You’ve been in business for some time, but things have taken a turn for the worse: Operations are coming to a halt and the constant flow of work and sales has slowed to a trickle. You desperately need to find ways to get the word out about your business.
But money’s tighter than ever, and you simply don’t have the resources on hand to fund a massive marketing campaign. What’s an entrepreneur to do?
Well for starters, take a deep breath because you’ve come to the right place for help. As an entrepreneur, I’ve reached this fork in the road and was forced to make a decision: Abandon everything I’d worked for and head back to the cubicle, or stay in the ring and keep fighting. I chose the latter, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It did require a number of sacrifices, and forced me to step outside of my comfort zone — but my business was definitely rescued from the trenches.
And I want to share some tips on how to do the same and breathe life back into your business without opening your wallet.
1. Pick Up the Phone
Before you jump in trying to acquire new clients, take a moment to analyze the ones you already have. What were their initial needs? Were they fully satisfied with the products and services you provided to them? Are there any other products or services in your arsenal they could benefit from?
Once you’ve answered these questions, pick up the phone and make a follow-up call. You may dread phone conversations with clients — but it beats cold calling strangers. Plus, the second sale is always easier because you’re acclimated to the client and how they do things. And if they had a pleasant experience with you the first time around, chances are they’ll be willing to do business with you again. In fact, they may even have you in mind for an upcoming project, and your call might be exactly what they need to seal the deal.
An alternative approach: If there’s a repeat client you haven’t heard from in a while, let them know you have some availability in your schedule and that you wanted to touch base to see if they need any assistance. I’ve used this trick on several occasions when things were getting a little slow on my end, and someone has always taken me up on my offer.
2. Client Referrals
This was a valuable suggestion I received when I initially opened up shop. To be honest, it sounded a bit awkward because I feared clients would think I was extremely greedy if I asked for referrals. But I’m glad I ignored the fears in my head and went for it, because most were willing to pass on my name to others in their network.
Side note: There was one instance where a client was extremely satisfied with my work, but refused to give me any referrals — because they didn’t want to reveal their “secret weapon” to others. We ultimately went our separate ways after they became quite vindictive and even questioned my loyalty to them anytime I allocated time to another project, even if it didn’t involve a business in their industry. If you have one of these clients on your roster, ask yourself if their business is worth it, as they may be hindering you from spreading your wings.
Even if you read this suggestion and immediately think, “I’m no writer,” or “I don’t have time for that,” hear me out. You don’t have to write a lengthy sales letter or article to mail out to your subscribers. Instead, you can use the space to insert a quick blurb, announce promotional events, advertise current and forthcoming offers, or include links to your favorite relevant content.
It’s simple (and free, for smaller businesses) to send out e-newsletters using a service such as MailChimp or AWeber, and it keeps you connected with your followers and supporters so you’ll always be on their mind. And you don’t have to — or even want to — send out a newsletter each day. Once a week or month, depending on your business and target base, should suffice; the key here is consistency.
4. Social Media Contest
Consumers like saving money or getting items for free, so a social media contest is an excellent way to boost awareness of your brand. Several years ago, I implemented this tip and generated an overwhelmingly positive response.
And I didn’t spend a dime on boosting posts, either. Instead, I simply reached out to existing subscribers via newsletter and posted information on each of my pages. Recipients were encouraged to share my website with their network for a chance to win a discounted service. Since the economic downturn was in full swing at the time, the opportunity to win discounted financial mentoring services was a hit.
This brings us to No. 5…
5. Build Your Website and Social Media Presence
I’ve run across a number of entrepreneurs who lack a website, even in 2014. It’s easy to talk yourself out of an online presence, especially if you primarily deal with clients on the phone or in person, or if your competitor’s website and social media pages have all the bells and whistles.
But while you don’t need a fancy website, you should have some online presence. Aesthetics are important, but most users simply want to find basic information about your business, and clients are more concerned with whether or not you can actually deliver on your promise. You can create a free, simple website using WordPress, Blogger, or other services; a customized domain name will cost you a mere $10-$15 per year.
There are tons of content marketing companies — many of them with far nicer websites than mine — that my clients could use to complete their projects, but they’ve chosen to patronize my services because I submit high-quality, accurate work in a timely manner.
And if you haven’t established a social media presence for your business, now is the time to do it. Set up a Facebook page and invite your friends and clients to like it. Open up a Twitter account for your business and start following and communicating with industry leaders. And make sure to connect with friends, former coworkers, and clients on LinkedIn — each new contact can open up an entire network of potential clients.
6. Magnetic Signage
At the local print shop, magnetic signs with the company logo, name, web address, and phone number are only $25. Because of the low price point, they’re on cars all around town. And I encourage you to jump on the bandwagon like I did since this is one of the most effortless ways to market your company.
Many in the freelance writing community speak poorly of Craigslist because of their experiences with cheapskate clients. And while I completely understand their objections, that didn’t stop me from trying it out for myself.
But instead of applying for gigs and waiting anxiously for a reply, I created two distinct advertisements, hit submit, and promptly moved on to the next task without thinking twice about what I had just posted.
To my surprise, the inquiries started rolling in. Not only did I secure a few gigs, but I connected with a multi-million dollar media agency with whom I still do business today.
8. Be Visible
As easy and tempting as it is to hide behind the computer screen all day and only communicate via email, you need to come out of your shell if you want to double your marketing efforts without investing too much of your hard-earned cash. And I don’t mean just darting down the street for coffee (although that’s a start).
Some ideas: Volunteer at a community event hosted by a local nonprofit organization that’s sure to attract a ton of publicity, and wear your company shirt. Or visit meetup.com and search for local business networking functions you can attend to get the word out about your business.
9. Sales Letters
Did you cringe when you read the word “sales”? You’re not alone. In fact, most entrepreneurs hate the idea of selling themselves or their company and will do anything in their might to get out of it. But marketing is one of the key factors that separate the successful from the unsuccessful.
The “If you build it, they will come” mentality won’t get you very far in business. There are legions of companies vying for their piece of the pie, so it’s up to you to command the attention you deserve. And a sales letter detailing your key benefits and unique features, sent to your target market, is a great way to do so. In essence, it’s your unique selling proposition in a single document.
10. Guest Posting
Starting your own blog is a great, low-cost way to market your business. But even if you have no desire to start and maintain your own blog, you can write guest posts on other people’s blogs.
You’ll build your credibility as a subject matter expert in your field and gain attention for your business outside of your usual network (and you may even get paid to do so). Even if you already have a blog, guest posting can expose you and your business to new audiences. Guest posting opened many windows of opportunity for me, including speaking engagements and consulting services.
11. Display Your Business Cards
Are their local businesses that have the customers or clientele you’re looking for? If so, stop by and ask to drop off a few business cards.
Don’t know where to start? Think about barbershops, spas, nail salons, print shops, libraries, and independently owned dealerships or auto repair shops, just to name a few. People from all walks of life frequent these places and, more than likely, someone who needs your products or services will walk through their doors. And even if you can’t assist the current customers, many might grab a card for a friend or family member you can help.
12. Build a Sales Team
If you’re spending more time working in your business than on your business, chances are your marketing efforts are very minimal. So lighten up the load by building your very own sales team.
To avoid upfront costs, your sales force can be comprised of interns or individuals who agree to work on a commission basis. You can task them with identifying leads and opportunities for immediate results while you focus on your own strengths and the long-term health of your business.
13. Press Release
Writing a press release and sending it to local news outlets can be a great way to get your company’s name in front of the general public. Time the release to coincide with an event, award, milestone, or promotion, and make sure to include any special recognition, community involvement, or other noteworthy items. Include your contact information and make yourself available to field any questions or interviews. You can repurpose what you write and post it on your business’s social media profiles.
Offering to host free seminars in your area is another way to quickly spread the word about your company. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet people interested in what you have to offer, but you’ll open the door to potential long-term client relationships and speaking opportunities down the line.
Another bonus: Those who are unable to attend will still be exposed to your company through the ads, which you can post for free on industry websites or local media event calendars.
Even if you have no desire to become a best-selling author, writing e-book presents a low-cost opportunity to demonstrate your expertise on a particular topic and gain the respect of a potential customer or client that may require a little more persuading before making a purchase. Or, you can offer it is an incentive for subscribing to your mailing list, which opens another window of opportunity for you to keep in contact with current and prospective patrons.
16. Collaborate With Other Businesses
Do you know of an organization whose products or services complement your offerings? If so, reach out to the owner or director of operations to inquire about potential opportunities to collaborate. Once an agreement is intact, your business will benefit from double exposure, both on your end and theirs. And some of the customers may purchase other items and services you offer.
A great example of this is the taco shop and insurance agency a few miles away from my home. Both businesses were on the brink of shutting their doors, so they teamed up to offer a free taco when you request a quote for insurance coverage. Quite clever, considering there were no strings attached — just a quote in exchange for your address or information about your vehicle. The promotional offer worked, attracting more customers to both businesses; sales rapidly increased and so did the number of policies written.
17. Become a Contributor
Did you submit a batch of guest blog posts that sent your page views and sales conversion rates skyrocketing? You may want to consider becoming a recurring contributor for that particular site. If they don’t have any paid positions available, consider completing a few posts per month on a pro bono basis, since the benefits to your business will make the time spent developing content worthwhile.
You’ve come too far to quit, so hang in there. Try a few of these tips and watch your business transform right before your eyes.