How to promote small business on a small budget – expert advice

Putting your new business on the map is hard to do, particularly when funds are tight and you can’t afford a big advertising campaign. But there are ways to attract your first customers that won’t chew into your overdraft or home loan.

As small business expert Irvine Green explains, it is possible to get the word out for free or for relatively little money. These range from persuading a company to attach your advertisement to a mass email to staff members to using your car as a mobile marketing machine.

There are also some ways to promote small business that are done often, but are actually a very bad idea. Like putting flyers under windscreens and tying posters to lamp posts. Irvine explains why these are “no nos”, in this blog on how to market your small business on a small budget.

Irvine is speaking from experience. A jack-of-all-trades, he has built up customers for a range of businesses using a lot of creativity and being a little pushy when he needs to. As he says: “No customers – no business.” – JC


irvine_greenHow to promote your small business on a small budget

 By Irvine Green

Whatever your SMME service or product, once you’ve decided to get up and running, you have to have customers. No customers – no business…

Many people think just of ‘advertising’ (paid for in most cases) when it comes to spreading the word about a business. And as money is often (very) short or limited for a budding entrepreneur, already the new SMME owner feels hamstrung.

You shouldn’t be. Here’s how I marketed the World Cup e-book. First, I advised newspapers and radio stations of its existence via e-mail. Newspaper editorial e-mail addresses are freely available in the printed version of the paper. Radio stations often have their e-mails in the Telkom telephone book and also often give it out during shows for listeners to interact.

I also looked at adverts in magazines and newspapers for e-mails of large companies. I mailed them proposing that they pin a copy of a short ad I had written (and attached to the e-mail) advising of the World Cup e-book’s availability on their employee noticeboard in case employees had family looking to start their own business. Which many did – as I often had a response from employees (or family members/friends) at a company that went beyond ‘co-incidence’ that a fair number would choose to reply to a radio interview from one location by ‘pure chance’.

In all cases, whether press releases or notices to companies, be brief and to the point about what it is you do, why it would be important to do business with YOU rather than an established company, and how you may be easily contacted. Try to write it in such a way that readers are motivated to call to find out more before doing business with you. That way you can measure response and interest.

Flyers and pamphlets for distribution in a target market (say around where you live as a start) are also a good idea. Remember, every piece of paper has two sides so try and get someone else to join you on the flyer promo to reduce costs for both of you.

Many people have an idea of putting flyers under windscreen wipers. Not a good idea. Most shopping centres have a policy against this and the car guards would soon report you.

The SA Post Office has a service whereby they will place flyers in the post boxes (the centralised ones – not residential boxes) for you at a fair rate per flyer. Very few people read them and react to them unfortunately– but the same applies for flyers of any sort placed anywhere. Ditto ads on radio, TV and in newspapers/mags. It’s all a ‘numbers’ game. If your product has a high profit margin or a good chance of repeat business, even a response of  only12 persons per thousand flyers could/would be reasonable…!

DO NOT tie adverts/notices to light poles. Firstly it’s illegal without municipal permission (not easy to get), and depending on the municipality’s policy on illegal ads they can easily find you via your telephone number/e-mail address/both.

If your product/service is really unusual (as my computer camps and World Cup business ideas booklet were) try and set up ‘on-air’ interviews with radio stations. Business oriented radio shows would be a good place to start, especially if they are concentrating on new businesses/SMMEs (which most ARE nowadays).

Advertising via free on-line classifieds such as OLX and Junk Mail are often worth the effort. Your Junk Mail ad also goes into the printed version, for FREE. Both freebie classifieds are not just for junk items or second hand goods. Some very good business for new items and top notch services goes down there. Spend some time browsing around both of them.

The internet also allows free ads to be placed in newspapers and on many radio station sites around the country – so try that if your service product can be of use to the wider country.

I have always had the idea/instinct that advertising to farmers who may like to purchase some products by mail/courier would be a viable idea. It saves them travelling too far for certain items if they live far from a main centre and the mail/courier costs could be lower than the fuel and wear and tear on their vehicle.

Have a look at/buy a few weekly copies of Farmers Weekly and other similar local mags. The stories about certain farmers and what they do usually have an e-mail address provided as well. A nice way to get access for one-on-one advertising as discussed above. Remember – farmers don’t buy just animal feed, fertiliser and seeds. They have a life as well. And need everything from computer media and products to childrens clothing. But the advantage to you if you set up some sort of mail order business is that they are located far from large stores and suppliers and might feel your propositions are good ones.

You can also advertise/market products via Bid or Buy, Kalahari, and other on-line local sellers.

If you have a vehicle, you could place advertising notices against some of the windows and also paint your business name and products/services on your car. There’s nothing in the traffic/vehicle laws that prevents use of this idea.

Think deeply about who your target market is and put together a tightly focused marketing project. Analyse WHO is most likely to want and buy your product/service – and WHERE – and then market/advertise in mags, newspapers or whatever targets those market segments/areas/both.

And at every opportunity talk about what it is you want to do, with PASSION – and always say how and why YOU would be the better one to do business with compared to any opposition with the same service/product.

It’s THAT time of the year – a good idea never seen/heard of before, with good quality and at a reasonable price could set you up financially – or give you deeper insight for growth – down the line.

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