Take your business further than your budget. Think imaginatively to market your business online.
Social media is time consuming, and--in my experience--rarely correlates directly to increased sales. AdWords and paid listings can be costly, and take time to get right. However, it is important to find fast and inexpensive ways to make the Internet work for your company. For savvy small business owners, there are lots of creative ways to use the web to move your business forward.
Here are a few to get started:
Sign up to be a pick-up zone for Amazon.
While traveling recently, I decided to order something from Amazon in the country where I happened to be. Because I was staying in a borrowed apartment without my name on the mailbox, I thought it might be hard to get delivery via the mail, and was surprised to find Amazon had an option to select a local business where I could choose to have the package delivered instead. I picked a nail salon down the street, and, on the delivery day, went to pick up my package with my ID. As the merchant handed me my package, she also gave me a list of her beauty services and pricing. Signing up to be a pick-up zone for Amazon allowed her to market to someone like me, who might otherwise never have known her business existed. The small closet space she allocated to Amazon orders was a minimal price to pay for the chance to expand her client list on a daily basis.
Make a special offer to another company's customers.
Smart businesses try to be a resource--not just a transaction venue--for their customers. Find out if there is a company with a product that benefits yours and offer it a discount code or special it can share with customers on purchases of your complimentary products. For example, I contacted a supplier of gold body jewelry and offered to give free shipping on any order for our jewelry (non-gold) that a customer it sent us purchased. Knowing that we often get requests for gold jewelry and do not want to send our customers away with no idea where to get what they want, we figured the gold jewelry company must often face the same problem. I encouraged that company to mention us, and by offering a discount code, gave it the chance to be a hero to its customers in the process.
Add a partner spotlight to your newsletter.
Many companies send emails to customers on a regular basis. Add a special section to yours dedicated to profiling another company that might interest your customers. Offer to do a small editorial with a link to the other company's site in your newsletter in exchange for the same type of coverage for your business in the newsletter of the company you are willing to spotlight. If your business is a cleaning service, for example, find a storage company to partner with--and point out in the coverage in both newsletters that removing clutter is only part of having a clean and livable home.
Offer an unexpected service.
Think about free services you can offer that will keep your customers in touch with you. If your product, for example, is a web-based gift registry, think about offering clients a free blog function that is better suited than the standard Facebook to help them communicate about a big event. Not only will they come back to your site more often, but they will likely provide you with great marketing and product ideas based on the content of their blogs: the products they are searching for, and things they are seeking help with. The best part is your traffic will increase--with an automatic influx of potential new clients--because they will also tell all their friends about the blog.
Creativity can take your business further than your budget can. What are your tips to think outside the box to grow your business through the Internet? Write your comments below.
In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg