Want to learn some interesting ways to attract more customers to your business? You’re about to find out some cheap and interesting strategies!
How do businesses make money? It’s simple; they sell products or services to people (customers) at a profit.
No matter how great your product or service, your business will not make any money unless customers are willing to buy them. No customers, no business. Period!
However, most small businesses experience hard times or fail, not because customers do not want to buy their products, but because customers don’t even know their products/services exist in the first place.
For many small businesses, marketing and advertising is a huge problem. This article looks at 10 simple, cheap and highly effective ways that small businesses can market and advertise their products and services. If this has been a challenge for your business, you will certainly learn a lot from this article.
Marketing and Advertising is a Huge Problem for Many Small Businesses…
For many small businesses, cost is a major barrier when it comes to marketing and advertising.
Many of the popular methods we know (like radio, TV, magazines and newspapers) are often too expensive for small businesses.
In a world where a 30-second advert slot on radio and television can cost hundreds of dollars, it’s difficult for small businesses to cope. That’s why big companies with advertising and marketing budgets that run into thousands and millions of dollars dominate the billboards, newspapers, magazines, radio and television.
Because most small businesses cannot find the customers they need to remain in business, many small businesses starve and die because they cannot sell enough products and services.
Despite these difficulties, how come there are still a couple of businesses which start very small but are able to attract enough customers to remain in business?
My research has shown that these smart businesses and entrepreneurs use several taken-for-granted methods that many of us have learned to overlook. Some of them are amazingly simple and will cost you nothing. Some of the others will cost you a little, but not enough to bore a hole in your pocket.
Thanks to the internet, there are now more free, cheap and interesting advertising options for small businesses.
Although some of the methods I will share with you shortly may work very well when used alone, we recommend that you combine different methods to get the best results. Here are the top ten ways to find new and more customers for your small business.
#1 – Word-of-mouth always works!
This is definitely the oldest form of marketing and advertising used by businesses since the world began. While it may bring slower results than radio or television, it still works very well.
Because people are becoming increasingly suspicious of paid advertising, I still think word-of-mouth remains one of the most trusted methods in the world today.
When a customer is happy and satisfied with a product or service, there’s a natural human tendency that they are likely to share this experience with people in their circle of trust and influence – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and sometimes, strangers.
A satisfied customer is one of the most effective marketing and advertising tools a small business can ever have.
Satisfied customers become foot soldiers, evangelists and advocates for your business. It is amazing how many of your satisfied customers will go to great lengths to promote, convince, protect and defend your business outside.
Word-of-mouth is so effective and powerful that many successful business rely solely on this method to advertise and market their products and services. Network marketing businesses are a good example.
So, how exactly can your small business grow an army of passionate customers who will use word-of-mouth advertising to your advantage?
Well, I have a couple of ideas.
- The first and most important step is to sell a product or service that really works and provides great value to anybody who uses them. If a product or service delivers on its promise and does more than what it says, it’s a winner!
Most people buy products or services to solve a problem or satisfy a need. Nothing will make a customer happier and more satisfied than getting a product that makes a very challenging problem go away. They’ll scream your name from the mountain tops!
- Great customer experience. Most times, it doesn’t really matter how large or deep-pocketed your competition is. You can grow a successful business on great customer service.
People like to buy products and services from businesses that treat them with respect. People love to be given attention and treated well and will always return to enjoy that beautiful experience again.
Don’t forget, customers spend their hard-earned money on your products. Don’t you think they deserve a big “Thank you’ with a wide smile on your face? People hardly forget a great customer experience and will happily tell other people about it.
- Give your customers a reason to advertise and market your business. Sometimes, word-of-mouth advertising doesn’t come automatically; you have to encourage, motivate or incentivize your customers to do it for you.
Start a referral or reward program for your existing customers. The more people they refer to you, the more free products, services and discounts they will enjoy. The reward should be large enough to trigger their interest and make them take action. It’s a win-win method that always works.
I once helped a friend of mine create a loyalty and referral program for her barbershop and beauty salon business.
The way it works is simple. All existing customers were registered and given a unique code. Whenever they spend money in the shop, it increases the total amount they have spent to date. If this total reaches a certain level, they are awarded certain discounts for all the services they pay for.
There were four levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum) with increasing rewards. The results were amazing! Almost every customer was referring their family, friends, neighbours and total strangers to the salon to spend money under their code thereby increasing their totals and making them reach the Gold and Platinum levels faster.
#2 – ‘Free’ works like magic!
Everybody loves free stuff.
Giving away some of your products and services for free does three very positive and interesting things for your small business:
First, it lets people out there know that you exist.
Second, it gives you a chance to prove the value of your product or service and show that it really works.
Third, it provides your future customers with a risk-free way to try out your products or service without spending any money. And if customers find value in your products or services, they will be willing to pay money for it.
Let’s say George wants to start a barbershop in his neighborhood and he’s looking for a simple, cheap and effective way to advertise and kickstart his new small business.
He decides to put up a sign in front of his barbershop that reads: ‘Free Haircuts. First 20 People Only’. This reads like a sign that will definitely catch a lot of attention, right?
That is the power of free!
Anybody who walks into his shop for a free haircut and loves the service will happily return next time to pay for it and will likely tell his friends, colleagues and neighbours about the ‘cool’ new barbershop down the road.
Most people have a weakness for the word ‘free’. In their minds, it’s another opportunity to enjoy or use something without spending any money.
Customers love ‘free’ because they have nothing to lose; they just sit back, relax and enjoy the service or product without any risk. By drawing them into your business, you give them a chance to see and experience something that would have been totally hidden from them if you didn’t open your door.
However, you must make sure that the free stuff WILL NOT last forever. From the outset, determine the number of people who will enjoy the free stuff or how many days the promo will last. Not everybody should get free stuff; it’s the scarcity element that makes it very appealing.
#3 – Offer discounts and deals
Just like free stuff, discounts and deals work well too. They are another creative and low cost way to attract more customers to your business.
People often see discounts and deals as a huge opportunity to save money and enjoy a product or service for a whole lot less.
In fact, discounts and deals usually influence customers to buy more products or services than they initially planned. They love to ‘take the opportunity’ because the same products may not be so cheap tomorrow. (photo credit: blog.mixedchicks.net)
Offering deals and discounts are also a powerful way to publicise your brand. There are now a couple of deal websites in Africa that advertise great deals to deal-hungry customers on a daily basis.
Take Nigeria’s DealDey for example. Every day, it advertises mouthwatering deals from several small businesses in several cities across Nigeria. For a small fee, small businesses can reach thousands of potential customers through the good discounts and deals they offer and websites like DealDey offer a great platform to do this.
#4 – Start a Contest
Everybody loves to win. It’s not just always about the prize you win, it’s the thrill of getting lucky or beating other people.
Call it ‘ego’ or whatever you like, but it always works.
Let’s say you’re in the wedding business and sell wedding gowns, bridal accessories and other stuff to young people who are planning a wedding.
Let’s also say you start an interesting contest and the prizes include a designer wedding dress or a fully-sponsored honeymoon trip to a local resort. To enter for this contest, all the couples will have to do is submit a romantic poem about how they met each other.
Can you imagine the kind of buzz this could create for your small business?
To spread the word about the contest, you could use word of mouth and social media like Facebook (we’ll talk about this a little later). Potential couples will start to talk about the contest and create free attention and buzz for you.
Even though many of them will not win the grand prize, they will still be interested in finding out more about your products and services.
A word of caution though. Make sure you can comfortably afford the prize(s) you plan to give out. Draw out a reasonable budget and stick to it. It makes no sense if the money you make from selling your products during the contest cannot cover the cost of running it.
#5 – Do You Have A Website Yet?
Photo credit: choonsae.info
Yes, you’re right. Small businesses need websites too, even if it has just a single page.
As a result of the huge influence of the internet, our world is now more connected than ever before. Most people simply use the internet nowadays when they want to find a product or service.
With the spread of mobile phones across many parts of Africa, it is easier and more effective to search Google for information rather than ask the nearest human being.
Let’s say you run a small laundry and dry cleaning business in Tema (a small city in Ghana). Will your business come up among the search results when a desperate customer searches Google for ‘Laundry Businesses in Tema’?
Owning your own website is no longer a luxury that only big companies enjoy. The internet has now made it possible for everybody to enjoy the opportunity of getting found.
You can get a website for free nowadays and www.blogger.com is a good place to start. With a Google email account, you can set up a single web page with a brief description of your business, products and services.
More importantly, you should include your contact information (physical address, telephone and email). A website is like your own billboard or newspaper advert. Get your small business represented on the internet. It often costs nothing and will benefit you a lot.
#6 – Get Listed on Popular Local Directories
In the old days, long before we had mobile telephones, there were these very large books known as ‘the Yellow Pages’.
Every person and business usually had their telephone numbers (and sometimes addresses) listed in the Yellow Pages.
Because there were fewer telephones back then (known as landlines) it was easy to get everybody’s names and numbers in one book. Today, with more than 800 million people with mobile telephones across Africa and personal privacy concerns, it would be impossible to do that.
Thanks to the internet, small businesses can be listed for free on local directories.
When a small business is registered on a local directory, people around the world can find it on the map and view its contact information. The best part is, you don’t have to pay anything to become registered on these directories. Some of the most popular ones out there are Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Places. As you can see, all of these directories are run by the big global internet search giants. Get onboard today and fast to claim your place!
#7 – Are you on Social media?
Social media is changing the way business is done in today’s world.
Although there are now several social media platforms across the world, Facebook leads the pack as the world’s largest social community with over 1.1 billion registered users worldwide (as at 30 September 2013). That’s more than 15 percent of the world’s total population.
Popular social media networks like Facebook are some of the top places where your potential customers hang out and it makes perfect sense that you register your business on Facebook too. (photo credit : maziermedia.com)
In Africa, Facebook has proven to be popular with over 50 million regular Facebook users on the continent (as at December 2012) registered on the website.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter make it very easy for people (both customers and non-customers) to talk about your business. They can share or tweet about your products and services and this allows you to easily engage with them.
For a step-by-step lesson on how to set up your own Business Page on Facebook, here’s a detailed tutorial for you: How To Use The Power of Social Networking To Grow Your Business.
#8 – Online advertising is the way to go!
More people now depend on the internet for information nowadays.
More people are watching YouTube than they watch television. More people read news websites and online magazines instead of the paper versions. Even big companies have recognized this shift and are now investing more in online advertising over the traditional ones.
Since more people now spend more time on the internet, it only makes sense that you follow them there.
There are different forms of online advertising but one of the most popular remains Google’s Adwords Program.
Google is by far the largest search engine on the internet and millions of people around the world depend on it everyday for information. It made more than $30 billion dollars from online advertising (in 2012) and this figure is expected to grow in the future.
With a small daily budget of $10 to $20 per day, small businesses can attract thousands of potential customers to buy products and services.
However, it is important you know that online advertising will work best for your business if you have a website for your business. The short video below describes how the internet’s biggest advertising program (Google Adwords) works.
#9 – Print and Distribute Flyers
Flyers remain a simple but very effective way to publicise and advertise your business. They usually work best for small businesses that target customers within a particular area (such as university campuses, residential estates, offices and industrial areas).
To try out this method of advertising, you don’t need to invest in very expensive flyers. If you have limited funds, it’s best you focus more on the message you want to deliver and not on the pictures, graphics or colours .
In fact, you can design a simple one for yourself using any of the free templates in PowerPoint on your computer.
There’s also another great option. For $5, you can hire a professional designer on Fiverr.com from anywhere in the world to design a great flyer or marketing material for you.
You can distribute these fliers by yourself or hire some help to work with you. Putting the flyers on parked cars and house entry doors usually work well.
You may also encounter some interested people who may want to know more about your business and ask questions. That would be a great time to apply some word-of-mouth advertising to the mix.
Flyers worked well for Colin Thornton, one of the inspiring entrepreneurs we profiled here on Smallstarter.
When he started his computer repair business from his parents’ garage, he printed some flyers and shared them to people in his neighbourhood. That’s how he attracted his first set of customers and today, he has grown that small businesss into a successful multi-million dollar company. You can read his success story here to inspire yourself!
#10 – Get Involved In Volunteer Work
Doing volunteer work is often an overlooked opportunity to enjoy free publicity.
Get involved in volunteer work in your community, church or mosque. Sponsor an event or offer your services for free.
Have you ever wondered why big companies invented ‘CSR’, the common acronym for Corporate Social Responsibility? For some reason, customers love to support businesses that give something back to the society in some way.
Most times, all that is required may be your time, effort and encouragement. If you plan to use this method of advertising, remember to make sure that all donations, sponsorships and support are done in the name of your business and not yours.
Now you some interesting ways to attract more customers to your business. It’s action time!
We have discussed quite a couple of simple, cheap, interesting and creative ways to spread the word about your small business.
While some methods may not work for every business, you will not lose anything by trying them out to see which ones work best for you.
Like we mentioned before, the best marketing and advertising strategy is to combine several of these methods to increase the number of customers you can attract to your business.
More customers mean more sales. More sales mean more profits. And profits are always good news for any small business!
Have you been having any difficulties with advertising and marketing your products and services?
Have you tried any of the methods mentioned above?
What was the result?
No matter the outcome, good or bad, I would love to hear from you and share your experience. You never know, it may help somebody out there.
If you found this article useful, we would appreciate that you share it with your friends using the Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus buttons below. You never know, you could inspire somebody today.
To your success!
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