Growth is critical for small businesses, but that growth can often be expensive. It can sometimes feel like expansion requires a significant cash investment, but there are several strategies for building your company that require less capital.
Here are several low-cost strategies that can help move your small business upward:
1. Volunteer to Speak at Local or Industry Events
Getting yourself and your business in front of people as an industry leader is a great way to build your reputation and following. Speaking at local events establishes you as an expert, creates name recognition and will build your confidence and sales skills over time.
In addition to industry events, check local service clubs (such as the Kiwanis or Rotary Club) to see if they need a speaker.
2. Volunteer in Your Community
Volunteering in your local community expands your circle of contacts, gets your company some excellent press, and can even help you recruit new talent. You may also be able to offer your services to the volunteer organization, which can further your reach. Plus, you’re giving back to your neighborhood, which is a reward in itself.
You can also promote your volunteering activities on your website or blog, which makes you an attractive company to charitably-minded talent.
3. Take Advantage of Free Resources
You might be surprised how many organizations offer free assistance to small businesses. For instance, SCORE operates a nationwide network of small business mentors, plus SCORE frequently offers live and recorded webinars and in-person events. (Recent webinars include branding hacks to promote your business online and how to laser-target your audience.) You also might be able to find a Small Business Development Center near you.
4. Build an Email Marketing List
An email list can help you keep your audience informed about what’s going on at your company, convert prospects to customers, and take surveys as needed, among other things.
You can drive list signups by delivering content customers might be interested in, running promotions or contests that you promote via email, and delivering ebooks or webinars to customers who provide their email addresses.
5. Launch a Loyalty Program
Customers who earn rewards or who enjoy discounts for shopping with you will come back—and over time they’ll spend even more with you. There are a number of ways to structure this. Consider the ice cream shop that offers a free scoop after you’ve purchased ten ice creams, or the car wash that offers 50% off the tenth car wash. A membership with your business could also result in a discount for members, or an ability to earn points toward a reward.
6. Start a Referral Program
Much as a loyalty program keeps people coming back, a referral program rewards customers who send you more customers—a win-win for everyone. You could offer a points program and award extra points for referring people to your services. Some companies offer to make a donation to a particular cause for each referral. You can even offer cash if a referral works out for your firm, depending on your business model.
7. Join the Local Chamber of Commerce
For a small fee, joining your local chamber of commerce can provide a big payback. They usually offer networking events, workshops and other ways you can connect with other local business owners. Plus, consumers tend to look favorably upon businesses that participate with their local chamber.
8. Offer Seminars or Webinars
Much like speaking at events can grow your audience, so can offering to share some knowledge via seminar or webinar. Educating your potential customers could lead them to purchase your services, and depending on your service and the topic, you could also charge for a targeted webinar. The more memorable and engaging your talk is, the greater the effect.
9. Seek Out Strategic Partnerships
If you can find another business that complements what you’re doing, propose a partnership that could help both of you. Consider the partnerships of Barnes & Noble and Starbucks, or Spotify and Uber. Keep on the lookout for another organization in your town with whom you could join forces to promote each other and build each other’s businesses.
10. Hire an Intern
An extra worker can help you spend more time on a big project for less than a full-time employee, and if you hire from your local high school or college community, your application process is free advertising for your business. (Bonus: Young workers frequently have tech skills that can help get your business up to speed.)
11. Add to the Discussion
You can engage with your audience—and build your following—by being a thought leader and joining the conversation on industry topics. Write articles for your company’s website or for social media sites like LinkedIn, then share as widely as possible. Promote content to your email list. Engage with other industry notables and share relevant articles on Twitter.
12. Consider a Giveaway or Promotion
Do you have something to offer that would appeal to people? Think about offering it for free to those who will join your email database or attend an event your company is organizing. Everyone likes freebies, and it's a good opportunity to get your product or service in front of a wider audience.
13. Offer a Complementary Product
If your main product or service is doing well, what offshoot product could you offer that's related but would expand your market? For instance, if you're selling shoes, you might consider selling products to clean or protect shoes. Or you could sell something customers could use along with regular service. (Think about popcorn at the movies.)
The Bottom Line
While it would be nice to have practically unlimited resources to help your business grow, many small businesses are working from a tight budget. Thankfully, these tactics can help build out your customer base (and revenues) without harpooning your bank account.