By Jeff Quigley
Promoting your home-based business is the next step on your path to success. Depending on your product or service, there are several great promotional opportunities for small businesses that cost very little money, if any at all. All promotion falls into two categories: general publicity and target marketing. I’ll describe each of these and how they differ.
General publicity is advertising that reaches a group of potential customers, without any control over whom it reaches. This type of advertising will be seen by all of the people within the general area. If you place a flyer on the bulletin board at your local post office, you’ve just advertised to the public in that general area. This is a great way to promote your business, and it costs very little money. It will, however, only reach the individuals who happen to walk into the post office.
Target marketing takes a little more effort, but the results are usually much better. This mode of advertising is when you select a specific group of recipients for your advertising and deliver it to them in a focused manner. If you were to take fifty cards to the post office and mail them to people who have expressed an interest in your product, you’d be engaged in target marketing. Take note, however, that the single flyer on the bulletin board was one sheet of paper. The cards in the mail are fifty different cards. That’s a pretty significant difference in cost and effort, but the increased effort is usually met with greater results.
We live in an ever-changing world, and advertising is a very active field. In years gone by, the local newspaper was the most accessible and most reliable way to get advertising out to the masses. While the paper is still a viable mode of advertising, it’s not the most ideal method for today’s home-based business. Consider this list of low-cost, high-yield sources for promoting your business:
- Message boards. Besides just posting your flyer on the wall at the post office, consider taking one to the grocery store, gas station, library, coffee shop—any place people go during the normal course of a week. You can even target these flyers somewhat. If your business is an auto detailing service, post a flyer at the local garage. A jewelry maker could post at the local beauty shop. Obviously, you’ll always want to ask permission before posting your flyer, and often the shop owner will take it and put it where he or she wants it to hang. We have had great success posting puppy flyers at our local veterinarians’ offices. Another option to the bulletin board idea is to go online. Craigslist® is a wonderful way to advertise a business within a defined area for free. Facebook will allow you to create a page for your business and promote it to your friends and those who follow their pages.
- Local news. I will admit, we live in a very rural area, and what passes for news here would not even make a blip on the radar in a larger market. Even so, it would be worth your time to call the newspaper, radio, and television companies in your area and see if they would help you with publicity. You can simply send them a press release, informing the general public about your new business and the products and services you offer. Or you can arrange for a reporter or photographer to come to your location and experience your product for themselves. If your business involves food, ask them for permission to bring some to their offices.
Another joy of country living is called “Tradio” (a combination of the words “trade” and “radio”). Each morning for two hours, the radio host does nothing but take phone calls from the public as they call in to tell what items they have to sell. There are a few clever individuals who operate home-based businesses, and they have become daily callers to the show, sometimes even singing their own jingles. This won’t work for everyone, but you never know until you try!
- Community involvement. No matter how large or small the community in which you live, there are always opportunities to get involved in civic functions. Public schools, libraries, and city hall are usually looking for partners to help fund a project or volunteer to staff an event. Most of the public events in our area are funded by local businesses whose logos adorn every t-shirt, calendar, and banner in the county. While it was funny and ironic when “Gloria’s Cupcakes” was a major sponsor of a recent 5K marathon, having her logo on the back of the runners’ shirts was priceless.
An organization that exists solely to help local businesses succeed is your local Chamber of Commerce. For a modest annual membership fee, you can represent your business at all Chamber events. Our local Chamber has an event each week of the year, ranging from ribbon-cutting ceremonies to full banquets with guest speakers. At each of these events, all members are invited to attend. And at each of these events, the local newspaper is on hand to photograph and document exactly who attended and what was said. It’s almost as if membership in the Chamber gets your photo in the paper every week of the year!
- Internet. According to www.internetlivestats.com, there are over 3.2 billion people using the Internet on a regular basis. If you don’t have a website of some sort that promotes your business, get one. Today. Perhaps you already have a site or a Facebook page for your business. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean people will visit it. You’ve got to promote your website in order to build site traffic, and there are some simple things you can do to see it happen.
- Include your URL on everything you print. Wherever you include your logo, you need to also list your URL address. This includes your business cards, letterhead, banners, and receipts. Any time someone sees your logo, they should be reminded of your website address.
- Generate an email list. This may sound intense, but it can start with a simple sign-up sheet in your shop or office. Some caution is necessary here, as many people view unsolicited email as a nuisance. There are companies online who specialize in these marketing emails, and you can sink a lot of money into the effort. You always want to include a reply link for those who want to opt out of your list, and you must always honor their request to opt out.
- Use an email signature. This effective tool is completely free and easy to set up using the preferences setting of your email program. This signature is a preset tag that is automatically included in every email you send. In the signature, you can include a link that directs the recipient back to your website. You might be surprised how many people will click on your link just to learn more about you and the email you sent.
- Take advantage of social media. There is a host of networking sites just waiting for you to sign up and create a profile for your business. The most popular of these sites are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn®, Google+®, and Pinterest. Some of these sites are excellent opportunities for publicity, so long as you’re willing to give them regular attention and keep them updated. The nice thing about social networking websites is that they take care of targeting your information to people who are interested. You can include hyperlinks in all of your posts that direct traffic back to your site, and several of them will even allow you to cross-produce your posts. (I get several Facebook alerts in my Twitter feed).
- Don’t forget online markets. Depending on what you’re selling, you can take advantage of marketplace sites like eBay®, Amazon®, and Craigslist. A further step is to open up an online shop on www.MollyGreenShops.com, where you list your products for sale, and the host site takes care of all the behind-the-scenes details. This scenario is preferred because you retain the control to price your wares and promote your store as you see fit. Any time you post an item for sale in an online market, you are also generating potential traffic for your website, as customers have the option to click on your link and visit your page.
- Think big. There are other sites on the Internet designed to give you a platform for speaking out. YouTube™, Vimeo™ and DailyMotion® are three of the most popular video hosting sites. You could create and record a series of informative videos dealing with your area of expertise and post them as public service announcements. You could record and produce a simple advertisement video for your home-based business and post it as a commercial. You could even orchestrate and record a funny or amazing video and post it in hopes of going viral. With each scenario, you’re generating potential traffic for your site, and in turn, potential customers for your business.
- Custom-printed material. In years past, getting things custom printed with your logo or business info on them was expensive and time-consuming. The online marketplace has brought us a host of options for quick, inexpensive printing with remarkable quality. Where a box of business cards used to cost $50 and take three weeks, you can now get 500 high-quality cards printed and delivered in a week for under $10. Check out sites like VistaPrint.com®, GotPrint.com®, and OvernightPrints.com®. These same sites are also a great source for banners, flyers, embroidered apparel, and pens … anything you can imagine putting your logo on.