Networking and Sales: The Low Budget Marketing Strategy That Works

Most small business owners and/or marketing departments face the challenge of growing sales with a budget that forces them to maximize every dime.  Too many times I’ve heard some version of  “We have no money for marketing” uttered marketing on penniesby a client, and my answer is always the same “That’s no excuse.”

For one, it’s rarely true. Often they don’t have MUCH money, but that’s not the same as having none. If you truly have none, shut your doors now.  If we’re honest about your limited budget, we have somewhere to start.  Of course the first thing you need if you don’t have it is product literature – a business card and brochure at the minimum.  I know, we do live in the world of online connecting, but you need to give the people you meet in real life something concrete to walk away with that convinces them that you are actually in business.  After that, you need a plan that involves little dough and lots of ‘go’ on your part.

Networking is the keystone of your low budget marketing efforts, and sales is right there with it.  Too many people get hung up on the difference between Sales & Marketing, and to that I say “Hogwash.”  The line is and should be blurred beyond visibility. Marketing is creating the message and keeping your brand in the forefront of people’s mind; Sales is closing  the deal. If done properly your networking (marketing) will blur itself right into a sale.  If you don’t know where to start, start here:

  1. Your local Chamber of Commerce: often maligned as cliquey time wasters, I can tell you that a Chamber is what you make it. For a fee of usually under $300 you can gain access to hundreds if not thousands of other business owners, and very often inexpensive or free ways to market your business.  If you want to explore how to effectively use your chamber, check out Frank Kenny.  At the minimum, go to the events they offer, join  a committee  and get to know the directors.  Actively seek out business by asking for it.
  2. Community Involvement: joining a charitable organization, the PTA, or any other community based group that has a mission is a great way to get to know a lot of people in a non-threatening environment. Of course you already know that nobody likes to be sold, but people DO want to buy from people they know. Make sure they all know what you do if they ever need your services.
  3. Cold Calling: and stop rolling your eyes, gagging, or whatever the idea of cold calling makes you do.  I used to turn my nose up at it too, until I got turned onto S. Anthony Iannarino‘s philosophy. The truth is that there was a time when most salespeople were dependent upon cold calling. Now, in the internet age we’ve all become a little soft. It’s so much easier to be rejected via email or LinkedIn, and we can at least tell ourselves we tried.  Cold calling works, and I would argue even more effectively because so few people do it.  You need to have a plan when you call, and be simultaneously interesting and delicate, but by using it you can at least get a meeting to introduce your company.
  4. Surgical Marketing: In order for cold calling to really work, you have to have both a target AND a plan of action.  You need to be able to tell that target in a matter of seconds how you will help them, not what you can sell them. If you haven’t created a target list, do it, and then figure out the best way to approach each individual target.
  5. Referral Requests: You have friends, former co-workers, and professional connections. Use them. Again, your request must be delicate and it wouldn’t hurt to offer a referral reward alongside it. Nearly every business starts out by leaning heavily on the circle of people that know and care about the founders. Every person you know well should understand what you do, how passionate you are about it, and what the perfect referral is.
  6. Social Media: It isn’t free because it costs a lot of TIME, and it has the potential to be a huge time suck, but managing a Social Media page properly allows you to illustrate what you do and how it helps your potential customers.  It can open up an entirely new stream of lead generation.  (You didn’t think we’d make a low budget marketing list without it, did you?)  Eventually you’ll have to pony up money to measure its effectiveness, but in the early days it will take lots of your time and analysis to see what works.

All of the above will cost you minimal amounts of money and tons of sweat equity, but it is the way out of your low budget marketing scenario.  You will have to network to create opportunities and then sell the deal by persistently following up on genuine leads. You’ll have to be able to identify those worthy leads and close the deal; at the end of the day it will always be about your ability to sell.  Do the above consistently, keeping your goals in mind and remaining undeterred no matter how many rejections you encounter, and you’ll work you way out of the low budget marketing scenario and earn yourself the ability to become truly strategic about how to market and grow your business.

Do you have a story about building sales on a shoe string budget? We’d love to hear it.

Your Customers Won’t Take Your Marketing Seriously If You Don’t

If you read my blog you know that I run a Small Business Marketing company; we empower small business owners by creating blended marketing strategies with a major focus on new media. Because strategy is my bag, I spend most of my days consulting with the decision makers on how to spend their limited marketing budget to most effectively gain the Focus on Marketing for Small Businessattention of their target clients.

If never fails to amaze me that a good percentage of my clients, and by that I mean more than half, have no personnel dedicated to marketing. Many of my clients are really small businesses with only a handful of staff, so it is understandable that they may not have a person on board whose sole job is marketing. What you do need, Mr/Ms Small Business Owner, at the very minimum, is to have the responsibilities of marketing decision making as part of the job description of an important key player.

The business owner’s retort to my suggestion is often: “That’s why we hired you.” Believe me, I’m grateful when any client entrusts me with their marketing. Bringing in an outside marketing consultant is smart, but ‘we,’ the outsiders, are not enough. There needs to be a person on your staff who is the liason and decision maker to ensure that the strategy you’re paying us to enact is working. Someone on YOUR team needs to be actively involved in approval and monitoring of the strategy.

If you’re a sole proprietor, you need to dedicate a percentage of every week (that’s right, I didn’t say month or year) to thinking about and monitoring your marketing efforts.

What does it mean if you DON’T dedicate personnel or time to your marketing? It means you are ignoring one of the two most important parts of your business. Without marketing you may very well be invisible to your target clients. Without marketing, your company will not grow at the rate you need it to. Without marketing, it is much more difficult to achieve the desired sales rate you need. Without marketing how will you ever get to the point of success you have envisioned since the day you went into business? All it takes is for you to elevate this most important aspect of your business to its rightful place. Spend money, but more importantly, spend the time it requires to make your marketing successful.

Building Your Marketing Machine

If you read my blog you know that I tend to go on and on about consistency in marketing, primarily because it’s the number one mistake I see clients make – lack of consistency in their logo useage, email blasts, Social Media and even their website. In order to have an effective marketing campaign you must have consistency, and in order to have consistency you must have a process, i.e. – a Machine.

Your machine will make sure that you do things in the proper order and don’t miss a beat in follow up or follow through; you could do tons of work but your efforts will not give you results unless you have a plan and a method for following up on the plan. How do you get there?

1. Figure out HOW you will market. That means you have the following choices: Print, Radio, TV, Outdoor Advertising, Website, Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing. Whatever you do, don’t just throw darts at the separate choices. If you have no idea what works because you’ve never marketed successfully, hire an advertising/marketing firm to at least create your plan for you.

2. Create a marketing calendar: Know what needs to be done when and assign the specific tasks to individuals. Give them deadlines and hold them accountable.

3. Make sure you have a method in place to track your success. Most of the time, and by that I mean probably 90%, my small business clients have no idea what works because they’ve only anecdotally tracked their past efforts.

4. Set goals and review results at preset dates. Be willing to change course if the plan you put in place is having no effect.

The key here is to have a plan, and to have players in the plan with clearly assigned roles AND a method for holding to the timeline you set out. Analyzing the results is tantamount to even them most simplistic marketing plan. Follow these steps and at the minimum you can guarantee that your company won’t be repeating past mistakes and will more than likely find the right methods for your marketing.

Discipline = the KEY Ingredient for Small Business Success

Border Collies Under Control

One of my favorite themes for business success is discipline. If you read my blog posts, you’ll see this word rear its head in nearly everyone of them. That’s because I’ve been working with small business owners long enough to say that the primary reasons small business fail is that they lack discipline in the following areas:

1. Financial Restraint Many years ago when I started my first business I read a book, more like a cartoon magazine, called Small Time Operator, where I learned the key to most business failures: too much overhead. Don’t buy it until you absolutely can’t function without it; sell more so you can afford it first.
2. Control Your Calendar/Control Your Clients Your time is your most precious commodity, but most small business owners are too easily distracted by the chance of a new customer. Block off time in your calendar for Admin., Networking etc., and make appointments fit into your plans instead of chasing every opportunity that comes along.
3. Stay committed to your marketing strategy: Come up with a plan, and stick to it. If it incorporates Networking & Social Media Marketing like I would advise any small business owner without big marketing $$, stay focused on your goals and SPEND THE TIME it takes, (regularly) to create a following and build relationships with your prospects.
4. Control your employees instead of the other way around. Too often small businesses develop the dysfuction more appropriate in families; this is your livelihood we’re talking about – make decisions based on what’s best for your business, not your employees.

Of course the discipline needed to start and grow a successful business doesn’t end there, but if you do have the fortitude to follow these 4 rules I can almost guarantee you success.

Build Your Website Right the First Time

When you built your first website were you sure of your objectives? You KNEW you had to be ‘on the web’ because everyone told you so, and you were afraid of missing out.www
 
So, you hired a web designer, put your standard marketing story onto the site, and were really thrilled when it finally went live. You checked in a few times a day and really thought it was sharp. Then what?
 
Over time, it became difficult to understand how this site was helping you bring in business.  Sure, it was a great catalogue of your services, and yes, it legitimized your business when people sought and found you online.  But was it bringing in new business?  Was it building relationships with prospects and converting them to customers? How were you to track its success?
 
A successful website:
  1. Shows up on the first page of the Search Engines when   
      customers shop for your products/services.
  2. Quickly makes it clear to visitors how purchasing through you
      will benefit them.
  3. Gives your customer a reason to return to your site repeatedly
      instead of buying and forgetting you.
 
We built a basic website for That Shake Place in Mt. Cobb, PA this spring – www.shakeplace.com .  By building the site properly from the ground up rather than using a template, and through the proper use of Social Media, we pushed 150 new customers from Social Media to their site in the first 5 days of its existance.  By creating interactive marketing features that got their customers involved and made them feel like part of “That Shake Place Family,” we helped them begin building a loyal following who don’t mind driving few extra miles to patronize their ice cream stand.
 
Learn more about how your website can help grown your business at www.arielmarketinggroup.com