Dwayne Stewart discusses why marketing can be done on a shoestring budget and why SMEs don’t have to spend a fortune on Communications activity to get their message heard.
It’s often said that “the best things in life are free” and this can also be true in business specifically when it comes to marketing and promotion of your products and services. Many small businesses feel they simply do not have the required vast budgets or resources for marketing and therefore this activity usually falls to the owner manager –another hat they have to wear!
So what is the rule of thumb?
1. Time is needed. Set aside time to dedicate to your marketing plan and strategy as part of your working week
2. Pick the most relevant promotional tools for your business and do them well
Marketing doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are many tactical channels at your disposal to get your marketing messages out there AND indeed many of these are FREE! I have pulled together a menu of options to get you started and remember in the words Seth Godin, Marketing Guru and Blogger:
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” - Seth Godin
1. Create truly meaningful information – “Content is King”
You and your business are the ‘experts’ in something, whatever it is relating to your product or industry. What you have to work out, and fast, is why you should be the ‘voice of authority’ in that space that people look to for products or services to fulfil a need.
Start with reviewing the business, review what your competitors are offering and plug the gaps. Succinctly create a list of USP (Unique Selling Points) of why your product or service is the best or why one of your staff may be the ‘go to’ person for that industry.
Then turn these into some great content. This will involve time but is worth it. This content (articles, short videos, white papers, product or industry expertise or tips etc) should then be worked up into bite-size chunks that your audiences can easily understand and make an informed choice. There should always be a call to action back to the business on how you can assist solve a need for a business or an individual consumer.
2. Manage your online presence – “Your website should be your most valuable asset”
Your website is the fulcrum and starting point for any customer wanting to find out more about your business and product or service. Make sure that it is visually appealing, user friendly, easy to find information and easy to apply for a service or buy a product if you offer this facility. This will have an initial cost attached to it.
However, once up and running, creating new and excellent content and populating your website after that is free. Ensure that your Blog lives either on your website or that it links to it. Social Media channels should be visible and feed into and out from your website.
Track visitors through Google Analytics and learn from customer journey flows what is working, what isn’t and ask questions on what can be improved in future through email surveys for example.
3. Create a Blog – “It’s a great first step”
Once you have some great content at the ready, whether Text or Visual, a great first step is to create a blog on a free resource like Blogger or Word press. This platform will allow you to promote your content regularly (start even once a month and build it up to weekly or even daily if you have enough to say).
It will also allow others to see a personal or human slant to the business and this can build up trust over time.
A lot of blog posts can be related either to personal expert content or opinions but can also be related back to the business and products or services. This should be a soft sell and links to useful products or services can be included. By way of example, one of our Seedcorn winners created a blog – Kieran Normoyle from Ocean Survivor. Whilst it doesn’t sell Kieran’s product specifically it does relate to the industry he is involved in and his experience.
4. Keep it social – “Adopt various social media channels”
It goes without saying that Social Media channels are a great tool to market and promote a business and its products particularly Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest if you have a visually appealing product that you would like to promote. New platforms such as Facebook Live and Periscope allow for live video streaming for events and product launches. Snapchat can be useful to specifically target and engage with a younger audience.
Just ensure that your content is interesting, include plenty of images and videos, keep it short and include links back to your website or blog to boost visitors and awareness.
5. Use your staff and customers – “Let them tell the brand story”
It might be worth letting your staff tell a story of why your business is great and why you solve a customer’s problem better than anyone else. Even better, why not ask some of your customers why they have been happy with your product or service and let them tell your story in a ‘human interest’ way.
This type of marketing communication (videos, website testimonials, case studies) always resonates well with audiences as peer-to-peer reviews can be very powerful. Better than you saying it yourself. It becomes more credible when told by someone else.
It could be as simple as using your iPhone or Android device to video a customer testimonial and then add this to your website, blog or social media. Ask your customer to share it too, to amplify the message even further.
6. Network, network, network – “Six degrees of separation”
Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.
Why not start to promote your business at regular monthly networking events across the island? In Northern Ireland someone like BNI UK or in Ireland, specifically for business women a network like Network Ireland could be useful for personal selling and Word of Mouth marketing of your products or services. There is nothing more powerful than face to face contact.
Network, share business cards, but most importantly – follow up!
7. Take the stage – “Agree to public speaking opportunities”
Why not look for free speaking opportunities for your business and agree to events that have a link to the industry you work in? If your oratory skills aren’t up to scratch then maybe it’s time to get practising or to take some advice on public speaking.
Just make sure you have a professional slide deck prepared, brochures with you on the day and of course those all important business cards.
Delivering information to a public audience at either small or large scale events can deliver awareness, trust and empathy with a business and could ultimately lead to leads and sales further down the line. The more you get recognised at these events and if you deliver good content then the opportunities to speak will eventually find you. Perhaps start on the island and then consider UK, European or other more Global opportunities.
8. Get in the news – “Make new friends with your local media contacts”
Journalists aren’t actually that scary at all. In fact, they are always hungry to fill column inches with good news stories about local companies or products or services. Read your local and national papers and familiarise yourself with the business journalists and editors names. Find out email addresses from the paper websites and create a list to target.
Once you have your list. Why not give a mini press release a go on a success for the business or even use one of your blogs and send this to the journalist. Start to build up a relationship over time and who knows, for every two or three articles you send, one of them might resonate and make the local or national press. This can all be done free. Where possible, also include photos as this makes any story more interesting. Keep any releases short and to the point and include bullet points and a contact if the journalist wants to follow up for more information.
If you have budget, of course you could hire a PR individual to do this for you, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far you can always do it yourself this way.
9. Email Marketing – “Message to the Masses”
From your website or blog, you can start from scratch to build a database of followers through ‘opt in’ marketing tactics to receive information from your company in future. This can be a vital resource.
Once you have a database of people who want to receive information from you on your business products or services you can email them news, events, launches, key industry information or expert opinion that they would like to receive. You could start a clever monthly eZine and use this as a tool to keep them informed as well as pointing back to your website for new products or services and any exclusive offers that would entice them to purchase or apply.
10. Enter Awards – “If you aren’t in you can’t win!”
There are a range of Business Awards out there from InterTradeIreland Seedcorn Awards to Ulster Bank Business Achiever Awards to CIM Marketing Excellence Awards, to EY Entrepreneur of the Year, just to name a few. These are all free to enter and they have many categories that are either person specific or industry specific. Why not invest the time in filling in an application form for your business product or service and give it a bash.
Even to be shortlisted can give your business a brand awareness boost. If you win a category, then even better, maximise this to its full potential through promotion on social media, your blog and website and even PR. Remember those new local journalist friends?
How can InterTradeIreland help?
- If you are a micro-business looking to identify cross-border markets and customers to win new business, 100% funding for specialist consultancy support is available through Elevate.
- The Trade Accelerator Voucher scheme provides small businesses with financial support towards professional advice in relation to cross-border trading and regulation, such as legal, accountancy, marketing and other business services.
- The FREE Simple Guide to Cross-Border Business can help business owners with simple and practical advice on all aspects of cross-border trading.
If you would like more details on any of the InterTradeIreland export supports, including eligibility criteria and application details, please contact our Trade Team on 028 3083 4110 (048 from Ireland).
Article published by Dwayne Stewart