Not marketing your business is like being alone in a dark room – you know you are there, but no one else does. The whole idea of marketing then is to turn on the light and let people know you are out there. You have to get the phone to ring or get people to come in the store or visit your website. Marketing will do that. In this Guide we look at the basics of shoestring marketing.
Marketing on a shoestring
Marketing is the lifeblood for many businesses, but to be effective, it must be done correctly. This is even truer when yours is a bootstrapped business. There is no room for error. Accordingly, the first thing you must do is to analyze whom your customers are, or who they are likely to be, because if you don’t know who you are selling to, you won’t know where to market and advertise in order to reach them.
- How old are they?
- How much money do they make?
- What are they looking for from businesses like yours?
- Where do your people go online?
- What social media sites do they frequent?
The good news is that these days, there is no shortage of places from which to find this info. Conduct a poll on your website. Have a survey in the store. Ask them on your Facebook page. Do a Google search. Contact trade associations and your chamber of commerce. What you need to discover is what your people watch, read, and listen to. Because the secret of shoestring marketing is that wherever they are is where you have to be too (and you won’t waste time or money going to where they are not.)
Once you have a good idea as to whom you are looking to attract with you marketing efforts, you can earmark your time and money much more wisely and specifically. With traditional marketing, you can spend a lot of time and money on campaigns that reach a lot of people – a few of whom are your target market and many of whom who will never be interested in what you are selling (a big TV buy for instance.) The shoestring trick therefore is to find the right outlets, that is, the ones most frequented by your potential customers.
Shoestring Marketing Options
When considering shoestring marketing options, it is best to begin by casting a wide net. None of the ideas below are costly yet you never know which one may pan out. So try out several, find the ones that work best for you, and run with those.
Let’s start with your discount advertising options:
Buy unused time or space: If you check in with a website, newspaper, radio or television outlet near their ad deadline, you may find that they have space they have not yet sold. This is called “remnant” space (for print media) or time (for the electronic media.) Remnant buys are often available at a great discount.
Advertise in less traditional media outlets, or at odd times: If your business will cater to teens, for example, buying an ad in a local alternative newspaper is much cheaper than your local daily, and the important thing, as I said, is that that is where your desired demographic is spending their time. That’s the ticket.
Buying at off hours or places also works well with electronic media. Buying an ad on television or radio is much less expensive if you advertise on smaller stations or in the middle of the night. A radio ad that may cost $250 per minute during peak drive times can be had for $25 late at night, and that just may be when your audience is listening. Similarly, your television dollar can go much further if you advertise on cable stations.
And even then, no matter which media outlet you choose, the trick to getting your ad heard for less is to never agree to buy their going “rate card.” Find out what they are asking, and offer less. Remember the rule: Everything is negotiable. It is quite possible to pay less than the going rate if you walk in with cash, and a commitment to pay less.
E-newsletter advertising: Find some big websites with e-newsletters that cater to your demographic/customer base and advertise in those e-newsletters. It should cost you almost nothing but you will be getting in front of the very eyeballs most likely to buy from you because they have self-selectedthemselves as being interested in this topic and wanting to read this e-newsletter.
Real Life Example
Sarah ran a bridal shop that was, not surprisingly, a very seasonal business. In an effort to expand, she decided to sell her wares online too. The challenge was in finding her niche audience. Then she stumbled upon a big bridal website that had several e-newsletters. She began to advertise in those and bingo, sales shot up. Bonus points: The ad was very inexpensive because the readership of the e-newsletter was relatively small. But because it was the exact type of person she was looking to reach, it was the very best use of her marketing dollar.
Pay-per-click (PPC): PPC advertising is a great shoestring method because you only pay when someone is interested enough in your ad to click on it. The challenge of course is where to put your PPC dollars – Google, Bing, Yahoo . . . the options are many.
Use co-op advertising: Here is a great option that you may not know about. It’s called cooperative (co-op) advertising. Co-op advertising is a cost-sharing arrangement between a manufacturer and a retailer wherein the retailer places an ad that is partially paid for by the manufacturer in exchange for the manufacturer’s product being mentioned in the ad.
For example, when a convenience store advertises a certain beer, you can bet that that Beer Company helped pay for the ad. That is co-op advertising. Co-op opportunities are available in every medium, online to print to radio and TV spots. Collectively, manufacturers earmark approximately $25 billion dollars annually to help small businesses stretch their advertising dollars. However, much of the money goes unused.
To start using co-op advertising, ask your suppliers what co-op programs they offer. Follow their rules carefully to be sure you get reimbursed. Some suppliers require that ads feature only their products, not any other supplier’s; others ask that no competing products be included.
Normally, you will need to pay for the ad, and then present proof to the supplier that you mentioned their products. For print ads, just a copy of the ad exactly as it was printed will work. If you buy TV or radio ads, you’ll need a copy of the script with station affidavits of dates and times aired. You also will need to document the cost of the advertising, usually with copies of applicable invoices from the publication or station where you ran the ad. Finally, you will need to submit a claim and your documentation.
Getting the Most from Co-op Advertising
Read and follow exactly the co-op rules your supplier has, if they have any. That is the key to getting the reimbursement. If you’re preparing your own ads, work with the free advertising professionals available at the media outlet you are using to prepare an ad you think will appeal to the manufacturer. Keep in mind the image the manufacturer presents in its own ads.
Make sure your company’s name stands out in the ad. Your goal is not so much to sell the supplier’s product but to get customers into your store.
If there’s no established co-op program, pitch your ad campaign to the vendor anyway. Expect the vendor to help out. After all, you’re bringing them business.
Aside from advertising, there are, of course, many different was to inexpensively market your business:
Blogging and Tweeting: Both blogging and tweeting positions you as an expert, and are a particularly good way to promote a consulting business.
Use flyers: Flyers can advertise specials, offer discounts, grab attention, and best of all, they can be created very inexpensively on your computer.
Go crazy on Craigslist: Who reads the classified ads on Craigslist? People are ready to buy something, that’s who. Even better: Many Craigslist ads are free. Go for it.
Have a great website and then get people to opt-in to your e-newsletter: First, you site has to be great. Next, you need to have a compelling e-newsletter such that people want to opt-in. That then gives you permission to market to them down the road.
Gift cards and certificates: Gift cards allow present customers to introduce you to new customers. Even better: Because you get paid up front, they help your cash flow. Even better: Let people redeem them after the expiration date and they will love you forever. Final bonus: At least 30% of all gift cards are bought but never used. That equals that rarest of rare things: Free money.
Packaging: The plastic bags that customers may leave your store with can be great, cost-effective signs. With your name, address, phone number and logo on the side, bags can be a valuable marketing tool. The same goes for your mailing labels.
Coupons: This is one of the least expensive ways to develop new business. Offering a discount via a coupon is historically a great way to grab attention and get business. They can be put in invoices, posted on your Facebook page, can be sent using direct mail, or can simply be handed out or placed on windshields.
Freebies: I recently went to the Coca-Cola world headquarters in Atlanta. I had a few hours to kill and so I took the tour. And what did I leave with? A free Coke. How did Coke become Coke? Partially by giving away the new concoction for free to anyone, anywhere it was sold. Hey, if freebies work, even now for the greatest brand on the planet, couldn’t they probably work for you too?
Speeches: Depending on your topic and your market, you might want to speak before chambers of commerce, trade associations, parent groups, senior citizens or other local organizations.
Word of mouth advertising: The best source of repeat business is through happy customers. Make sure that your current customers know how valuable they are to you. Send them a flyer or brochure offering a discount for sending in new business.
And remember this too, in the 21st century, word of mouth has gone digital. When your e-newsletter is forwarded on, that’s word of mouth. So too is having your tweets re-tweeted or having people Like your Facebook page.
Word of mouth looks different today – it is word of click.
Seminars and Webinars: Free seminars and webinars (and tweetchats) also give you an air of authority, and allow you to sell without seeming to be a huckster.
Donate: Donating your product or service to a charitable cause often results in positive exposure.
PR: Getting a writer or columnist or reporter to do a story about you and your business can not only be used for sales, but can be reproduced and used again and again to create credibility. And it costs nothing.