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One of the most critical, and most challenging, aspects of running a small business is marketing it.  Most entrepreneurs have little to no background in marketing, and often lack the resources to hire the talent that could make a difference in this area, especially early on.  Failing to market your business and its products effectively can be costly; poor marketing can limit your company’s exposure to new customers, and can leave you vulnerable to more market-savvy competitors.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Even if your company lacks resources, it can get its message out and create product awareness. Here are four great tips for marketing your company effectively, even when the money is tight.

Leverage Social Media

There are billions of people on social media, and access to almost all of them is absolutely free. Establishing a presence on social media is one of the best, and most economical, ways to reach new customers and maintain contact with existing ones. Used correctly, social media can be a powerful marketing tool for a small business.

There are some basic rules to effective social media marketing. First, the content you create should be high quality; your potential customers have to want to view it. It should also be current, meaning that you should update your social media presence routinely. Your company’s Facebook page is worthless if the last time you updated it was eight months ago.

You should also remember to share and share alike on your social media platforms. Be willing to link to content that other people create or provide you, especially if it is related to your niche industry. This will help spread your social media presence further in the long run, and enable you to reach more potential customers.

Finally, your social media presence should foster community. Your company should interact with customers and potential customers there, and foster a climate where your customers also talk to one another. If your social media presence becomes a place people come to interact with one another, you will be creating the kind of brand awareness that you cannot buy at any price.

Create Buzz with Online Content

Another way to establish your brand and market your products and services economically is by creating great online content. Content marketing involves producing valuable or interesting information that helps generate interest in your company.  All types of businesses and nonprofits have pursued this strategy; it is simple, and it works.

Interesting online content provides a service to current and potential customers; they may gain greater understanding of how to use your products or services more effectively, or greater information about the niche in which your products and services are used. Due’s blog, for example, has great information relevant to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Interesting content drives page views.  Jenna Woginrich, for example, owns the Cold Antler Farm blog. She has built an entire lifestyle industry around this blog, selling everything from homemade soaps to books on homesteading to an ever-growing audience eagerly awaiting her next blog post.

Much like social media, the key to effective content marketing is providing useful, interesting content, and doing so on a regular basis. Doing so ensures not only that people will read what you produce, but also that they will be able to find it in the first place.

Become a Public Commodity

One of the best ways to get your business noticed, directly and indirectly, is to increase your engagement with the public. There are many ways to do this that won’t break the bank; some of them may even pay you for your troubles, too.

If you are an expert in the niche in which your company operates, consider writing an article about it in a magazine or local newspaper. If you can indirectly discuss your company’s products or services, all the better. The more exposure you get in venues like these, the better chance you have of reaching new customers.

You could also consider speaking in public forums, such as conventions based around your particular products and industry. A presentation in one of these forums can help raise your company’s awareness; they may also offer you a venue to showcase your products and services to potential clients as well.

Another way to attract customers, and keep new ones, is to offer free classes on use of your products. Retail giants like Home Depot and Lowes often do this, teaching would-be customers how to use the tools and materials they sell to improve their homes and yards. Other than the preparation and execution time required, this marketing technique can be done relatively cheaply.

Finally, you could consider sponsoring, or supporting, popular events that potential customers might attend. Events like 10k races, or a “tough man” style obstacle course, may be a perfect venue if you run a sporting goods store, for example. Supporting any event in your local area may help to generate positive buzz, and lead to more clients in the long run.

Throw out the Rulebook and Go Guerrilla

You can think wildly outside the box, and establish an attention-getting guerrilla marketing campaign.  Guerrilla marketing involves taking unconventional direct action to create awareness of your company, its products and services. Done well, it can be a highly effective promotional tool for your company.

Guerrilla marketing can involve major indoor and outdoor promotions, user experiences that create brand awareness, or even stealth campaigns that indirectly lead people to think about your company and its products. These types of campaigns typically rely on surprise or even shock value to grab people’s attention.

There have been some truly great, and funny, guerrilla marketing campaigns lately.  One such example is the paper towel company, Bounty. Bounty created  giant, surreal messes, including eight foot tall discarded popsicles, and 55 gallon spilled coffee cups. As onlookers observed the spectacle, people with rolls of paper towels moved in to clean up!

Even movies use guerrilla marketing to create buzz.  Marketing for the The Dark Knight Rises, for example, included releases of heavily redacted CIA documents concerning several of the film’s major characters. These obscure documents, released early during the film’s marketing campaign and prior to major trailers coming out, no doubt left moviegoers hungry for more.

Guerrilla marketing can be done on the cheap, and often requires nothing more than a little theatrical creativity. The key factor for success in these campaigns is ensuring that the outcome of any such effort leads to greater awareness of your company, its products, or its services.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t develop an effective marketing strategy, your company may not succeed.. But you don’t  have to go broke raising brand awareness, either. Even companies on shoestring budgets can execute great marketing campaigns.

Effective social media presence and content marketing can help you hold on to current customers. They can let you each new ones as well.  Take advantage of public venues to build goodwill, and build connections to people interested in your company. Finally, for creative types,  guerrilla marketing campaigns may be the way to go. So if your company is looking to raise awareness and attract new customers, consider these marketing techniques. They all are proven winners, so put one of them to work for you today.

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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