Two-thirds (66%) of small business owners have some type of marketing and advertising budget for 2012. Among those small business owners, budgets average just over $2,000. Yikes! That’s not a lot of money. But worry not, there are some low cost ways to increase business and set your business apart from the competition.

Don’t forget about the Basics

As a small business, you may want to do BIG things, but first you have to nail down the basics. Customer service and experience is something you can perfect without tons of money. When it comes down to it, a positive customer experience is determined by the service. In fact, 70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service. So come up with a plan. If you don’t talk about your customer service, how are you supposed to improve it?

Connect with Your Brand Ambassadors

Your dedicated customers are your window to success, for several reasons. First, find out what your brand ambassadors think makes your business special and unique, and then capitalize on that. Invite them to a special event where you can chat openly about your business.

To take it a step further, create a brand ambassador program. Reward your best customers for spreading the word about your business. If one of your customers is influential in their community, their stamp of approval can lead to more business and set you apart from the rest. And the reward doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg – here are some options:

–        Let them test out new products (so they can ultimately spread the word about them!)

–        Provide them with a “brand ambassador” discount

–        Ask them to produce content for your business (blogging, photos, etc.) People are more likely to trust the word of their peers rather than the biased word of the business – of course you think your business is great 🙂

Use the Internet to Show Off Your Business

You have probably heard that using the internet and social media to market your business won’t cost you anything. Well, that’s a lie. Internet and social media marketing will cost you, but it won’t cost you as much as traditional advertising such as print or television. Consumers do make purchasing decisions based on online reputations, so don’t skimp on creating a positive online reputation for your business. Take this not-so-hypothetical situation:

I LOVE pizza and I just moved to a town with literally 15 different pizza places. I don’t know a single soul here, so I can’t ask someone for a recommendation. What am I supposed to do? Try every single pizza place and then make a decision? I COULD do that, but it would take a while and I may have to “kiss a lot of toads before finding my prince” as they say. Instead, I used Google Places and Chowhound, to see what others in my new town were saying about the pizza joints. There was one clear winner, and that is the place I order my pizza from every time.

So yes, you have probably heard that you have to use the internet and social media to market your business. But what can a small business with small budget do to really shine above everyone else?

Use Video

For those who have never been to your business, a video can be a great way to show off what your business has to offer. Be sure to make it fun & personal though, or no one will stick around to watch it. A short, 2 minute video should capture your special features, products, and services. There’s no need to hire a professional – a smart phone camera can produce a great base and a few edits on the computer can have it looking like a million bucks. Some tips:

–        Include a screen at the beginning or end of the video with your branding and address/contact info.

–        Add in some humor if you can, “a few quirky scenes or funny lines can be what keep your viewers from clicking away.”

–        Post it to YouTube with a keyword rich description & tags so people find it when they use a search engine.

Tell Stories

People can’t be at your store 24/7, but you can make them feel like a part of your business if you keep them in the loop. What I mean by stories is, let people know what’s going on in your place of business. For example, one of my clients was making chocolate bark and a piece of chocolate broke off in the exact shape of New Jersey. She could have kept that to herself, but she posted a photo of it on Facebook and everyone loved it! When you tell stories, you become more than a business to a consumer. You become a friend, and who is going to choose to do business with a stranger over a friend? No one!

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