[Note: This is the second article of a 3-part series.  For last month’s article, which covered messaging in a down economy, click here. This month and next we’ll review 10 ways to market your business on a reduced budget.] 

Until I got married I believed that everyone was “wired” the same way.  (OK, I was young and naïve.) Case in point: My husband and I have an ongoing debate over a box of crackers in the pantry. It’s been sitting there, unopened, for a few weeks.  My husband says food is to be eaten.  I say you need to have some things on hand in case company drops by.  To his credit, we haven’t had company drop in unannounced in over three years!  Nevertheless, I was raised to keep a bit extra on hand.  So I like to ration things.  Which makes me the perfect person, I believe, to talk about how to squeeze the most out of your marketing budget.  As the self-appointed queen of frugal, I was born for this kind of economy!  So here and in the next issue I’ll review several things you can do to get the most out of rationed, marketing dollars.

Press Releases:  I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before.  Write Press releases.  They’re free and they’re easy.  If you’re not sure how to write one, here’s a PR template you can use.  So my question is this.  If you already know that it makes sense, how often do you write them?  I’ll bet this is one area that you can improve upon.  So, your action item for next week is to write one!

Networking:  Now, more than ever, you need to be visible.  If you’ve got more time on your hands because of the down economy, there’s no reason not to “see and be seen”.  Connect with as many people as possible who can help you advance your efforts. You’ll find new opportunities, new leads, and potential partners.  Your action item: Think of two people (prospects, clients, or potential partners) who could be helpful to you.  Reach out to them in the next week.  Also attend one networking event.  And don’t forget to get involved with online social networking. I highly recommend LinkedIn as a great place to start [read my ezine for more info].  If you’re already online, login and update your file.  One simple thing to do is update your “what I’m working on” section.  It can be one sentence.  And that change will goes out to your entire network.  What a simple way to stay visible!

Manage your customer list: One of the most valuable assets of any company is its contact list.  How well are you managing that asset?  If you’re the type who has stacks of business cards from networking events, now’s the time to do something with them!  Pitch them or put them into your database.  Don’t have a database?  Create one.  Don’t let the term scare you.  A database is merely a collection of data.  In this case, it’s a compilation of all of your contact information. Most people use Microsoft Outlook or Excel if they don’t want to get sophisticated.  The beauty of these is that you can later import them into an email system, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

If you already have a contact system, now is a good time to categorize your contacts.  Get your prospect and customer lists separated, organized and segmented.  Perhaps there are customers who haven’t purchased a particular service yet.  They could be in a category for a special promotion.  Separate prospects into groups more apt to need specific services you offer.  With the delineation, you can now get more laser-like in sending specific offers to people on your mailing list.  It also helps to avoid people opting-out of your mailings, because they’re being sent information that isn’t relevant to them.

Email:  I mentioned that once you have a contact list together you can upload it into an online email system.  I highly recommend using one of the many popular services for sending email.  An email system, like Constant Contact or Vertical Response, provides several benefits.  First, you don’t have to manage your customer lists.  If an email to a recipient bounces, the system is smart enough to know not to send it the next time.  If a subscriber opts-out (you have to have this option) your email system automatically removes them from your mailing list.  There’s no action required on your part.  Also, they have wonderful statistics that show you how many people open, clicked through (and what they clicked on), etc. You can also use one of their design templates if you don’t want to create something from scratch.  The cost is minimal for all of the time and energy saved. For $10 you can send hundreds of emails.  It sure beats the cost of postage!

If you don’t already have an electronic newsletter (ezine), you may want to consider starting one.  Don’t worry if you don’t like to write.  There are plenty of sites online with good content available for your use.  You can also email offers and promotions. But, take it to the next level.  If you’ve scrubbed your contact list as suggested above, make sure you have names in addition to email addresses. Start to insert your prospect’s name into the email.  It’s the latest trend in email marketing.  A study by The Aberdeen Group found that there was a 57% increase in average order value when the message was personalized.

There are a number of items listed above that you can start working on immediately. That should keep you busy until next month, when I’ll be discussing more ways to market on a budget.  Stay tuned!