Small businesses need loans in order to take product and service ideas to the next level. Without the infusion of upfront cash, many small businesses flounder despite having an arsenal of legitimate business ideas. Since 2007, tighter business lending regulations have gone into effect and they make it especially difficult for small businesses to obtain traditional loans from banks and credit unions. A recent study by Trepp, LLC found that one in eight banks receive a “failing” grade based on income statements evaluated by the researchers. The study also found that mid-sized banks, traditionally the largest small business lender category, had the highest percentage of failure. As a result, alternative financing options are now an established part of the small business lending market.
With such a squeeze on capital, small businesses have to come up with innovative ways to get ahead and stay afloat. Smart marketing has never been more vital to small businesses than it is today. Reaching a broader client base, at a smaller cost, is the challenge that faces small business marketing budgets. With a little bit of innovation, however, marketing initiatives can be stretched a long way.
Monetize your customer referrals
It is true that the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth and what better way to get it than online? Offer discount codes or freebies to people that leave you a detailed review. Visit online directories that have options for customer reviews and make your offer prominent. In addition to encouraging customers to speak out on your behalf, offering deals and free items promotes repeat business. The company Metal Mafia monitors customer reviews and sends out a “thank you” showing its appreciation for the time the customer took to write a recommendation. These small gestures show customers that you are grateful for their loyalty and support.
You should also put a referral program in place. A customer that brings another new one on board should be rewarded. After all, that customer is doing some advertising work for you. Even if you do not have much wiggle room as far as discounts, offer a small credit to show your appreciation for referrals.
Make sure you can be found online
According to Google, 97 percent of consumers look online to find businesses they want to frequent. While this may seem like an obvious point, the site Mashable.com says many young businesses make the mistake of not listing businesses in free directories or checking for online accuracy. Add your business address to listings like Google’s Places for Business, MerchantCircle and Yahoo! Local. It is possible that your business is already listed in some of these spots, so claim the business as your own and then look over the information for accuracy.
In addition to physical location, keep an eye on your online reputation. If other sites are popping up ahead of yours when you type in your business name or keywords associated with it, reformulate your official website. Make sure your business name is prominent in the text of your site, not just the graphics. The same goes for keywords and geographic indicators. It is also a good idea to create a sitemap for search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.
Seek out smart partnerships
Find mutually beneficial ways to work with other businesses that complement your own. This can be done in physical ways like leaving business cards at each other’s offices or swapping advertising in each other’s newsletters. There are also many online opportunities for partnerships, like exchanging comparable banner ads on each other’s websites or swapping guest blog posts with your own links. If there is a community event taking place, partner with another business to sponsor it. There are really no boundaries to this concept – if there is a way to cross-promote your business at little to no cost, chase down your idea. With another company splitting, or even eliminating, the cost of marketing, you can stretch your promotional budget and ideas even further.
Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com which is the largest business directory on the web. ChamberofCommerce.com connects local businesses to their local Chamber of Commerce. Megan also writes business news.