Marketing is the most common problem that people running or starting small businesses ask me about. Typically, they say something like, "I've placed some ads but they just don't seem to be doing anything." – in other words, not bringing them the customers, clients or sales they desire.
Marketing is More Than Advertising
But marketing and advertising are not synonymous and 'placing a few ads' is never going to draw the kind of business a small business needs to be successful. Marketing is a process, not an event. It involves planning marketing goals and implementing (often a series of) marketing strategies to achieve them.
Now that doesn't mean marketing has to be a complicated process. But it does mean you have to know what you want to achieve and get out there and work at it. Here are six simple marketing strategies you can use to increase your customers and sales.
1) Offer some free classes/workshops related to your products and/or services - in your home, in a rented venue or through a local education institution such as a Community College. Target specific audiences or events, if appropriate. For instance, someone with a beading business might offer special workshops on Beaded Christmas Projects or Beading for Girls. A yoga instructor might offer a class such as Yoga for Men.
2) Join local business organizations and networking groups. Many, such as home-based business groups, are inexpensive to join. And the marketing benefits are huge. Once they get to know you and what you do, the other business people in your group will mention your business to others and may even give you referrals. Local business organizations are also great opportunities to create and participate in some cooperative marketing strategies, such as holding special Market Days or other events.
3) Create or become front and center in a charitable event. You can get huge amounts of press for events like this – which can translate into new customers. One local artist has painted paper grocery bags which he is selling with all proceeds going to a selected charity, for example. But you don’t even have to go to the trouble of creating your own event; many charities have established events that you can become a very visible part of by becoming a sponsor. See 10 Ways to Get Known for more on charity-based marketing strategies.
4) Create your own blog - and use it to build an audience of people who would be interested in your products and/or services. Creating a blog is easier than creating a website - and savvier too. How do I Go About Creating a Business Blog? tells how to get started. Then write regularly about topics related to your business and what your business is doing. You'll start connecting with other bloggers, business people and potential customers.
5) Join and use Twitter. If you have time to get to know and use a variety of social media, do. But if you only have time for one, Twitter is my pick of all the social media out there because it's so quick and easy to use. How to Twitter: a Get Started Guide will have you up and tweeting in no time. As for marketing strategies, be sure you don't use Twitter exclusively to promote your product but to find and converse with like-minded people who may be interested in what you're doing. Read How to Use Twitter to Promote Your Business for details.
6) Ask for referrals - If you operate a service-based business, you know that I have saved the best for last here, because asking for referrals is the easiest and least time-consuming of all the marketing strategies in this article. It really makes me wonder why it's also one of the least used marketing strategies. If you don't regularly ask your satisfied customers for referrals because you don't know how or feel awkward doing it, read my Ask for Referrals article; it provides scripts you can use to make it easier to do.
The Marketing Rope
Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with advertising. It's just that in most cases it won't be not effective marketing unless it's part of a coordinated marketing plan. Think of marketing as a rope and advertising as one strand of the rope. How strong is a one strand rope going to be?
A mix of marketing strategies, such as advertising in conjunction with the marketing strategies above, will get you the marketing results you want. None of these marketing strategies are going to draw hordes of customers overnight but, assuming you have a good product or service, if you do them and work at them consistently, you will see an increase in customers and sales.
Excerpted from an article by Susan Ward for About.com