Promote It: Promoting your business in 6 steps
Branding • Media Choices • Budgeting
Set Your Business Apart
Think your new business is special? Think again. An estimated half million new businesses open every month across the U.S., and with competition for consumer attention that fierce, you must quickly establish your brand and promote it or risk getting lost in the herd.
As soon as you have decided on a name for your business, start thinking about a logo to represent it. Your logo will appear on everything — business cards, letterhead, website, signage, boxes, bags, receipts, advertising — so don’t be tempted to cut corners. Pass on your artistic cousin’s offer to create your “look” for free; hire a skilled professional instead. A clean, well-executed logo will be worth the price. Once you have it in hand, you can begin the promotion process.
How much should you budget?
That’s an open-ended question with no definitive answer. One easy way to create your advertising budget is to simply set aside a percentage of estimated annual sales — as low as 2% if your business is well-established with a loyal customer base or as high as 10% if you are just getting started and eager to spread the word. Keep in mind that this percentage may vary from month to month depending on cash flow, actual sales, promotional opportunities, special events and changing market conditions.
Explore Media Options
The vehicles available for you to use in your promotional efforts fall into two very large categories:
Traditional media Newspapers; magazines; television; radio; direct mail (flyers, newsletters, coupons sent by “snail mail”); outdoor advertising (billboards and signage); specialty advertising (“stuff” with your company’s name on it, such as t-shirts, caps, mugs and pens).
Digital media Your company’s website; email marketing; social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube; online review sites such as Google My Business, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Angie’s List.
A small business just getting off the ground can’t possibly afford to use every available option, so before signing a contract or committing any dollars to a particular type, do your homework. Research options online, talk to other business owners and seek advice from the helpful counselors at your local Florida SBDC office.
If you have only enough resources for one promotional tool, make it your company website. Think of your website as the face of your business and the place where customers will likely go first to learn about the products/services you offer. And unless you are highly computer savvy, hire a professional to create a site that is both computer and mobile friendly; it will be money well spent.
Consider Your Product or Service
The most effective promotional campaigns offer customers what they want, when they want it. Some products and services just “beg” to be advertised year-round because they have overwhelming customer appeal; others lend themselves to promotion only during specific seasons. Give extra emphasis to new products and expanded departments, and take advantage of co-op programs that allow you to split advertising costs with a manufacturer. Determine a launch date for each advertising campaign, then work backwards to coordinate the arrival of adequate stock and to allow adequate time for ad preparation and placement.
Know Your Audience
Ask yourself: Who are my primary customers, really? Your answer to this question is the key to making wise media choices. The vehicles that appeal to senior citizens and empty nesters may not appeal to millennials or families with young children, and vice versa. And remember to discount your own personal preferences as you pick and choose. This is not about you; it is about your target market. You may not read the daily newspaper, listen to NPR or follow anyone on Twitter or Facebook, but your customers might and, if so, that’s where your promotional efforts — and dollars — should be directed. Put your message where your customers are most likely to see or hear it.
Get the Word Out
Generally speaking, it is never wise to put all of your promotional eggs in one basket. Use a combination of vehicles instead: a dedicated company website plus paid advertising in the local newspaper or on TV plus a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Just beware of spreading yourself too thin. With regard to social media, limit the time you personally spend responding to comments and queries; designate a staff member to be your social media “specialist” instead. And with regard to traditional media, keep in mind that frequency and continuity are more important than the size/length of an ad or the amount you pay for it.
Measure the Results
Promotion can be both time-consuming and costly, so as a prudent business owner, you should want to know if any or all of your efforts paid off. As part of your promotional plan, determine an acceptable return on investment, then use online metrics (Google Analytics, for example) to track website traffic and provide comment cards or simply chat with customers face-to-face to determine what worked and what didn’t. Another option for restaurants, retail shops and businesses providing personal services: include links to review sites such as Google My Business, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Angie’s List on your website or Facebook page.
Pre-manage the Chatter
One of the most effective forms of advertising — word of mouth — doesn’t cost a dime, but it can seriously impact your bottom line. Research shows that unhappy customers vocally share their experiences with twice as many friends, as customers who’ve had a positive consumer experience. What’s worse, they often air their grievances online for hundreds of strangers to see. What can you do? Nothing about comments already posted. You can, however, take steps to prevent future negative posts:
• Always listen to your customers.
• If you make a mistake, fix it — with a smile.
• Strive always to provide such a high level of service, customers won’t have any reason to complain.