You don't have to spend a lot to spread the word about your company. You just have to get creative.
When Metal Mafia opened in 2004, most of the capital we had raised was committed as soon as our first line of products went into production and the corresponding catalogue was printed. We needed to find a way to let people know we existed, and we had very little money left to do so—so we got creative. Whether your business is in the start-up stage or far more advanced, use these simple tips to help you maximize your company's budget, as well as its growth.
Seek out partnerships.
Identify companies who provide services or products that are complementary to yours. Call and ask if they would be interested in having you put their catalogues in your company's outbound orders in exchange for putting your catalogues in theirs. Most businesses will agree because the cost is only that of a catalogue—eliminating the expense of extra mailing fees. One of the first companies that I contacted to do a cross-pollination partnership with us had been around longer than we had. The catalogues that shipped in their orders got my company in front of lots of new customers, and gave us the extra benefit of a silent endorsement from a supplier whose products were already well-regarded in our industry. Cross-pollination projects like this can also be done digitally—just ask to do an email exchange (where you send an email for the other company to your list and vice versa), or to trade advertising space on each other's respective sites.
Use advertising space shrewdly.
Ads are costly, and advertising just once is rarely enough to get the sales you need. If money is tight, try looking at the numbers differently. Rather than blowing the budget on one full-page ad, try doing smaller ads more frequently. Repetition usually brings down rates, and if you do it right, you can send a strong message to potential customers. Start with a one-quarter page ad for a few months, then move to a half-page for a while, then to three-quarters, and finally, when money allows, a full page. Customers will see your ad repeatedly, and start to pay attention—especially when they see the size of the ad grow. Your company's presence in every issue gives the impression that you have staying power, and the increase in ad space tells prospective customers that more and more people are buying your products.
When I buy ad space for Metal Mafia, I always try to make sure we place our ads in issues that will be available longer than the month of publication. Lots of magazines re-distribute certain issues at trade shows and by advertising in those, we're able to capitalize on the extra distribution channels without paying a higher price. The same type of careful targeting can be done with search engine marketing as well. Start with a tiny expenditure and carefully monitor the results of each campaign. Successful campaigns can be identified and built upon, and poor ones can be eliminated quickly before they wreak budgetary havoc—an opportunity that traditional advertising doesn't offer.
Monetize customer referrals.
The best marketing your company can get is the kind you can't do yourself. Encourage your customers to market for you by sharing their thoughts on your products and services. Make sure your website has a way for customers to write reviews, and links to allow them to share the products they like with friends. But don't stop there. Reward them with a credit or freebie when they contribute a review that is detailed enough to help other customers make a buying decision.
At Metal Mafia, we monitor the reviews, and usually contact the customers who write them to thank them for taking the time to comment. We also make sure that customers who recommend us to other customers are rewarded with referral credits. Giving a referral credit towards a future order is an inexpensive yet powerful way to grow your business—both by encouraging the current customer to try new items with the credit, and by bringing a new customer on board. And a customer referral is worth far more than any ad because it eliminates buying objections and acts as both an information transfer and a personal seal of approval on your products.
If you find your budget is tight, don't look at it as an obstacle to growing your business. Limited resources inspire creative solutions, and even if your company gets to the point where it can do bigger things, maintaining the budget mindset can be a great way to keep your expenses in check.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa 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