Advertising on a Budget
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So I started a business. Congratulations. What the hell do I do now?
I’ve worked with hundreds of small to medium size businesses in the Chicagoland area over the course of my marketing career. The best part of my job is that I get to view a wide array of clients and industries within the community I live in. I’m able to see companies that are start up’s all the way to family owned established businesses for over 100 years. By far my favorite types of companies to work with are when they are those that are just starting up and trying to develop their brand and identity. Why do you ask? As a marketing professional, you are able to see and feel the fruits of your labor. You get to see direct correlations and tangible evidence of your marketing efforts with their businesses’ results. This also builds trust over time with the company and grows your portfolio with them as they grow. Here are some simple steps a business owner should take right after they’ve started their business:
Slow Down to Speed Up. Unless you’re crowd-funded, have a decent investment into the business yourself or a solid loan from the bank, the majority of new business owners are working on a shoe-string budgets when they are getting started. The best course of action is interviewing other business owners in your community within your industry and without. Find out what they’ve done to be successful. Marketing your business is the number one thing you should be doing so people know who you are and generate interest in your company, but make sure you’re doing it correctly. Develop a game plan. Remember that the average attention span for an adult is 6-8 seconds and you are judged as soon as you answer the phone or knock on their door.
Become a prospect and call your competitors. The best way to see what your competition is doing in the marketplace would be becoming a prospect yourself. List out whom currently does it best in your community? What are they doing that’s so successful? How do they answer the phone? How quickly do they set up an appointment? What happens when they get to your front door? How do they investigate your issue? What’s their follow-up like? Pick up the phone and call 5-10 companies in your area that do what you do and invite them over for an estimate to fix what you’re going to be going in business for. Take mental and written notes on how they answer the door, ask questions and try to “sell” you their job or service. Why reinvent the wheel when you can improve on what they’re already doing?
Advertising. The biggest nuisances you will get as a business owner will be solicitations from vendors trying to have you spend your early revenue and advertise the business. Everyone wants your money right? They always say that you need to spend money to make money. Well as someone in the advertising arena and sells it every day, they’re actually right. You can’t grow your business without people knowing who you are. However, as a business owner, it’s about finding the advertising vehicle that works best for you within a budget that’s affordable at the time. You want to find an advertising method that yields a proper ROI and justifies spending within that arena. Typical ROI for an advertising program would be 4:1. Those that are a shoestring budget business owners need to be extra cautious and make sure any person calling on you can show proven results from other companies in your area working with them and even more importantly, within your industry. (Make sure you create a website to drive this traffic to)
Creative vs. Directional Advertising. A business owner must know the difference between these two methods of advertising. If you don’t, it can be an EXPENSIVE MISTAKE WITH ZERO’S ATTACHED TO THE END OF IT. When someone thinks advertising, they mainly think Radio, TV, billboards or direct mail. This would be considered creative advertising. You are “CREATING” the need for a prospect that may see your advertising while they are shopping. The main goal with creative advertising is to capture someone at the right time for their service and hope they find you in the process. Directional advertising is when they already have that need and they’re trying to “DIRECT” them to your company. This is mainly achieved through search engines, Angie’s list, phone books and internet yellow page directories.
Which is best to Start Advertising? The biggest question when a business owner is starting should be, “What’s going to be the most affordable way for me pursue and market my business while also providing the best ROI starting out?” More often than not, directional advertising is the best way to market your business initially. You’re on a tight budget so let’s be smart about it and only advertising to people who already have the need to your services. It’s a smaller crowd, yes, but it’s the exact crowd you want. You just need to make you available to them. It is NOT the sexiest way of advertising your business, but it is can be the most cost-effective. Once your business starts taking off and you have a solid repeat and referral customer base, then think about creative advertising.
Social Media. Marketing on social media websites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter can be useful if you are knowledgeable about how they work for businesses. These social media platforms work differently for business owners than regular consumers. The most common misconception is that creating a profile and generating “likes” will be sufficient. The truth is, generating likes is important for branding but most likely won’t generate any new sales for you. Think about it. People “like” your business when you’ve done something for them or they know you right? When’s the last time you liked a plumber on Facebook without knowing who they are, the services they offer and their quality of work? It’s an opt-in form of marketing. The best way to generate business from social media is subscribing to local business pages, garage sale pages, or in search of (ISO) pages in your community with these social media websites. These again are consumers who HAVE THE NEED for your services and are asking for you to fill it. (And have a website they can go to)
Leverage Your Community/Non-Traditional Marketing. Sponsor a little league or a 5K walk/run. Talk to your local chamber of commerce or park district about upcoming events within the community and how you can help out while creating a buzz about you in the process. Print business cards and flyers and ask other local establishments if you can put your information there for someone to pick up. Find websites that publish articles or ask for expert opinions and share your opinion while asking for a link to your website (BTW: you better have a website that is also mobile friendly)
TRACK TRACK TRACK. Decided to put a flyer in the mail? Publish an advertisement in the phone book? Build a website? Put a spot on the radio? With everything you do, you should see some sort of response. Good bad or ugly. If you can at all help it, try to internally track what lead source your calls or web visits are coming from. They aren’t expensive, but knowing how many leads you are getting and what lead source they are coming from is crucial to a business starting out. People don’t care about your phone number, they care about what you can do for them now! Advertising companies do offer the capability to monitor their results, but it can be a double edge sword. They own those phone numbers if you ever stop advertising with them. The smart business owner spends a little extra money to create forwarding lines from these advertising campaigns to track how many calls got the best ROI.
Ask for Referrals. You worked hard for someone else and did a great job, they’re bound to know someone that may have the same issue. The lifetime value of a new customer to you, is on average, 3 referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and have them write a review about you on websites such as Yelp or Google.