The famous saying "If you build it, they will come" only applies to gambling and graveyards. If you are in a different business, then you need to tell the world about your business.... every single day.
I can't overstress enough how important marketing is for a new business. It doesn't matter whether you are opening a sandwich shop or an enterprise software company - if you don't market your business consistently - you will fail.
I know what you are thinking "I wish I could spend money on marketing every day, but I have a limited budget, and can't afford expensive advertising, printing costs, design, etc".
I understand, so I will focus this blog on how to execute a reasonably aggressive marketing strategy for a minimum budget.
Here is my TOP TEN ways to market your business for under $100.
1. Website - You absolutely need to have a solid website, that gives people a great first impression of your business. To save money on high-end design, I suggest you purchase a template from a website like http://www.hypertemplates.com. Templates range from $30-$50. Once you buy a template, you can plug in your content, or pay them a nominal consulting fee to insert the content into the template. The goal is to have a simple, powerfully designed website that gives a great impression of the company.
2. Email Newsletter - Start building an email database of all people connected to your business - including customers, employees, partners, etc. Email is an inexpensive way to keep everyone up to date on the latest happenings, and can be deliver very professionally through services like Constant Contact - http://www.constantcontact.com. For less than $30 per month, you can send email newsletters to your 2,500 contacts. They manage the entire list, unsubsribes and give you a tool to design the email so it looks professional.
3. Blog - Start a Blog. In fact, start multiple Blogs if you want. You can never Blog enough. Blogs allow you to get personal with your readers (unlike a corporate website). Blogging can be a great way to keep people informed on your products, the company itself, or simply be a place to talk to your community in an informal matter. Services like Blogger - http://www.blogger.com are free to use.
4. Press Releases - Make news. The best marketing any company can hope for - is for a magazine or newspaper to pick up a release and print it in their issue or incorporate your company into a future story. You don't need to spend a lot of money on a PR Firm or Press Distribution service like BusinessWire - what you need to do is spread the word on the web. Here is a list of Press Distribution services that you should use to post and distribute your press.
Fast Pitch Press http://www.fastpitchpress.com (offers Free Post with optional upgrades)
PRWeb http://www.prweb.com (starts at $80)
We suggest one or two press releases a month, and posting those press releases on one or more of the sites above. The more exposure your press gets through syndication, submission to Google and Yahoo, and through the community will drive traffic to your business.
5. Search Engine Optimization - Getting top ranking in search engines is key to building long term traffic to your website. Instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars with an SEO firm, here are some things you can do to help boost your rankings:
a. Join Social Networks - Websites like Fast Pitch (http://www.fastpitchnetworking.com) and LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com) provide basic SEO services for people who create profiles. Although its driving traffic to your profile (not direct to your website) - it still drives traffic to you.
b. Create Links to your Site - Make sure you create content on the web, and link it back to your website. The number of links to your site (from relevant sites) matters. This is something that is tough to do - but start by leveraging websites that let you create pages or links (a great place to start is social bookmarking sites like delicious, Technorati, Furl, Digg and others.
c. Use tools on the web (like SEOMoz http://www.seomoz.org/) to find out how search engines view your website. Make sure you have all the right elements, keywords, etc on your site. There are great sites that walk you through basic SEO steps.
d. Participate on websites - join forums, groups (Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, Answers, etc) and contribute content. The more content you create - the bigger net you are casting to find customers and drive traffic.
6. Write Articles / Papers - Become the expert in your field, and write intelligent articles about your field. You would be surprised on how quality content is duplicated throughout the web. A great place to start is eZine Articles http://ezinearticles.com/ for posting your papers. Just like Press - there are a lot of websites that allow you to post your article for free or a nominal fee (just search Google for "Submit Articles")
7. Formalize a Referral Program - Some businesses can't support a referral program, but most do - and it is a powerful way to grow your business without spending precious marketing dollars. Depending on your business, you can intice partners/customers/anyone to refer business to you in exchange for discounts/cash/product. In order to really promote it, and make it part of your culture, you need to formalize the program. Write it down, and promote it to people you think can open new doors. Make it easy to - print out referral cards, coupons, or setup a website to capture leads. Put the tools in place to really drive people to act.
8. Build Relationships with Local Press - The only way to "get ink" is through networking and building relationships. Newspaper and Magazine writers want good stories - and if you have an interesting business, or something news worthy - you need to find a way to pitch it to a local reporter. Even small stories (like hiring a new manager) - tell the press - and they will mention it in their JOBS section, or if you feel like you have something "ground breaking" - then call up the editor and give them the "scoop". Local Press can quickly turn into Regional Press, which can turn into National Press.
9. Create Buzz - This is one of those marketing techniques that is more an art than a science, but if you do it right - you can be the "topic of the day" for literally zero investment. The trick is finding a way to create buzz. Its impossible for me to give any ideas without knowing the product, market or company's brand - but here is an example of what I am talking about. Let's say your company sells Computer Services for businesses. Call up all the local radio stations, and offer to take care of their computers at no charge for a small plug on the morning radio show. Or another example would be a local pizza restaurant running a "Pizza Eating Contest" every month, and the winner gets free Pizza for one year.
10. Hit the Streets - At the end of the day, if you want to spread the word - you need to put on the suit and press flesh. A new business needs to be out in the public all the time. Attend local events (check Chamber events, local networking events, or local clubs/organizations). Get involved on boards, or on comittees where you have the potential to meet more people on a frequent basis. Most networking events cost less than $50.00, and if you are active you can meet 10-20 people.
I hope this helps get you thinking about how you can really spend 50% of your time marketing your business, without having to spend a tons of money. At the end of the day, you need to invest time in marketing, and you need to be consistent and constant in your message. After a while, it takes on a life of its own, and that is when your company becomes a brand, and word-of-mouth takes over.