6 Low Cost Marketing Ideas for Small Business Start-Ups

I regrettably missed this week’s instalment of one of our latest local Twitter chats (#nistartupshour) however it was mentioned that I might be able to help with a topic. So better late than never, I’m hoping this blog post with more detail will make up for my absence:

N.B. this blog post blurs the lines of industry here because I now specialise in Digital Communications (much of which is Content Marketing), I have a background in PR, but most business owners will refer to all methods of promotion to improve awareness and sales as “Marketing” so that’s the blanket title we’ll give it! Also, forgive the examples all being mine (it’s not an ego thing) but I do work with a lot of local small businesses and start-ups so I hope that makes the experience more relevant for readers…

1 Desk Drops

Building relationships with influencers was mentioned during the Twitter chat as a way to get the word out about your products/services to more people through influencer engaged audiences that are much larger than the audience you’re trying to grow. Of course you can’t build a relationship without first introducing yourself and “Desk Drops” have long been a staple of the PR industry for doing so among the media and bloggers. I wrote a blog post about this tactic not that long ago, because I created my own campaign for £60 (+P&P) sent to all the major agencies in order to tell them I was now providing Freelance subcontracting work. It resulted in 8 meetings, 5 pieces of work, one ongoing subcontract project and referral to 2 clients who now pay me monthly retainers. It speaks for itself.

However, this idea can work across many industries and I’ve recently suggested to a photographer friend to do similar,; by sending cardboard cut-outs of popular PR props such as loudspeakers or speech bubbles to encourage Social Media photos, show he really understands what they need from a supplier but to also stand out, within a reasonable budget for him to invest.

Creative, thoughtful, personalised (e.g. mine was handwritten) always works best!

2 Grow Your Database

The startups and small businesses I work with can initially think that Social Media is the Panacea to their problems, however we know it takes a lot of time, resource and now (thanks to Facebook) advertising money to really grow an audience here and even then, it tends to benefit your brand awareness and customer service rather than boosting sales.

The real key to reaching an engaged audience directly is to grow your email database. Email marketing is among the strongest conversion channels for brands. Facebook offers a sign-up button option, or you can invest in low-cost, high quality programmes that imbed into your website and social channels such as LeadPages. Or you can simply ask people to email you to enter competitions. However you get them, start collecting them. And then, treat them well to keep them. Mailchimp remains my favourite free tool for creating, sending and evaluating campaigns.

My client UtilityBear.com email marketing promotion throughout Rugby World Cup 2015

Once you have the targets, the key to increasing open and click-through rates will be improving the content, style and most importantly, the headlines of each mail-out campaign.

3 Blogging for Business

Blogging sounds like hard work, and it can be to begin with, for those who haven’t done it before (which explains why it’s often outsourced to people like me!) but with free tools like WordPress (which hosts this site) or even the new Notes feature on Facebook allowing microblogging, it’s never been easier to become an industry expert in your field, like my recent content client Cinch Corsets.

It’s important for the SEO benefits (this is something I leave mostly to trained Digital Marketers) but it basically means helping your website to rank higher because it boasts two qualities your competitors don’t - regular fresh content, and quality content that answers people’s Google queries/keyword search terms.

Don’t know what to write about? Finding out what people want to know in your industry is free: For example if you sell shoes - use Google’s auto-complete function to find out the most popular questions and then answer them (no idea what the last one is!)

Using these insights to inform relevant blog content will improve it’s visibility, share ability and therefore your audience growth and then sales figures.

4 Enter Awards

I know we don’t always win (trust me, I know!) but there are many other business benefits to entering your industry awards. You believe you’re good or you wouldn’t be charging for your product/service so back yourself, make the commitment to prove how good you are. It forces you to focus on explaining what you do concisely and evaluate your impact effectively. Many are free to enter but often bring with them exposure within your industry and outside it through Social and Media coverage, particularly if you are named a finalist, and especially if you win.

My client Titanic Creative Management‘s recent finalist announcement in the Women in Business Awards which are free to enter

Again, there’s a skill in completing entries and again, it’s a task often outsourced to someone like me. But the first one is usually the most time-consuming. After that, a lot of it is “Copy and Paste” and regular updating.

If you’re going to sell a product or service then the best practice is to get used to selling yourself!

5 Get Chatting Online

There are many opportunities to network, engage with customers or clients, learn of opportunities and simply become more known locally and globally, by engaging in free online discussions. Twitter chats can drive high levels of awareness, so seek out ones that are most relevant to your business and take one hour a week to get involved.

A previous client, local granola producers Just Live a Little found targeted Twitter chats elicited great engagement among new audiences

If your business is less consumer and more B2B then try LinkedIn. Join and engage in their relevant group discussions - they vary wildly in size, smaller groups won’t have the influence but your voice might get drowned out in 1,000+ member groups. Aim for the middle and pick a group that you know you can add value to. As you join groups and interact you may identify an opportunity for another group to be formed.

When you become the owner and moderator of your group, you gain leadership and recognition in the industry. Position yourself authoritatively.

 6 Digital PR

Again, this is one I do quite regularly but actually, once I begin working with a client I find they can do this easily themselves, and often more authentically, as long as they have access to a good writer either in-house or by outsourcing someone.

We have a plethora of online news and entertainment outlets locally such as Belfast Live and their performance statistics are really impressive in terms of readership and sharing on Social Media.

By taking what your business does and finding a relevant news angle, or providing expert advice, you can easily bag yourself some space in the online content world, for the mere price of some good photography and some emails. (Most journalists provide their direct email addresses on their Twitter bios).

My school friend Sandra wanted some exposure for her new business BlueMeadow Bridal and so I advised her that the news slant of the downturn in funding for the Arts in Northern Ireland was encouraging young women like her to become “Creative Entrepreneurs.” She then provided a small advice piece for those inspired by her and hey presto

Digital Media is hungry for content. You have a story to tell, somewhere within you and/or your business. Tell it well so that people will want to read it and you will get coverage your budget can’t buy just now!

I hope this quick round-up has inspired you in some way. I’m proud that this is the first time I’ve been able to craft an industry post comprised entirely of my own work examples.

Yes, I am selling myself. Follow my lead and build you business empire!