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Marketing is not just advertising.  In fact, some of the most effective marketing doesn’t involve traditional advertising at all.  Marketing is everything that your customers see you do from your initial business concept to the delivery of your company’s value.  Ironically, when sales are down, it is often one of the first things to be cut out of the budget.   Whether times are tough or things are booming marketing is critical to a business’ success.  Most successful marketing strategies do require some money, but it is far more expensive to not market your value at all.  However, there are strategies that you can implement for little or no cost. 

Choosing and setting up an attractive business name is an initial cost that you will have to spend anyway and it is crucial to a business’ success.  Your name should tell prospective clients exactly what you do and why they should do business with you.  It is usually best to avoid using your own name in your business name unless of course you are a celebrity.  What works for Paul Newman probably won’t work for the average Joe.  Carefully consider your business name as it is vital to your marketing campaign.  Make sure it is easy to spell, say and creates a positive first impression. 

Developing a marketing plan is also free and can be as simple as making a timeline of when to order business cards, how often to attend networking opportunities, which organizations you will join and take on leadership positions within, a goal for doing speaking engagements and deadlines for sending consistent communication pieces to keep your name in front of people.   

Business cards are the most basic and versatile of all marketing tools.  You should always use them and hand out a couple at a time if you want people to pass them along.  But don’t give people a whole stack, especially not if you have just met them.  Marketing your business is your job not theirs.  Make sure your card clearly states what business you are in and what you do.  Make sure it is clear and legible.  Professional printing jobs are recommended and for what they can do, business cards are very cheap.  If you know that you cannot afford professional printing yet look into cards make through Web sites where you only pay for shipping or printing the cards on your own.  Make sure they are effective, just like the name of your company, by considering your choices where design, color and paper quality are concerned.  A thin homemade card can say to others that you are not fully committed to your business. 

Network, network, network.  You should constantly be joining groups of potential prospects and weaving networking events and association meetings into your calendar.  Donate something from your company to be given as a door prize at an event, or a book that ties into what you do.  If you do this at a charity event it can be a write-off.  Consider giving employees nice polo shirts with your company’s logo.  While this does cost money it will also make walking billboards out of your employees, as well as strengthen their commitment and company pride. 

Volunteer to speak at any place where prospective customers might gather.  The key is not to deliver a salesy presentation.  It is to demonstrate that you are a knowledgeable and professional, a useful resource and an approachable, nice person.   Give them something small to remember you by, a small promotional token with your company name, website and phone number on it.  They next time they have a question about your area of expertise, you will be the first person they call.

Compile a client list and then utilize e-mail marketing techniques instead of direct mail.  Always include a special offer in your e-mail marketing campaigns as well as an opt out option. 

Strive to be different. There is way too much sameness in so many business strategies.  Everyone is trying to be just like everyone else.  Don’t fall into this trap.  What do people find to be the most memorable and different?  So think outside the box and dare to be irreverent, zany and wild.  Weird works.

Keep your eyes open and think about what marketing truly gets your attention. Remember you are someone’s client and therefore an expert consumer.  Notice what techniques work on you and then adopt them to your business. 

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