By Jodie Toohey
As the one-woman owner of Wordsy Woman Word Sales and Service, working in a home office, people have to look for me to retain my services. This makes getting my name out and convincing people I’m worth the expense a top priority. And as with most home business owners, I don’t have a huge marketing budget. This means taking advantage of these free or cheap marketing tools is a business essential.
- Plan Ahead
According to Dr. Dennis Schrag, owner and operator of The Longview Group and Clinical Instructor at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa, “The marketing and sales plan should be a subset of the business plan. Both need to be totally re-evaluated and rewritten every three years at a minimum; sales and marketing plans need to be refreshed every year.” Because you only have limited dollars to spend on marketing, knowing ahead of time how, where, and when you spend that money is key to avoiding overspending. This can be difficult to do in a home business when you are the planner and executor, which is why Dr. Schrag says, “Having these plans in your head is not good enough. They need to be on paper so they can speak back to you.”
All you really need in your plan is to cover the five P’s: product, price, place, people, and promotion. Describe what your Product is, what makes it different from your competitors’, and what benefits it provides. Price is what you’re charging. Place is synonymous with distribution or where you’re selling your product or service. People are your ideal customers, where they work, how they spend their free time, and how they would benefit from your product or service. Promotion includes the tools you’ll carry out, when you will use them, and how much you plan to spend.
- Give Free Samples
It may seem counter-intuitive to give away what you are trying to sell for free, but Dr. Schrag says, “When you let potential clients/customers sample your services, it enhances the chances they will become a paying client.”
If you’re a service business, your free sample can be providing free information through consultations or another outlet, such as your website, social media presence, booklets, brochures, blogs, or newsletters. “The ‘helping’ newsletter that is targeted to your client’s business is powerful. The newsletter needs to be short, very easy to read, very targeted, and free of self-promotion/advertising,” says Dr. Schrag.
Newsletters can help the service and goods-oriented businesses alike. If you are in the medical field, produce a newsletter with information on living healthy. If you’re a plumber, contractor, or electrician, publish a newsletter with content about taking care of your home and business or being safe. A newsletter can also help businesses selling tangible goods. If you sell grocery items, create a newsletter with cooking tips and recipes using your products. Fashion product companies can produce a newsletter about how to combine various clothing items or save money shopping.
Today’s businesses, like it or not, are often built on relationships. Dr. Schrag says, “It is not what you know but who you know that really counts.” It’s important to build relationships with other people in your industry so you can keep up on emerging trends, and it’s important to build relationships with your customers.
Social media provides an almost no-cost — other than time — networking opportunity, allowing you to interact with many people quickly. On Facebook, all you have to do is get people to “Like” your page, and you have a free pass to tell them whatever you want, and if you’re careful about the timing and content of your posts so you don’t annoy them, they’ll keep reading. If you’re lucky, a conversation will start that draws in other people. For success, budget your time, pick a handful of outlets to focus on, and, as with newsletters, provide valuable content, not just your sales pitch.
Networking in the physical world is also important. Chambers of Commerce hold events where you can mingle with other businesses. Professional organizations not only provide this opportunity but their own helpful information.
All of this networking and relationship-building will help to plant seeds for perhaps the most credible free marketing: word of mouth; people with no obligation to you telling people about you and your business.
Publicity, though free when you get it, does cost time and it can be a wild card — you never know what the media will pick up. Instead of focusing on how to create publicity, think about ways to capture it. What are you already doing or planning to do in which the media may be interested? Helping the environment and giving to or helping some cause is also good material. When something happens in which you think people might be interested, send a press release to your local media outlets.
Press releases are relatively easy to write if you follow a few basic guidelines, and they have the potential of allowing you to reach hundreds — maybe thousands — of people for free. When writing your press release, remember to include the who, what, when, and where information. Also, make sure to include all of the most important information at the top so that if a media outlet is pressed for space, they can simply cut off the release without losing too much valuable information. Above all, send press releases on newsworthy events or happenings that will be of interest to the newspaper’s readers.
Volunteering can directly lead to profit; it allows you to build relationships with people who are passionate about the same things as you, helping with networking. Kim Hatfield, Volunteer Coordinator for the Davenport [Iowa] Volunteer Connection, promotes volunteering where your passions lie. According to Kim, almost all states have a commission on volunteer services devoted to helping volunteers and organizations needing them, but if working with those organizations isn’t convenient or you don’t have a municipal department, search in the telephone book or online for organizations in your community that might need help.
- Form Alliances
Are there any types of non-competing businesses with which you regularly work or which you regularly see while conducting your own business? A baker would likely regularly see or be involved in a project with other businesses, even if not directly, like a wedding. A wedding would involve not only the baker, but perhaps a caterer, dress-maker, photographer, disk jockey, or wedding planner. Pay attention to their products and services, listen to what people say about them, and if they seem like someone with whom you could have a good relationship, approach them about forming an alliance. Ask to trade business cards to give to clients or suggest including links on each others’ websites.
- Teach Others
No matter your business, you have something to share with others. In addition to giving to others through free samples, you can also do it through paid classes, whether through an already-established educational institution or on your own through seminars. If you do it right, you might even make money. Dr. Schrag relates that he likes teaching and thinks he’s good at it; he found that a way to generate some income and be seen as an expert was through the paid marketing of providing helpful seminars. He advises, “Always charge for a seminar, even if it is a token amount. People view ‘free seminars’ as worthless.” It’s also important to combine this tool with others. Dr. Schrag says, “At every seminar, I offered to provide my newsletter to anyone who wanted it. I provided a postage-paid return card so people could sign up for it. They saw it as a value added gift…and so did I.”
Whatever tools you finally decide to include in your marketing plans, don’t forget to implement them. You can only know if they are going to work if you try them, so it’s important to decide in advance how you will determine you’ve been successful. Always weigh the costs against the benefits. If a particular tool is costing you hundreds of dollars or hours but only bringing in a couple of extra sales or clients, you need to ask if it’s worth it. Above all, focus on the customer and the benefits your product or service is providing and you’ll never go wrong. HBM
Jodie Toohey helps people say what they want to say for their business through her professional writing and editing company, Wordsy Woman Word Sales and Service. To learn more about her, her services, and to view samples of her work, visit www.wordsywoman.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.