Ask SCORE
 
Low-Cost Marketing Tactics Can Help Make a Boom on a Budget
 
Every small business needs to watch expenses, whether it’s been around for 15 years or 15 minutes.  When it comes to getting customers interested in your product or service, an entrepreneur may be tempted to spend a little more in hopes of getting a lot in return.
 
While it is true that a wise investment in a well-planned marketing strategy has a better chance of succeeding than a “throw money and hope” approach, there are many tactics that are low-cost in regards to time and materials, yet have proven themselves to be highly effective in raising awareness about a small business.  Talk about a near-perfect return on investment!
 
Networking.  Word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising and it’s even more effective when you’re the one doing it.  Business and professional associations are great places to start, especially when they sponsor events designed to bring people together in relaxed settings.
 
Also, look for organizations of interest to the people you want to do business with. Though some limit participation by those outside the industry, you can usually find events that are open to potential vendors such as yourself.
 
Business cards.  Although technology seems to bring us even closer to a “paperless” world, the humble business card remains an indispensable way to share basic information about yourself to the people you meet.
 
A distinctive paper stock or color may help it stand out, but the basics of design still apply—your name and title, business name, contact information, website, and--if appropriate—Twitter handle.  Make sure to use high-resolution versions of any images (photo, logo, etc.) so that they reproduce well.
 
Volunteer.  Community groups are always in need of a helping hand.  Find one that aligns with your personal interests and ask about opportunities to help.  There’s usually no problem finding a niche for someone with limited time left over from running a small business.  Even helping out at a one-day event can bring you in contact with new networks and opportunities to share what you do.
 
Similarly, business and professional groups usually have roles that can be worked into your schedule in exchange for some exposure for your business.  The more you do, the more people will see you as a trusted leader and someone to do business with.
 
Blog.  You can take your message to the world by being a regular blogger.  Blogs are easy to set up and when integrated into your small business website, can serve as a conduit for people interested in your skills and knowledge.  Coming up with topics is easier than you think.  You’re already surfing the web and the press for trends that affect your industry or your customers; why not share and comment on them in your blog.  Including relevant keywords in your text will help ensure your posts are picked up by search engines.
 
Stay away from topics that are too personal, controversial, or potentially divisive.  Customers read blogs for resources, not rants.
 
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This Ask SCORE column is provided by the SCORE Central Oregon Chapter.
SCORE is a nonprofit association with 11,000 volunteers, business experts in 320 offices in communities across the country.  SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration.  To request a free small business mentoring session go to www.scorecentraloregon.org