How can we let people know we exist without a huge marketing budget?
July 14, 2010 7:54 AM   Subscribe

How in the world can I successfully promote / market my business with little to no advertising budget? (which will, of course, change, when we get more customers). Especially since I am NOT a marketing expert in any way, shape, or form? (description of the business and more details inside)

.. so, here's the thing. My partner and I run a remote computer support business. Technically speaking, we're global as we have serviced the occasional client in Canada, the UK, and Australia as well as here in the US. When we first started, we advertised on Craigslist - but that's since been taken out of the equation due to the way that they basically make it a nightmare to post ads now.. (thanks, hookers!)

I've looked into print advertising, but our one attempt (a 1/4 page ad on the back cover of an LA Weekly) netted four calls.. all four of which were to sell advertising to us.

We've found that, once word gets out that we exist, our customers love us - but we're having a hell of a time getting that word out. Any advice is much appreciated.

Both of us thank the hive mind in advance for any guidance / assistance you can provide.
posted by darknemus to Work & Money (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's a ton of material available for people in your position. I think the classic starting point would be Jay Levinson's book Guerilla Marketing (or any of the raft of related books he's published).
posted by monkey.pie.baker at 8:03 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My workplace blocks your link. However, can you start a blog and talk about problems your solving and your capabilities and such? Or get on facebook or linked-in? Social networking is free advertising if you can provide something that will make people want to visit (can you do a Tip of the Day/Week or something?)

This local bike shop is run on a shoe-string budget, but they have a lot of people that follow their blog which has helped them build their business since they opened in the spring. The July 11 entry is about a set of custom wheels with a generator built in and the lights that go with it that they put on a customer's bike. Some customers enjoy being in the spotlight. If your business can do anything with social networking like that, it's basically free advertising.
posted by Doohickie at 8:07 AM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, we're all over Facebook as it is. (Fan page, friends who help promote us, etc) Weird that your job would block my link.. that's... odd.. but ok.

We're looking at blogging, its just I'm a much better tech / problem solver than I am a writer so I'd probably want to find someone who's a lot more entertaining w/ prose than I am.
posted by darknemus at 8:13 AM on July 14, 2010

Mod note: Link removed, feel free to list it on your profile page.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:19 AM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, cortex... I've posted the link on my profile page if anyone's interested in the actual site / content.
posted by darknemus at 8:21 AM on July 14, 2010

For many small businesses, word of mouth is the best and cheapest marketing tools out there. Encourage your clients to spread the word and offer incentives to them - whether it's a gift or a discount for future services. Use testimonials on your website, facebook, everywhere. I know some small businesses who have donated services for fundraising purposes and have gotten business that way too. Good luck!
posted by HeyAllie at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2010

If you're not already using Google AdWords, that's a great way to at least get a little bit of traffic coming in. Like many things, you get more out of it, the more you put in, but you can set campaign budgets as low as you'd like (no minimums), so it's pretty manageable. When freelancing, I set up a $5/month campaign when I started, never really optimized it (there are many ways you can, and there is a whole industry behind optimizing AdWords campaigns) or modified it after the initial setup. It still netted me some pretty decent traffic. I was pleasantly surprised, anyway. Granted, this was many years ago, so there was probably less competition then. Also, the computer support industry is probably way more competitive.

In the end, if it doesn't work out, you discontinue. And you probably would have spent less than you would have with one print ad.
posted by sa3z at 8:57 AM on July 14, 2010

Are you actually tracking your traffic statistics? Is it an issue of people not finding your site, or finding your site and leaving? My suggestion is to implement google analytics and see how the people you ARE attracting use your site, then cater better to them/become more relevant.

Also, what sites are relevant to your business? Have you talked to sites about running a feature article about you? Are you guest blogging on their sites? what about link trades?
posted by TheBones at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: @TheBones

Good ideas.. I actually do use Google Analytics already, and my traffic is.. well, pretty sad unless we crank up promotion on Facebook or one of our customers sends an email out to friends with our link and stuff like that.

I've never considered contacting sites like that.. that's a good idea.. just not sure exactly HOW to go about it.

One of the things we've tried to emphasize with our business is that we do our best to be 'green'. We obviously aren't burning gas going to / from a location.. we use energy efficient lighting.. really have next to no paperwork that we handle, etc, etc. I've always thought that would be a good angle to pursue - but I don't want to seem like I'm pandering to the 'green' crowd by doing so. Its just a natural path we're choosing to take because it fits in with our personal ideologies.

From what I've read of link trades, they're kind of sketchy.. however, admittedly, its not something I've looked into in a while. I do encourage our customers who have businesses to provide links to us so that we can put them on the site along with their testimonials.
posted by darknemus at 9:21 AM on July 14, 2010

You might want to consider joining your local chamber of commerce. Ours offers heavily discounted advertising when you join, which is a worth the dues by itself. You also get a ribbon cutting, which gets publicized in chamber publications. You get to go to networking events and pass your business cards out like crazy to other members. You'll probably be listed in some kind of chamber directory that is sent out to members every year. It's really the ultimate word-of-mouth approach. Chamber staff often get inquiries as to what kind of businesses offer [insert what you do here] and they'll think of you and pass your business name along. There are often lots of other benefits to being a member, too. It's at least worth a look!
posted by bristolcat at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2010

Especially for the not-completely-computer-savvy, email would be a great marketing tool and cost almost nothing. Build up an email list that includes all you current clients and sign up anyone who visits your site. Send out an email with a few amazing tips relating to what you do (getting a lot of calls about X, then include how to fix X in the email).

If the content is good enough, these types are likely to forward it on to other people in the same boat (and they look like experts by doing so). Your email should include prominent links to your website, a link to sign up for email updates and an explanation of what you. You could include a coupon for new customers and this encourage people to forward on.

As your list grows you may want to use an email blast service as it is very easy to get blacklisted by the major email providers.
posted by dripdripdrop at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2010

constantcontact is a great program for email lists as per dripdripdrip's comment above.
posted by TheBones at 10:24 AM on July 14, 2010

In addition to the formal link trades, you can do informal ones. If you frequent blogs or sites where your demographic customer hangs out, then you should be participating in the comments and you can use your username as a link to your site. If others reading your comments like your ideas, they will track you down. You have to be careful not to just go in and put comments that read like ads for your site - you have to really contribute to the conversation.
posted by CathyG at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2010

Best answer: All the above recommendations are great. Do them all. Then do them all again. After you're finished, do them again.

Being effective means staying top-of-mind with the people you're reaching out to. They may not need your services today, this week, this month–but when the time comes, if you're effective they'll remember you and give you a call.

If you're doing a social media/email campaign, make sure you have something to communicate when you send an email or post an announcement. Taking your company green? Communicate that. Offering a new service? Communicate that. Running a special? Hiring a new staffer? Excited about a new product that you'll be able to support? All of these are things that can be relevant and meaningful to your audience. If you have something to say, it builds an image of credibility with your audience. But if all your communications are just "hey, look at me!" then it gets old, tired and spammy pretty quickly.

Also, when doing a social media/email campaign, make sure you're communications are well timed. Say you're doing an email newsletter, blog post, Twitter post and Facebook announcement. They can all be on the same topic, but don't do them all on the same day. Intervals of a week to 10 days can be a good rhythm. Maybe set up an editorial calendar of sorts: Monday you blast the email, Wednesday hit Twitter, Friday post it to the blog, Sunday do Facebook. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Use tools like Google Analytics to gauge the effectiveness of what you're doing too. Do you see a spike in traffic from a weekend email blast? Send your next one on the weekend too. Does a Facebook announcement draw more traffic when you post it during lunchtime than it does if you send it in the middle of the night? That's a good indication of when you should be sending you communications.

A lot of this stuff is hit-or-miss and trial-and-error. It can take a while to find what works and establish a rhythm. And building an audience through social media marketing doesn't just happen over night. It takes time and you have to do it one person at a time. Then you have to convert those individuals into customers. It can be fun, but it can also be a real challenge. Good luck!
posted by slogger at 10:48 AM on July 14, 2010

Best answer: Given the nature of your business, I'd probably spend some time offering thoughtful, complete, helpful answers on one or two reasonably respected 'computer help' forums, that allow for a signature with your business link. I'm not certain this would work, but with analytics, you'd get a sense fairly quickly if it was driving any kind of traffic to you.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:07 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't vouch for this, but I just signed up for this. I don' know if it will be good or not, but it was advertised on HARO, and I do like them.

It's free.

I have no budget for marketing my site. I have done it all by myself from day one. I just keep taking advantage of as much info as I can online.

Also, in print advertising, never just place one ad. It won't do anything but waste your money. You need to place it consecutively, so that people get used to seeing you and your name.
posted by Vaike at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2010

P.s. thank you for making your site so logical and straight to the point. You did well there...
posted by Vaike at 1:06 PM on July 14, 2010

All I can say is that in my experience with employers spending money on advertising (local magazines, print ads/internet ads, etc.), I always advised them against spending money on traditional advertising. Most of the time, they spent thousands on full-colour ad's that never brought any business at all (this was in the insurance/financial planning industry, obviously YMMV).

Your number one way of getting more business is, obviously, networking. Schmoozing is in my experience the best way to drum up business, especially in a service-based business and especially if you're targeting other business owners. Second to that would be good ol' word of mouth. Perhaps you can work on some token referral "fee" or gifts to clients who refer you to another account (or a slight discount in their services, although one should be careful in undervaluing their services--it's a big mistake a lot of new business owners make). Maybe a small gift card to Starbucks or to the movies?

Other than that, pound the pavement; join the local business association, introduce yourself to business owners in the area, ask friends for referrals, etc.

Best of luck!
posted by 1000monkeys at 2:18 PM on July 14, 2010

Response by poster: Just wanted to drop a quick thanks for all the advice, thus far - both my partner (who happens to be my partner in life, as well - she's just a great person, in general :) ) and myself thank all of you, well, profusely.
posted by darknemus at 3:55 PM on July 14, 2010

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