It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

Choose a Green Table member when you dine out, take-out or order-in for deliciously local fare.

Efforts to reduce their environmental ‘footprint’ include a measurable commitment to serve more meats, seafood, produce, baked goods and dairy products from sustainable sources.

To support this, we’re helping restaurants get more of what they need and use most often. In collaboration with growers, distributors and other partners, such as local farmers’ markets and Local Food First, Green Table Network is bringing more local, organic and sustainably harvested products to the dining table.

tomato FX3
These sustainable purchasing choices go a long way to lessen the environmental and social impacts of the global transportation of food. But, perhaps more importantly, encouraging a more localized food economy can provide stable support for B.C. farmers and producers, preserve increasingly valuable farmland and stimulate economic opportunities in communities around the province.

Even closer to home, Green Table members can also participate in emerging urban agriculture initiatives, creating opportunities for gardeners from all walks of life to produce and share in healthy, fresh food grown right down the street or up on the roof.

What will Websites Do?

February 26, 2009

By Ed Dugas

For the internet veterans among us, surfing the web is like navigating through your hometown. You grew up there; accessing every side street and short cut is second nature. The layout is forever seared into your consciousness. You don’t need a map to get around.

But as the internet is an integral part of the daily routine for many, for others it’s a strange place they don’t recognize or comprehend. Frequent internet users surrounded by other frequent internet users are sometimes too close to the screen to understand that 26% of North Americans don’t access the web and therefore can’t get around your neighbourhood. Surprising, considering 99% of households have at least one TV set.

If you don’t yet have a website and are thinking you don’t need one, it must be understood that you do. Yes, there’s a learning curve. Yes, it is at times confusing. But once you live in this city for six months, you’ll laugh thinking you used to not know how to get to the grocery store. Here are a few thoughts on why not joining cyberspace is like investing in the typewriter.

A website helps develop your company’s brand. Whether extending the use of your logo or solidifying the meaning of your slogan, your brand is important to your business as it helps people recognize who you are and the nature of your products and services. It’s important to develop your brand so that its perception is shared by most or all. Your website will allow you to inform others about your company, express what is most important to you, and even help you better understand your customers.

In lieu of sitting down with every potential customer and explaining who you are, what you do differently, why they should use your product or services, and how these items are superior and useful, let your website do all of this for you. Your website allows you to effectively reach your potential clients without spending without spending time repeatedly driving home your message. Plus, your website never needs to eat or sleep; it’s available 24-7 and, if developed correctly, will be one of the most consistent and valuable assets you have. Consider your website an electronic storefront, and your blog a newspaper that’s all about you. You control the building your brand, the degree of your customer loyalty, and the credibility of your establishment.

Your business website also allows you to display your products or services. Potential customers want to know what your business offers and why they should spend their money with you. Perhaps you run an Indian restaurant. What distinguishes you from other similar operations? Maybe you import most of your ingredients directly from South India, or have really creative and memorable décor. The difference lies in the details, and playing up certain intangible specifics can make a big difference on how memorable you appear to the public.

Your website is an inexhaustible resource, and can be used to set a solid precedent about how you want to express your products or services. Use it to tout your expertise, thus allowing you to build credibility and knowledge of your industry which the public will notice and appreciate. If you’re regulated to the Yellow Pages or a newspaper ad, you don’t stand out as dynamically or have much control over attracting potential customers.

As the economy continues to slump, trends suggest that customers will do more research and become more educated on the product and services they seek. Therefore, many will begin their search for, say, a company to cater a birthday celebration, by seeing if the company has a website. They will review the website to learn what you offer, and how you could potentially be of service to them. You can post your prices and services up front, or link to an email address where potential clients can receive estimates. Once contact is established, you have a better chance of making a sale. Away from the phone? They might decide not to leave a message and call someone else.

A website is also a great place to post testimonials from recent clients, testifying as to how your event managers made their celebration a success, or how your function room environment was so relaxing and made everyone feel comfortable. It’s about going beyond the “what we offer” and to the “how we offer it.”

People want to know that you know other people and that you work hard in your profession. Customer testimonials carefully arranged throughout your web site can have a huge impact on getting that next customer. There is no better way to build credibility than to evoke the words of current or previous customers. People always want to know what others think of the experience. Therefore, when placing a testimonial on your web site, try your best to have the person select a particular benefit that others would appreciate. This will help customers understand how you may be different from the competition, and what you can provide for their money. Why should they seek your business? Why are you the best value for their money?

But having a website isn’t always enough; the better and more professional your website, the more credibility to exude. It’s best to register a domain name for your professional website, and host with a professional hosting company. People want to see that you have invested some time and energy and that you’ve attended to all the details. And since more and more people are taking this route, the cost has gone down considerably.

Your domain name will cost you about $20.00 or less per year, depending on who you seek and what options you request. Hosting your website is often easy, depending on what you need. You can expect to pay from $20 a year to $20.00 per month depending on your host. Building your website does not have to be a huge expense. There are many software packages that will allow you to build your site, and walk you through the basic steps.

A great reason to have your own domain name is so your email addresses reflect this domain name. For example, all of your correspondences will go out as yourname@yourcompany.com. This helps build your company’s recognition and provides your customers with the most important piece of information: your domain name. It is important to make the email address simple and easy to read. Make it as easy as possible to send, so the shorter, the better. The email alone can aid in branding and serve as a bonus promotional tool.

It’s important that your website has a specific and easy to locate contact section. This section needs to include phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and perhaps who is in charge of what function of the business. Depending on the type of business, you might want to include a biography of the different people/principles involved in your operation. It is suggested that you include your company objectives, and a company profile. When did you start your business? What was the reason? What do you specialize in, what do you offer, and how do you offer it? Even if it seems a little redundant, it’s important your message is driven home to visitors so they begin to build recognition for your brand, thus coming to realize that you are the one who will provide the best service or product.

Finally, have a section where you post your credentials, associations, and the aforementioned testimonials. 20 years experience? Great! If you have a degree in your field, display it to all. The same goes with certificates, awards, etc. If you are a part of an association, perhaps the Chamber of Commerce, or Better Business Bureau, display this credential on your website just like you would in your business, office or retail location.

Laying out a website is like turning your business into a town. It means building houses, schools, hospitals, phone companies, a police department and many stores. Luckily, your business is a town you know, and you get to be the Mayor! If you appoint a good council, provide smooth roads and build a great looking infrastructure, people will want to keep exploring, and maybe even buy some property! And if they get a little lost there, that’s OK, too. It’ll mean they’ll have to stop for a bite to eat and maybe do some shopping.