Whether you are working on a startup or looking for ways to cut expenses in your existing venture, take a close look at your marketing budget. Marketing tends to be the highest expense for many businesses and is also the easiest place to waste your hard-earned cash. A little time and effort can not only preserve your resources, but can also increase the bottom line.
The marketing landscape is in a constant state of change. Classic methods are still available, such as newspaper and magazine ads, direct mail, and the like, but their effectiveness is less clear than in the past. The internet has opened unprecedented marketing opportunities as well, but the rapid advances and exploitation of the online methods requires careful consideration as well. Developing an effective marketing plan is an absolute necessity and demands as much time and attention as any other area of your business.
It is very common for small business owners to settle in to a marketing scheme and leave it alone. Unfortunately, what is effective at one point in time won’t necessarily continue to increase sales. Every marketing effort you put out needs to be frequently evaluated and modified as necessary. A simple analysis of cost per sale or cost per new customer is enough to tell you whether your efforts are paying off. In order to conduct this analysis, however, you must incorporate a system for tracking where your customers and sales are coming from. The easiest way to do this is to just ask. Whether your sales are online or in-store, most customers will be happy to tell you how they heard about your business, and that information can guide your future marketing choices.
Cutting marketing expenses can be a frightening prospect — less marketing usually means fewer sales. But there are a million ways to market your venture for less cash. Most of these options require a little more time and organization, but in this economy, time is far easier to come by than money!
First, be sure you are maximizing the internet resources at your disposal. Evaluate your website by asking others for feedback and checking out the competition’s sites. Revamp yours if needed, but more importantly be sure that your site is optimized for search engine results. That is, check that you have the right metatags, key words, and content to boost your rankings on the search engines. Add new content relatively frequently. The modern consumer loves information, so the more you can explain about what you do, and what it will do for them, the better.
Spend some time in the online social networking areas. Your business should have a Facebook page and Twitter profile, at a minimum. Get your customers to follow you on each of these and submit an interesting, relevant post a couple of times per week. The constant exposure to your business will keep you at the forefront of your customers’ thoughts, and referrals are one of the cheapest and most effective ways to grow your customer base.
Consider setting up a referral or frequent shopper system. Whether you offer discounts or premiums or just a sincere thank-you, developing a formal program will increase the likelihood of free marketing through your satisfied customers. Also, be sure to keep in touch with your customer base through email newsletters or promotions. These efforts not only keep your business in mind but can also increase traffic to your website, thus improving your standing on the search engines.
The best route for free marketing is networking. Whether you attend existing functions, co-host an event with a complementary business, or chat up the people you meet in the coffee shop, one-on-one marketing is still the best free advertising available. No, it doesn’t reach as many potential clients as a national magazine ad, but it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg either. Co-marketing with other small business owners helps everyone, as well. For example, one hair salon owner hooks up with a nearby café to host mixers for the local business community. In addition to inviting the folks on each business’s customer database, they post flyers around town to invite others to a new networking opportunity.
Cutting marketing expenses is not as difficult as you might think. However, no matter what your marketing budget, it is critical to put in the time and effort to find the right opportunities for your business. Don’t assume that merely posting a website and opening the doors will be enough. Give your business its best chance of success by utilizing a variety of advertising methods and keep an eye on how each one is working.