Yesterday I saw a question posted on LinkedIn asking, “I just opened my storage business. Does anyone have marketing suggestions?” My response would be much too long for LinkedIn, so here it is, and although the question originated with privately owned self storage, this really applies to just about any small business.
When it comes to marketing, there are really two different categories to consider; advertising and public relations (PR). Both categories can also be broken down into subgroups as well. Advertising subgroups would include such things as print ads (newspapers, magazines, yellow pages, etc.), electronic media ads (radio & television), Internet ads (webpage, links, landing pages, etc.) and company owned ads (signage, vehicles, uniforms, etc.). PR marketing, which is often overlooked by small business, can be the most productive form of advertising, includes such things as community involvement, sponsorship, social networking and press releases.
While there must be a nice balance between the two, it is the later I want to address as I believe most businesses, and especially small businesses, tend to overlook the awesome power of public relations. In my personal opinion, I’ll take publicity over advertising any day. If you think about it, advertising is a company telling you how good they are, publicity is someone else telling you how good a company is.
Before I get into some of the various forms of publicity that may work well for you, let me mention a few quick thoughts about advertising. The first thing to consider is, one size does not fit all; that is, what works well for one business may not work well for another. For example, if your business is located on a main thoroughfare with thousands of potential customers driving past each day, you may want to consider putting the bulk of your advertising budget into improved signage, maybe even immaculate landscaping; anything that will make your store front pop and really stand out to people driving by. If you’re a home-based business with no store front, that won’t work for you. You have to define what will. For example, a lawn service business might advertise in real estate magazines or other local publications; a towing service may want to have radio ads and pay extra for a unique phone number such as 1-800-4TOWING; and an accounting service might consider a billboard during the months of January through April.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to paid advertising is that it is expensive. Most small businesses don’t have the luxury of having a trial and error approach to advertising and unfortunately, that’s often what you get when you are first starting your business. Just be cautious, use common sense and always ask yourself, “If I were a potential customer looking for someone in my business, where would I go to find them?” No matter what the answer is that you come up with, I think you will agree it would be much easier as a consumer, to make a decision if you have a good referral to base it on. That’s where PR comes into the picture.
Before I get started praising the benefits of publicity, I first want to dispel the myth of “free publicity”. Anytime you get free publicity, it is very likely that it will be bad publicity and unlike the celebrity world, any publicity is NOT good publicity. The truth is publicity is rarely free and it is always a lot of work and commitment. But then, if you think running a small business is going to be easy then do yourself a favor and get out now!
A good PR program, as with paid advertising, comes in many forms and it’s important that you find what will work best for you. There is no sense in putting your time and effort into a PR program that does not reach potential customers. While this first step may or may not be a necessary first step for your PR program, it certainly won’t do anything to hurt your business either and that is to establish yourself as an expert in your field. This takes time and a tremendous amount of effort on your part. To reach this status, you will need to have some good communication skills because you’re going to need to do a lot of communicating! Electronic media such as the post you are reading now, has made this step much easier than it was only a few years ago. Depending on the type of business you are in, you may also want to consider writing a white paper, trade publication article or newsletter. If you are proficient enough as a writer, you are going to want to blog about your business. Trust me when I tell you, blogging is much easier than you may think. To learn more about blogging, click the link at the bottom of this page and watch the short video. You may even want to write a book. The establishment step would also include being an adequate public speaker as you will want to speak at networking events or other public venues where you can promote who you are and what you do. You may even be invited to be a guest on a local radio or television show.
Next you’re going to need to determine what type of PR is going to put you in front of the largest number of potential customers. I stress the word ‘potential’ because again, it’s not going to do you or your widget business any good to get publicity for an audience that doesn’t need or use widgets.
The possibilities here are endless. The thing I want to stress about PR is this; bigger isn’t always better. Often the best approach to publicity is to keep it as localized as possible. I’ve sent out press releases that were picked up by the Wall Street Journal. While that is certainly prestigious and did much to stroke my ego, the truth is most of the potential customers I was trying to reach probably never or rarely ever read the WSJ. Fortunately, that same press release was also picked up by a local media and that’s where I actually reached my target audience.
Now that you’ve established yourself as a local expert in your field, let’s go down a list of possible PR initiatives you may want to consider.
- Press releases – This is one of the most overlooked initiatives of even huge corporations. Press releases are possibly the least expensive way to reach a vast number of potential customers. The only cost incurred is the time it takes you to create and send the press release, and possibly the cost of using a press release service that will broadcast your release for you to a wide variety of media outlets. You may think you have nothing worthy of a press release, but give it some thought. Have you moved to a new location? Press release. Have you hired a new operations manager? Press release. Have you received a local award? Press release. Has the little league team you are sponsoring made it to the finals? Press release. Are you carrying a new product or service? Press release. The possibilities here are endless. Use every opportunity you can think of to say something about your company and don’t forget to build a database of media that are “friendly” to your business; that is, media that has picked up your press releases in the past and may have a history with your company.
- Sponsorship – As a self storage district manager, I often have store managers come to me wanting to sponsor a local sports team. I allow them to do that only if they commit to attending a minimum of two events to hand out goodies, fliers and other take-aways. Having your company name on the back of a jersey is great, but if you really want to have an impact, make an extra effort to let the fans and parents know, you’re not just sponsoring the team, you’re being an active part in the community.
- Community involvement – For a small business, this may very well be the most important thing you can do, especially if your business specifically caters to people living in your immediate area. Give back to those people who support your business and they are far more apt to think of you when they need your product or service. This can take on many forms. For example, each year the Neighborhood Watch Association holds its annual National Night Out. If there is a neighborhood near your business that participates in this event, this is a fantastic opportunity to put your name directly in front of potential customers that live right down the street. Chances are, they’ve driven by your business hundreds of times and may or may not be a customer, but you can be sure that by attending their National Night Out, handing out literature and other small gifts, and just showing them you are part of their community you just gave your business a boast the next time that person needs your product or service.
- Networking – Part of this has to do with establishing yourself as an expert, but there is a lot more to networking that has to do with building a solid referral program. Referrals are like money in the bank. In most cases, those potential customers being referred were referred by someone they know and trust. That person has already given you good publicity by telling them your business is trustworthy.
While this just scratches the surface of the possibilities that are out there, I hope this points you on the way to building an effective marketing campaign. But I’m not going to let you off that easy. As I mentioned earlier, you knew when you started your small business that you would have to work harder than ever before. That also means being prepared. Remember, if you fail to prepare, you must prepare to fail. What I’ve outlined here is merely scratching the surface. You need to do a lot more research and I am adding a few books that will be helpful in developing some of what I have covered here.
Good luck and happy marketing! Here are a few books that will help you get started.
Power Sales Writing – This is a great resource to for business professionals who need to improve their writing skills.
6 Steps to Free Publicity -This is the Bible for free publicity. The author, Marcia Yudkin, used to also have an online tutorial on writing effective press releases. I don’t know if that is still available or not but the link is in the back of this book.
The New Rules of Marketing and Publicity -Another great and exhaustive resource for small businesses.
The Referral Code -Here you will learn how to set up a referral program that works for your small business.
- Irvine Micropreneur Program Hosts Effective PR for Small Companies (prweb.com)
- New Do-It-Yourself PR Kits Offer Tools that Help Businesses Understand, Develop and Manage Comprehensive PR Campaigns (prweb.com)
- How To Write A Press Release (understandingmarketing.com)
- How To Write A Press Release Subject Line (understandingmarketing.com)
- 5 Content Ideas for Small Business Online Press Releases (prnewswire.mediaroom.com)
- Affordable Small Business PR (logicpath.com)
- Getting the word out with online press releases (deluxesmallbizblog.com)
- 5 Easy Ways to Drum Up PR Coverage (inc.com)