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.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and significant assets to the community. They understand that a marathon of hard work and perseverance goes into being successful, and that it’s tough to achieve without a strong network of collaborators and supporters.

Here’s what these 6 businesses have learned along the way:

K & M Farms

28494 Maclure Road, Aldergrove, BC
Ph: 604-857-8912
Email: kmfarms@shaw.ca
Web: www.kmfarms.blogspot.com

In their own words:

K & M farms raises chickens, turkeys and beef like your grandmother did – the natural way – outside on pasture with no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by products!

What’s your secret?

“Start slow,” says Mark Robbins, who originally started the farm as a side project, but has seen it grow considerably in the past few years. “It’s also important not to lose sight of the big picture.”

Lowland Herb Farm

5685 Lickman Rd, Chilliwack, B.C.
Ph: 604-858-4216
Email: info@lowlandherbfarm.com
Website: www.lowlandherbfarm.com

In their own words:

We have 35 years of experience growing herbs organically. We use biodynamic and sutainable practices so that our comprehensive and unique list is incorporated into our landscape/farm/greenhouse/Qltuts (walfrin cold frames) for maximum efficiency, consistency and unique flavours and quality with amazing keeping ability of our fresh product.

What’s your secret?

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so I’m proud that I’ve hung in for so long, and proud to be a small scale and organic farm,” says owner Boni Townsend. “I am a devotee of working cooperatively, and serving the needs of our cooperative. In a world of limited resources, this takes precident over profit.”

Silverhill Apple Orchard

30111 Silverhill Ave., Mission, B.C.
Ph. 604-820-7957
Email: orchard1@telus.net
Website: www.bcfarmfresh.com/farm.asp?id=29

In their own words:

Come visit our Orchard and Country Store in the beautiful Silverdale area of SW Mission. We offer one of the best selections available of local and naturally grown produce under our Protective Crop Tunnels. This latest intensive and environmentally friendly growing method allows us to grow an even greater variety of products without the use of toxic chemicals.

What’s your secret?

“Providing the best quality product, grown with love. And, for us, taking our production costs into careful consideration, and making sure to follow all the government regulations.”

BCFRESH INC.

# 201-7560 Vantage Way, Delta, B.C.
Ph. 604-946-3139
Email: gerrit@bcfreshinc.com
Website: www.bcfreshinc.com

In their own words:

“BCFresh is 100% locally owned and operated. Our root vegetables are grown by 32 families throughout the Fraser Valley, many of whom have been growing BCFresh produce for for or five generations. Much care is taken to ensure that only the freshest, highest quality produce reaches your dinner table. Look for BCFresh products at your local grocer.”

What’s your secret?

“Be patient, get your name out there,” says Gerrit of BCFresh. “You have to get your network going. It takes a lot of time, so make sure to just keep going.”

Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm

49350 Prairie Central Rd, Chilliwack, B.C.
Ph. 604-794-3999
Email: farm@forstbauer.com
Website: http://www.forstbauer.com

In their own words:

Founded in 1977, the Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm is a Certified Organic farm in Chilliwack. Mary and Hans Forstbauer were pioneers in the early organic farming movement, and are still farming with integrity and passion.

What’s your secret?

“We’re involved with a lot of associations, including the BC Farmer’s Market Association, Canada Association of Farmers Markets, and the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Coupons Program,” says Mary Forstbauer. “It’s also important to listen, and really hear what people are saying instead of just waiting to speak. You also have to do your research, and take a step of faith.”

Painted River Farm

218 Barnston Island, Surrey
Ph. 604-581-2665
Email: paintedriverfarm@skyweb.ca
Website: www.paintedriverfarm.ca

In their own words:

Painted River Farm, locared on Barnston Island, produced naturally raised beef and goat meat. We do not use hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides on our land. We were the first SPCA-certified beef producers in BC, and sell our products from our farm gate in the fall.

What’s your secret?

“We produce naturally-raised SPCA-certified beef, that’s a great product, raised very well for the general public, and with passion towards our animals,” says Donna Gilmore. “It’s important to do your homework, and talk with people if you don’t know something.”

Holiday Greetings from Industry Blender.

We’re excited to announce that Industry Blender, Vancouver’s premiere food and beverage business network, is approaching 200 members and growing fast! At the recent BC Hospitality Show at Canada Place, we spoke with a number of you about the importance of networking and technology for the 21st century business owner, and many of you seem ready to embrace this powerful revolution. We’re working hard to improve our member’s experience, and have many new tools in development which will make 2009 the year businesses take full control of their destinies. This month’s newsletter is filled with tips and valuable information to help ease this necessary transition. We hope you’ll have a better idea of what we offer and just how important it is to be equipped for the changes to come in the future.

Equipping Your Business: Leasing and Renting

Part 1 of our series helps you decide on equipment acquisition options in a period of economic and environmental uncertainty (read the whole article).

Build an Online Presence

The internet is a necessary part of your business.  Don’t leave your reputation to chance… (read the whole article).

Are you prepared to save Jaws from Extinction? – A Lauren Mote Exclusive

Poivremedia’s Lauren Mote sinks her teeth into the Ocean Wise initiative, lending her unique voice (with a peppering of humour) to the topic of ocean sustainability and what you can do to help…This crisis may run deeper than you think. (read the whole article).

Internet Now Being Groomed for Business

Part 1 of a 5 Part Series for business success in the 21st Century Information Age. Between the 15th Century invention of the printing press and the personal computer revolution of the 1990s, we were, for the most part, a print culture. Crusades, expeditions, missions, art and even wars circulated information throughout the known world. The written word was our primary concrete resource for preserving knowledge. And then the internet arrived…(read the whole article).

With Social Media, Follow The 5 Rules of Engagement

Part 3 of our 5 part series focuses on the importance of social media in the 21st century business landscape. engagement is a very important word in today’s media landscape. Studies show that people choose a product based on its personalized or “engagement” feel, which means that businesses must establish a rapport with customers if they wish to be successful… (read the whole article).

Employ “Cause” Marketing

February 26, 2009

We all know what impact the economy is having on our businesses, but imagine the crunch being felt by charities and non-profits.  As our dollars are being stretched to the limit, these organizations are the first to feel the pull.  But there is a potential solution which could help both your business and a worthwhile cause: contribute your services to a charitable venture.

Research a cause you would like to support (community-building, social services initiative) and offer your business services in a fund-raising or other similar capacity.  This union will allow you the possibility of sharing marketing platforms (donor lists, media contacts, etc.) with your charity to fill seats at events.  Depending on the arrangements, you may receive a set fee or a percentage of the proceeds with the rest going to the nonprofit.

The opportunity to offer additional services, obtain contact information and develop relationships is the real benefits for your business.  This venture could generate more sales for your good or service, and the non-profit benefits from increased awareness and publicity.  There may also be tax advantages as well.

The community benefits from the service you provide, the organization benefits from funds and publicity, and you benefit from increased cash flow, publicity and new business relationships.  People who rely on the charity of others for food, clothing and shelter – the basic necessities we take for granted – win through your generosity.

Happy New Year to all, and may we at Industry Blender wish you business success in 2009!  The holidays have passed and now its time to face the facts: The economy is “correcting itself.”  Not to worry; value is out there, and strategies for maximizing your dollar await exploration.  You can start with this, “expect one marketing tip, get seven more free” promotion.  OK so its a penny for our thoughts, but they do add up over time.  Now back to business.

It is proven that in times of hardship successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies: they adapt them. Here is a quick guide to the things you can implement to make sure your business survives the recession.

1. The potential that lies in existing customers

Your best immediate sources of additional profits and increased business are your existing customers. These are the people who you’ve already invested time, energy and money with you to create a relationship. It usually between five to ten times easier to get an existing customer to buy from you again, than it is to get someone to buy from you for the first time. Prospects in particular are more likely to become customers if your marketing efforts are complimented by a recommendation from a friend or family member.

TIP: You can encourage your existing customers to attract new customers for you by undertaking a ‘recommend a friend’ as part of your promotional efforts. For example, you could send out an offer where your existing client and their friend will both receive a discount when they book a treatment together.

2. Developing a marketing strategy

Growth has nothing to do with the size of your business. It’s about how many customers and prospects you can market to. This is not the time to cut marketing spend. It is well documented that businesses who increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share at lower cost than during good economic times. You need to be aware that marketing efforts require careful planning and, in order to you assess your return on investment and effectively plan future marketing, you must keep a record of the sales generated as a result of your campaigns. Try and set some time aside each week for brainstorming new ideas or calculating your business growth.

TIP: There are, however, ways to market more cost effectively, perhaps by reducing your ad space or by sending out promotional SMS messages which reach customers cheaply, directly and quickly.

3. Data Capture

Build a mailing list. This will enable you to target your campaigns more effectively. Collecting the names is the hard part, so give your prospects a reason for them to provide you with their name and address – competitions, discounts, maybe even a loyalty card. Work at keeping your list accurate and up to date. Try to get hold of email addresses as well as (or even in preference to) contact details: email is cheaper and more versatile than postage. It is vital to monitor your customer’s purchase history. This will indicate whether they are cutting back.

TIP: You can use purchase history information to target those who have reduced the frequency of their visit. This will encourage them to revisit your business.

4. The power of the Internet

Many businesses still do not collect the email addresses of everyone who contacts them. Every time a business fails to capture someone’s email address they’re turning down the opportunity to contact them for FREE, for weeks, months and years ahead. Once you have Email Addresses – use them!

TIP: You can use email to thank people for their business, make them a special offer, give them a free article or report, send a newsletter, recommend a product or service they may be interested in or ask for referrals.

5. Utilizing technology

Technology helps to simplify working life, yet many businesses are reluctant to adopt new forms of communication. Consider the impact of a website showing photos of all your best work, compared to a simple price list or leaflet. Similarly, SMS text appointment reminders can be a worthwhile investment as they reduce no-shows and wasted staff time.

6. Advertising

It is essential that you measure the response to all of your advertising in order to evaluate whether or not it represented a viable investment and to shape your future investment decisions. It is worth asking how many people responded to your ad, how many of those were converted to a sale, what’s that worth to you? Some practical advice: an attention grabbing headline is essential, one change in headline can produce a 50-100% increase in response, and the ad itself needs to appeal directly to the interests of your target audience. People don’t buy your product or service. They buy the benefits that your product or service offers them. So spend some time getting clear on what exactly your benefits are – and then make sure that you articulate them precisely in all of your communications.

TIP: Research has shown that the effects of advertising are short lived. Therefore, in order to optimize your budget, it makes sense to spend smaller amounts very regularly. This will ensure that your business is consistently at the forefront of customer’s minds.

7. Promotions

Customers will be shopping around for the best deals. You do not necessarily have to cut list prices but you may need to offer more temporary price promotions. Targeted and personalized promotions are more cost efficient than just sending out one generic campaign. Customers are naturally skeptical of promotions so make sure you frame them appropriately, for example, ‘New Years Detox Offer’.

TIP: It is worth noting that discounts below 15% are often ineffective

8. Rewarding loyalty

Start a loyalty program. The customer gets a good deal, you get a keen customer. A simple approach is to give clients a free treatment after they purchase a set number of treatments. Invite your regulars to trial new products and treatments at a reduced cost, you could target this promotion based on client’s purchase history.

TIP: Customers are naturally dubious of sales offers so frame the offer as a “thank you” for their loyalty.

Build an Online Presence

February 26, 2009

If you’re a restaurant or supplier, chances are you have a few tech-savvy employees who are quite versed in the ways of the world wide web.  These individuals are online a lot, participate in social networking and probably do a lot of shopping and other business on the internet.

They understand how important the internet is in their daily lives, so they’re perfect for spreading the word about your business to the whole world in cyberspace.

Pay your employee or employees to spend a few hours a week managing your online affairs, including frequently updating your website, joining online business communities and creating and joining groups on their social networking channels.

The idea of getting paid to do what they do everyday will really get them excited, and they’ll feel like they play a very important role in the business.  This PR and exposure is money well spent.  It’s the best and most inexpensive way to market yourself, and will prove to be a crucial component of future business success into the 21st century.