Once you get your business off the ground, there may not be much money left over for advertising. Traditional print advertising, direct mail, and even phone book advertising can be very expensive and hard to customize.
“The Internet offers huge opportunities for small businesses to get local advertising very inexpensively, ” said Rick Whittington, President of Rick Whittington Consulting in Richmond, Va. “Google, Yahoo and Bing all allow you to list your business locally for free. That’s the first thing I recommend businesses do.”
Once you’ve registered your business for free on those search engines, there are many other relatively inexpensive things you can do to get customers to your business.
Pay-per-click search engine advertising, in which you create an account and pay each time a customer searches for certain phrases, finds your web site and clicks through to visit you, can be very inexpensive. Each click can cost you as little as a penny.
Whittington warns that it’s important to be very specific with the search phases that you specify and are willing to pay for. Using terms that are too general, such as “wedding gift” could result too many people clicking through to your web site only to discover that you do not sell what they are looking for. More specific multi-word terms, such as “environmentally friendly wedding gifts ” will result in fewer clicks, but those you do get will be from customers more likely to buy what you’re selling.
In addition to pay-per-click, there are things you can do to raise your company’s standing in the non-paid (also called “organic”) search engine listing.
Frequently referred to as SEO (search engine optimization), there is a whole industry of consultants built around this concept. But, there are a few things you can do on your own to improve your organic search engine listings and, therefore, drive customers to your site.
To improve your search engine standing, you should continually update your site with new information and blog posts, Whittington told BusinessNewsDaily. Continuing to update your site with relevant information will get you repeatedly noticed by search engines.
You can also read up on SEO at Wikipedia or Google.
Permission-based email (meaning the customer agrees to allow you to send email offers) also offers an opportunity for very high return on investment, said Tom Fauls, Associate Professor of Advertising at Boston University’s College of Communication.
Fauls said you can collect emails via your web site or the old fashioned way by collecting them manually as you interact with customers. Either way, permission-based email allows you to keep in touch with your customers, make special offers and keep your business on their minds.
Social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are also venues that allow you to target very specific groups of customers for very little investment. You can create a Facebook profile for free and post videos on You Tube, also free of charge. You can also create very specifically targeted Facebook advertising for a small fee.
Be warned, however: If you are not familiar with social media, learning to use these sites can take time, actually using them regularly can be a real time sink, and success depends on many factors, including whether or not your potential customers are the type who use these services and how effective you are (think talent and time) at using them.