every small business thinks they have a budget for. What people don’t realize is that, as a small business, marketing can be a lot easier than one thinks, and can also be accomplished within the limits of a small budget.
Marketing is essentially nothing more than getting other people to feel as passionate about your product or service as you do. It is about getting your business name and product out in front of potential customers over and over again; and that doesn’t require a huge budget and television commercials. There are many different options for small businesses to get themselves out there that cost little or no money at all, and those will be discussed a little later. However, for any marketing plan to be successful, there are key elements that must be in place, with the most important part being that your business is branded. Without branding, any marketing plan can prove to be completely ineffective.
So what exactly does it mean to have your business branded? What does ‘brand’ mean? The World English Dictionary defines it as a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product. When it comes to business, some good examples of branding would be the “Golden Arches” of McDonalds or the “Swoosh” of Nike. We all see these symbols and immediately know the business and the products they represent. It is this immediate identification to a symbol that makes people recognize and remember who you are. It is something that needs to flow throughout everything involving your company and its image. From your logo and website to business cards and letterhead, everything must be fluid in its design and easily recognized as a symbol of your company. Many marketing professionals will tell you it takes X number of times seeing a product or company before they feel comfortable or willing to do to business with them. The concept of branding makes customer recognition so much easier, as every piece of information and marketing tool you use looks fluid in design, thus showing that professional image. A company that uses one look for a website, a different one in there printed material, and yet a different one on their store signage tends to leave the impression of a fly by night business and leads to a lack of consumer trust. It is this consumer trust and recognition that you are striving for and this is the key component to making your marketing efforts successful.
Once you have successfully branded your business and have an image that is easily recognizable and fits to your industry, it is time to start getting that image out there to potential customers. This is where many small businesses feel they are limited by a small budget and therefore cannot accomplish the exposure they need. However, as a small business owner, you need to realize that billboards, television commercials, and large publication advertising are not the only successful options of gaining exposure. The greatest challenge is not battling a budget, but learning to see advertising opportunities in your daily life.
If you are a local business, serving mainly your community, there are many easy and inexpensive ways to get your brand and business name out in front of potential customers. Many grocery stores, libraries, laundromats, and other local businesses have bulletin boards where locals can pin up flyers. Using your brand, create a bold and attention catching flyer with all your business contact information and have them hanging up all over town. The cost is nothing more than the price of paper and ink, and some footwork on your part. However, it is a great beginning to getting your brand in front of people in areas they are already familiar and comfortable with.
Another key marketing tip for any business owner is the 10 Card Rule, and this is a concept that can prove to be one of your most personal and effective marketing options. You have branded your business and created business cards with that brand, but what do you do with them? The 10 Card Rule is a simple concept…take 10 business cards with you at the start of each day, and make it a goal to give away all 10 before your day is over. This doesn’t mean leaving the cards in those bowls at restaurants for a free meal. This means making the effort to make personal contact with 10 people a day and share your business card and information. Show these potential clients just how passionate and knowledgeable about your industry you really are. This is a perfect way to give that personal touch to your branded business, and increase the potential comfort level the customer may have in working with your business. Creating this personal connection is a perfect way to increase customer awareness of your business, and if done right, will also get people talking and the word of mouth will begin to spread.
As you can see, being a small business and having a small budget doesn’t have to limit you to the potential customers you can reach. Your key to any effective marketing program is to create and establish your brand from the start, and then move forward from there. Stay fluid in any design and idea you have for marketing, and if your budget is tight, there are ways to still target customers and grow your business without a high cost.