10 simple, inexpensive, or free ways to raise your profile, your reputation, and your revenue.
By Stephanie Finnegan
On the hit TV show Mad Men, viewers get a front-row seat to the goings-on at a high-profile ad agency, circa 1950s through 1970s. It’s an intense three-decade glimpse into what triggers a consumer’s purchasing power (and what fuels the creative “geniuses” who are dreaming up these potent campaigns). Suffice it to say, the average person is not a tortured soul, like the show’s central character Don Draper, but nearly every one of us does have a streak of ingenuity and imagination that is just waiting to be tapped. You don’t have to be an ad executive in a gray flannel suit to think and engineer ways to market your business and your brand. Here are 10 snazzy ways to become a modern-day Mad Man or Woman:
1. Blogging brings business!
If you have your own store website, don’t be afraid to chat and share! It’s an undeniable fact that people like to do business with people that they like, respect, and admire. No one wants to go to a shop where the owner is nasty or cold (unless it’s the “Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld). Consumers prefer to feel welcome and even connected to a shopkeeper that they see regularly. A way to maintain that financial friendship is through revealing biographical details in one’s blog. You don’t have to spill secrets or traffic in gossip! But blogging is a way to discuss your experiences as the seasons change, as new inventory comes into the shop, or as your family commemorates or celebrates events. Think of it as keeping a publicly viewed journal. Don’t be cranky or morose, but let your customers know what you’re thinking when you’re decorating for Christmas or getting ready for a Valentine’s Day sale. Share memories of holidays that matter to you, and tie the thoughts into your shop’s inventory or deals, if you can.
2. Personal and personable do matter.
It ranks among the most powerful and most inexpensive ways to get your shop’s name repeated and talked about—word of mouth. Customers who like you, like your offerings, and like your store’s ambience will recommend your business to friends and family members. That helps to expand your customer base. Also, think about milestones in your life that deserve to be feted—weddings, graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, a brand-new pet—as a way to have additional sales promotions. Don’t just trumpet a Presidents’ Day bargain or an Easter Extravaganza. Have a storewide sale on picture frames or bridal gifts if your daughter is tying the knot or host a “Straight A” sale if your kid has made the honor rolls. Tell your patrons that now is a smart time to shop—after all, your son or your daughter has just aced final exams. If you have these fun, quirky, and unexpected sales during the year, customers will check on your website to see when they’ll be happening. You’ll get return views and return business.
3. Coupons are cool. Everyone loves to save money.
There are very few shoppers who would prefer to spend more rather than less. At your shop, you can offer coupons to a pool of preferred customers or you can drop them in the shopping bag with a purchase by anyone. Make sure, though, that you tell the customer that the coupon is being included. That simple acknowledgment at the purchase point gives value to the coupon and reminds them not to toss it away. The great thing about coupons is that you can send them electronically—send to your e-mail list—or post them on your social media sites. Furthermore, coupons can be given to local fund-raisers as a donation. A donated coupon for $5 or $10—without the bearer having to spend anything in addition to it—gets the person through your front door and into your shop. Once there, he or she is very likely to spend money on additional purchases. Coupons are also great because the face value is very often two times higher than what the merchandise really cost you. Shoppers don’t think about the cost of wholesale, bulk, or retail prices.
4. Say what you think . . . in a public forum.
Once you get comfortable with expressing yourself in your business blog, consider branching out as a columnist for a trade journal, local newspaper, or other published outlet. As a shop owner, you have a feel for what will be a hit or a miss in the upcoming year. You’re on the forefront of trends and styles—and it’s your business that will provide customers with the must-have items and the most-desired purchases of the upcoming year. Offer to write a column or a freelance article for a magazine—don’t worry about getting paid. If you are given a writer’s fee—fantastic! If not, make sure your business name, contact info, and website are provided in the feature. It’s a way to market your shop, yourself, and your expertise.
5. Send your clippings to the media.
Do you ever watch ABC’s and CNBC’s Shark Tank? If you do, you’re not alone. It ranks among the highest-rated programs on both regular-broadcast and cable TV. One of the panelists is real-estate impresario Barbara Corcoran. Before she became a high-powered player in the world of New York real estate and investments, she was a “mere” real estate broker. Her agency was not an expensive one; she didn’t have any big-name clients or properties. She didn’t let that stop her. As she’s often said about her “aha” moment: “Perception becomes reality.” Corcoran had been self-publishing a newsletter and sending it to local TV, radio, and newspaper outlets. She didn’t get a nibble. Then Madonna—a huge superstar at the time—announced she was pregnant and looking to buy a Manhattan penthouse. Corcoran compiled a list of what the singer would need to raise a family in New York City luxury and sent this “Madonna List” to the usual media outlets. They didn’t just nibble; they bit! Suddenly, Corcoran was billed as “broker to the stars.” Her list of what Madonna would desire and require got printed and quoted everywhere. Corcoran’s name and her company were suddenly in the news. As fate would have it, Richard Gere was looking to buy new NYC real estate and got in touch with the Corcoran firm. Perception did, indeed, become reality. You can do that, too. Send your clippings (if you have) or links to your blogs to media personnel. Radio stations, local TV news, and newspapers are always in need of quotes and in-the-know talking heads. It can be YOU. (Sign up as a first step at www.helpareporter.com, and good luck!)
6. Your world, and welcome to it!
The community that you live in, or your business is situated in, offers a huge array of marketing opportunities. There are always street fairs, 5k and 10k races, art shows, or founders’ day celebrations that permit you a chance to sponsor a booth, a sports team, a lottery raffle, or a tie-in event. Residents are most likely the participants in these hometown attractions. Attendees who are already your customers will once again realize how nice you are (see tip # 2). Participants who have never ventured into your shop will suddenly see you have a presence and a passion for this town. It’s definitely a boon to get your name out there when your community is gathering and hobnobbing.
7. A word from our sponsor!
All TV programs are sponsored by a bevy of advertisers. There are certain shows—mostly on PBS—where a single corporation foots the entire sponsorship. Mobil and American Express pick up lots of goodwill for being solo sponsors. Your shop doesn’t have the deep pockets to be the sole advertiser for a network series, but you just might have the wherewithal to sponsor a local youth baseball team, soccer team, or bowling team. Having your shop’s name emblazoned across a jersey or on the back of a T-shirt is a fantastic way to market and raise your store’s profile. One of the best boons about these T-shirts or other promo materials is that it won’t cost a fortune to make them. Printing services have become cheaper and more accessible. Many can be done online—you just have to fill in the info and an easy-to-follow template. Take a gander at Vistaprints or Overnightprints sites. You’ll learn a lot and the google search for them will bring up other affordable competitors, too.
8. Working with other retailers—it works!
Other shop owners are not necessarily your competition. They can be your compatriots and colleagues. Think about what businesses naturally piggyback on yours, or where your ideal customer goes when he or she isn’t in your store. If you own a shop that sells jewelry, cosmetics, feminine accessories, and scented products, there’s a good chance that many of your clients also go to spas and beauty salons. See if you can create handout marketing pieces (bookmarks, pocketbook-size calendars, key chains) and leave them in baskets at those other businesses. Offer to do the same for their publicity materials. If you sell a lot of décor items that have a country flair, then see about distributing your PR material at a local farmers’ market or a shop that sells jams and jellies. If your big sellers are more male-centric, then see about working out a space swap with a barbershop, an auto parts store, or some other site that has a male consumer base. Your counter, bulletin board, or a discreetly placed table should not only house your promo goods; it can also house your colleagues’ tools. It’s a good-neighbor policy.
9. You don’t have to break the bank.
What happens if you have a load of ideas, but don’t have the computer skills necessary to create an advertising template for a bookmark or a handout mini calendar? What if you don’ t know how to take part on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any of the other social media sites? Don’t despair. You can have someone work as your cyber shepherd, leading you down the necessary paths for self-promotion. Look no further than your local community college or learning annex. Put up an ad on the college’s bulletin board looking for someone to become your go-to guru. Kids seem to have an affinity for all these social-media tools—they are blessed with an innate ability to text, take selfies, tweet, and post images where they’ll get noticed. You don’t have to hire Don Draper and Roger Sterling to craft your marketing plan these days. Instead, recruit a college kid. Negotiate compensation that is bolstered by solid work experience that can be added to the résumé. Or, look in your own home or backyard. Your children, grandchildren, or extended family members might be the right person to help out with getting your shop’s name and mission out there into the ether. Remember a picture can be worth a thousand words—learn or hire someone to post on Pinterest with images that reflect your shop’s inventory and mission. Host a videotaped tour of your business and post it to your own YouTube channel. You can make yourself into a media presence.
10. Your customers are your best resources.
If a person has shopped with you for a good, long while, it’s safe to say that they like you and what you sell. They can be your own personal team of sales professionals. Offer coupons (they’re cool, really) or discounts or even a merchandise reward to customers who spread the word about your shop. Invite them through your website, face-to-face, or with handout sheets to become your shop’s ambassadors. If they write testimonials on your site, share links about your store on their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, post talking-head reviews about your business on YouTube, and lead customer referrals to your doorstep, give them a thank-you gift—one that has value and significance. Make these loyal customers into an advisory panel as well. Ask them to share what they most like about your business—and, more important, what they see as your store’s shortcoming. You can learn from these customers who have stayed with you and have shopped through thick and through thin. Organize an actual “loyalty round-table” or a “board of best buyers” and have them come down and rap with you a few times a year. Maybe you can host a lunch or a dinner with them at a local restaurant—preferably one of your colleagues that you’ve share promo space with. Listen to what your customers say—they have an insight into you that your family and friends don’t have. To a good customer, you’re not Mom or Dad, an aunt or a grandfather. You’re a shop owner—a smart retailer—and the customers have chosen to honor you with their business. That’s high praise indeed! Make their loyalty work for you.