How to Promote Your Small Business on a Budget in Tough Economic Times

It’s a fact that when budgets get tight, promotional efforts are the first thing businesses cut. Whether it’s PR, advertising or marketing – companies usually slice these programs quickly without a second thought. As one boss once told me “PR people are the last to know and the first to go.” Unfortunately, if you look at industry studies, companies need to be do just the opposite – they need to continue to promote their businesses more than ever in slow economic times. Historically, companies that have continued with their promotional programs do better and come out ahead of their competitors.PR Versus Advertising
The question remains: How do you promote your business when money is very tight? The answer: Be creative. Think strategically and focus on your core audience by using public relations instead of advertising. If you don’t understand the difference between the two than you probably have not been doing a good job of promoting your business anyway. Here’s why: There is a big difference between PR and advertising.Public relations is a targeted approach that extracts an intrinsic buy-in from your customers. It tells your story through third-party outlets, primarily the media. This gives PR credibility. Most people find out about new products or services by reading about them or asking other people – not by seeing ads. People are hit with hundreds of ads a day and we all tune out to keep our sanity! Think about it, would you rather pay for an advertisement or have an article in your local newspaper that features a happy customer that educates potential consumers about your product, who you are, and what you do?Advertising, on the other hand, is an expensive buckshot approach where you pay a lot of money to reach everyone, hoping that a few people will notice. It simply is not a good investment for small to medium-sized companies (which make up 95 percent of the economy). Business owners know this so they don’t advertise. The bottom line: advertising works well if you have unlimited funds and are a huge company like Nike or a Microsoft, and can continually throw massive amounts of money into advertising to reach consumers.The Major Difference
Here’s the major difference between PR and advertising: PR (publicity) builds a brand name; advertising is then used as a follow up tool to maintain the name. To understand this difference I recommend a book (which I give to all my clients) titled “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR” by Al and Laura Ries. You can find it for .95 cents at any online book store.The other major difference between PR and advertising is that PR takes more time and commitment on your part. You are not turning the keys of the kingdom over to some supposed industry “guru/artist.” You are part of the team, fielding the ideas and recommendations. PR is not a ground attack, but an air strike with specific targets. This keeps the cost of PR low, and helps you provide a steady stream of information about your company to potential consumers.A good PR person has a lot of tools at their disposal to help you promote your business. You pay them for their time and any stories or articles that end up in the news do not cost you anything.
Such major companies such as Starbucks, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics and Dunkin Donuts have been launched with very small PR budgets.What a Good PR Person Can Do for Your Business:o A good PR professional can get your name out in the media by telling your story through consumer and educational stories, and tie-in’s to topics currently being discussed in the media called “hot button issues.” Example: Health care reform. If your company deals with privacy or living will issues, there is a story to be told now.o A good PR professional can promote you as an “expert” in your field. This makes the media aware of you, who you are and what your company does. They will contact you when they have questions about a topic related to your industry and this, in turn, raises the visibility of your company.o A good PR professional can write articles for you for your web site and send E-newsletters to your current customers loaded with news, information, tips and advice about your industry and business.o A good PR professional will find opportunities for your company with local organizations so that you can support special events such as health fairs or charitable events. Your employees can get involved and this creates a win-win because you are helping your community while increasing your visibility.o A good PR professional can promote your business through on-line article services that are viewed by hundreds of companies in your industry every day and use other “new media” such as Facebook to update your account(s) and keep your news fresh and interesting.Tips on How to Promote Your Small Business and Not Break the Bank:o Determine your budget and your commitment level in employee hours on your part.o Find a reputable PR professional, there are a lot of good freelancers out there who have extensive experience. They are much cheaper than an agency, and you get personalized service from the top dog, not a college-aged kid, hired to save the agency money.o Find a PR person by observing what other companies are doing, if you see a company that has a successful PR program, call the owner and ask him/her who they use, or Google PR professionals in your area. Example: “Public Relations professionals in Louisville.”o Once you have identified a few candidates, set up meetings and go over your goals, ask them for some ideas, and pay them for two hours of their time to find out if they are a good fit for you. Most will not charge you for an initial meeting.o Invest in a long-term plan of at least six months to a year. Go back and re-evaluate your plan in three months.As a business owner, you know the importance of building your business at a slow and steady pace. PR works the same way. Think of PR as the tortoise in the “Tortoise and the Hare” fable. Slow and steady wins the race. Remember, building strong relationships with your customers is the most important goal you have. Let a good PR professional help you meet that goal.