Big companies pay big bucks for advertising because they know it works. If you have a small business — whether a hobby business that earns you a little mad money or a full-fledged company that employs several people — you know advertising works, too. But you might not have enough money to advertise in the typical way. For those who want to promote their businesses without spending a lot, alternative means of advertising can still be effective:
Print up flyers. You might not feel comfortable sticking them under windshield wipers, but you can post them on bulletin boards at grocery stores, post offices, community centers, and other public buildings. Get permission and post your flyer (or business card, if that’s the convention) on every board you can find.
Design a clever business card that can double as an ad. Hand out cards to everyone you know, even those who don’t need your services, and ask them to pass the cards along to friends.
Hand out coupons for free or discounted products/services at community events, school fairs/functions, and other (non-competing) businesses. Alternately, create a carnival game for a fair booth and make sure the prizes have your business name on them.
Look for local online bulletin boards/groups where you can advertise your business. I know of at least two in my area that allow people to advertise their business services for free — one is specifically a work-related group; one is a yard sale group that includes services among its sale items.
Buy a classified ad, which is usually less expensive than a regular ad. Don’t neglect free community newspapers, which often have loyal readers and fewer advertisers competing for their attention. Post the same ad at Craigslist.org.
Send out press releases to announce any of your company’s achievements or special events (such as open houses or celebrity appearances). True, press releases are considered public relations, not advertising, but they can help make your business name better known to potential customers.
Sponsor a youth sports team, a community theater production, or other non-profit organization. Whether you donate cash, products, or services, your business name generally will appear on the team’s t-shirts, in the show’s playbill, or in the non-profit’s newsletters and website. This method works especially well if you can show an sample of your work as part of the donation — for example, a landscaper may do some work around a non-profit’s building in exchange for putting a small sign in the ground: “Landscaped by Grow Where You’re Planted, 555-1234.”
Put an advertisement on your car, especially if you have an unusual car. One interior decorator in our area drives a pink Volkswagen Beetle with her company’s name painted on the side. I have never seen her advertising anywhere else, but I know the name just from seeing her car. When you are out and about, park in the most conspicuous spot you can find. Aim to get closer to the road, not closer to the store.
Pay your friends and family to put up yard signs advertising your business. (Be sure the zoning laws allow it first.)
Offer a free sample of your product or service to someone influential in the community and ask that person to spread the word if they’re satisfied with your work. Word of mouth is often the most effective form of advertising.
The cost of these forms of advertising, like those of the more expensive types, varies from location to location. As you get to know your community, you will be able to judge whether the results will be worth the expense. Follow the lead of other local businesses that have built good reputations, but try some unusual promotions, too.
Remember that it’s okay to start small. If you are a local company, most advertising outside your area will be wasted, anyway. You really don’t need a Superbowl ad or product placement in the next blockbuster to bring in enough customers to keep you busy — at least not until your business (and your advertising budget) outgrows its “small” label.
Image courtesy of thingspondered