Starting your own business can be a wonderful feeling. It can also be one of the most stressful things you ever do. I am writing this article based on my experience starting my own company with very little money to invest. Marketing can take up a lot of money if you let it, but there are some excellent free marketing ideas that were passed along to me that I will pass down to you. Before we begin, let me say I am aware that a business license typically isn’t inexpensive. That, by the way, was the most expensive thing I purchased when I was starting out, including equipment purchases. A business license runs about $150/year where I live, but the can vary from state to state or county to county. Just because this is the case, that doesn’t mean you can forgo this expense. If you get caught practicing without a license (assuming you need one), you will likely get fined much more than the fee of the business license itself. That is not to mention the marketing benefits you can gain later (more near the end of this article). Let’s get started:
Web Sites and Email Addresses
A web site can say a lot about your company. It can also tell a potential client how dedicated you are. For instance, would Microsoft have made it as big if their web site was buried under 20 subdomains? Well, possibly, but they are Microsoft. You aren’t and neither am I. Speaking of Microsoft, they actually offer a very good service for web hosting. You can use their custom site builder, get a personalized domain (not subdomain), and 100 email addresses for $35/year at the time of this writing. I have found nowhere else that will offer this. It is through a service called Office Live. This is certainly worth looking into.
Also, be sure your domain is eye-catching and relevant. The name of your business is typically a good idea. Design the site (or have the site designed for you) in a way that is easy to navigate, makes sense and is, above all, honest. Honesty will get you a long way in the business world. So, we have taken care of an inexpensive web site and email domain, let’s move on.
Now to the meat of it all. People go to places like Google and Yahoo! all the time to find what they need. Why not put yourself there? Getting listed is a simple and quick process. Navigate over to Google’s addurl page and fill out the form. There is a similar process with Yahoo! at their “Suggest a Site” page. Also worth looking into is Google’s Local Business Center which will literally “put you on the map.” Yahoo! has a similar service with Yahoo! local. The best part of all this? It’s all free. You will pay nothing out-of-pocket to get listed here. You might also want to look into other search engines like Bing, Ask and whatever else you might use to find a business.
Another good source is the free online listing you can get at the websites of Yellow Pages, Yellowbook, and SuperPages. Go to their website to get more information on this service. Print advertisements could be an option as well, but I am focusing on free and very low-cost solutions in this article. Other good free listings (though some may disagree on the “good” part) are Craigslist, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social networking site. Just be sure to watch your content and reviews closely.
Never underestimate the networking potential brought about by business cards. These handy little things should always be kept around because you never know when you’ll need one. As a personal example, the first week I was even in business I was at the local Staples. A Staples associate was telling a customer his system was too old for them to add a USB card. I was perfectly fine with doing that. I didn’t have a business card on me, though and as a result, he didn’t take me seriously when I offered. These can be very powerful tools. You can print your own at home if you have a good printer and some business card paper (I get mine for under $4 for 100 cards at Wal-Mart). This is a very good (and inexpensive) investment. If you don’t have a good printer, you might want to look at VistaPrint’s website. They offer some pretty good deals as does Staples.
The local newspaper can be a great source for you to help advertise your business or services. Writing an editorial and submitting it can show your presence and expertise if it is published. Word-of-Mouth is also a very good way for news about your new operation to travel (and it can just as easily make you as destroy you, so be careful and treat everyone with respect). Networking with anyone and everyone is a very helpful tool. Remember, anyone could know a person who will give you a lot of business. Any single interaction could make or break a potential business relationship. In short: Respect, respect, respect!
Once You Are Established
With a business license and a little money to play with, there are some excellent networking opportunities, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or just about any other organization like this. Getting out in the community and networking helps a lot. Just remember, don’t use it only as a networking opportunity. People care about people who care about them. Be genuine. Also, this might be a good time to look into optimizing your SEO professionally (this can be a huge internet presence boost).
Once you are well-established, your imagination is your only limitation. Billboards, and large signs are pretty common. I’ve even seen people fly their banner behind a plane during rush hour traffic (a bit too showy for my taste, but different strokes for different folks, right?). If you follow the leads laid out in this article, you can have your business marketing underway in around a week or two. That gives you time to get those last-minute additions and difficulties straightened out. Further resources can be found at the Small Business Administration, which is an excellent resource. May your venture be a successful one.