6 ways to win customers without spending cash!

Running a tighter sales and marketing budget this year? Make sure you’re not missing these six low or no-cost ways to boost sales

We’re bombarded by marketing messages. In our mail, on TV, as we browse the web, on hoardings by the road or panels on train station platforms. And of course, this is how businesses put their products on the radar screens of customers.

But for a new business with limited financial resources, all this can look prohibitively expensive. All of the above represent forms of paid-for advertising that involve spending not just on delivery – mail, the web, TV, etc. – but also on the creative content.

So the question is, how do you compete against rivals with deeper pockets? Or more fundamentally – and setting aside the competition question – how do you cost-effectively let potential customers know you are there?

Marketing is vital to the success of any business. You can offer great products or services, but unless you find a means to put your offering in front of customers, it’s unlikely the business will thrive.

But here’s the good news. Successful marketing doesn’t have to involve expensive ad or internet campaigns. There is a huge amount of effective work that can be done on a limited or even zero budget.

1. Do something completely different from the competition

And from day one, you can take steps to ensure your business stands out from its competitors. Visually “standing out” can mean a focus on the impact of a well-designed logo, arresting signage outside a unit on an industrial estate or indeed staff uniforms in a showroom.

Presenting the product itself in the best possible light is also important. Lorna Syson runs a business of the same name selling textile-based products such as lampshades and pillows, all characterised by her distinctive nature-themed painting. The products are already visually arresting, but as Lorna explains, communicating that to customers is vital. “I always make sure I have great photography,” she says.

But standing out can also be about service or the wider offering. For instance:

  • Better delivery times
  • A wider range of products than your competitors
  • The presence of acknowledged industry experts on your management team.

All these are marketing hooks. It’s also about communicating your unique selling points: “Listen to what your competitors are saying but also listen to what they’re not saying and what you can say,” says Emily Perry, director of Humm Media, a marketing agency specialising in small businesses.
And as Perry points out, one of the best ways to make your business stand out is to create content which demonstrates your expertise. This could include blogs on your own site or thought leadership pieces on social media sites such as LinkedIn.

2. Get yourself some media coverage

It’s all about raising profile and in that respect, securing press coverage can work wonders. As Simon Corbett, managing director of public relations agency Jargon PR puts it: “A favourable story about you not only raises the profile of your business, it also gives you credibility.”

So how do you grab the attention of writers and editors? “The first step is to look at the media outlets in terms of who reads them. Target media outlets that are talking to your customers,” says Corbett.

The next step is to contact them with stories that are likely to be of interest. For a local paper that will probably mean a local story, such as the opening of a new restaurant. For a trade paper, the appointment of a new MD or a customer win. For a fashion blogger, news of your latest designs. “Keep the stories timely and relevant,” adds Corbett.

There are various ways to make contact – phone and tailored letters and emails being the most common – but you can make yourself stand out. “One way to attract attention is to send samples,” says Corbett. You’ll also save a lot of time by making a preliminary call before any pitch to find out who you should be talking to within a particular media outlet. Better still, get to know the journalists. “Rather than just sending press releases, take time to build relationships,” says Perry.

Awards provide another means to raise profile and credibility. Enter and win an award in your industry sector and publicity will follow.

3. Network tirelessly and engage with your community

Networking can play a hugely important role in building the profile of a business. “It has to be a part of your marketing strategy,” says Emily Perry. “Networking gives you a chance to meet customers and potential customers, find out what makes them tick and build strong relationships.”

Offline, you can join local business networking groups, such as those organised by the IoD and Chambers of Commerce. Meanwhile trade shows provide a means to meet customers directly.

Trade shows enable a two-way conversation. Yes, you can show off your samples and try out your sales pitch but they also provide an opportunity to listen to and ask questions of your potential customers. “You don’t have to fork out a lot of money for a stand,” says Corbett. “You’re establishing a presence by attending and you can hire rooms for meetings.”

Online networking through social is also about two-way conversations. The big social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram – provide an excellent way to build up a community of fans and followers who have an interest in your business.

But it’s a tricky medium to get right. For one thing you need to choose a social media network that is appropriate. For instance, Emily Perry says Facebook is great for B2C businesses but doesn’t work so well in the B2B space. “Don’t try to do something on all the big networks,” she says. “Focus on those that are appropriate.”

Lorna Syson advices against a constant barrage of sales-oriented posts. “Think in terms of the 80/20 rule,” she says. “80% of your content should be contributing something that is of interest to the community but not necessarily about your company or its products. That will make your audience much more receptive to the 20% of posts that are focused on sales.”

Don’t forget email. As your customer base grows, so will your list of email addresses. This provides a great – and very cheap – way of keeping customers up to speed with what you’re doing.

4. Focus on winning a “beacon” customer to open other doors

It’s often said that the best form of marketing is “word of mouth” – or to put it another way, one customer recommending you to another.

You can be proactive about this. For instance, one great way to drive business is ask customers for testimonial comments which you can post prominently on your website, either as quotes or in the form of reviews.

Alternatively, you can focus on securing “beacon” customers – perhaps a high profile business within a certain field that is prepared to use and endorse your product or service.

You can use these customers as case studies on your website. “The case studies should show the problem they had, the solution they sought and why they chose your solution,” says Perry. “Make it relevant to other potential customers.”

5. Fill your site with relevant expert content

How does a customer find you? These days most new customers will find you by firing up Google or Bing and typing in a few keywords such as “camera + SLR + canon.” Now there will of course be thousands of shops selling Canon Cameras so the challenge in this case would be to ensure that your business is close to the top of the rankings when a search is carried out.

So when you’re building a site it’s important to think in terms of search engine optimisation. Or to put it another way, by including the words and phrases that customers will typically be keying into the search engine. At its simplest, these are tags, such as “SLR”.

But that’s only half the story. Customers are also looking for product descriptions, tips and reviews and this will affect the search terms they use. As Lorna Syson says. “It’s not just about tags. The way it’s going, you have to think about providing content.”

Optimising content search rankings can be a technical business, but Emily Perry advises that you shouldn’t get too concerned about “writing for the internet”. If you write content relevant to your audience, the key words will fall into place.

6. Test and measure your sales and marketing funnel

The marketing process doesn’t end when you attract a customer onto a website or into a shop or showroom. Some may arrive with a firm intention to buy, others will be simply looking around and checking out the prices and packages on offer.

The challenge now is often to optimise sales, for instance by finding the most effective price point or discount package. But here’s the problem – you won’t necessarily know the best way to convert a sale from the start. Just as you need to focus carefully on price point – too high and you put people off; too low and you’re cutting margins without necessarily boosting sales – experiment with the most successful sales funnel and messaging.

The way to do this is by A/B testing. Repeat the mantra: Test and measure, test and measure.

Ultimately you may well consider paid advertising or marketing, particularly when you reach the point where you feel there’s a bigger audience that you have yet to reach. But in the meantime, a huge amount can be achieved at relatively low cost.

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