When’s the last time you asked your neighboring business to help you promote your services? Asked your customers or clients to share a few kind words about your business with their friends? Partnered with a similar organization to extend a message and benefit both your marketing goals?

Yes, these ideas are reminiscent of traditional, small-town business values, but guess what? They are also some of the most cost-effective ways to promote your business when you’re on a budget.

In today’s economic climate, every dollar counts. You can’t afford to stop promoting your services, so cost-effective tools are key – namely, tools other than traditional advertising, which can often cost more than you have budgeted. How can you increase business on a budget? With these concepts, you can achieve large-scale credibility, name recognition and added value, and top of mind awareness of your services or products – all on a small business budget.

First things first

Answer the following questions.

  • What goals and expectations do I have for my business image?
  • What do I want my audience to know (the message)?
  • What do I want to accomplish in extending my message?
  • What’s my budget?

Create a list of expectations and see how they correspond with your budget, realizing that you must work within the identified budget. Once you’ve completed these steps, you can move forward in publicizing and promoting your business, product, service, brand or message.

Partner with other agencies, businesses, and/or organizations

Partnerships extend the reach of messages by utilizing another organization to share your message. But what’s the purpose of a partner, and how do you identify one?

As a small business, it’s important to utilize local partnerships to help extend your messages. To identify a partner, you should select an organization that shares a mutual interest, targets a similar audience and/or has comparable goals. Partners will often graciously share your information (a flyer, a coupon, a brochure), knowing that they can count on you to return the favor.

What’s in it for the partner? When audiences think of your message, they’ll also think of where they heard your message – from the partnering organization. In turn, partners can count on you to return efforts if and when they need to extend their own messages. This cooperative effort builds community, promotes positive messages, and ultimately increases your presence without spending additional funds or advertising dollars. With just a friendly phone call, the simple effort of asking a neighbor for a favor becomes a beneficial and cost-effective visibility tool.

Take advantage of earned media opportunities

Never underestimate the power of earned media. With a little help from a public relations consultant, you can achieve publicity in print and broadcast media and online. This is one of the best ways to gain recognition and add credibility to your business, but more importantly, it’s free! A PR consultant can add a great deal of value to your efforts through basic media relations efforts (one well-placed feature article about your business can reach every local media outlet and an entire community of potential customers, and is significantly cheaper than running an ad in those same papers).

With the help of your consultant, identify your audience and learn what mediums they use to get their information; then your consultant can develop media pitches and newsworthy stories about your business, product or organization. PR consultants know media—and they’ll know what the media wants to see and what they find interesting for their readers or viewers. For example, if you want to target young adults, your PR consultant can tailor stories to reach that age group and will also place the story specifically in outlets that target young adults.

While many PR consultants can offer you their services on a task by task basis, or even for a minimal retainer fee, if your budget simply doesn’t allow for you to hire one, you should still know the ins and outs of working with the media and how to use them to best suit your marketing needs.  Familiarize yourself with the local media and remember: the story they do about you is only as good as the information you provide them.  Your news release should be interesting, have a solid hook and be beneficial in some way to their readers or viewers.  Be sure to follow up, too.  And by follow up we don’t mean stalk them – that’s a BAD way to generate good press. Unless, of course, you are a PR consultant – then it’s expected!

Presence in the media adds an element of credibility to your business. Think about it: what is your impression of something covered in the news? It’s important, up-and-coming and reliable. When people see your business in the media, they are more likely to stop, take notice, remember and think of you next time you have something they need.

Co-Op Branding

Identify organizations and other businesses that you can share marketing resources with—similar to your partnership efforts. Whereas partnerships are more quid-pro-quo and generally doesn’t involve an exchange of money, but more a sharing of resources, co-op branding helps you use paid marketing efforts in a cost-effective way. Collaborate with the organization on an ad, work together to put on an event, or share a promotion. Want to promote a new fashion line? Collaborate with a high-end dry cleaning facility or makeup line and put out a catchy ad with a mutual message. Launching a boat business? Get in touch with a board shop and promote your products together with a grand opening party.

Co-op branding will increase name and brand recognition, ultimately spreading your messages to an even bigger audience than your own efforts alone may provide. This type of marketing effort is cost-effective and can generate bigger, broader exposure for your messages—two well-known businesses or organizations working together provide a solid, far-reaching message and offer more to the customer than a solo business.

Word of Mouth

People talk. And other people listen.

With a little incentive, your current, loyal customers will help spread the word about your business and services. Work with them to be ambassadors for your products and/or services. It’s likely that if you provide superior service to customers or clients, they’ll share their experiences, but if they need a little more reason, develop an incentive program for them for every referral you receive. Consider developing a “customer loyalty coupon” or something similar to reward customers who bring business to you. Make it worth their while, and you in turn will see an increase in your business, both in new customers and continued patronage from your existing base of clients.

Wrapping it Up

Take advantage of these cost-effective concepts and you will surely gain name recognition, create awareness of your services or products and increase your sales. Need a little help? Contact a PR consultant who can help you move in the right direction with a strategic plan.