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Marketing Tactics for the Small Business Owner

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When you’re just starting out in business, it’s hard to know how much you should spend on marketing.  If you’re like most small business owners, you don’t have much budget to spend, so you’ve got to get by on what you’ve got. The biggest mistake you can make is to spend too little on marketing tactics, thus limiting the exposure people have to your products or services.

I started as an entrepreneur in West Topsham, VT, selling vegetables at the farmer’s markets. I didn’t have a lot of money so it was hard to use the little I was making to pay for marketing. I also didn’t fully understand the importance of marketing. As a result, I didn’t put enough money into marketing and my business ultimately failed.

Today, I know I should have spent 1/3 of the income I brought in on marketing expenses. It sounds like a lot of money, particularly when you’re just starting out and are not making much. But in the beginning, your greatest need is exposure and 1/3 of your early income still may not be a lot.

Because you are working with 1/3 of a limited income in the beginning, you also have to be creative about how you use your marketing dollar. I learned how creativity can bring in business as my wife and I promoted accommodations we owned in Spain.

As hotel owners, the most important tools in our marketing bag were third-party booking sites, where people could learn about our offerings and book a room. We were on Airbnb, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor. There are many other sites, but those are the ones we found most useful at the time. Our website lent legitimacy to our business, but most of our customers came to us through the third-party sites. Some people scoff at these sites because of the fees they charge, but the fees can be a worthwhile marketing expense.

Events are another great way to bring in business and engage local folks. You can use events to welcome the community into your establishment so that they can get to know what you have to offer and potentially spread the word to other locals or visitors. You can also use events to cross sell other products or services.

For example, to promote our hotel accommodations in Spain, we hired a local astronomer to bring in his telescope and take visitors on a tour of the night sky. We invited people from the community to attend for a reduced fee that included the presentation as well as accommodations for the evening. The hope (and the outcome) was that people would talk about the event around town. The other great outcome was that, though it was a marketing event, we still made some income from the event.

 

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Special offers are an oldie but a goodie, particularly when you’re new and people are naturally curious about the new business in town. A special offer could be a coupon in the local paper for discounted services or a free session or sample. It could be better pricing in exchange for information or multiple purchases. The options are unlimited. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that it’s wise to ask your current customers what special offers they would get most excited about. Since they know and like your business, they’re more likely to know which deals would be most appealing.

For some businesses, package deals can bring in additional business. For example, at our West Topsham, VT vegetable stand, my wife and I would create a recipe in a box for those who wanted a simpler way to make basic meals or side dishes. One of our favorites was salsa, which was as simple as placing hot peppers, peppers, onions, tomatoes and spices in a box with instructions. For us, it was also a great way to increase interest in surplus foods that we may not have sold otherwise.

Collaboration is another creative way to bring in business. For example, if you sell yoga classes, you may want to offer your services to local hotels or spas. I once knew a funeral planner who teamed up with a funeral home owner. Find a business who offers services or products that complement your own and see if you can strike up a relationship that benefits you both.

Money and marketing tools are important for promoting your business but one of the most effective things you can do to promote your business can be done free of charge at any time—smile, engage in conversation, remain open and friendly, and don’t worry if they don’t buy anything today. Have faith that they will come back tomorrow.

Stay engaged online as well. Write a regular blog, use social media to promote your website, and make sure that your website is always up to date and complete. If potential customers have a question, you want to make sure your website answers it.

Have you considered going solar to reduce business costs? Read our latest solar blog to find out if solar makes sense for your business.

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