I am eight weeks now into starting my own company, Alternative Funding Options, Inc. (AFO) and have had to find low-cost marketing ideas to help promote my business and boost my profile.  Here are ten that I am using.

1.)  Word of mouth is the most cost-effective, powerful form of promotion.  Write a list of 50 people you know but don’t see regularly – relatives, friends, ex-colleagues, etc. Send each of them a friendly email or postcard to let them know what you’re up to.  Ask them for feedback, advice or contacts of anyone who might be interested in hearing about your business.  Don’t be shy!  People love to help.

2.)  Networking may seem intimidating but there are ways to make it less scary.  Don’t feel you have to sell, sell, sell.  The number one rule of networking is to listen.  It’s about building relationships.  Go to a networking event looking for opportunities to help others.  Ask questions, gather information, offer contacts and advice.  People will remember you for that.

3.)  Business cards need to stand out from the crowd.  Have them printed on unusual material – textured card, plastic.  Or make it an unusual shape.  Offer a business tip or special offer on the back.

4.)  The internet is an amazing marketplace to promote your business, but it’s easy to feel lost or insignificant.  If you don’t have a website or if you want to promote your website to a targeted audience, join an active online network for small businesses.  You get a full web profile about your business and access to the lively Trading Boards, providing an effective way to increase your online exposure.

5.)  Newsletters are a great way to build a following, sign up potential customers and provide people with a regular reminder about your services.  Write a simple one page resource of news, advice and offers each month.  Run a competition or poll.  Promote your customers or suppliers.

6.)  Testimonials support your credibility.  It’s good practice to ask clients for regular feedback either verbally or in a quick customer satisfaction survey.  When you have a happy customer ask if you can get a quote from them.  Be clear as to how you will use the testimonial – on your website, in your newsletter, or brochure, etc.  Make sure you credit the quote with the name of the client.  Anonymous testimonials don’t have much punch.  After all, testimonials can also give your clients good publicity.

7.)  Cold calling can send shivers down your spine!  However, it is a highly targeted way to promote your business.  Don’t expect to close a deal over the phone.  Use phone calls as the first step to getting to know your prospective clients better.  Don’t make a full pitch but arrange an appointment or ask permission to send further materials about your business.  And remember to speak s-l-o-w-l-y!

8.)  Referrals are an effective and inexpensive way to increase your business and build your credibility.  Ask each of your clients or suppliers for three contacts of other people who might like to find out more about your business.  You could offer to reciprocate and provide three useful contacts in return.  Make it a regular habit to give referrals as well as ask for them.

9.)   Press releases must be targeted.  There is little point sending out a generic press release to hundreds of newspapers.  Start by focusing on five publications for your target market.  Read back editions thoroughly to understand what kind of stories they like to publish and the style of language they use.  Find a relevant news hook and tailor your press release specifically for each publication.  The first paragraph is key and must provide the who, what, where, when and why of your story.

10.)  Passion and persistence are the most important tools to promote your small business!  If you try each of the strategies above and build them into a regular marketing plan, you will certainly boost your profile.