Most start-ups have a variable advertising budget. That is, it varies based on how much the boss gets for donating blood. Right after selling hair, parting with bone marrow, and illegally selling a range of body parts to pay your miserable income. It’s a conundrum you see: No advertising means no sales, and no sales means no advertising. But using my business savvy, or maybe just stealing ideas from my entrepreneur boss, here’s some ways to advertise when your budget is between hilarious and non-existent:
1. Social Media Activities
Yeah, everyone knows to get a Facebook page and start Tweeting. The problem is in that sentence: Everyone knows. To stand out from the million odd companies that do this, you need personality.
Don’t restrict your social media to just talking about your company. Allow the occasional diversion: Talk to customers about current events, what your hopes are, or how the food court’s kopi tastes like a skunk died in it (Are you reading this, Ayer Rajah Amenity Centre?)
The point is, you can use social media to build a relationship. It’s something a more expensive TV or print ad can’t do, and it just takes 15 – 20 minutes a day. The cost isn’t more than a laptop and an Internet connection, and maybe a good camera for events.
2. Piggyback Existing Publications
In my last job, we realized brochures suck. People had this look on their face when we gave them out; something that said: “I’d rather inspect the contents of the toilet paper I wiped with”.
Our solution was to write a helpful article in a booklet, followed by our ad. Then we contacted local magazines, and distributed the booklet free with their next issue. Our response rate went from under 2% to over 19% in a month. And our conversion rate (the number of people who actually bought) increased, because the magazines were targeted at the right demographic.
Magazines were happy to let us “piggyback”, because it’s a free article for their readers. And in return, we were able to leverage off their readership. For start-ups, it’s definitely a better option than chucking flyers and brochures everywhere.
3. Use Contests
Contests can (and should) be interactive events. Besides advertising your product, a contest also starts conversations with your customers. Please don’t use a lucky draw contest, due to the club of people who enjoy filling in forms.
Oh right, it doesn’t exist, which should explain my point.
Hold contests related to your product. So if you sell home-made energy bars, host an arm wrestling contest for a year’s supply. If you do dog grooming, host a cute dog photo contest. If you make parachutes, have a contest to see who’ll leap out the plane without one. You get the idea.
Contests are fairly low cost compared to traditional advertising. In most cases, some of your product is already set aside for free samples. Retain some for contests.
4. Use an Active Website
Small businesses used to rely on newsletters, but the Internet presents a cheaper option. Now you can run your company website as a newsletter.
Rather than leave your site static, keep it updated with news or articles. Apart from flashing your sales promotions, you can include guest posts from other blogs, customer reviews, or interviews with industry experts. White Wolf, for example, makes “open production” games: Their product design is updated on the site, with customers giving feedback at each stage of development. That keeps customers visiting the site, and involves them in the end product.
Since you’re going to need a site anyway, you may as well get your money’s worth. Aside from the time value, it’s cost free advertising.
5. Assist NPOs
Most non-profit organizations (NPOs) have more reach than small businesses. Probably because, while you’re busy trying to sell budget socks or something, they’re shielding starving children from artillery shells.
Donate time or services to NPOs, and you’ll see tenfold returns. NPOs generate press coverage, to an extent small businesses can’t match. Also, the press coverage tends to come in the form of editorials, which carry more weight than ads in the classifieds.
Unlike a full blown ad campaign, your company only commits the resources it can afford. This can be as little as a few product samples, to completely hosting an event. Either way, you’ll be helping the needy while benefitting your business.
What sort of advertising methods do you use for your start-up?
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