When a person starts up a new business, every penny counts. Of course, the business needs to promote itself to attract customers but often lacks the funds to pay for advertising in traditional media. In a 2011 article by Huffington Post’s Kim Bhasin, American Express lends a helping hand to startups with a list of ways to promote one’s business at little or no cost.
First of all, Bhasin points out, businesses need to list themselves on the main search engines on their local databases. Google, of course, is the largest search engine. Its Google Places platform allows businesses to register themselves for no cost. Businesses need to provide either a phone number or a mailing address to confirm their physical presence. Being listed on Google Places gives businesses the advantage of a Google Maps listing. Customers can use Google Maps and their GPS devices to find the business easily. Both Yahoo and Bing have similar local listings as well. If time is a factor, though, Google is the best bet if time isn’t available to list on all three. Most potential customers use Google to find needed items or services.
Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or other platforms are some good ways for businesses to promote themselves. Facebook, of course, is the social media king. Businesses that are primarily visual should consider Pinterest and Instagram, while businesses that offer business-to-business (B2B) services may reap a harvest of clients through LinkedIn. News outlets and other time-sensitive businesses should have a Twitter presence since it is usually the quickest way to get information to customers.
Blogs and YouTube videos, says Bhasin, can help businesses “connect with…consumers more directly.” Blogs and YouTube videos can provide useful information to potential customers. Use these tools to position a company as an expert in its field. Calls to action that invite potential customers to contact the company for more in-depth information can provide actionable leads for the company’s sales force. Blogs, as well as the websites on which they reside, should be optimized to position the site near the top of internet searches for a company’s products. Though many established companies pay professionals for conducting this process, called search engine optimization (SEO), internet-savvy startup owners can learn many SEO principles by investing some time in study after regular business hours.
As the American Express article points out, press releases are free—and a great way for a startup to promote its services or products. Press releases must be about newsworthy events, though. Businesses need to look into how they can solve a problem or meet a need in their community. When they do so, they need to write a press release to proclaim the news to the public. New business owners need to cultivate relationships with the local press. Buying a local reporter a cup of coffee costs little compared to the advantages a business owner has when they are on a first name basis with the main media outlets in their area.
Promotional gear that people will really use can also draw attention to one’s business. One real estate agent ordered custom labels to attach to water bottles, which she donated to local fundraising events: benefit athletic tournaments, parades, and holiday festivities. Another small business, a psychiatrist, uses pens with his logo and an esteem-building tagline to not only promote his work, but also to decrease stigma about mental health issues. As long as the promotional item is useful, a business can build good will for only a small investment.
Startup companies begin with innovation. Use that innovative spirit to promote the company with low-cost marketing tactics, and the company will grow its customer base and community awareness.