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Low-cost marketing know-how Add to ...

If you think marketing always involves costly advertising, you'll be relieved to know there are low-cost alternatives. Getting your message to potential customers can be done in a way that suits any budget.

Marketing to existing clients is one option to consider carefully. It's inexpensive and effective, since your customers already know your company and you know their preferences and needs. Take advantage of this invaluable knowledge and use it to build a campaign. Trying to reach new clients often requires a great deal more insight and research.

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When you do try to reach a broader market than your existing customer base, tailor your strategy by being visible in places that are relevant or meaningful to that audience. Ask yourself: What do they read? What do they watch? What activities interest them? Always work with a specific goal in mind so that you can easily map your progress. You need to know whether your goal is to obtain e-mail addresses or increase traffic to your website, to boost sales of a specific product or to change public perceptions of your product or service.

Here are some tips to help you get the most impact for your marketing expenditures - and avoid wasting money:

  • Conduct your marketing efforts in a logical, systematic way; random marketing tends to have little sizzle and can result in your losing your audience.
  • Be sure you adhere to a firm plan and give it time; you have to be patient before you see the payoff.
  • Keep track of how much you spend on research. You'll need money to produce your campaign.
  • Test your campaign before committing to it.
  • Prepare timeless marketing messages that don't have to be updated regularly. Avoid referring to the number of years you've been in business or specific client names - information that may quickly become outdated.
  • Avoid relying only on humour to position your company. The benefits of your product or service as well as competitive differences and company culture are much better themes to emphasize.

There are many low-cost ways of getting your message out. Choose the vehicle that best fits your business.

Referrals: Set up a referral system so that your existing customers can provide names of potential clients. You might consider offering discounts to those who refer new clients.

Public speaking: Offer to be a speaker at a conference associated with your type of product or service.

Website: If you want to extend your reach inexpensively, set up a basic website. Even a single web page will enhance your firm's visibility. Be sure that your products look appealing and that the site's look and feel are consistent with your brand. Provide up-to-date data and full contact information.

Press releases: Write short, engaging, newsworthy press releases and distribute them to newspapers, magazines and radio stations.

Direct mail: Use direct mail to target specific audiences. This is most effective if followed up with telemarketing.

Local marketing: Community newspapers offer low-cost advertising, and community bulletin boards are generally free.

Brochures: These can be costly. If you are selling a high-end product or service, your brochure must reflect this. Keep it simple but professional, and try to estimate how many copies you really need. Marketing that looks amateurish is not a wise investment. If you use professionals, be sure to learn from them; in the future, you may be able to handle some of this work yourself.

Yellow Pages: The big advantage of this publication is that it is kept for the entire year. Be sure to list yourself in the business categories where prospects can easily find you.

Trade shows: This marketing vehicle is only worthwhile if your product or service is aimed at a well-defined target market such as other businesses. Avoid trade shows if your market is diffuse and generic.

Networking: This is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, particularly if you offer professional services. Joining business associations, for example, enables you to leverage more work from existing clients and find new ones. Entrepreneurs join associations in order to share information and skills. The challenge here is to offer your services discreetly. Avoid a "hard-sell" approach in which you foist your services on people in such settings.

Advertising: Online advertising is generally less expensive than offline advertising. Be sure to determine if your target market uses the web; if your audience doesn't go online, neither should you. If your customers are online, be sure you know what sites they visit.

What's important here is to ensure that your online presence can give you quality leads. It's best to place your ad on a page where visitors are likely to linger, rather than a home page they will quickly click past.

Your final goal is to ensure that these new customers you have fought so hard to win over generate repeat business. Do not promise anything you can't deliver, and be sure adequate resources are in place to meet projected demand. Also make sure your inventory is adequate and that your website can handle projected volume.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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