Like most small businesspeople, I have a limited amount of funds to devote to marketing and advertising. Even in a relatively small market like Portland, Maine, there are many opportunities every month to advertise, and each one must be evaluated carefully. Since many entrepreneurs face this same challenge, this column is dedicated to ideas that will get you the most bang for your marketing buck.
Professional organizations: For the cost of a small advertisement in your local paper, you can join a professional organization for an entire year. I am amazed by those who don't bat an eye at a $500 newspaper ad or $2,000 radio schedule, but won't join their local Chamber of Commerce. Like any other tool, simply having a membership in an organization will not bring you clients. You must be vigilant about attending seminars, breakfasts, and socials to make the most of your membership dues. While it is impossible to attend every meeting, get a feel for what meetings consistently offer the greatest opportunity to network with prospective clients and referral sources.
Sponsorships: Sponsoring an event for a nonprofit agency can be a rewarding and efficient way to advertise your company. When selecting sponsorship opportunities, pick those that best represent your business goals and ideals, as well as an organization that you personally believe in. Whenever possible, make it a point to speak with the executive director of the organization to get a feel for how the agency is run. Keep track of past successful and visible promotions -- do the events get television, radio, or print coverage? Consider the other sponsors, and select sponsorships that put you in good company. Think of sponsorship as part philanthropy and part advertising. I believe that sponsorships are win-win-win for your company, the nonprofit, and your community.
Business cards and brochures: Any collateral material that you produce with your company's name on it should be of the highest quality you can afford. Never skimp on paper stock or layout because your card or brochure will be the only advocate working for you after you have met a prospective client. Even if you hit it off great with people you meet at a trade show or meeting, if your marketing materials are weak, you may never hear from them again -- especially if they are passing along your card/brochure to a decision maker. I've heard horror stories of huge projects that companies are bidding on -- they make a great first impression, and the deal looks like a sure thing. They put together a dynamic proposal, but they put it together on cheap paper, printed on a cheap printer, and all the equity they had in the deal is lost. Think of your marketing materials as salespeople, and invest in them accordingly. (You wouldn't have an incompetent, poorly groomed salesperson representing you, would you?)
Traditional advertising: Of course, as a media buyer, I would be remiss if I didn't make it clear that traditional advertising (radio, TV, print) can also be quite effective, even on a small budget. The key is to carefully evaluate each medium and its core audience. Positioning your message can make all the difference. For example, if your company has $500 to spend on radio per week, it makes sense to buy a specific time spot each day, like the news/weather sponsorship at 7:30 a.m. That way, you ensure that the same audience is hearing about your product every day. For print publications, it may make sense to pay a premium to be placed where your audience is most likely to be -- a fine furniture store, for example, would do well to have its ad in the same spot of "Home and Family" every week instead of scattered throughout the paper.
Careful planning, consideration, and creativity will take you farther than a large budget with no inspiration. Always search for new ways to put your message in front of potential clients -- be bold and innovative!