The key, in many cases, is to take advantage of local events and activities, where you have a built-in audience. If you can piggyback on events that are a regular part of the local business scene, you don’t even have to spend money to promote the event. While some of these ideas will cost you in giveaways or sponsorships, for many, the most you will be spending is your time:
- Local street fairs: Whether your business is a retail store, a service provider, or a restaurant, don’t pass up the opportunity to participate in your community’s sidewalk sale or annual spring fair. Your restaurant can create mini versions of its regular offerings, such as cookies or sandwiches, which are easy to eat while walking and let people sample your fare. Service providers can offer coupons.
- Sponsorships: Where else can you get several months of advertising for a few hundred dollars? Sponsoring local events and teams is one of the best investments in marketing that you can make. Sponsor the local Little League team and you’ll have kids wearing your name all over town for the summer. Sponsor the local 5K race with cash donations, prizes, or end-of-race bagels, and your name will be on the race T-shirt that every runner will wear proudly. Pay for a page in the high school’s spring musical program to wish the actors good luck, and you’re part of a keepsake that will be around for years.
- Free samples: Look for key locations where your target group can be found and give out free samples. If possible, give free demonstrations of your service or product.
- Contests: Holiday giveaways, end-of-the-school-year prizes, or “name the mascot.” There are endless ways to get shoppers excited about your place of business. Offer a gift card or a cash prize, and customers will get the word out for you.
- Speaking engagements: The local preschool might love to have you bring some of the pets from your pet store in for a lesson on how to care for them. The high school art teacher might appreciate an expert in matting and framing speaking to her students about how to put together portfolios. Contact local schools, speaker groups, and associations, and inquire about speaking engagements, such as lectures, seminars, or classes that you can teach.
- Fliers: Post bulletins or fliers. Exchange them with other noncompetitive businesses that will display them at their locations.
- Press: Develop a list of local editors and producers, and send press releases of important upcoming activities. Also, look for unique angles about your business that might make for an interesting story. And if there is debate over the new parking garage being built downtown, write a letter to the editor explaining why you think it will be a win-win for both businesses and customers.
- Meetings of professional groups: Attend meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and other local groups where you can introduce yourself and your business to others. Join a local service group; not only will you be able to network, but you’ll learn about the issues that concern your community and be associated with good works.