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Low-cost marketing can grow your business

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Just as you can stretch your clothing budget by buying from a clearance rack, marketing your business does not require a huge investment.  For cash-strapped entrepreneurs, mastering some basic techniques and using creativity to market your product can be more effective than hiring experts or producing expensive ads.

The Basics
You, as the business owner, are the most important marketing tool for your company.  Do you have a compelling, 25-second “elevator speech” you can give about your business? A simple, “Uh, I have a systems integration company,” will not separate you from the crowd. What do you do that is unique or different?

Everybody has business cards, but few maximize their potential. Is the back of your card blank? If so, you are missing an opportunity. It only costs a fraction more to print on both sides. Is your picture on the card? A picture can create a personal relationship.

Do you have a website? You should. Your home page should clearly identify the types of products or services you sell and offer multiple ways to contact you — e-mail, phone, cell phone, etc. Your site should maximize the use of “meta tags,” which match your site to key words that customers searching for your service might use.

The Creative
Finding low- or no-cost ways of marketing your business is limited only by your imagination and an assessment of whether the technique will reach your targeted customers. To stimulate your imagination, here are few starter ideas:

  • Join professional and social groups to network. Volunteer to give a presentation on your area of expertise.
  • Write an article on your area of expertise and distribute copies.  For example, a pet sitter might do an article, “What to look for in a pet sitter,” and visit local veterinarians to ask if copies could be placed in their waiting rooms.
  • Form a joint venture with a complementary business.  A lawn care company and a home cleaning company could cross-promote for each other.
  • Raise your community profile by taking part in charitable events or by sponsoring a youth sports team. Appear at the events or games. Be sure participants have T-shirts with your business name.
  • Offer them fries. America’s largest hamburger chain makes millions using the question, “Would you like fries with that?”  Don’t just focus on getting new customers — find product and service add-ons to make your existing customers more profitable.

By executing the basics and using creativity in reaching targeted customers, entrepreneurs can market their product without spending a lot of money.  For help with your marketing, contact the Virginia Business Information Center, vbic@vdba.virginia.gov or (804) 371-0438.

Networking
With the time requirements involved with starting or running your business, hobnobbing over hors d’ouerves may be low on your list of priorities. But networking can lead to new opportunities, new ideas and even financing. Networking also will keep you up-to-date on local business decisions or regulations that could affect your business.

Virginia offers a variety of networking opportunities. Local chambers of commerce are a great place to start. These groups offer a variety of events, including social activities, as well as seminars to improve your business. They often act as the voice for the local business community before local and state governments. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce appeals to business owners across the entire state.
Also, consider attending trade shows in your industry or even exhibiting your product or service at one. Most of these events set aside time for networking.

You can find networking opportunities across the state on the Virginia Department of Business Assistance’s website at http://www.vdba.virginia.gov The S.mall Business Development Centers websites (http://www.sbdcvirginia.org) also include local business events.

Today’s networking is not just limited to after-work events. The Virginia Business Pipeline (http://www.virginiabusiness.org) offers businesses the opportunity to connect with other businesses online. More than 24,000 businesses are registered at the site, which serves as a procurement tool. Between 60 to 80 requests for proposals are added to the site each month. Companies can create a profile to promote their product or service.

While self-study and disciplined, solitary work are important to the success of a business, networking can help a businessperson avoid mistakes, develop helpful relationships and find new opportunities for business development.


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