This post originally ran on Oct. 26, 2016
Q: I run a small business and need some marketing ideas that I can use offline to get people to visit my store.
A: I review dozens of business plans each year. In the marketing section, nearly all of these plans say “We are going to market our company through social media.” This is great, but many attractive customer groups do not spent a lot of time on their computers or smart phones. In addition, the jury is still out on how effective social media is in actually producing sales in some industries. Most of the successful companies I work with use a combination of online and effective offline marketing activities.
Here are some low-cost offline strategies that can significantly increase your sales:
1. Free publicity
Media sources are always looking for interesting stories – so why not yours? Contact your local newspapers, radio stations and television networks and provide interesting facts about you, your products and why you started your business.
2. Low-cost newspaper ads
Most high schools and colleges have newspapers. If your product appeals to this demographic, these are excellent resources for low-cost advertising. Also, you can approach more widely read papers and offer to buy any advertising space they can’t sell for a significantly reduced price.
3. Media giveaways
Radio and television stations are always looking for free products they can give away to their listeners and viewers. Offer to donate free products in exchange for advertisements and publicity about your company.
Give your product to prominent local, regional and national individuals for free. If they like it, they will use it, tell other people about it and maybe even endorse it formally.
Join clubs, business groups and associations that attract prominent business leaders. Get to know people who may know potential customers of your business and ask if you can use their names in making calls.
6. Free lunches
Invite potential customers to a free luncheon. This works well with business-to-business models. For a few hundred dollars you can introduce potential buyers to your products and services.
7. Vendor trade shows
Go to vendor trade shows even if you cannot afford a booth. Sometimes you can split a booth with another company that sells compatible products. Many successful entrepreneurs attend trade shows with only prototypes and sell hundreds of products.
8. Trade association publications
Nearly every industry association has a trade publication. These publications often feature new products and services, and include interesting stories about entrepreneurs and new businesses in the industry.
9. Educational workshops
Hold a workshop that has educational value for potential customers. Your products and services can be included as a solution to challenges they face.
10. Coupons, flyers and handouts
With desktop publishing you can create professional coupons, flyers and handouts for very little cost. Distribute these from your place of business or from distribution points where potential customers congregate.
11. Free products
Giving away your products for free is an excellent low-cost marketing strategy. This works well when you are selling low-ticket items people use regularly. Even when you are selling high-ticket products, you can always give away lower cost accessories and related items.
12. Direct mail
Direct mail can be an inexpensive strategy for targeting specific geographic markets. The cost per piece can be as little as 50 cents, and a 2 to 3 percent response rate can cover the entire cost of the campaign. You can also hire young people to deliver door hangers to potential customers in targeted markets.
13. Cross promotions
Cross promotions are popular in retailing but can be used in any type of business. Find companies with related products or services, and then explore ways to promote each other’s business. You can do this in your respective business locations, through joint advertising and with links to each other’s website.
Michael Glauser is an entrepreneur, business consultant, and university professor. He has built successful companies in the retail, wholesale, and consulting industries. He has worked with hundreds of startup ventures and lar…