Financing Your Business
10 Low-Cost Business Growth Hacks
Many business owners are looking to grow. Seventy-two percent, for instance, want to add employees in the next five years, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. But growth isn't a given, and marketing can eat into an already tight budget. There are ways to market and grow your business, however, without going deep into your business's pockets.
Here are 10 places to start:
Have a Facebook page. And a Twitter profile. And don't stop there. "If they aren't already, I would really advise businesses to tap into social media, and particularly Instagram and Pinterest," says Alice Williams, small business expert and contributor to BusinessBee.com. "Instagram is one of the fastest growing social networks, whereas Pinterest is a fantastic source of referral traffic to your small business website." You can promote your social media profiles on business cards, email signatures, signage, brochures and even your billing documents.
Hire a pro for a few hours. You may not have a huge marketing budget, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't benefit from the experience. "Marketing, and in particular social media, needs expert attention and strategy," says Lisa Flowers, a strategist and instructor at Flowers Media Matters. "Call in a local professional or set up a few hours of online training. An afternoon of customized training and coaching will pay off tenfold in the long run."
Collect email addresses and use them. "I cannot stress enough the importance of growing an email list," Williams says. "There are tons of free or relatively cheap ways to send out emails and collect emails from your website." However, make sure you understand the regulations that govern the use of email for marketing.
Ask customers for feedback. "The best way to grow your business is to pro-actively ask your best customers or clients to provide referrals and reviews," says Elad Hogen, CEO of online brand management agency PanPrestige. "This is one of the first marketing channels you should implement. It doesn't matter how small or big you are or what your budget is."
Say hello to potential clients. "One of the first things we did when we started our business was identify the top 10 companies we wanted to target," says John Schmoll, who runs FrugalRules.com and co-owns InkHarmony, a virtual ad agency, with his wife. "We took a dozen donuts, fliers and some business cards to each one to get in front of their decision makers. It cost us about $100 and we got two of our largest clients that way."
Volunteer to speak at local networking events. "We've done this a number of times," says Schmoll. "There is usually no fee to do so, and it's free advertising."
Send newsletters. The idea of publishing a regular newsletter might seem daunting. "However, emails that offer engaging content sent directly to customers offer the potential of high ROI for relatively little investment," says Pamela Webber, chief marketing officer of 99designs, a logo and web design company. "The key is to be timely and relevant. Well-crafted newsletters that reach out to consumers on a consistent basis, daily, weekly or monthly, remain one of the most inexpensive and powerful tools for business owners."
Build alliances with complementary businesses. Think about other non-competing retailers your customers might frequent, then approach them about displaying their business cards or coupons in your business and ask if they'll display yours. "When you refer your customers to the other shops, always tell them to tell the shop that you sent them," says Wanda Anglin with SEO Buzz Internet Marketing. "That way, your new allies will know you are working for them and be more motivated and inclined to promote your business in their shop."
Get to know your competitors. "People come and go and businesses open and close all the time," says Jennifer Martin, business consultant for Zest Business Consulting. "Knowing others in your industry can be a great way to learn about opportunities ahead of the pack and receive referrals when one of your competitors has too much work to go around or isn't the perfect fit for the job."
Take care of your customers. "I once bought a book on Amazon from a third party, and when it arrived, the book was hand-wrapped in paper, with a handwritten 'Thank you!' on it," says Lucas Czarnecki, marketing manager for the Tom Tom Founders Festival, an annual event in Virginia. "Wow. I went straight online and reviewed them. People will pay for the experience, and people care about presentation." Give a money-back guarantee, give people discounts for being loyal customers and call your clients and talk to them about the product once in a while. "Make it clear that you care about the people who buy from you."
Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance, work and consumer trends. She has written for BBC, Forbes, LearnVest, Money, More, Real Simple and Parents, among others.