Tuesday, October 16, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part four

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

4) Information-gathering and inexpensive marketing research

If you don't have a lot of money to spend, there are a number of ways to do inexpensive marketing research.

A) Libraries

Libraries not only have books and periodicals which you can read (for free!), but they also typically have reference sections devoted to small business, as well as free access to computers and the Internet. Librarians themselves can be a great resource if you are seeking specific information and don't know where to start looking. Libraries may also offer programs or lectures at little or no cost.

B) Book stores

I just love book stores like Chapters (here in Canada) where you can pull a book off the shelves, plop down in a comfy chair for an hour or so, and read to your heart's content WITHOUT HAVING TO BUY THE BOOK FIRST. Not sure which marketing books will help you? Browse through their tables of contents, and read a chapter or two before committing to a purchase. You can sample business magazines this way as well.

C) Magazines and newspapers

There is a free magazine for small businesses called Canada's SOHO Business offered at most Staples stores in Canada. Each issue is full of articles that relate directly to the needs of small business owners.

You can also find marketing ideas in non-business-related magazines and newspapers. Pay attention to the ads that catch your eye. Notice what's hot and interesting (and effective!) in the world of advertising. Research the needs and desires of your target market. Take note of demographic trends (like aging baby boomers) that may affect your business and your potential clients.

D) The Internet

The Internet is a huge resource for business-related information. It may be time-consuming to wade through page after page of web material, but the wonderful thing about the Internet is that there is so much first-hand information to be found - much of it on business-related blogs, where individuals can leave their own comments and contribute to the sharing of information.

There are also numerous sites dedicated to business specialists, many of whom have published best-selling books on their areas of expertise. If you find some favorite books after your library or book store expeditions, it's more than likely that these authors will have their own websites, often listed right in their books.

Many business websites also send out regular e-newsletters which are full of pertinent information - delivered easily and effortlessly into your inbox every week. Sign up for the ones that intrigue you - you can always unsubscribe at a later date if they turn out not to be worthwhile.

E) Networking

I'll discuss Networking again in another post, but here I'm interested in networking as a way of gathering marketing information. Ask others what they're doing to market their businesses, and what has worked for them in the past. Be prepared to share some of your own information; many people are generous with their knowledge, but don't like to feel used.

If during your daily travels you spot an advertisement that really catches your attention and inspires you to do something similar, why not contact the business owner and ask about their experience with this marketing technique? At the very least they'll probably be happy to refer you to the professionals who did the work for them.

F) Poll prospective customers

Talk to people. This can be as informal or as formal as you like - but get comfortable asking people what they're looking for in the service or product you provide, and seek out feedback on their past experiences and preferences regarding marketing.

Talk to friends, relatives, strangers in the grocery check-out - anyone who will give you the time of day. If you make it low-key and focus on their stories, letting them share their own needs and experiences, you may be surprised how people will open up and divulge very worthwhile information.

G) Observation

This is related to item C) above, but in truth encompasses not just print media, but everything you see around you. There are marketing messages everywhere. What do you notice? What attracts your attention? What is effective? More importantly, what sticks out as unique and innovative?

This doesn't have to be tedious or feel like work. But you should definitely get in the habit of trying to relate things back to your own information-gathering process. Continually ask yourself at various times throughout the day, in various situations, "What might this have to do with me and my business?"

Some other inexpensive information-gathering or research suggestions offered by the attendees at my talk:

*Seek out local organizations that support small business start-ups. They often offer inexpensive or free programming on marketing topics.

*Join professional associations (like Professional Organizers in Canada, if you're an organizer) and network with your colleagues.

ACTION ITEM: Book time in your weekly schedule to actively do marketing research. Spend at least some of this time in creative daydreaming or brainstorming.

Suggested online search: "marketing"

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