The following is a staff post by Melissa Batai.
If you own a small business, you may not have a lot of cash for advertising, especially if the business is new. Ironically, new businesses might need the most advertising, but they usually have the least amount of money to use on advertising. However, thanks to the Internet and your own social skills, there are plenty of ways to grow your business that don’t cost a dime.
Social networking is one of the oldest ways to grow your business, and there are a variety of ways you can do this.
Attend a conference. Attend a conference in your field and take the time to get to know others who work in the same area you do. Before you attend the conference, you may want to do some research about who will be attending and learn a little bit about the attendees you want to connect with so you will have a topic to chat about. True, this option isn’t free, but hopefully you will leave the conference with more connections and knowledge from the seminars.
Volunteer in your community. If you volunteer for an non-profit organization or charity in your community, you will likely meet other business people and make connections. In addition, other volunteers who aren’t business owners may remember you and your business should they need something. If you are an eager volunteer who works hard and is friendly, people will remember you.
If you don’t have a Facebook page for your business, you should get one, right now. A 2011 Mashable report stated that 42% of U.S. adults use Facebook, but my guess is that the number has grown in the 1.5 years since the report. Consumers are on Facebook, and they want to connect with your brand. Here are some strategies you can use to connect with them:
Show them something you produced. Do you have a sewing store? Show them a dress you created and tell them the pattern and the fabrics used. Then include a link directly to those items in your store. If they like what you made, they can follow the link and buy the items themselves. You have made it easy.
Notify them of sales. Do you have a sale on certain items? Notify them by Facebook and include a link to the sale items. The day the sale ends, send out a reminder post.
Make it personal. While many people will appreciate learning about what you produced or being notified of sales, they will also connect with you on a deeper level if you share a bit more personally. That doesn’t mean you should reveal intimate details of your life. Instead, show your sense of humor with a tasteful joke related to your industry or a quote you read on the Web or in the paper. This shouldn’t be done frequently, but just enough to make your posts varied.
Twitter has a much smaller following than Facebook, but those on Twitter are vocal and glad to express their opinions of your business, whether those opinions are positive or negative. Having a Twitter account and interacting with your followers can help create brand loyalty. Consider using these strategies:
Respond to every complaint. If you get a complaint, respond. How you respond is important. Try to right any complaint the customer has. Others will be reading the thread and watching what you tweet. A good response can turn a negative situation into a positive one and can earn you more customers.
Connect with the right people. Keep track of who is following you on Twitter. Delete the obvious spammers. Likewise, follow those who tweet at least a few times a week about items related to your industry. (You can search appropriate hashtags to find this information.)
Engage others. Yes, you are on Twitter to grow your business, but if you only Tweet about business, you will lose followers. Instead, take the time to respond to all comments you get, and comment on those you are following. Engage others, and they will respond and become more loyal as they grow to trust you and your brand.
A new business must do everything it can to attract new clients. Luckily, through social networking and using Facebook and Twitter, this isn’t hard to do and doesn’t cost very much money.
Bonus tip: Cash is king, so make sure you get it right with this handy guide from Hitachi Capital Invoice Discounting. For a chance to win funding for your business free of charge for 12 months enter the Inspired Cashflow Small Business competition.
What ways would you recommend to advertise when you are a small business on a tight budget? Have you used any of these strategies?