Third, understand that if you want to advertise for free (or for very little cost), you will have to trade some time and effort into the process. One way or another, it is going to cost you something—either cash or time and effort. If you have no cash to pay someone else, that leaves us paying the price with time and effort.
Not all of the ideas in this article will work for you, but perhaps a few will and that’s all you should try at any one time anyway. Pick one or two and focus on them until you know if they are going to produce results for you. If they do, keep going. If not, either change how you are doing them or try something else. What works for one shop in one situation may not work for another business in different circumstances.
Not all of these marketing ideas are free, but those that aren’t are very inexpensive. If you can’t afford to do the ones you want to right now, start a fund (budget) and throw some cash in the kitty whenever possible until you can afford it. In the meantime, do what you can afford. At least do something!
Remember, too, that timing is essential for effective advertising. Mother’s Day, graduation, Father’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter are all great times to advertise personalized products. If you live in a religious community that celebrates other holidays, get to know what those are and focus on them as well.
Advertising is like a game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I once spent a bunch of money on radio advertising for a product I just knew would sell like crazy on the radio—especially during the holidays. I picked the best station, sold the DJs on the concept and wrote a check. The ads were great. It was a full saturation campaign and it produced absolutely zero results. I rolled the dice and I lost—big time.
Those who work in advertising for a living will be quick to tell you that even the best plan doesn’t always work. That’s why the big boys put their ads in as many places and through as many forms of media as possible. Don’t think they just throw it all out there and forget it either. They monitor those investments very carefully and they know from personal experience what works and what doesn’t. We could do the same thing IF we had the time and the money to do it—but most of us don’t have either.
We can, however, gain some insight by simply asking our current and especially our new customers, “How did you learn about us?” Keep a running list of their responses and apply that to your choices for advertising.
Following is a list of low-cost guerrilla marketing suggestions. Hopefully one or more will be “just right” for you.
A WEBSITE IS A MUST
I’m sorry, but the days of not having a presence for your business on the web are over. If you do nothing else, put up a nice looking page that has all the basic information the customer might need, such as store hours, address, phone and fax numbers, email address, turnaround time, types of products and services you offer, and testimonials. Building a functional, interactive or e-commerce website can be costly and time-consuming, and if you have the resources, do it. However, a basic page with your company information is fairly easy and inexpensive to set up, the cost is low and it will function like an online brochure for your business. By using a template from one of the big players such as GoDaddy or Yahoo, you can have a page up and running in an evening with a cost of about $15 per month.
Ask other businesses and organizations that have websites and a large audience if you can link your site to theirs. For instance, if you do work for a school with a website, ask if they will add a link to your site or show a page with products that have been personalized with the school mascot. This allows students and parents to place orders by e-commerce, phone or email.
Facebook and other social media is a great way to get the word out to many people and it has become the norm in marketing. You can easily set up a business page for your company on Facebook for free. A company called iPersonalyze.com offers an app that you can add to your Facebook page and your website which allows you to take orders for personalized merchandise. The platform allows customers to personalize their own products and order them directly from you, and it costs about $30 a month. With or without the app, ask your friends and customers to “Like” your Facebook page and share it with their friends. It’s all free and if you work it right, you can get the word out to hundreds of people in minutes.
Here is one social marketing idea that worked well for a company in our industry. The business owner took photos of family members using his personalized products and posted them on his Facebook page. For instance, he sublimated a purse for his wife who is proudly displaying it as she goes shopping. The reaction is, of course, “Oh, look at that unique purse she has!” Likewise, he posted a photo of his two children playing chess on one of his engraved chess sets. And then there are pictures of phone covers and business card holders and picture frames and pet dishes…you get the idea.
Social media is probably the strongest marketing force in business today. That is why all major companies now have a staff of people who do nothing but monitor the various social media opportunities online.
DRIVE YOUR MESSAGE
An easy and inexpensive way to advertise your business is to identify your vehicles with your company name. You can do it with magnetic signs, vinyl letters or vehicle wraps, but however you want to do it, do it. An important thing to remember, though, is that once you put your company name and contact information on your vehicle, keep it clean and in good condition. The condition of the vehicle speaks for your company and there is nothing worse than advertising your business name on a dirty, decrepit vehicle or one that’s in disrepair. Several industry material suppliers offer exterior grade magnetic sheet material that can be rotary or laser engraved and used for vehicle signage. Vista-
print and other companies can produce magnetic signs inexpensively if you can’t.
Put labels on everything you send out your door: If you don’t already put a nice label on everything you make or engrave before it goes out your door, start today. You can make your own labels if you have a laser engraver using Rowmark Lights material, you can buy printer labels and make them with any laser or inkjet printer and/or order preprinted labels with your contact information. However you do it, this is a must! These little labels bring business for decades as they sit harmlessly on the backs or bottoms of thousands of trophies just waiting for someone to pick one up while saying, “I have to order trophies for my kid’s team. I wonder who made this one?”
MAKE USE OF QR CODES
QR (Quick Response) codes have been around for some time now and today you see those black-and-white checkerboard-like squares just about everywhere, from print ads and business cards to jewelry and luggage tags to signs and vehicles. People with a “smart” device, such as a smartphone or tablet, can scan these codes which will automatically link them to more information, such as a website, a page on that website, a product, a video, general information, etc.
You can use these as a marketing tool in your business. Put them everywhere—on your business cards, the side of your vehicle, your front license plate (if your state doesn’t require a front plate), your stationery and all of your print advertising. In some places, make it obvious where the QR code is going to take people. In other places, like the front license plate on your cars, make it mysterious. People love scanning QR codes to see where they take them. You can download your own printable QR code from the Internet for free (don’t use the pay sites; they are no better than the free ones).
FRONT WINDOW ADVERTISING
If you have a front window at your shop, take full advantage of it by writing on it with glass chalk. This is what car dealers use to write on car windshields. This product, available at most craft stores and from Amazon.com, is much like any felt tip marker except it writes a very wide line on glass. It is weather resistant, comes in several colors and can be removed with window cleaner. Announce your sales and specials (especially around holidays), or send messages to the community, such as “Happy Holidays” or “Congratulations to the BHS boys soccer team—State Champions!”
USE PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS
The statistics about the effectiveness of promotional products abound. According to PPAI, 83 percent of consumers do business with the advertiser after receiving a promotional product and more than half of consumers keep a promotional product anywhere from one year to more than four years. My advice is to spend a little money and give something people will use.
Today, there are thousands of useful products to choose from. One item that has been very popular in my experience is a pen with a rubber stylus that allows people to text or work on a tablet with the pen as well as write with it. I like to give the ones that have gel ink in them. Every time I give one away, the person comments on how nice it is to write with. I give them to all kinds of people—waitresses where I eat, customers who need to write a check, teachers and just about anyone I bump into. The pens I use cost about 75 cents each but there are thousands of products you can use. Flavored lip balm, mouse pads, stress balls, desk items, magnets, tote bags, water bottles, key chains, calendars—the list goes on and on.
LET THEIR FINGERS DO THE WALKING
Although consumer use of phone books has declined dramatically in recent years and they are by no means the selling tool they once were, I believe you still have to be listed in the local phone book. In my area, we have three or four different companies selling ad space in “their” phonebook. It is a dilemma as to which ones to list in and where. One can easily spend a fortune placing ads that produce little, if anything. Ask your customers which phone books they use to locate businesses. What I found was that no one admits to using anything except the one produced by the local phone company. Make your listing dominate, but be careful. Use bold print and maybe even include a box around your listing, but don’t go overboard. There is an entire science behind this one and the phone book salespeople will try to snow you with all the reasons why you would be a total idiot for not buying a big ad that might cost hundreds of dollars a month.
Perception and image are vitally important in any business. If you and your employees are dressed alike in matching uniforms or attire featuring your company logo, that not only promotes your business but does so in a professional manner.
Uniforms can be as simple as a polo shirt or even a T-shirt. If you do sublimation, embroidery or direct to garment printing, you might want to print your own shirts. If not, companies like www.LogoUP.com offer a variety of embroidered shirts at affordable prices. If uniforms are over your budget, another option is to make name badges for you and your employees. I like to tell the story about the customer I made a badge for one day who was grumbling about his boss making him buy one. Well, he went to lunch and made a $10,000 sale because he had his name badge on! They work. Make an attractive badge that shows what you do. You can even include a QR code.
DIAL UP ATTENTION
One of the hottest items in the personalized products market right now is phone covers and you can take advantage of this trend by simply personalizing your own phone cover and flaunting it. If you have sublimation, direct print or laser engraving equipment, make yourself and your employees a nice phone cover showing what you do. Children and pets make great subject matter and monograms are also hot right now. Show off your phone wherever you go. When you go out to eat, don’t keep your phone in your pocket, lay it on the table so people can see the back of your phone. You will be surprised at how many people will stop to inquire about it. Oh yes, include a QR code so they can jump right to your website and store it for later reference.
WEAR A HAT
If you are into wearing hats, get a hat made. Perhaps you can make them yourself but however you do it, put your company name and contact information on your hat. Like uniforms and badges, a hat can be a great way to get your name in front of potential customers.
I heard this story about a man who became a multi-millionaire. When asked how he did it, his response was, “Every time I got within six feet of someone, I told them about my business.” And he did. He would stop people in airports and eateries and on the street and ask them if they had ever heard of his business. People said they had never seen anything like it. He wasn’t a particularly intelligent man but he loved what he did and he believed that what he did was the best there was so he wanted to tell people about it. Well, I doubt if many of us are that bold but wearing a hat, uniform or name badge with our company name and logo is certainly a step in that direction. Maybe it just comes down to a single question: “How much do you want to be a millionaire?”
This one may not be terribly inexpensive, but it is effective. Have a bunch of door hangers printed up with your company name, contact information, QR code and a list of all the services or products you offer. After hours, go around to all the industrial park sites in your area and hang one on each door. I’ve used this personally a couple of times and it has always brought in business. Another twist on this marketing idea is to have Post-it notes printed with your basic company information and when you are out after hours, stick one on each door in an industrial complex. The first I heard of this was with a “You Store It” container company in Canada. They credit this marketing trick for their growth from a fledgling company to a multi-million dollar enterprise. It may not do that for you, but it is a great idea just the same. Both items can be ordered from companies like Vistaprint.com.
It is always nice to win a major company as a customer but there are only so many major companies to go around and once these companies connect with someone else, it is difficult to pry them away unless they are unhappy with the service they are receiving. There are, however, thousands of smaller companies, often involved in niche industries just begging for someone to offer them engraving/gift/personalization type services. Because they are small and are somewhat outside the mainstream of companies targeted by the marketers, not everyone is beating a path to their door. When you put enough of these little guys together, it can mean an even bigger payoff than that of one of the major accounts. Plus, if you lose one to the competition, it won’t devastate your business. When you build your growth around only one or two major clients and one or both of them closes, downsizes or switches to another supplier, you may be out of business just as they are.
Just a few of the possibilities in the niche market list include: pet hospitals and veterinarians, restaurants, volunteer fire and EMS stations, schools, fraternal organizations, clubs of all kinds, hobbyists such as scrapbooking, sewing, scuba diving, BMX bicycling and racing, horse shows, pet shows, fantasy football, small startup businesses, music stores, kitchen designers (murals), motorcycle shows, car and hotrod shows, flea markets, wedding shops, baby shops and many, many more. Just let your imagination run free.
Looking for a new market? One with several million people? Why not try Amazon.com. You can sell your products on Amazon for only a small percentage of the price of the product. It takes some time setting up the products but once you do a few, the process will go quickly. You don’t have to be a big company to do this and if the product doesn’t sell, it costs you nothing. I offer free engraving for most of the products I list (the engraving fees are built into the price). eBay is another way to sell your products. It usually doesn’t cost anything unless you actually sell the product.
||A flag banner is an inexpensive way to promote your business street-side. Image courtesy of Signs by Tomorrow, Portland, OR.
Although I have never tried it, some people have reported getting great results by setting up a table at local flea markets and selling custom sublimated phone covers on site. Selling other personalized items could work just as well, such as ornaments, bookmarks, bag tags, coasters, key chains, pet tags, etc. You could set up a small sublimation system or rotary engraving machine in your booth and do the personalization on site or just take orders and ship the products. The point is, this has been proven to work so it is worth considering.
BECOME A FULFILLMENT CENTER
You probably don’t want to share your customers with anyone else and neither do the other retailers in your community. That doesn’t mean you can’t work together, however. Let other retailers such as picture framing businesses, gift shops, wedding stores, pet shops, etc., take orders and forward them on to you for manufacture. You make a little money and they make a little money. It may not be as good as you getting it all, but chances are good that you will be reaching customers that you might not have otherwise so part of the apple is better than none. I do this every day with great success. In fact, it makes up a major part of my business.
Although people receive hundreds of emails per day, statistics show that nowadays this is one of the most effective forms of advertising—and it’s virtually free. Collect the email addresses of your customers and weekly or monthly (please don’t overdo it) send out an email with your specials, discount coupons, etc., included. This can be especially effective to remind customers of upcoming holidays and events for personalized products, such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, graduation, Easter, etc.
Another way to use email is to create a newsletter for your business. A newsletter is typically more “newsy” and contains information about something interesting rather than just about you or your products. For example, you could include an article about a local sporting event, 5K run or community event, especially if you have a photo of them handing out awards you made.
Some potential clients might be interested in working on trade. Radio stations are famous for this. You provide some trophies or sublimated coffee cups for an event they are sponsoring and, in return, they give you a quantity of custom radio spots for free. Even better, if you are having an anniversary, grand opening or open house, see if they will do a live remote from your location. Give away some hot dogs to those who come by and make a big day of it. This works best on the weekends and takes some planning but the radio station should be able to tell you what others have done that worked.
EXHIBITING AT SHOWS
Although exhibiting at a hobby or trade show usually isn’t an inexpensive endeavor, some can be. Local show events with the local Chamber of Commerce, sports shows, home improvement shows, etc., often have reasonable prices for exhibitors. Build an inexpensive backdrop, take some samples, a ton of business cards and go meet people. I can’t say that this has doubled my business except when I first opened and had no customers at all, but local shows have produced some new clients and some fairly big ones. Just be sure to know what you are getting yourself into financially before you sign up. Costs for these can escalate quickly.
BANNER FLAGS & YARD SIGNS
You know what a traditional banner is and how to use them, but have you considered a banner flag? The manufacturers sometimes call these “feather banners” as they are kind of a cross between a banner and a flag. Perhaps a better name would be a vertical banner. In any case, you can stick them in the ground in front of your store to promote your business street-side. They cost around $60 wholesale and can be personalized with whatever you want—grand opening, special sale, open house, new products, etc. Lots of companies make these but I like www.Namify.com. If you tell them you are a member of ARA, you receive an extra discount.
Yard signs like the type real estate agents have been using for decades are a common sight today and can be used in the same way as banners and flags. I see them everywhere—even to the point of excessive clutter—but they DO work. Companies like Namify make these as well as many others. Some screen printers offer these for as little as $1 when purchased in lots of 100.
Needless to say, there are a hundred more ways to promote your business on a shoestring budget, but these will get you started. Don’t try to do them all at once! Pick one or two and put some serious effort into those. If they seem to work, pursue them further. If they seem dead, drop it and go to another. What works for one business may not work for another.
Two words of advice (phrases actually): One, almost anything will work IF you work it and two, people buy from people, not companies. Get out there when you can and let people see who you are, learn your name (and you learn theirs), shake hands with you and ask you questions. That personal touch always makes the difference between success and mediocrity.
|QR codes can be put on many different items and can link potential customers to your website, Facebook page or wherever you want them to go.