I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, and marketing is one of the biggest challenges they face. As a result, it’s common for new business owners to just stick to outdated marketing tactics, such as poorly targeted advertising. They end up spending a lot of money with very little result.

Rest assured though, once you understand the particulars marketing isn’t sorcery. It’s simply a matter of reaching your target audience through the best channels, and communicating the right message at the right time. In order to help new entrepreneurs to make good marketing decisions without spending a fortune, here are five low-cost tactics that I often share with entrepreneurs:

Put my logo on your website and I’ll do the same with yours! Two entrepreneurs helping one another—it’s clever, simple and above all, free. It doesn’t cost anything to create partnerships with other businesses. The idea of placing your logos on your respective websites is just one possibility. For example, if you write a post on your company’s blog, you could ask your partner organization to publish a link to your post on their Facebook fan page.

There are many possibilities for a visibility exchange; however, I would urge you to use caution. Not every partnership or visibility exchange is beneficial. Before you commit, consider the benefits for your business and for that of your partner organization. Are the products or services complementary? Do you share a similar philosophy and set of values? Is there an overlap in your clientele? Take the time to properly evaluate any informal partnership before moving forward.

At one of my entrepreneur coaching sessions, I illustrated a tactic that could have a notable impact on sales. Take the example of an entrepreneur who sells luxury fashion accessories, such as bracelets or watches. The entrepreneur meets with owners of independent clothing boutiques and encourages them to offer gift certificates of $25-50 of their products, on the condition that the coupons are given only to clients who spend over $500 in their store. This is a great example of both a partnership and a targeted promotion. The boutique is happy to be able to offer rewards to their important clients, while the entrepreneur benefits by giving potential new clients an incentive to visit their business. In fact, these clients who spend over $500 in the clothing boutique are likely to have a strong interest in the luxury fashion accessories made by this entrepreneur because the products are complementary. There is a strong chance that the clients will use the gift card and also return in the future.

The beauty of this initiative is that it only costs money if the client buys a product. There is no risk. It’s a much better solution than putting a $1500 ad in the newspaper, where there is no guaranteed sales conversion.

There are so many events taking place in major centres— you can find something for every person and every budget. When you think of an event, you assume it’s necessary to find a venue and offer food and alcohol in the invitations. Think again! As an entrepreneur, you can transform your boutique or office for the gathering. You can get a reception permit at a reasonable cost from the governing body in your province and serve $15 wine to your attendees. Buy some appetizers and you have a great event!

The key to a successful event is not the venue or the food, but instead comes down to the atmosphere and the network of people you’ve mobilized. If you choose to have an event, plan far in advance. Talk to your loved ones. Tell them the type of guests you would like to see attend your event. Never have an event just to have an event; instead focus on the reason and motive for your event. What message do you want to send? Who do you want to reach? How many people do you hope to see? What do you want them to learn about your company? A well-organized event will not cost a fortune and will make your business shine.

The companies that stand out the most are often the ones that position themselves as leaders in a given industry. In the era of information sharing, it is easy to position yourself as an industry leader since it is now possible to publish your own content. This can happen through blogs, videos, social media pages and websites, with content specifically focused on your target audience and business area. Don’t hesitate to create and share content. This is how you can give your company a voice and become a reference point within your industry. The idea that you must safeguard your company’s knowledge is now considered outdated. Get with the times and share your content!

A restaurateur can share its recipes, or give cooking lessons. A fitness trainer can counsel his or her trainees on nutrition or motivation. Speak and people will speak to you. This tactic costs very little and can be very profitable. One more tip—think longer term. Don’t expect to post to your blog and have customers flocking to your store the next day. Have patience and you’ll see the fruits of your labour.

What is a new client worth to you? How much do you value the annual gain associated with new client acquisition? Assume that you have an amount in mind. Based on that amount, you can develop a referral program. The idea is incredibly simple. Compensate the clients who bring in other clients. Give them a discount or gift certificate to your restaurant or boutique. You can do this formally or informally, depending on your style. It’s especially important to incentivize your clients so that they become ambassadors. This tactic doesn’t cost a lot of money; in fact, you only pay when you gain a new client. You have nothing to lose!

Written by: Jean-Philippe L’Écuyer, Entrepreneur in Residence at Futurpreneur Canada, jplecuyer@futurpreneur.ca

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