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20 inexpensive marketing tips pull in customers

By Mary Fisher    

When times get tough, the tough start marketing. That’s especially true in challenging economic times. If you don’tStrategy, innovation and planning crossword market now, the sad truth is that you may be out of business. But, marketing costs money, so it is critical to do it strategically by focusing on tactics that will strengthen your competitive advantage.

Here are 20 few tips to achieve that goal:

1. Create a simple marketing plan. Use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) so that it is manageable. At the same time, make sure it targets your audience, fits your budget, and includes a method to measure results.

The key to great marketing (on a budget or not) is to communicate the benefits of your products and services effectively. Put some fresh bait on your advertising hook and explore every avenue — advertising, public relations, brochures and other print marketing material, the Internet and all its possibilities, social networking, billboards and other outside media.

A wise move would be to hire a professional to help you. (You are an expert in your business; you aren’t expected to be a marketer—just as you aren’t expected to be a CPA or an attorney, unless that’s your profession.) But, if you cannot afford to hire a marketing professional, then do one for yourself. You can find marketing-plan templates online. Look at your calendar, determine the slow times, and market to fill those slow times at least a month in advance. Fill every week with some type of marketing effort.

Remember: You don’t have to do everything in the plan all at once and, in many cases, you can implement some of the tactics yourself, at no cost

2. Communicate with your existing client base. Find out how your customers are doing and see what you can do to help them stay on course. Ask how you can help, and ask for a testimonial.

3. Ask for specials from your local advertising avenues. These include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, billboards).

4. Advertise consistently and frequently. In print advertising, run a minimum of three to four ads consecutively. If you cannot afford three large ads, run one larger ad and scale down the size for the others. Instead of running every issue, run every other issue.

5. Update your Web site. Add timely articles. Consider adding a blog. Keep your site current. Making small changes to your Web site will help bring it up higher on the search engines.

6. Do search engine optimization (SEO). How does your Web site rank online? If it is not ranking well, hire a professional to bring it up higher. This is not an expense that will break the bank. Successful optimization will bring in more business without the need to hire additional salespeople.

Do not list your Web site on paid “link farms;” this will hurt your rankings. Google looks for an unnatural number of back links to your site. Too many at once will ban you from Google. Page titles, subheads, bulleted lists, and keyword-rich copy are most important.

7. Do social Internet marketing. This has become increasingly important. It is free. Establish a few online accounts for your business, including Linkedin.com, Plaxo.com, Facebook.com, Merchantcircle.com, YouTube.com, Twitter.

Put your Web site on each source. (This will help your search engine ranking.) Reach out and touch old customers and friends through these sources. Ask a colleague to “make an introduction” through LinkedIn. Ask clients to post a recommendation for you or your business. Business people are closing sales with social marketing.

8. Focus on your niche market, instead of every market. People like to buy from specialty providers, and you can actually have several niche markets.

9. Network at professional organizations. Get involved and volunteer to give presentations. Groups such as the Small Business Center, Women Business Owners of North Florida, Beaver Street Enterprise Center, Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida, Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce are always looking for good speakers with interesting topics.

10. Enhance your image. Use your storefront to draw attention to your business. Update your signage or add a bright flag or something distinctive outside your business.

11. Send HTML-rich e-mail blasts. Use this inexpensive, quick marketing tool to send short, easy-to-read messages that offer specials and other items of interest.

12. Update your telephone on-hold script. You have a captive audience. Use it to inform your customers of new services or products.

13. Send press releases to the media. The news media is begging for stories. Look in the newspaper and magazines and determine which writer is suited for your type of story.

If you are not a writer, rough out a story and have a writing professional finish the work for you. Then send your press release to your clients as well as the media, by snail mail, regular e-mail, or as an e-mail blast. And add it to your Web site.

14. Offer an easy payment plan. Let your clients pay over several months or pay the invoice on a credit card. If you don’t take credit cards, and don’t want to pay a monthly fee, consider taking credit cards through Google Checkout or PayPal. You can send an invoice with either system. You will pay the service about 3%, but don’t have a recurring monthly fee that most merchant service accounts charge.

15. Build a large database of prospects on your Web site. Run promotions, sales, or discounts, or give away important downloadable information on your Web site. But ask the recipient for a little information to get it: Name, e-mail address, and phone number. Then use this information to do an e-mail blast, or follow up with a phone call.

A word of caution: Be selective with your mass e-mails. Only send to people who would have interest in your product, or they may opt out.

16. Barter your services. You may find a business partner who is willing to trade services or products for yours. Even a partial trade and partial cash payment is still a nice incentive.

17. Ask for referrals from business associates. Tell them, “I need your help.” Be specific about your needs to make sure get the right referrals.

18. Pay a commission for referrals. Consider paying a commission to related businesses for referrals. A 5% to 10% commission is a good incentive.

19. Choose a mentor. Find an individual who is successful and well connected who can help you, and you can help him or her. Ask for help.

20. Fish in your own pond. Locally-owned businesses produce local jobs, tax receipts, and charitable donations for your community. If you find something online at a better price, ask your local vendor to match the price. For every $100 spent in a chain store, $14 goes back into the local economy. For a locally owned business, $45 goes back into the economy.

Remember, in times like these, it pays to sharpen your image. Bait your advertising hook with a multitude of clever marketing techniques, and get ready to reel in the big ones.

Mary Fisher.smallMary Fisher is owner of Mary Fisher Design, www.maryfisherdesign.com, which provides comprehensive advertising, graphic design, public relations, and sales and marketing solutions to a wide range of companies. She can be reached at mary@maryfisherdesign.com or 904-398-3699.


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