Marketing on a budget

What is the difference between the businesses that succeed and the ones that don't? Quite simply, customers.

Finding customers is key to running a successful business and all highly successful firms are good at marketing. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend thousands on an expensive marketing campaign. There is a tremendous amount of money wasted on advertising and it’s frustrating when you find the return on investment (ROI) is non-existent. However, there are so many ways to avoid these costly mistakes and there are marketing strategies which are available at a fraction of the cost.

Here are some top suggestions for increasing your customer base on a shoestring:

Actively promote recommendations

A recommendation is when a satisfied customer gives your name to one of their contacts, endorsing your service. There is no better way to get new business than a referral or strong recommendation. If you are active in encouraging them, you can build your business at a relatively low cost.

When asking for a recommendation, try to be clear about the type of customers you are looking for and the type of service you can offer them. Bear in mind that it is usually best to ask when discussing the successful results of your work, when your client is most enthusiastic about your business.

Remember at this stage to tell people how to refer potential customers to you. Advise them to direct people to your website in the first instance. Also, try to stay in control here and not just hand over the reins to your customer. If you think they have a possible contact, arrange a time to call them to follow it up, this puts you back in control of the opportunity.

You could also consider referral incentives such as a discount voucher. This kind of reward is likely to encourage people to pass on your details.

Promote your business through networking

Networking is all about developing your business contacts and building your profile. Remember that it’s a two way process of giving and getting. There are various places you can go to do this, including speed networking events, lunches, trade shows, conferences, presentations and more.

Do some research and try to pick the events that will suit your business and those which will generate useful contacts.

Remember that everyone is there for the same reason, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Resist the temptation to simply talk about yourself and your business and speak to as many people as you can.

Try to have a short statement prepared about what your business does. If you can speak confidently about your company, it will grab people’s attention.

Concentrate on building rapport, not selling and remember to take some business cards with your contact details and company name on them.

Once you have made contact with people and have their details, remember to follow up with a call or a short email or letter.

Build ‘host relationships’

Forming relationships with businesses that are not in direct competition with you, can be a mutually beneficial way of increasing your customer base. For example, a conservatory company might want to form a host relationship with local builders or landscape gardeners.

You will be able to refer potential customers to the partner business and they can do the same.

You may want to consider leaving some of your business cards with the company to give to their customers when the opportunity arises, and agree to do the same for them.

However, be careful if you intend to recommend another business to your customers, you might not be able to vouch for the quality of their work and you don’t want someone else’s mistakes reflecting badly on your business.

Create a newsletter

These can be distributed to your customers once or twice a month, free of charge, either by email or by post. It’s a good way of keeping your goods or services at the forefront of your customers’ minds and can act as bait to attract new business.

Decide on a name that suits your business: something snappy and informative, that’s easy to say and spell. The content can be made up of news, ideas and tips, answers to questions, offers or recommendations.

Whatever you chose, try to keep it short and simple, two pages of A4 at the most, and choose a writing style that suits your business; you might want to write in a personal style or more seriously depending on the service you provide.

All of the tips above can be used in conjunction with each other and provide a sound method of increasing your company’s profile and generating new and repeat business.

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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