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Promotion and advertising can be a heavy expense, especially for

a new business that wants to make itself known in a community. A

home-based business, however, more often than not, has a very

limited budget when it comes to advertising. The home business

owner needs to make the public aware of his or her product or

service at the lowest possible cost.

There are many ways. A pet breeder in a large city was struggling

for several years-until he came up with a novel idea. He started

giving away customized "birth certificates" for the pets he sold.

Almost immediately, his sales rose more than 10 percent.

The owner of a new home cleaning service was trying to attract

clients. She couldn't afford much advertising, so she began

offering "home cleaning seminars" to civic groups. After two

months of seminars, she was swamped with inquiries and clients.

Promotion often makes the crucial difference between business

success and failure. Customers or clients must know about a

business or product line before they'll buy and they must have a

reason to buy.

If you are trying to promote your business now, you can move in

one of two directions: 1) You can take the conventional route to

promotion and mount an elaborate media campaign, spending a

considerable amount of money or 2) You can let your creative juices

flow and mount a low-cost promotion effort, using a potpourri of

attention-getting gimmicks to bring your message to the buying


Now, to be sure, conventional advertising is valuable. If your

enterprise is large enough or if you're selling numerous product

lines, you may find that a full-fledged media campaign is the

most efficient and cost effective way to promote your business.

If money is tight, however, or you're not sure you can amortize

the heavy cost of a media campaign over a period of time, the

following is a assortment of low-cost techniques you can try. Not

all may be appropriate for your particular business, and

certainly it would be costly to try them all. But you're sure to

find some ideas that will work for you.

GIVEAWAYS. People love to receive "free" items, especially items

they can use to gain knowledge or improve their lives. You can

base an entire promotional campaign on this desire. If you're

running a furniture repair business, for instance, you could give

away a furniture repair brochure, free furniture planning guides,

or color swatches. Once you begin giving away authoritative

information customers will begin to perceive you as an expert in

your field.

NEWS CREATION. Want to get names and news from your business in

the local newspaper? It may be easier that you think. If you

don't have any news to report to the local media, create some.

Maybe you've taken on a new associate. Or maybe you're selling an

unusual product line. Or maybe you've opened a free advice center

for the community. Or maybe you've received an award from a civic

or professional group. Local Pennysavers and weekly are often

quite interested in business news of this sort and can help you

attract the attention of thousands of people.

EVENTS. You may be able to attract the attention of the media or

a crowd by staging a special promotional event. If you run a

fitness classes, for instance, you could stage a celebrity

instructor day. If you're promoting a new real estate business,

you can offer tours of a model home in the area. If you're

selling children's products and it's springtime, you can offer

lunch with the Easter bunny. Get the idea?

CHARITY TIE-INS. Are you launching a new product? Trying to

increase visibility among a particular segment of your community?

Offer your product to one or more local charities as a raffle

prize or for use at a fund raising event. You'll receive lots of

exposure among people who buy tickets or attend the event.

CONTESTS. Offer a desirable or unique item-or even several

items-as contest prizes. First, find a contest theme that tiers

into your business. A caterer might offer a quiche-eating

contest. A photographer might offer a young model contest. A mail

order craft firm might offer an "Early American" handicrafts

contest. Invite contest submissions and offer prizes to the

winners. Do contests attract attention? You bet. All it takes is

a few signs, a small press announcement or two, and the word will

spread throughout the community grapevine.

COMMUNITY SERVICE. Nothing brings you to the attention of the

people faster-or more favorably-than community service. Ask

yourself how your enterprise can be a "good neighbor" to your

community. If you're running a lawn care and gardening service,

perhaps you can offer one season's services at no charge to a

needy charitable organization or nursing home in your area.

Hundreds of people will hear about your work in the process.

Volunteer for various community causes. If appropriate, you can

step in during community emergency, offering products and

services to help an organization or individuals in need.

COUPONING. Americans are very coupon-conscious. Test the market:

at what level will coupons increase the volume of various product

or service lines? When you get some tentative answers, start

distributing coupons that offer a discount on your services.

Distribute them to area newspapers, on store counters, in

door-to-door- mail packets (which can often be quite

inexpensive), at the public library, at laundromats, at any

location where people congregate.

BADGES AND NOVELTIES. You can easily and inexpensively produce

badges, bumper stickers, book covers, and other novelty items

for distribution in your area. You can imprint your business name

and the first names of the customers on many of these products at

little cost and distribute them for free. Or you can tie your

novelty program into a contest: once a month, you can offer a

prize to any individual whose car happens to carry one of your

bumper stickers or badges with peel-off coupons, redeemable at

your place of business.

CELEBRITY VISITS. With a bit of persistence, you may be able to

arrange to have a local media celebrity, public official, or

entertainment personally-even a fictitious cartoon character or

clown-visit your service. The celebrity can sign autographs, read

stories to children, perform cooking demonstrations, or perform

any one of a hundred other traffic-building activities.

CELEBRATE HOLIDAYS. You'll probably want to celebrate major

public holidays with special sales. But celebrate some of the

offbeat holidays as well. Almost every business has a few

little-known holidays. Ever hear of National Pickle Day, for

instance? Or Cat Lovers Month? Once you find the "right" holiday,

you can sponsor a special sale or special product arrange special

media coverage of a holiday event.

GO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE. Can you open sales information booths at

community fairs and festivals? This promotional technique can

work for gift retailers, craftspeople, and personal service

firms. If you have the people and the time, can you handle

regional fairs or even trade shows?

MAILING LISTS. Once you begin establishing a committed clientele,

gather their names on a mailing list. Save the names from your

mail orders and telephone inquiries. Eventually, you'll be able

to send product circulars or even catalogs to the folks on your

list and you'll be able to promise your products by mail.

SCAVENGER HUNTS. If you want people to buy NOW, offer them an

unbeatable deal. If they bring an old product-a small appliance,

a book, whatever-to you, you'll give them a worthwhile discount

on a comparable new item. Or stage a general purpose scavenger

hunt. Customers who bring in three canned goods for your

community's food bank will receive a discount on products

purchased that day.

PARTIES. Everyone loves a party. Why not celebrate the

anniversary of your business or some special holiday by offering

baked goods and beverages? If you're running a service business,

perhaps you can offer an open house or obtain a small banquet

room in your community. Besides refreshments, be sure the place

is brightly decorated.

GREETING CARDS. Do you send out greeting cards to major customers

or clients? Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries make nice

greeting card occasions. Greeting cards create enormous goodwill

and keep your name in front of people.

SEMINARS. In this information hungry age, people love to receive

advice, especially about their personal needs and hobbies. If you

sell health foods or run fitness classes, perhaps you can offer

"wellness" seminars during lunchtime to your area's business

community. If you're an interior decorator, perhaps you can offer

one-hour decorating workshops to any group of ten people who will

gather in someone's home. If you're running a printing business,

perhaps you can offer tours and layout seminars at your plant.

If you're not pleased with your promotional efforts today or if

you simply must increase your exposure among customers and

prospects-it's probably time to increase your publicity efforts.

By all means, advertise in the media if you can or must. But

don't neglect your greatest promotional asset-your mind. Ponder

the products, services, and events you can offer the community

and devise a creative promotional strategy around them. You'll

have to invest a bit of time and energy in the project, but the

payoff will be worth it. You'll save hundreds-or even

thousands-of advertising dollars and, better yet, you'll travel a

well-worn shortcut to profit.



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Copyright David Pierson. 2001