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Building a Brand on a Budget: 7 Tips for Small Business Owners

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One of the biggest growth barriers facing small businesses is financing. Getting an idea off the ground can require a staggering amount of capital, and allocating funds for marketing and promotional purposes can really sting when you’re still spending more than you’re making.

The good news is that getting your small business noticed doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With a little bit of creativity, you can get your name out there without throwing fistfuls of cash at marketing agencies.

Here are seven low-cost, tried-and-tested ways to get your small business noticed.

Building a brand

1. Partner with local businesses

While larger companies often have a greater reach and price flexibility, there’s one advantage that small, local businesses always have over the big guys: the power of a local network.

Team up with other small businesses in your immediate area to expand your reach far beyond what your business could achieve alone. People are more likely to give you a chance if you come recommended by a company they know and trust, so partnering with established local businesses can really pay off.

Reach out to local business owners about ways to collaborate, such as placing flyers in each other’s shop windows, maintaining stacks of business cards near registers, and sharing each other’s posts on Facebook and Twitter. As a larger project, consider establishing a local rewards program that offer discounts in exchange for reciprocal patronage.   

2. Sponsor something

Sponsorship—when done cost-consciously—is often a win-win for the parties involved. The sponsor’s name is associated with a worthy cause or prominent local event, while the group or event being sponsored receives necessary financial support.

Money doesn’t always have to change hands, however.

Consider approaching smaller sports teams, local organizations, or fellow businesses hosting an event and proposing an in-kind sponsorship. Offer to give them a substantial discount or provide a free service in exchange for unpaid sponsorship that will get your name in front of their audience.

Here in York (U.K.), we have an annual soapbox challenge—the Micklegate Run. While the event itself is a bit twee, it pulls in enormous crowds. Local businesses that sponsor the event get their names in front of thousands of attendees, most with a real chance of post-event patronization.

By providing funding or free essential services through event involvement / sponsorship, customers will view your business as an active community member and be more inclined to patronize you as a result. According to the Kellogg School of Management, “corporate generosity can generate goodwill about a company’s ‘character’ that spills over into positive consumer experiences with its products.”

The most beneficial option is selecting a cause or event that easily connects to your line of business, but so long as you’re getting your name out there it doesn’t matter too much if your business and what you’re sponsoring aren’t directly related.

3. Print proper business cards

Paper business cards might seem a bit old-hat in our digital age, but they remain an essential tool in the small business owner’s arsenal.

Meeting a potential client without having anything to hand them can leave you floundering and make you look unprofessional. Get a set of professional-looking cards printed up and keep a few with you at all times so an opportunity to promote your band nevers catches you off guard.

Your cards should include the usual suspects—company name, website, social media handles, phone number—without looking overcrowded. Don’t be tempted to print your own; they never look as smart as the real thing. It’s worth the money to order a bulk set.

Leaving a prospective client with something tangible and as simple as a card ensures your contact information and brand aren’t lost in their mental ether.

4. Position yourself as an authority

It might seem like a lot of extra work, but marketing yourself as an industry authority can translate into long-term business as people begin linking your name to a valued opinion.

There are numerous ways to go about this, and we have a few suggestions:

  • Keep a professional blog and routinely discuss industry-related matters.
  • Write guest posts for other blogs (linking back to your site) outside of your brand’s existing audience.
  • Offer professional advice on local Facebook groups or in popular online forums such as Money Saving Expert.
  • Donate your time, goods, or services to local groups, charities, or events.
  • Give talks about your area of expertise.
  • Host skills-teaching workshops or share your experiences as a business owner.

Your goal is to become the person and business that people turn to when they’re in need of your particular area of expertise, so spread your name and knowledge as far as possible, even if that means positively commenting on or championing competing businesses.

Cafe owner and businessman Paul Rawlinson is living proof of this strategy’s effectiveness. A prolific blogger and champion of local businesses, I asked Paul why any self-respecting business owner would go out of their way to sing the praises of their competitors.

“We try to put ourselves out there as champions of independent business and talk about what’s good to see and do in the area. We have a section on the blog called The Locals’ Guide, where we introduce the best restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and independent gift shops in the area.”

On paper, it sounds counterintuitive. In practice, Paul is now known as a genuine authority on small businesses and has won the respect of his peers and the public alike. His cafe is thriving, by the way.

“I’m a big believer that collaboration is greater than competition.If we all make the whole ‘independent’ pie bigger, we can all have a slightly bigger piece of that bigger pie.”

5. Step up your social media game

Instead of seeing social media as a necessary evil or annoyance, try to embrace its potential for reaching new audiences and promoting your business at minimal cost.

The general public is far more likely to encounter one of your social media posts than they are to organically stumble upon your website. View every post, comment, and reply as an opportunity to not just engage with existing followers but showcase your business in a way that draws others in.

If you haven’t already, decide which social networks work for your business. All have different strengths and weaknesses while offering unique audiences / users, so think about the kind of content you want to share.

Check out these posts to help you decide which networks to invest in:

When you’re up and running, post regularly to keep an active following, and make a habit of checking for any comments or messages at least once a day. The only thing worse than a business without a social media presence is one that lets its social pages go silent and ignores customer questions and comments.

6. Obtain and distribute fantastic freebies

Whether it’s free samples at a supermarket or a BOGO offer, customers are far more enticable when they think they’re getting something for nothing.

It’s important to choose something that will get people excited and yield some sort of return.

Traditional offerings such as branded stationery are easy to get ahold of, but aren’t engaging. Think outside of the box and treat your customers to something that will get them buzzing (and hopefully tweeting) about your business.

You could send out a branded box of locally made treats as a thank-you for a large order or after a customer has used your product / service for six months. Clothing and accessories are always popular giveaways, as are gift cards.

Whatever you choose, be sure it’s packaged or branded with your logo and company information. You don’t want to lose your customers to the thrill of the free gift with no reminder of where that freebie came from.

7. Encourage customer reviews

If you’re in the hospitality industry, you’re already encouraging your guests to rate you on TripAdvisor. But businesses of all kinds should be asking their customers to rate them online.

No matter what type of firm you’re running, if you collect customer email addresses be sure to drop them a line after you’ve fulfilled their order containing a link to a place they can provide feedback, a rating, or review online.

If you don’t use email to communicate with your customers, print up some review request cards to package with your products or add a request to your receipts and packing slips. Be sure to include all the information customers need to locate and review your business online.

When a customer does review your business, be sure thank them and respond to any criticism. Never leave negative feedback unchecked.

Remember: customers waste no time reviewing poor service. It’s your job to encourage them to take to their keyboards just as fervently when you’re getting things right.

Final thoughts

Being a small business doesn’t mean you have to keep your ideas small. With a little bit of ingenuity and old-fashioned elbow grease, you can give your small business a big name, separating yourself from the pack by showing off your creativity.

One way to make your efforts go further is to use marketing automation software which helps you keep in touch with customers, step up your social media game, and more easily respond to questions and complaints. Check out our marketing automation software directory or most user-friendly marketing software report for some options.

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

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About the Author

Philip Kendall

Philip Kendall is the digital marketing and social media executive at RotaCloud, a U.K.-based startup that provides cloud-based staff scheduling solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. A writer, blogger and lifelong tech nerd, Phil is never far away from a keyboard and has worked as everything from a freelance food blogger to the head of a team of writers contributing to a Tokyo-based news and entertainment site.

Comments

Great tips. I guess that sports sponsorship is a great way to put yourself out there, especially if it’s something local. I’m definitely a fan of marketing automation. We’re using GetResponse.

Hey Philip – really enjoyed the blog post, and you’re 100% right – throwing piles of cash at marketing agencies, with diminish returns, is one way to ruin your bottom line.

As incredibly useful as social media is it’s still important for small businesses to remember that, depending on their audience, not all of their customers spend their days on FB or Twitter. Targeting/retargeting helps, but there’s a limit, whereas a well-designed business card can go a long way. It’s the same with promotional items i.e. apparently we all have at least 3 – 4 promotional items on our desk at any given time, so although promotional items might seem like a waste of a marketing budget, they can and do have a long-term impact on building your brand in your customer’s mind.

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