A few weeks ago, I took some time to sit in on a Small Business Live Panel titled “Marketing on a dime,” hosted by RBC.

Moderated by Jason Storsley, VP of small business at RBC, the panel discussed opportunities for how and when to promote your profile, products and services – an appropriate and relevant topic for travel advisors and agencies. 

Panelists included:

– Barry English, President and senior Creative Director, TDG Marketing Inc.

– Claudia Harvey, CEO, On The Verge and Co-founder of Dig It Apparel Inc.

– Jeffrey Wood, President, The Agency Nextdoor

Here are some takeaways from the discussion. If you’re interested in watching for yourself, a recording is available online at this link

What is marketing on a dime?

Summarizing the topic of discussion, Storsley explained “marketing on a dime” as “building a brand, acquiring and retaining customers, and generating connections, all without spending too much money.” He said that small business owners are often busy running their business and managing suppliers, etc. that they forget to promote themselves. And even if marketing is on your mind, where to start, what channels to use and fear of costs can be daunting. Further, with an ever-changing marketing landscape, what strategies and tools can help you achieve marketing on a dime?

Is there still a place for low-cost marketing in your marketing strategies?

Claudia - 
Before you start marketing, you need to understand what your brand is going to be and what you want to project in the marketplace. What are the features and benefits of your brand? You must be able to eloquently and succinctly talk about your brand, and understand your niche.

Niching your business/service/product is extremely important in giving you a competitive edge, from you can then use in your marketing, via social media, tradeshows and various other channels.

Have a website that is understandable and communicative with the end user so visitors know what your site and service offer.

Jeff - 
Start with a great website. Social media in itself is not an end; those calls to action have to lead people to something (i.e. a website). Everything has to work in conjunction.

Barry - 
It is not enough to just have a traditional website – your website must be responsive so people can research on mobile devices.

How does that evolve as you go from start-up to more evolved? Does website messaging change?

Barry -
Whether it’s a website, video, newspaper print ad, brochure, etc – these are all canvases. Marketing is about making an emotional connection between the product or service that you sell and those who are likely to buy it – it’s never been anything more, it’s never been anything less complex than that. Your website needs to make that emotional connection; help people understand what you want them to do and what’s in it for them. It’s not about why you want to sell it, it’s about why they want to buy it; what’s in it for them?

What are a few cost-effective tips to promote a website?

Claudia - 
Lead people to your website as often as possible, whether it’s in your email signature line, on a billboard, a wrap on your car – wherever.

Jeff -
A website is no different than any other product; give them a compelling reason to visit it. You need to provide something of value.

How much does this cost?

Jeff -
Look at real estate of an ad and use the space effectively. Any ad should include: the name of your company, one key thing that drives someone to buy and your web address – keep it to those simple things.

Barry - 
We all believe that word of mouth marketing is still the greatest thing. A website is part of overall marketing platform. And there are lots of platforms to build great websites, but you still need great content. Content, content, content! You need to be able to articulate what you’re selling, who is likely to buy it and speak in a language they can understand.

Claudia -
Use videos to get across features and benefits of products and service. For example, videos of client testimonials can be shared and marketed on various platforms.

How do you target clients that you are trying to attract?

Claudia -
Understand who you are, what your niche or service is, what is unique about your product and service, and why you are the best option for delivering said product or service to the consumer. Then, understand how you are going to project that into the marketplace.

Jeff -
Imagine walking into an elevator – pick your person, pick your message; marketing should be a larger version of that. You know your community better than anyone – where can you find your target audience. Are they in the park, mall, online?

Barry -
Start by who you are – understand who is likely to buy it. It’s easy to say, ‘Well, everyone can buy it’ but who is most likely to buy it? Focus in on your primary target audience because if you have limited time and limited dollars, then talking to people who are somewhat likely to buy is much less valuable then talking to those who are very likely. Be with your primary target audience 90 per cent of the time.

How do you best use social media when starting up?

Claudia -
It’s not expensive but the time it takes to do social media is expensive. There are so many social media options out there – take two, and do them extremely well.

Barry -
It’s content, content, content. Social media is all about friends sharing a message. If you’re a business starting out, they are great platforms starting out. Give people a reason to share your content; it can’t always be about “buy my product.” Content must be engaging and shareable.

Also, you should know that it doesn’t take a lot of money, but it takes a lot of time – so is managing your social platforms the best use of your time? Or are you better off to bring someone in who really knows those platforms to help manage your social media and let you go about doing what you do really well?

Jeff - 
People don’t share with a business – so personalize your business’ social media presence.

Do traditional styles of marketing still play a role?

Barry -
When I launched my business, the Chamber of Commerce was a huge source of introducing my business to the community. You only get out of it what you put into it. Volunteer, go to meetings – allow your business to gain a profile through the local board of trade, rotary club, chamber of commerce, networking groups.

Claudia -
Send appreciation and thank you notes at opportune times, such as after meetings with a client, when you close a sale, etc… That personal touch goes a long way in building business and retaining a business.

Jeff -
No matter what you do, figure out how you’re going to stand-out doing it.

Final tips for making the most of limited budgets?

Jeff -
As a small bus person with limited resources – let’s say, marketing on a dime, spend all 10 pennies wisely. But by all means, spend them. It’s not just about the cost, it’s about what you’ll get in return. And have your business cards at the ready all the time.

Claudia -
Start with your mindset and know where you want to spend your time, effort, money. Sell yourself. Network, network, network. You never know when that one conversation is going to leapfrog you into massive success.

Barry -
Start with a marketing plan, whether you bring someone in to do it or do it yourself. Then deliver on it. 


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