There are lots of things to do before opening the doors of a small business. You’ve put in blood, sweat and tears getting the shop perfect, inventory on the shelves and employees hired. Now it’s time to reap the windfall from all your hard work. That means letting people know your business is open.
The first item to tackle the logo. A logo says a lot about a business, and since it doesn’t cost a lot to have a nice one made, you may as well do it right the first time. There are lots of options to have a logo created like using a local designer, companies like 99Designs where several designers compete and you pick the best logo or Fiverr where pricing starts at $5. Sometimes the designers on Fiverr are hit and miss, so be sure to look at the designer’s review rating and portfolio to weed out the weaker ones. With the low price though, you may want to hire a couple of designers to find the logo you like best.
Once you have a great logo, there are many places to put them. A few of these include shirts and business cards.
Shirts – Wearing a shirt with your logo helps to advertise the business and can strike up conversations with potential customers. Branded shirts make for a popular giveaway item. Even better people will BUY well-designed shirts with your business info. What could be better than that? Companies like VistaPrint and 4Imprint sell custom shirts that start at less than $10.
Business Cards – Even in today’s world of social media and emails, business cards are still important. $10-$20 will last you a long time and services like VistaPrint have hundreds of designs ready for you to add your text.
Something to consider with the business card is the business’s phone number. With the cost of a dedicated business line, more people are instead opting for a cell phone as their business line. Instead of using a personal phone number for the business some people will buy a second phone, while others will use a toll-free number or answering service. A toll-free number from companies like Grasshopper or RingCentral cost around $10 a month, plus a few cents per minute. These plans provide a separate voicemail and let you stick with an existing cell phone. Taking things up a notch is an answering service where someone answers the calls. There is a dedicated phone number but now someone is answering the phone which makes a business look larger without having to hire a receptionist. Pricing is reasonable and is based on usage. Plans start around $30 a month from SAS and AMBS.
Now that you have those great business cards, it’s time to hand them out. A few great places to do that include:
Chamber of Commerce – Meet with other business people and leaders in the community by joining the Chamber. It’s a great network to be a part of and gets your name in front of the movers and shakers. To get the most out of a membership, consider volunteering for a committee, attend Chamber after hours/mixers and/or sponsor a lunch. Fees vary by the number of employees but expect $100-$300 annually.
Networking Groups – Check out local business events on Meetup or other community calendars to meet with other people in the community. Bonus points if the meetup is related in some way to what the business sells.
Local Business Mixers – Great way to meet new people in a relaxed environment. The goal isn’t to sell here but get to get people in the community to know who you are.
To get the most from meeting people face-to-face, your business will need to be visible online. You don’t have to be a tech person to get your business online. There are so many services that have made this easier.
All businesses need to have some exposure online. The most common ways include:
Website – Most businesses will benefit from a website. Costs range from free to thousands of dollars to have a website developer design it. Since we are focusing on inexpensive, there are two free website hosts to consider called Wix and Weebly. They offer many features and are easy to use, but don’t have as many bells and whistles that a professional developer can offer. This is a simple way to quickly get a website online – for free!
Social Media – With options like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat there are endless ways of promoting your business online. Don’t stress about being on every platform. Go back to the business plan and look back at who your customers are and then figure out what platform they may prefer. Your best bet is to focus on one or maybe two and be active on those. Being on every platform but not being active will achieve little to no results. These accounts are free to use, though there are opportunities to advertise and increase visibility.
Once the website is live, there are several ways to promote it.
Business Listings – The first one is to sign up with local business directory listings. These directories get businesses listed online with the major search engines so people can find the business. These listings allow a business owner to add a website, location address, hours of operation and more. Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are the two major ones and are both free to sign up for.
Restaurants, retail, and some services may want to list on Yelp. Yelp is another free place to list a business and can also help increase visibility online.
Video – YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and creating how-to videos and answers to common questions that your business can solve can leads to more traffic on your website.
Email – Build an email list of your customers to send updates and special offers. While there are email services that have a lot of bells and whistles, MailerLite and SendinBlue are great to start with and are free for small accounts. You can send emails from your business email account, but an email service makes list management much easier and makes it easier to comply with CANSPAM compliance.
Some other offline ideas to market a business
Ask for referrals – Asking for referrals from customers who have used your business is a powerful, low-cost way to bring in new customers. There may not be a lot of customers initially after starting a business, but if you provided a positive experience, many of these new customers will become fans quickly. You won’t get any referrals without asking, so capitalize on that excitement and ask them to refer friends.
Business Card Drawing – Many people are hesitant to give out their email address, but if there is a small prize, people have no problem giving their business cards. Business card drawings are a great way to build up email contacts.
Write an article for your local newspaper/business journal/industry magazine – Advertising in print media can be very expensive but did you know that many accept articles from individuals. You won’t get paid anything in most cases, but this publicity could provide a lot of publicity. Be sure to write something helpful to that publication’s audience and not try to sell your products and services.
Advertise on your vehicle – Turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard by putting a magnetic sign with your business name and contact information on your vehicle. VistaPrint offers these for under $20.
Press Releases – Press releases can be an effective way to promote a business. Get past being shy and not wanting to brag. If you don’t toot your own horn, it probably isn’t going to get tooted. Whether it’s about a product or service, an award, a new certification, a milestone or work for the community, there is something almost any business can talk about. Most newspapers have a link to submit news and there is no cost for that. If you want to reach a broader audience, check out eReleases or PR Web. If you need help writing a press release, try Fiverr.
Free samples – Get customers to try your products with free samples. If you are providing free samples away from your store, be sure to make it easy for customers to buy.
Donations – Supporting your community through cash donations or product/service giveaways is another way to get your name in front of potential customers. It’s a good idea to set an annual budget or particular cause as many groups look to local businesses to help with fundraising. Many times, donors get exposure on the organization’s website which can include a link back to your website.
Sign Spinner – Having someone by the side of a busy road directing traffic to a store can be effective. Just holding the sign isn’t going to work well, so have someone who is animated and can get the attention of passersby to get the best response.
Balloons – Have balloons printed with your business name, fill them with helium and go to a park or community event to give them away. Kids of all ages and adults too, go love balloons and will hold on to them throughout the day, which gets your business name in front of a lot of people. Balloons can run $.20 – $1 each depending on what you have done to them and a helium tank can be purchased for around $50. 4Imprint and Staples both offer logo balloons.