How to market on a shoestring
Networking is a great way to promote your business. Do you feel out of your comfort zone at face-to-face events? Get over it! Professional networking events have people dedicated to introducing you to likeminded others. This is not about pushing your business, but about meeting people who share your interests. You may well be able to help others, and in turn you may find people who can help you – with advice, contacts or new business. Don’t go in expecting immediate results. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
There are lots of networking opportunities around Nunney. BNI, a business networking organisation which claims to have 13,000 members in the UK, has regular meetings in Rode, Bath, Wells and Wincanton. www.bni.co.uk
If you’re a creative professional, Makers Meet is a new networking group for creative makers in the Somerset / Wiltshire area. Founded by Jacinta Walton of Nunney-based firm Whinberry & Antler, the group meets monthly in Frome and surrounding villages. Jacinta is a dab hand at networking and marketing and very keen to share her experience with others. twitter.com/makers_meet
Prefer to get to know people while you work? Called a ‘Jelly’, there are regular days at the Salthouse in Nunney (next to the church) where you share office space with others for informal networking and companionship.
The Salthouse also hosts netwalking events, and no – that’s not a typo. Netwalking is networking with others during a walk through the countryside around Nunney. You get introduced over coffee first and then the group goes for a refreshing walk, during which you can chat with like-minded people.
Do you have a Twitter account? If so, when did you last post an update? Always keep communicating with existing and potential customers. Post new products, new services, new clients, today’s specials – anything that might be of interest to your potential clients. If your last tweet was several weeks ago, you’re missing out on free marketing.
Social media like Twitter and Facebook are free and give you a chance to develop a real personality for your business. You don’t need to pretend to be a big brand; the trend is for brands to be as informal and personal as possible by having real people running their social media accounts (“Hi, it’s Paul here to answer your questions until 3pm today.”). Increasingly, social media are becoming a major channel for customer service too and people like to communicate with real people rather than anonymous call centres. Be yourself! Make your customer service personal.
You don’t have to spend hours on your laptop or mobile phone to run an effective social media strategy, but the rewards can be huge. Get your brand out to local, regional and even international followers and customers. If you really can’t make time during the day to raise awareness of your business on social media, tools like Hootsuite help you schedule your messages in advance and analyse their effectiveness.
Don’t be tempted to buy followers, however attractive it may seem. Be patient and build up real followers over time. Fake followers won’t help your search engine rankings, nor will they buy anything off you. It’s very easy to find out that most of your followers are fake, putting your reputation at risk. Many of the organisations offering to get your lots of followers are also little more than scams preying on people who don’t know any better. Fake followers actually damage your account, because Twitter decides which accounts to promote under ‘Who to follow’ and ‘Discover’ based on engagements, not on the number of followers. Fake accounts don’t engage with you and your tweets in any way and are therefore of little use to you.
Even if you do post regular updates you may be missing a trick. There are regular hours on Twitter for specific interest groups and locations. During these hours you can tell others about your business and activities using a specific hashtag, for example #Fromehour. Here are just some of the hours that may be of interest to you:
- EnglandHour (#englandhour) – every Sunday 9-10pm
- FromeHour (#fromehour) – every Tuesday 8-9pm
- SWmusichour (#swmusichour) – every Tuesday 8-9pm
- SouthWestHour (#southwesthour) – every Thursday 8-9pm
- SomersetHour (#somersethour) – every Thursday 8-9pm (don’t worry, you can use more than one hashtag and promote yourself on SomersetHour and SouthWestHour at the same time)
There are now more than 500 dedicated Twitter Hours to promote your business for free, including specialist ones like #horsehour (Mondays 8-9pm) and #buyonlinehour (Mondays 8.30-9.30pm). Here’s a link to a regularly updated list of many of them. All you need to do is include the hashtag in your tweet, and be generous with your retweets of other people’s messages (these hours can become self-publishing hell sometimes – a bit like a room full of people all shouting instead of listening and engaging in conversation).
Talking of which, do you still think social media are a young people’s thing and not right for promoting your business to your clients? Think again. Media regulator Ofcom recently reported that the number of people over 65 years old accessing the internet has jumped by more than a quarter in the past 12 months, fuelled by a surge in older people using tablet computers. The number of Britons going online has doubled since 2006 and almost half of the 33 million current UK internet users use social networks on a daily basis, new figures show.
People in the UK were also found to be the second most prolific social network users in Europe – being beaten only by the Netherlands – according to figures from the latest report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Eurostat. One in five Britons over the age of 65 use social media regularly.
Social media are free to use and a great way to promote your business. As long as you don’t bombard followers with desperate marketing messages, your updates become very much part of people’s everyday life. And because social media are ‘opt-in’ (users actively choose to follow you – or not), your followers are a captive audience.
On both Facebook and Twitter your messages will have far more impact if you illustrate them with at least one photo. The ideal size for a photo on Twitter is 490px, but don’t worry if you’re not technical enough to resize images.
Whether you post on Twitter or Facebook, don’t shout at your customers. Engage with people, don’t simply push your marketing messages.
Do you advertise in local newspapers and magazines? Do you know what return you are getting on the cost of advertising? Do you advertise in local magazines because it works for you – or because you feel you have to? Have you ever thought of advertising on social media? It’s really easy, incredibly targeted and therefor very cost-effective.
You can advertise on Facebook, for example, with criteria that you specify and that can be as exact as individual towns and postcodes, age, educational background and specific interests. You know your own clients best, so select criteria that best match your clients and advertise to draw new clients. You set the budget and detailed statistics are available to measure the success of your ad. You can even try out several versions of your advertisement to see which one works best.
If you go for more traditional advertising in magazines and newspapers, either create your own artwork or invest a little bit of money in getting a graphic designer to do it for you. It doesn’t cost a fortune and the result is often much better than when you leave it to the publication to come up with an ad (in one recent publication they had used stock images of sausage rolls to illustrate several different restaurants on the same page – more Greggs than fine dining and perhaps not quite what the advertisers had in mind).
Get a second opinion before you send your artwork across. There is nothing worse than finding that you are promoting tantalising dinner deals right next to your opening hours telling people that you close at 5pm (as happened to a local business recently).
There’s a strong and persistent myth about getting your name out in newspapers, magazines and even on radio and television. Although most publications will deny it, there are publishes who will mainly write about you if you advertise with them. But it’s not necessarily true that it’s really hard to get publicity or that you must pay an expensive PR company for it.
Editors need to fill their magazines and newspapers. That means that they welcome any story, particularly if you do most of the hard work for them. Write a press release that is basically a draft version of the article you would like to see published and they are highly likely to cut and paste it. Just don’t go overboard on the sales talk.
Getting your face on television or your name in the papers is not necessarily the overnight solution to business growth, however, but it all helps. And if you do get media coverage, don’t be negative about your business and the number of customers coming through your door. Don’t blame a slump in business on the weather or the recession either, particularly when your competitors are so busy they have to turn customers away.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, social media are great for networking with journalists too – particularly Twitter. As with all networking, you get the best results over time – not overnight.
Is your website finished and up to date? There is nothing more embarrassing than having an unfinished website, perhaps with ‘coming soon’ or – as we spotted recently – ‘something something something’ on the screen and links that don’t work.
If you have a website, you need to check regularly that information is accurate and hasn’t expired. If your ‘Coming soon’ event took place six months ago, it’s definitely time for an update.
Keeping your website fresh and up to date not only demonstrates attention to detail, but boosts your search engine rankings – for free! You don’t need to be a expert to get your website to page 1 on Google; what search engines are looking for is content that is regularly updated and fresh. Posting quick updates on your own blog is often enough to boost your rankings. And if people can’t find your website unless they already know it’s address, you’re missing out.
If you don’t have a website, it’s time to get one. Many hosting services offer tools that make it really simple to set up a basic website fast. Just answer a few questions, tick some boxes and off you go. Use free visitor statistics tools, such as Google Analytics, to check regularly what people search for when they come to your website.
Visit Nunney offers every business in the village a free page on this website too. Because we take great care to optimise every page for search engine rankings, it is a great way to get your business online for free. Not only do we get 3-5,000 unique visitors on this website, we’ll promote your business to over 2,500 followers on Twitter as well. Because we always link to your site too, where possible, it boosts your search engine rankings too.
Take the example of Pine Plus, the furniture store at Nunney Catch. Almost on a daily basis do people searching for ‘pine furniture Frome’ or ‘pine furniture Somerset’ find their page on Visit Nunney. Since they don’t have their own website, that’s potential business they wouldn’t have had without us – if we can be so bold. Even if you do have your own website (which we link to on your page), it all helps.
When the new fish restaurant The Catch opened at Nunney Catch recently, their website was not ready yet. But we posted all the information visitors needed, including menus, opening hours and the fact that they had actually opened, on our website. The result was that The Catch was mobbed, instead of the quiet start they had envisaged. But they kept communicating with their customers, through Facebook, Twitter and this website – even if it was to explain why there were queues.
Signage and promotion
Having a good, up to date website is like having a big and unmissable sign outside to draw customers to your business. And on that note, how is the signage to your business if you do rely heavily on footfall? Are you easy to find? Do people know you exist or are you leaving it to chance and passers-by?
When was the last time you did a simple mailshot in your neighbourhood? Or asked your clients for a referral or a testimonial for your website or on Tripadvisor? Do people know what your opening hours are, or do you regularly close when your customers expect you to be open? It only takes one occasion where customers find your door unexpectedly locked for them to take their busy elsewhere, and you only have yourself to blame.
We can help you
There are lots of practical tips available on the internet to help you market your business. Above all, marketing is a persistent and consistent activity. It’s not something you can try once and then decide it doesn’t work. You can’t dip in and out whenever business gets tough; you need to work on it every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day.
We are happy to help you though. Visit Nunney is a community interest company regulated by an official watchdog, the Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. That means that we have to report how we promote local businesses and can be held to account for not making enough effort. But we love promoting local businesses!
Your free page is just the start. Most of our help and advice is free too. If you want a little more than that, we’ll charge you for our time and services – but still a fraction of the cost of even a small ad in a local magazine (and by law we must plough every penny of profit back into our work for the Nunney community).
So if you have any questions about websites, advertising or marketing for your business, get in touch. We can put you in touch with the right people, help you get publicity, advise you on your website, show you how to advertise on social media and lots more – for free. And we are just a phone call away, so get in touch!