How to promote your business

Line drawing of man speaking through loudspeaker.

Finding a product or service to sell is only half the story. Now you have to get out there and tell people about it.

How it works

In the days before the advent of the internet and social media, promoting your business meant spending a fortune on advertising or PR, a crippling cost for a small business trying to get off the ground. Not anymore. Thanks to new technology, there are now lots of ways a small fledgling business can tell prospective customers about their products or services – many of them free.

Related: How to get your website noticed

Here are some tips on how to promote your business for virtually no money.

1. Wear and use your products in public

If you ever bump into Graham Milton at a party, the chances are high that he will be wearing a tuxedo shirt with a flamboyant design on the back. That’s because his business Fluxedo Shirts sells them. Milton seizes every opportunity to show off his shirts, wearing them to all kinds of unlikely places such as the Notting Hill Carnival and music festivals where as the only one in formal attire he has really stood out from the crowd. As a result, whenever he goes anywhere in his shirts he gets lots of people asking him about them and finding out where to buy them.

2. Get talking

Every kind of occasion, whether planned or unexpected, represents an opportunity for an entrepreneur to promote their venture, so always carry samples of your products if practicable. Ali Wallace, who started up his own recruitment agency DNA, has found several new clients simply by getting chatting to his fellow travellers on the commuter train from his home in North Hertfordshire to London. Even if no immediate opportunity to do business presents itself, it is worth staying in touch with the people you have met, by sending them an email after the event and even introducing them to other people who may be useful to them, to keep the contact alive.  That way they are more likely to remember you when something comes along that would be relevant to your business.

3. Get in touch with your local newspaper

See if they want to write about your business.  Not only is coverage like this free, but it will also give your business and product far greater credibility than a paid-for advert could ever achieve.

4. Enter as many business awards as you can

There seems to be a new ‘Entrepreneur of the year’ competition popping up every week – someone has got to win them, and if you are creating something special, then it might as well be you. If you are shortlisted as a runner up, or even better, if you win, you will get lots of press coverage and recognition which is a truly fabulous way of promoting your business.

5. Put your phone number and website on anything and everything

If you take a stand at a trade fair, for example, get your team to wear t-shirts with your logo and phone and website details on the back. You could even paint your car with your company logo and put your phone number and website on it.

6. Get social networking

On Facebook, you can create a page for your business, on which you can post information, offers, photos, details of forthcoming events and so on. You can use Twitter to build up a following amongst potential and existing customers – the secret is to initiate conversations with potential customers rather than going on about how fantastic your product is. Linkedin is an online address book which you can use to connect to professionals in your industry. YouTube allows you to put videos about your venture for free so potential customers can see them. The best way to get your business noticed is to create a dedicated YouTube Channel for it – effectively a page on YouTube just for your business.

Top Tip

Be careful who you chat freely about your business to, because you never know who they might turn out to be. If your business is not doing well, keep it to yourself because that stranger you are confiding in could well be a customer, or supplier, or potential investor, or even someone who works at the bank where your account is held.

Case study

Kate Jenkins is such a Twitter enthusiast she has effectively grown her business, Gower Cottage Brownies (gowercottagebrownies.com) through it. She started out in 2007 making chocolate brownies in the kitchen of her cottage in Llanmabog in the Gower Peninsula, Wales, which she sold in the local village shop. People loved them, and when she started winning awards for her brownies, she spent £200 creating a basic website and began to sell them online, posting out her brownies via Royal Mail in boxes of 16.

A year later a friend suggested that Kate joined Twitter to promote her venture. Initially, she was resistant. But she signed up anyway as @gowercottage and started running a competition each week, the prize being a box of her brownies. The competition was never actually about brownies – it would always be something funny or silly, such as suggesting the best chat up line for Valentine’s Day, or imagining what song might be playing in the changing room at a rugby match. The brownies would go to people tweeting the best answer. Her ‘Monday Mayhem’ competitions quickly built up a following, to the extent that Kate would often find herself trending on Twitter – in other words being one of the most popular topics.

More than 75,000 tweets later, Kate has more than 5,000 followers and the turnover of her business has risen to £120,000, of which she estimates £40,000 has come entirely via Twitter. Votes from her followers also helped her win The Observer Food Monthly award for Best Welsh online retailer two years in a row.

Jenkins said: “It is not just that people are buying my brownies, they are also supporting me and doing PR for me because they are talking about my brownies. Twitter is my biggest word of mouth.”

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