Offline marketing strategies for small businesses have lost popularity due to the vast amount of low-cost online choices. That provides an opportunity for smart small business owners to reach potential clients that other businesses miss. Everyone is so busy blasting out their messages on social media that they don’t realize their voices aren’t being heard. Offline marketing strategies are the equivalent of an end run.
The good news? There are many strategies that are low or even no cost. Here are some ideas to get your creative marketing juices flowing.
Local And Not So Local Media
Talk Radio Guest: Just about every community has a local talk radio station. While they carry some nationally syndicated shows, there are also many shows that are locally produced and those show hosts need to bring fresh material to their audiences every week. Go through the roster of your local (and not so local) stations’ programming and see where you might be a good fit. Listen to a couple episodes of the show so you have an understanding of how the host likes to do things. Then contact the host via email (most don’t have a producer) and pitch yourself as a guest. You’ll want to have an online media kit—a page on your website that gives your bio, including your credentials, a head shot, what topics you speak on, and any shows (including podcasts) you’ve already been on—that you can refer the host to. It’s also a good idea to have a list of questions/talking points prepared for the show host that you can mention in your initial contact letter/email. Focus on how you help people and have a story or two prepared to tell that demonstrates that. Bonus: Most radio stations now livestream their programs on the internet so you’re not necessarily speaking to “just” a local audience.
Column in Local Newspaper, Newsletter, or Magazine: Radio is all about filling time; print is all about filling space. Offer to write a weekly or monthly column for your local paper. This positions you as an expert and allows you to showcase your expertise. Some newspapers ask you to buy a certain amount of advertising in order to have a column (“pay to play”). Others are happy to have free articles, as long as they are not column-length commercials for your business. As a businessperson, you help your clients solve particular problems. Your columns should include tips and stories of how you resolved problems for your clients. Think about the old “Can this marriage be saved” column that appeared for years in some of the women’s magazines. Every month, the therapist told the story of a marriage, first from the wife’s point of view, then from the husband’s. They covered various problems that marriages ran into. Then the therapist would tell how they helped the couple resolve the problem(s) and that the couple was well on their way back to their happy marriage. Think of what you do in terms of story. It’s okay to follow a formula, most stories do.
Sponsor or Volunteer at an Event: While events have suffered (along with the rest of us) during the pandemic, there are still some going on and as things get back to the new normal, events will pick up. Whether it is a 5k charity run, a fancy gala, kids’ soccer league, or Chamber business seminar, take an active role in the event. If you’re a massage or physical therapist, you could set up a rub down tent for runners at a 5k. If you’re a chocolatier, you can contribute to “swag bags” at fancy galas or other events. You can have a booth (free or paid) at the Chamber seminar. You want to put yourself in front of people who are your potential clients. Yes, runners could probably use a CPA, but a small business seminar is probably a better use of your time and resources. If you run a women’s boutique, contributing to the swag bag at a charity fashion show is better than sponsoring a litter clean up at the park. You can do both. Just know that one is focused business marketing and the other is being a good citizen.
And if you do sponsor or volunteer at events, also…
Send Out a Press Release: Small businesses don’t take advantage of press releases or don’t write the press release in a way that will get their news into the press. There’s a way to announce your sponsorships or volunteering that does not make you look self-serving. Use your press release to put the event in the forefront with you contributing several (humble) quotes talking up the event and how happy you are to be involved and to help out.
Press releases should be informative and helpful to the media’s readership/following. Look for opportunities to contribute. If you’re an accountant, you can do tax tips or highlight tax changes. If you’re a Realtor or handyman, you can provide winterizing tips in the fall. With a little imagination, you can present these as “news” by offering a new service such as a “free winter check up” or “Local CPA Warns of New IRS Rules.”
Newspaper Inserts: Ads in newspapers can be expensive and frankly, easy for the reader to skip over. A better way to go is to use inserts. You can provide your marketing piece, usually a double sided, 8-1/2 x 11” page (glossy or not—your call), to the local paper and they will insert it in every paper they deliver or in every paper going to the areas you choose.
Inserts are better than ads because they give you much more space and, because they are a separate piece of paper, they are hard to miss. The cost for an insert is usually not much more than for a display ad and it is much more effective.
Give the USPS Some Love
Direct Mail/USPS Every Door Program: Direct mail has fallen by the wayside because of email and other “free” online advertising avenues. People are getting a lot less physical mail which means your marketing piece has a better chance of standing out.
Direct mail does not drive fast results. People need to “see” a marketing message somewhere between 4-7 (or even 10) times before they consciously become aware of it. You want your piece to stand out from any other mail. If you’re sending a post card mailer, make it an over-sized postcard. If you’re sending a letter in an envelope, use a handwriting font and blue ink so it looks hand-addressed. If you’re not mailing to too many people, it’s actually better to handwrite the envelopes. The open rate on a hand-addressed envelope is over 90%. (And yes, you can hire this out.)
“Lumpy mail” – an envelope with a message and something lumpy in it, whether it’s a pen, key chain, or some other promotional item, also has a high open rate. It’s more expensive to put together and send lumpy mail, but it is excellent if you have carefully targeted the people you are sending to. One of the strategies I use with my business book clients is to hand select 20 to 100 businesses that they want to work with and send a print copy of their book with a cover letter to the proper contact in those businesses, whether it is the CEO, training manager, or VP of Sales.
With direct mail, it is better to send to the same 1,000 people ten times than to send your message to 10,000 people once. The repetition is important.
If you have a local business, you can save money with the Post Office’s “Every Door” program. You can select mailing routes and get demographic data on those areas, then choose which routes are the best demographic fit for your business. Each mail piece costs less than the price of a stamp to send. USPS has a list of printers that can create your mailing piece. You bring them to your local post office and they will deliver to every address on the routes you chose.
Build Your Network
Networking: If you think networking isn’t effective, you might be doing it wrong. Many people go to networking events and want to force their card into every person’s hand. True networking is about building relationships with people who will refer business to you (and you to them). It’s about staying at the top of people’s minds so that when one of their friends or clients says, “I’m thinking about taking up golf,” they respond with, “I know a great pro and he’s at the local club. Let me give you his number. Better yet, let’s go hit a bucket of balls and I can introduce you.”
One of the best books on networking and referral marketing is Bob Burg’s book, Endless Referrals. I have been recommending this book for twenty years. He updates it from time to time and it is still the best book I have read on this subject. Do yourself a favor and read it.
And that leads us to…
Your Referral Program: You should have some sort of formal referral program in place for your business. Yes, some people will send you referrals “just because” but it’s even better if they get a little reward with that thank you. The reward can be a discount on future services, a gift certificate for a certain amount, or even, if your industry allows it, a nice check (or credit card gift card).
Let people know about your referral program. If you send out a newsletter each month or quarter, thank people for sending you referrals. Give your staff the languaging to use to tell people about the program. (Yes, the actual words. They will eventually change it up a bit and get comfortable with it, but at the beginning, knowing exactly what to say helps them tremendously.) You can have a monthly reward for the staffer who has brought in the most referrals. One dental office I worked with has a reward for the top staff referrer but also has a bonus for all the staffers ($10 Starbucks gift cards, for example) when the number of referrals exceeds the last month. Reward the behavior you want to see.
InPerson Seminars/Talks/Trainings: Some people aren’t comfortable with public speaking. That’s okay, but it will hold you back if you have plans to rule the world. If you are comfortable speaking to a group, doing a talk or seminar is one of the best ways I know to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
When you’re first starting out, create a 30 – 45 minute talk that leads people into what you’re selling. One of the best talks I ever saw was given by a man who outlined exactly what you needed to do to get a certain result. He gave us everything we needed to know to solve this problem in great detail. If you took good notes, you could do it yourself. But guess what? Doing ALL THAT was hard work. And would take up every working hour. At the end of his talk he said, “I have a team of people who do this for me and we do it for other businesses, too, for x amount of dollars.” Well, let me tell you, whatever that amount was, it was a “no-brainer” price for many people in the room.
Give people solid information; don’t waste their time. Use examples from your business to show you solved specific problems and to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. Give people something they can do quickly and easily within the talk so they gain confidence in themselves and you. Then make your offer. You don’t need to hard sell.
If you’re holding your own event, charge for it, even if it’s just a nominal fee ($20 and up). The more money people pay for a ticket, the more likely they are to show up. If an event is free, at least half the people who said they would come are no shows. You don’t want to end up speaking to an empty room.
You can use a short seminar or talk to sell people into a longer, more involved seminar or training. You can do talks to local Meetup groups that contain people who would be good prospects for you, or the Chamber or Rotary or whatever business clubs you may have in your area.
The good news is that the more you speak, the more comfortable and skilled you become. This strategy is one of the best I know to bring in business and create an expert status.
Offline Doesn’t Mean Old School
Offline marketing strategies for small business aren’t necessarily “old school” and they don’t have to be expensive. In fact, many of the top online marketers do a lot of offline marketing to enhance their online reach. Start by incorporating one of these strategies, let it run and track the results. In my book, The 8 Step Marketing Plan, I recommend that you choose the strategy that is a combination of easiest to implement and will yield the best result. So rank the strategies both ways then choose the strategy that is the best combination of the two. And let me know how you are doing in the comments below or shoot me an email: Barbara@BarbaraGrassey.com