Get outside, don’t be afraid to rebrand, and more.
Looking for ways to boost your business that won’t cost you a fortune? Four small business owners share some of their best proven tips.
1. Get creative with re-branding.
Atlanta-based public relations executive Tony Wilbert left a large national firm to found his own a little more than three years ago. Now he’s gone from employing just himself to nine people. Originally, he named his business Wilbert News Strategies. Over time, he found that the name confused people; some thought he was in the news business when in fact he was in the public relations business.
Over the summer, he elected to re-brand the company "The Wilbert Group." But instead of spending $25,000 on a campaign, he spent $2,000 to host a breakfast. "We decided to have an event with friends, clients, prospects, people from the state, city (governments), and media," Wilbert says. The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine, and Patch all attended the 7:30 a.m. breakfast event. "It was pretty effective. We got news coverage out of it.
"We showed, 'Hey, we’re a PR firm and we have relationships with the media. They’ll give up time and come out at 7:30 a.m.' We had other PR firms saying 'Wow, brilliant move.' Our clients liked it because they’re all fascinated by the media, they don’t understand it. They were able to ask (the media) questions. They usually don’t get to ask questions."
2. Use trade and other associations.
Nidal Ibrahim once ran his own magazine based in Huntington Beach, California, called "The Arab American Business Magazine." He went to the National United States-Arab Chamber of Commerce for a membership list, which essentially became his subscriber base of 10,000 across the country
"I think these days especially, if you’re a small business, there are chambers that are proliferating in all kinds of directions—geographically as well as from a segmentation perspective," Ibrahim says. "In other words, if you’re working in Mobile, Alabama, you might want to get in involved with the local Mobile chamber. If it’s a smaller town, then the smaller town’s (chamber). I see where organizations and chambers are organizing around, for example, technology or health care. So whatever type of business you’re in, whatever type of niche you’re focused on, there’s probably someone out there who can direct you or put you in touch with the kinds of people you need to be reaching." Here’s how to get in touch with NFIB in your state.
Dana Vannasse owned a travel agency in the exclusive Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill from 1968 until he closed up 10 years ago, but he still works from home with the clientele he built up in his retirement. He was involved with the Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club but he went the extra mile beyond those organizations.
"I would tell anyone, 'It's like an undertaker: You got to know the territory' and you have to go to the local restaurant and chat with those people and you have to belong to Rotary and go to church and do all those things," Vannasse says.
The neighborhood included an Episcopal church, which housed a bishop, and two Catholic churches, among other denominations, he says.
"We had them as clients," says Vannasse, whose clients also included Julia Child. "It was really kind of funny. I remember one bishop told me, 'Dana, you do more for me than I could do myself.' Because the diplomacy it took to run that kind of business and know a lot of the goings-on, it was interesting."
4. Get out the door.
Jason Freier is the chairman and CEO of Hardball Capital, which owns two minor league baseball teams. He says to take your most recognizable asset – whether it’s a logo, mascot, special personality or offer – and hit the streets.
"Bring your message to the people rather than waiting for them to come to you," he says. "We do a mall store through the holidays. We participate in parades and show up at public events. Anywhere a large number of people are, we go there. It’s cheap publicity (costs are less than running advertising) and more impactful (we get to touch potential customers personally)."
5. Enhance what you’re doing already.
"If you’re already spending money on TV, radio, print, and online," Freier says, "make sure you are capitalizing the methods that let your potential customers reach out to you. Include a QR code for a quick scan, your website address, a coupon. Give people something to do or interact with."