It's hard for many of us to imagine a time without TV. It's even getting harder to remember a time without cell phones and tablets and personal computers--in short, the constant connectivity has changed marketing forever. And now we're on to the next big things, like artificial intelligence, same-day delivery from drones, and "anticipatory shopping," in which vendors know before we do what we want and deliver it to us.
But while the techies figure out all of that, lets take a look at some free techniques to reach customers and spread the word about what a great business you have.
Others will see you as more trustworthy, sincere, sociable, and competent--and that's good for business.
2. Train employees to smile
On the phone, too. That's right. A smile comes through even when customers can't see it.
3. Make personal connections to customers
Despite all the privacy concerns these days, most people like to talk about themselves. Note what they say--not just a mental note. Keep a written record. A note-card file, a cell-phone file. You can mention something next time you connect with that person. The only difference between your business and a competitor's, all other things being equal, is the personal connection to customers.
4. Make eye contact with customers
Just the right amount of eye contact (generally 30 to 60 percent) "produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness."
5. When you hire, pay attention to potential-employee eye contact
If you keep this criterion in mind, you'll know from your own reactions how successful that potential employee might be in representing you.
If you establish good relationships with your customers, they will want you to succeed. Listen to their suggestions, as well as to veiled and not-so-veiled complaints.
7. Create community
Yes, you're there to run a business, but creating a sense of community around your business enhances customer participation and generates buzz on the street. Feature employees and customers, and find ways to help people connect with one another in the context of your business.
8. Take time to celebrate
Everyone likes to celebrate, both employees and customers who support you through the year. Take time to create in-house occasions to share special moments, life-cycle events, holidays, specific groups of people, or important dates in the history of your business. Get creative!
9. Give your customers more than they expect
Providing the product for which a customer pays is basic. How about going above and beyond? Drop samples into their package or a gift certificate or discount.
10. Say thank you
Notice what employees and customers do and say, and let them know you appreciate them.
11. Use your public library
Libraries have thousands of books on every aspect of business. They're a great free resource. They also have computers and networks available free of charge, and many libraries nowadays have "maker" labs for 3-D printing where you can create item prototypes free of charge.
12. Use suppliers and vendors for information
Your suppliers know a lot about the competition and about what's going on in your industry. Converse with them, and learn a lot.
13. Join organizations that can help you
A local chamber of commerce can be a great place to network. Join your business association. I'm speaking from experience here, as my trade association turned us into a multimillion-dollar company.
14. Keep your eye on local papers, and let customers and employees know you heard about them
Clip articles, and send them out with a note, "Saw you in the paper!"
15. Use local papers effectively
Learn press-release format, and send out press releases regularly. Think of ways you would be a good person to interview on timely topics. Community calendars are free. Get the names of community-calendar editors for the local papers, and send dates for the calendar.
16. Be an expert
Many organizations look for interesting speakers. Develop a few interesting presentations, and let these organizations know you're available. Handouts with your business contact information are great!
17. Evaluate your physical surroundings
Dump stuff you don't need, including files, and keep things clean and organized. It looks more professional, and it's easier to find things.
18. Keep written goals, and review them daily
Be sure that the things to which you give time and energy each day serve those goals. This is critical in marketing your business. Make a list and calendar of upcoming opportunities to promote your business.
19. Find opportunities in your mistakes
What can you learn from your mistakes? Is there a clue to a new or different product? A pattern to what you can do to improve your business or something to avoid? A better way to reach customers?
20. Add personality to your business
Let people know who you (and your employees) are. Make sure your décor expresses who you are: comfortable, sophisticated, traditional, cutting edge, creative, fun-loving. Photos! Great way to personalize. Employee-of-the-month, customer-of-the-month, photos from the paper of people connected to your business, photos of daily business operation, historical photos.
Of course, your business may happily grow to a size in which you can't make those personal connections to customers--but by then, you will have set a tone that is a permanent part of your business culture. In this age of supporting local business, feature yourself as one. Be part of the community, and know your customers. Let them know you. Find ways to let your customers know you care about them. Take steps to stay on target with what you offer, and take time to connect with your base.