NEW YORK -- The growth of the internet and social media has changed the way small businesses market themselves — the variety of online marketing channels allows businesses, whether they serve consumers or other companies, to focus on a broad or narrow population.
But many owners find that low-tech marketing methods can work for them. For example, a new retailer or restaurant might send discount coupons through the mail to homes in their area. Some owners who consult or provide services like accounting may find that networking and word-of-mouth are their best bets for finding clients. Often, it can take trial and error to find the right approach.
Before owners pick a marketing channel or channels, they need to answer some key questions for themselves, says Ramon Ray, a small business consultant who often speaks publicly about marketing. Who is your target market? Are you clear about how your service or product will help them?
Here are some tips from small business owners about selecting a marketing method:
— Owners should consider which marketing method is the best way to get information to prospective customers to help build a relationship, Ray says. For example, an accountant could offer in social media posts to send tax tips in return for a potential customer's email.
"I'm not trying to sell to the customer first," Ray says. "I want to get their attention."
— Social media can be ideal for start-ups. Carolyn Bothwell, whose marketing consulting business is just about a year old, social media has been low-cost and effective. "Over 80 percent of my inquiries come in directly from Instagram," she says. Many of her clients are also young companies and social media channels including LinkedIn and Facebook have worked for them.
— Different social media channels will yield different results. Germain Chastel, CEO of technology consultant NewtonX, says Twitter helps the company be more visible — it shows up at the top of Google searches. LinkedIn is the social media channel most of the company's clients use, so it's a natural to try to reach them there.
"You just need to be on the channels that can lend real value," Chastel says.
— Face-to-face contacts can be just as valuable as online marketing. Robyn Lanci, owner of Owl PR, a marketing firm, has "found the best methods for marketing my business are networking groups and pure, organic conversation."
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