Growing your business (without spending any extra cash)

(The text below is written in UK-English rather than US-English. Please note that this may result in some differences in spelling).

Advertising can be expensive, and in a tight economy, many businesses cut their marketing budgets first because of cash flow concerns. However, when times are tough, it’s even more important to keep your business brand front and center.

During an economic downturn, clients, customers, and consumers have less money to spend. This means that when they’re ready to buy, you want your brand to be at the top of their list. Social media is undoubtedly one of the most effective and affordable ways to engage your customers and keep your brand top-of-mind, but it’s not the only way.

Below are six tried and true strategies that can bring you additional exposure (and business success) with only a little extra effort – and no extra cost.  

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Create greater awareness

Gaining coverage in local papers, trade magazines and websites can greatly increase name recognition and educate people about your business – driving new customer acquisition.  While many growing businesses in competitive landscapes may want to hire an expensive public relations firm, start-ups and small businesses can start off with some simple “do-it-yourself” PR.

Start by researching publications and writers that cover your industry — or local business.  Once you have a grasp on the writers you want to reach and the stories they typically write for their publication, craft a pitch around your business that will pique their interest.

For example, if you’re in the widget business, explain how your widget business is impacting the local economy — or your industry.

The most successful businesses usually distribute a press release at least once a month. This can take as little as 30 minutes of your time to write and send, but can have huge rewards in terms of creating brand awareness and helping you to acquire new customers.

It’s important to keep in touch with your local newspaper and submit press releases which have the potential opportunity to get you in print for free. These could be about anything from taking on new staff to winning a new client – it doesn’t have to be big news, just something to let local businesses know you are there.

If you build relationships with editors and journalists this will help ensure that your press release is read and hopefully published.

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost:

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Increase lead generation and customer engagement

According to a recent survey conducted by Ascend2, email is the most effective digital marketing tactic, the one that delivers the best ROI and the least difficult to execute.

Develop an email newsletter
Consider starting a customer newsletter that offers timely information about the business, special promotions or an inside look at the company. This helps build a community with your customers, and it keeps your product and business on their minds.

Entrepreneurs don’t need to pay an agency or marketing consultant to develop an email campaign either. You can do it yourself with several free service providers which allow small-business owners to send marketing emails, automated messages and targeted campaigns to customers.

Start using email marketing to increase brand awareness and generate immediate sales
Contrary to what you may think, email marketing is far from dead. It remains a highly effective strategy and a core component of content marketing. It’s highly adaptive and flexible and it can be used to promote your business in a variety of ways.

Email marketing solves the inherent problems of non-targeted marketing. Gone are the days of placing an advertisement on television, on a diner placemat, or in a periodical with no control of who will see it. With email marketing, you have the ability to control exactly who sees an email by segmenting your contacts based on their lead status, demographics, location or any other data. Targeting emails ensures that your audience receives content suited specifically to his/her needs. Email marketing makes it simple to customize your message for each customer, fostering a higher conversion rate.

Because a marketing email can be completed in just a few hours, you can literally send “day-of” messages to help reduce stock or promote a limited time special as needed. You can even send unique real-time messages to customers that arrive on their birthdays or anniversaries. With email marketing, short time frames are your friend, not your enemy.

According to convinceandconvert.com, 44{bfa08a400c7550404055ff04715e84c9172815d33c25eb3b84e230636ecdc007} of email recipients made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email. And, 82{bfa08a400c7550404055ff04715e84c9172815d33c25eb3b84e230636ecdc007} of consumers open emails that are sent from companies according to Litmus. With that kind of engagement, it’s no surprise that Experian reports a $44.25 average return for every $1 invested in email marketing.

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost:

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Be seen as an expert in your field

Let’s face it, if you are running your own your company, you are an expert in whatever that is. The same things that make your company newsworthy are the things that make you an expert.  Why not maximise the return on your knowledge by leveraging it gain authority, or even celebrity status in your marketplace?

Once you are seen as an authority, or expert, in your particular field, it can open up the door for higher paying jobs and other business opportunities like speaking engagement that can grow your business and fuel your success even more.

You may be competing with hundreds of thousands online or with a small number in your own community, and if you want to give your business the edge over the competition, you want to become known as the go-to person for the most reliable advice and guidance.

Mentor someone
Nothing helps engrain knowledge as effectively as sharing it, and there’s no shortage of young professionals looking for mentorship. When you see a rising star in your field, take that person under your wing. Guide them. Share what you know—the hard earned lessons you’ve collected over the years. At the same time, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. After all, the best part about mentorship is that—when it’s a strong partnership—both people learn equally. As a mentor, you’ll gain a new perspective about the work you do. Your mentee’s youthful inexperience can actually provide you with a wealth of powerful insight…if you’re open to it.

Publish an ebook or industry report
Pool proprietary data from your organisation’s niche, industry, or even customer database (get customer consent and anonymise the data, of course) and compile it into a free report.

Offer to be a speaker
Webinars, industry conferences, trade shows etc. often need speakers for meetings. You’ll benefit from the name recognition, contacts and publicity.

Host an event or business round-table discussion

Develop a podcast
Podcasts are audio files recorded in a radio talk show format. By posting podcasts on your Web site and other sites like Apple’s iTunes (www.itunes.com), customers can subscribe to your podcasts, download them as soon as they are available, and then listen to them on their computers or portable MP3 devices. The software to create podcasts is free and you can create a podcast in as little as 1 hour a week.

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost: 

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Leverage social media

It’s free, easy to get started and offers a massive network of potential customers.  The hard part is increasing your followers without wasting your precious time.  Make sure you focus on value over volume.  Identify the social channels that reach your customers best – including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and the new guy, Ello.

The goal is to provide your followers with something that’s useful, interesting and shareable. Start small, post a few times a week and learn who your audience is. Once you have an understanding of who’s consuming your content, and what they’re interested in, you can start ramping up efforts.

You can spend hours venturing down the social media rabbit hole, but here are some general rules of thumb:

  • The goal is to engage customers – be a part of the discussion in your industry and it will help you gain an audience or followers.
  • Don’t be afraid to “friend” or “follow” reporters. Your ideas may spark stories for them.
  • Ask for feedback from your followers. Again, engagement is the key you want them to “like” and “share” or “retweet” what you post.

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost:

  • Download special industry contact lists from the ITC members portal and add suitable contacts to your own social media channels.
  • Have the Council publish your news on our social media channels.
  • Attend a Council webinar (a live, online seminar) focused on social media training.
  • Receive free assistance from a Council media-training expert.

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Enhance your skills and expand your network at the same time

Get help from successful business owners free of charge through mentoring
If you find that you’re struggling with a particular task in your start-up activities or are facing an issue with employees, bookkeeping, etc. in your existing business – a mentor can help.

Business mentors have “been there, done that.” They can offer you expert advice and guidance based on actual experiences — successes and failures included. The insight that business mentors can provide because of what they’ve been through with their business ventures, and over time, is tremendously valuable from a practical standpoint. Having a good mentor will also enable you to test your ideas and discuss your points of view with an interested listener in a safe and confidential environment.

With all that experience likely comes a vast network of industry connections. Your mentor can help open doors so you can meet people – potential partners, customers and decision-makers in your target market.

Having an introduction from someone like your business mentor can help strengthen that new tie more than simply meeting someone randomly at an event.

You’ve got nothing to lose – and a world of business insight to gain.

Volunteer
As a business executive, it can be hard to take risks when you have to be so mindful of the bottom line. That’s why volunteering, especially by taking a role in a non-profit, can be a fantastic way to learn new skills. Since you’re working for free, unless your idea is horrible, they’ll probably tell you to go for it—and that means you have the freedom to learn and experiment.

Some additional benefits from volunteering are as follows:

  • Builds and strengthens interpersonal relationships — Getting involved in a civic endeavour puts you in contact with people you might never meet otherwise. Some of these individuals will have knowledge and experience that may prove helpful to your business. They could even become valuable mentors or advisers.
  • Creates indirect marketing opportunities — The relationships you make as a volunteer can generate business simply through word of mouth. The people volunteering alongside you may need or know others who need your product or service. Once they get to know you and your offering, they can also recommend it to their friends, family members, and colleagues.
  • Strengthens your brand — A business engaged in volunteer work often finds its brand enhanced because of the reputation it gains from doing something beyond making a profit. People tend to remember (and buy) brands associated with community good will. Promote your volunteer contributions through email newsletters, blog posts, and social media, and encourage readers to learn more about the charitable organisations involved.

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost: 

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Build your team

Provide free training for your employees
Staff training is essential for specific purposes related to your business. You may require new workers to undertake instruction in first aid, food handling or customer service. Incorporating training that develops employees toward long-term career goals can also promote greater job satisfaction. A more satisfied employee is likely to stay longer and be more productive while on your team.

The cost of turnover: A recent survey indicates that 40 per cent of employees who receive poor job training leave their positions within the first year. They cite the lack of skills training and development as the principal reason for moving on.

Consider the cost of turnover. With one fewer worker, your company’s productivity slips. Sales decline. Your current staff members are required to work more hours. Morale may suffer. To find a replacement, you spend time screening and interviewing applicants. Once you hire someone, you need to train that person.  The cost of staff turnover adds up. Figures vary, but it can cost as much as $2,500, depending on the position, to replace a frontline employee. That is a hefty price to pay for not training staff.

Other benefits of training

Despite the initial monetary costs, staff training pays back your investment. Here are just some of the reasons to take on development initiatives:

  • Training helps your business run better. Trained employees will be better equipped to handle customer inquiries, make a sale or use computer systems.
  • Training is a recruiting tool. Today’s young workers want more than a paycheque. They are geared toward seeking employment that allows them to learn new skills. You are more likely to attract and keep good employees if you can offer development opportunities.
  • Training promotes job satisfaction. Nurturing employees to develop more rounded skill sets will help them contribute to the company. The more engaged and involved they are in working for your success, the better your rewards.
  • Training is a retention tool, instilling loyalty and commitment from good workers. Staff looking for the next challenge will be more likely to stay if you offer ways for them to learn and grow while at your company. Don’t give them a reason to move on by letting them stagnate once they’ve mastered initial tasks.
  • Training adds flexibility and efficiency. You can cross-train employees to be capable in more than one aspect of the business. Teach them to be competent in sales, customer service, administration and operations. This will help keep them interested and will be enormously helpful to you when setting schedules or filling in for absences. Cross-training also fosters team spirit, as employees appreciate the challenges faced by co-workers.
  • Training is essential for knowledge transfer. It’s very important to share knowledge among your staff. If only one person has special skills, you’ll have a tough time recouping their knowledge if they suddenly leave the company. Spread knowledge around — it’s like diversifying your investments.
  • Training gives seasonal workers a reason to return. Let seasonal employees know there are more ways than one to contribute. Instead of hiring someone new, offer them a chance to learn new skills and benefit from their experience.

Learning and upgrading employee skills makes business sense. It starts from day one, and becomes successive as your employees grow. Granted, it may take some time to see a return on your investment, but the long-term gains associated with employee training make a difference. The short-term expense of a training program ensures you keep qualified and productive workers who will help your company succeed. That’s an investment you can take to the bank.

Volunteer together with your employees
The company that volunteers together, stays together!

Many of the typical team-building activities are, let’s face it, a little bit hokey. Whether they have their merits is a discussion for another time. But there’s no arguing that volunteering has intrinsic value all on its own.

There’s a lot to be said for getting out of the day-to-day work environment and uniting co-workers in a common and worthwhile goal. Volunteering builds camaraderie and promotes empathy, simultaneously connecting co-workers and communities.

Increasingly, today’s employees are entering the workforce with an expectation that volunteering will be a part of their professional careers. PriceWaterhouseCoopers discovered that 88{bfa08a400c7550404055ff04715e84c9172815d33c25eb3b84e230636ecdc007} of Millennials gravitated toward companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, and 86{bfa08a400c7550404055ff04715e84c9172815d33c25eb3b84e230636ecdc007} would consider leaving if their employer’s CSR no longer met their expectations.

And according to the 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 61{bfa08a400c7550404055ff04715e84c9172815d33c25eb3b84e230636ecdc007} of Millenials said a volunteer program would be a factor “when choosing between two potential jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay and benefits.”‘

How the Council can help you do this at no extra cost:

  • Download and customise existing ITC courseware packages to help up-skill your staff on a variety of relevant business topics.
  • Receive (free) professional consulting and free tools on how to start your own business volunteer programme.
  • Have your staff volunteer for one of the many charitable programmes run by the Council throughout the year.
  • Let your staff attend the many Council webinars.

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