Advertising costs can quickly consume a large part of new businesses' startup costs and existing small businesses' operating expenses—but without advertising there will be no customers or continuing sales. Fortunately, there are best practices for low-cost advertising that require more of your creativity and time than dollars.
* Have a "happening"—contests, parties or picnics for your customers.
* Give product or service donations to a charity auction.
* Give free talks to community groups.
* Run booths at local fairs.
* Attend local business groups' meetings and business card exchanges.
* Patronize other home-based and small businesses. Participate in cooperative advertising for special newspaper business supplements.
* Post your business's fliers, cards and brochures on community bulletin boards.
* Give away free samples or advertising specialty items (magnets, mugs, etc.).
* Offer discount coupons in fliers
* Offer free evaluations or consultations.
* Send out newsworthy press releases. Use them sparingly.
* Be available for last-minute interviews on local radio and cable television shows—as a "fill-in" guest to replace unexpected cancellations.
* Write how-to articles for industry publications.
* Host a local cable television show related to your business: growing herbs, "handywoman" home fix-it projects and so on.
* Place classified ads in free shopper papers.
* Design a logo and slogan that will become identifiable with your business's name. Display them on all your business cards and promotional materials as well as on magnetic vehicle signs, lawn or sidewalk signs, T-shirts, fliers and so on.
* Design business cards that stand out. Hand them out to everyone you meet. Ask relatives and friends to do the same.
* Give free demonstrations at trade shows and community or store events.
* Teach courses at local schools or community colleges.
* Conduct workshops at business conferences or expos.
It costs less to keep a customer than to get a new one, and word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best advertising avenues.
* Send thank-you, birthday and seasonal cards.
* Offer special sales for loyal customers.
* Handle customer complaints quickly and to their satisfaction.
* Always do a little extra for your customers.
* Be professional and respectful to all customers.
Or your own ideas: always aim your promotions where they will reach your target customers—the ones market research has determined are most likely to buy your goods or services. Evaluate each promotion's responses and repeat those that bring the most business. Remember, customer satisfaction is the best (and lowest-cost) advertising avenue of all. Put customers first, and your product or service will practically sell itself.
Growing Your Home-Based Business: A Complete Guide to Proven Sales and Marketing Strategies, by Kim T. Gordon. 1992, Prentice-Hall.
Six Steps to Free Publicity: And Dozens of Other Ways to Win Free Attention for You or Your Business, by Marcia Yudkin. 1994, Plume, N.Y.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.