There is a place for offline marketing in any business, even if that business is conducted entirely via the Internet. Just as storefront operators often have to be convinced that they need a Website and an Internet presence, so online entrepreneurs often forget that potential customers may not always find out about them first when they’re “surfing the Net.”
Online entrepreneurs have a unique obstacle to overcome that is often not as much of a problem for those who have a bricks-and-mortar business: credibility. An embarrassing number of fly-by-night Internet operations have sprung up and then disappeared. Online prospects have understandably become skeptical and realize that just being online does not guarantee that your product or service is what you say it is—or worth what you say it’s worth. They worry that their privacy and financial information might not be kept properly secure. They can’t even be sure that you’ll send them something they’ve ordered! Offline marketing efforts can often help to build a foundation of credibility under your online business.
Old Fashioned Marries High Tech
Many of the offline marketing techniques that will help your online business are tried-and-true, old-fashioned advertising strategies, but they work synergistically with your online efforts to give you a balanced clientele and a broader pool of prospects. The most effective offline marketing strategies fall into three major categories: printed materials, advertising, and networking. I’ve added a fourth called “Out of the Box” marketing strategies for some options that don’t fit neatly into one of the other three. Spend at least a few minutes every day doing some sort of marketing. The message that must be repeated throughout this report is: INCLUDE YOUR WEBSITE URL WHEREVER YOU PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS. It will do you no good to give away pens with your business name if it doesn’t tell the recipient how to find you–either on the Internet or by telephone.
Printed Materials (with your Website URL printed on everything!)
1. Stationery and Business Cards—You should definitely have some professional-looking letterhead, envelopes, and business cards printed up. Not only will you be promoting your online business every time you use them, but they are part of the evidence that you are serious about your business—both to the public and to the IRS! Don’t forget to customize other printed materials that leave your office such as postcards, address labels, fax cover sheets, invoices, receipts, checks, and order forms.
2. Flyers and Brochure—Depending on what kind of business you have, you can either distribute these by hand, by mail, by putting them on windshields in a parking lot (watch out for town ordinances), at trade shows, and at other meetings or gatherings. Don’t forget to tuck a flyer or business card in every bill you pay too. Get professional design help for your flyers and brochures. Something done by your best friend on a home computer is not often very professional. PaperDirect (www.paperdirect.com) and other vendors sell pre-printed papers that can be used with your computer to create a more professional look. If you’re getting more than 200 to 300, it may be more economical to have a printer produce them.
3. Advertising Specialties—Promotional items that people use regularly are a great way to remind them of your business and your Website. I prefer practical things like rulers, mugs, pens, magnets, letter openers, and calendars, but you would not believe the wide variety of things that can be imprinted with your name. Your local printer will probably have catalogs.
4. Coupons—These can be used as a reward for your existing customers or as an incentive for potential customers. They can be adapted as a newspaper ad and offer a great way to track ad responsiveness to the ad.
5. Gift Certificates—Elena Fawkner suggests that gift certificates with a dollar value are more likely to be used than those that are redeemable for a service. An effective way to ensure sales is to offer a $25-off coupon towards any purchase of $50 or more. Coupons are the ideal thing to use when a non-profit or charitable organization asks you to donate something for an auction or door prize. Put the coupon in an envelope with a brochure and business card so the auction or prize winner can see more about your business and have the contact information for later use.
Advertising (with your Website URL included in everything!)
6. Newspaper and Newsletter ads—Watch your budget on this one. Many entrepreneurs report that small classified ads are just as effective as larger, much more expensive, ads. Display advertising in the Yellow Pages should always include your URL too.
7. Television and Radio ads—This is another budget-buster, but it can be an extremely effective marketing tool if your target audience correlates closely with the audience of the TV or radio station within a geographic area. Local cable channel spots might be surprisingly affordable, and if the company owns both cable and radio, you might get a great package deal. Radio stations often offer attractive package rates if you’re willing to let them choose the times of day your ad will be aired.
8. Signs and billboards—Home-based business owners usually cannot put up signage on their property unless they have gotten it rezoned for commercial use. Magnetic signs can be purchased for your car, display signs can be created for times when you’re at a trade show or event, billboard space can be rented, and signage can even be procured on ballpark fences and at other sporting facilities.
9. Press Releases—Editors of print periodicals (newspapers and magazines) should receive press releases from your business whenever there is something new or a special promotion (or new employee, or award given, etc.). At the very least, you’ve gotten your name in front of the periodical’s editorial staff!
10. Organization Memberships—Not only do professional organizations give you a chance to meet people and hand out business cards to those who might become your customer, but you will also be listed in that organization’s directory. An organization membership does you more good if you’re an active participant in its functions and activities.
11. Trade Shows—This is a great way to gain exposure for your business. Besides getting to talk with those who attend the show, there will be networking opportunities with the other vendors who might also become customers. Set up your display as professionally as possible and have plenty of brochures, business cards, and promotional materials on display.
12. Speaking engagements—This is not for everyone, but it is a remarkably effective way to gain prestige in the eyes of a community as someone who is professional and who has an area of expertise. Develop a short talk or presentation that would be of interest to the general public. It may or may not be directly related to your business. I once gave a talk to our local Rotary Club on the growth of home-based businesses in the United States. Of course I had plenty of business cards on hand to give to those who came up to thank me for speaking.
13. Seminars and workshops—Seminars are more educational in nature, and they establish you as an expert in your field to those participants. Sharron Senter, writing for Business Know-How Small Business Newsletter, advises to always charge a small fee (at least five dollars) for your seminar or workshop. She says that it implies a value in what you’re offering and it requires a commitment on the part of the participant. Someone who has paid to hear what you have to say will usually be a more qualified prospect.
Out of the Box Marketing
14. Sublease storefront window space from another business—Store owners in your community who have good, but underutilized, storefront display space might be glad to have some income from you in exchange for giving you some of that space to create a display for your business.
15. Offer a free vehicle—This is a little off-the-wall, but it’s just intriguing enough to pass on. Buy a very low-cost used vehicle ($5,000 or under), have your business name or message painted on it in big, bold letters. Advertise that your business is giving away a free vehicle. The conditions for getting the free vehicle would be that the user must drive it for a minimum of one year without removing the advertising. To ensure this, you would require that they pay the cost of the vehicle up front with the understanding that you will reimburse them one quarter of the amount every three months when they come in and show you that the advertising is still on the vehicle. You’d need legal advice to draw up a sales contract that would minimize your liability and ensure that the buyer is responsible for repairs and upkeep, but depending on your business, $5,000 could be a very low cost for a large roving billboard.
16. Pen Power – write articles—Writing an article for a magazine, newsletter, or newspaper is a very effective way to establish your expertise and promote your business. Virtually all publications will allow you to use a byline, in which you may briefly state your business, its URL, and some contact information. Make sure that this is allowed before you permit someone to use your work.
17. Cultivate your vendors—Your business buys items and services from a wide range of vendors–from office supplies to gas for your car. Get in the habit of being friendly with these vendors and try, whenever possible, to refer others to them. Sales people, for instance, are calling on many other businesses besides yours. If they are good, they will be glad for the opportunity to promote your business since that will make you more likely to buy from them in the future. Once you’ve developed a relationship with them, make sure they always have a supply of your business cards on hand.
18. Co-op advertising—This is simply sharing the cost of an advertising spot with other, non-competing vendors. Village merchants, for instance, might buy a full page ad in a travel publication and design an ad that features all of the participating merchants. None could afford such an ad on their own, but they might be able to afford a small share. This same idea can be applied to sharing a card in an advertising card deck. This concept lends itself well to compatible businesses such as a caterer, a wedding consultant, and a photographer.
19. Turn your voice mail into a marketing machine—Every time someone calls and leaves you a voicemail message, they should be hearing the name of your business and its Website. You could even invest in a multiple mailbox system which allows users to “Press 1 for a business overview,” “Press 2 for our latest sale products,” etc. Even with a single voice mailbox, your message can promote your business and give your URL.
20. Flap your lips!—Elena Fawkner says that “perhaps the most effective and under-appreciated tool of them all [is] word of mouth.” Be proud of your business and talk about it when it’s appropriate — to friends and family (how about the annual Christmas letter?), waiting in lines, traveling next to someone, even talking to a telemarketer! Of course, if you’re speaking to someone in person, you’ll give them a business card at the same time, won’t you?
21. Audiotapes and CDs—Haven’t we all received audiotapes or CDs in the mail that give us a spiel on a product or service so effectively that we want to order right away? You can do this for your business too. Just be sure the tape or CD includes all the information needed to get in touch with you. Now you can even get miniature CD disks made into a business card. The prospect can take the CD home, put it in her computer, and get much more information about your business products or services. (See Resources below)
22. Sponsorship—Being a sponsor can not only get your name out in front of a lot of people, but it can let people know that you believe in giving back to your community. Sponsorships can include charitable events, athletic teams, association events, school calendars, yearbooks, etc.
Always Stay on the Lookout for Marketing Opportunities
Promoting your business should be an ever-present mindset for the successful entrepreneur. Do you have an “elevator speech” prepared? This is a short explanation of your business that takes no more time to give than the time it takes to travel with someone on an elevator from the lobby to the fifth floor. Opportunities arise daily for you to let others know about your online business. Be prepared to take advantages of these opportunities and to give these prospects the added reassurance that you’re the real person behind the online presence.