Promoting Your Small Business

Tuesday, 2007-January-30 at 18:39

Promoting Your Small Business

Introduction: Why Promote?

In any small business, you have to find ways to convince potential customers to choose your business’s products and services. There are many different ways to do this, including sales (in which a person talks with another person in an attempt to convince the second person to buy) and advertising (in which sales and promotional messages are placed in areas where potential customers are likely to come across them). Another important area (for those who are not starting out in a home office, anyway) is signage–if your customers cannot find you, they won’t be your customers very long.

But in addition to all of these things, you will need to do things that help to get your name and your business and its products and services the attention they deserve from sources other than advertising. Big International Corporation, your competitor, can easily out-advertise you. Your budget is going to be quite a bit smaller than theirs.

The idea behind promotion is to do things that have minimal cost, but which help raise awareness and positive impressions of you, your skills, your business, and its products and services.

What Should I Do?

What should you do to promote your business? Ultimately, this is a personal and individual question. One person may decide to join the local “adopt a school” program, providing discounted purchases and freebies, and possibly volunteers, to a local school. Another person may decide to teach classes in her subject of expertise at the local community center or community college. Still another may write a column that is distributed free of charge to the local weekly and daily publications. Other ideas include blogging, publishing tutorials on your business’s Web site, or publishing a newsletter. Some people hit the local speaking circuit, perhaps as a motivational speaker.

One idea is to run for a local political office. In most smaller cities and towns, council members are unpaid. This can be an excellent way to make your name well-known in the community. However, conflict-of-interest laws will mean that you cannot do business with the city while you are on the city council, so if the city is–or could be–a major customer, this option may not be for you.

Just remember that your goal is to help your community, and in the process, to help your community’s members to decide that they want to do business with your business.

Example: Exclusive Product

Let’s say that you have a handy-dandy product that makes automobile tires last twice as long as before. You developed this product after working for twenty years in a tire and brake retailer. You start a small business, consisting of you and your son-in-law, who has been out of work for a while. In this situation, you may want to start a column in the local paper in which you give people advice about automobile maintenance. Avoid recommending any specific company or product (brand name), but teach potential customers how to decide what products are right for them. In your tagline, state the name of your business and what product you sell.

It may be that your local paper will not accept your column. You may need to restructure it as an “advertorial,” which means that you can recommend your own products somewhere in the ad. Realize, however, that this will be a paid item, made to look similar to (but easily distinguishable from) the paper’s own editorial content. You should place some kind of box around your item, with your logo clearly visible, so that readers are not deceived into thinking that this is unpaid content. The clarity will help you avoid potentially embarrassing public revelations later on.

Example: Crowded Market

Let’s say that you are the 35th person to open a beauty salon in your town of 1,000 people. You might gain a small slice of the market on your own, but you will probably need to show how your own particular combination of training and experience makes your business a better deal than some of your competitors. You may offer a free hair day for certified lower-income families in conjunction with your local aid agency. Or perhaps offer free hair appointments to the local shelter, so that people will be able to go out and obtain employment. Make sure that these agencies are taking photos and taking notes to send to local media.

This is the perfect way to ensure that your business is seen as distinctive, rather than just another cookie-cutter operation.

Effects Of Promotion

In advertising, you should typically try to target most of your ads in such a way that you can actually measure the increased sales from the campaign. A toy store should make sure that people know where to get this year’s big thing as the calendar nears November. If the store does not run a campaign one year, there should be a measurable loss of sales. Promotion is different, because promotion is meant to give you a general “halo,” a favorable impression in the eyes of prospective customers in your market. This is why you can involve your business with a particular non-profit group or school: it may not increase your sales immediately, but it will help your business gain customers who might otherwise have gone across the street for the same product or service.

A prominent Internet company has the motto, “don’t be evil.” Promotion can help your business build its image as a non-evil company, or at least, less evil than your competitors. Non-evilness can really help your sales, as Google’s performance (in comparison to Yahoo and MSN/Live, both of whom fill their sites with those Flash ads with the dancing cowboys) shows.

Let’s face it, you like it when people like you and look up to you. Your promotion activities can help improve the way that others think about you. You may even get your own fan club. πŸ˜‰

Conclusion: Small Businesses Must Promote

If your business was a faceless corporation, you could possibly continue on the growth path without any promotion. Your commercials on every possible channel would rake in enough sales that you would not have to do anything else.

Since you are most likely the owner (or prospective owner) of a smaller business, you don’t have that option. You must promote, so that your local customer base prefers your business, even when Giganticorp Inc offers the same product for less money or when Giganticorp Inc puts up balloons, flashing lights and a bounce house.

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