PR and marketing for SMEs can be a trial, especially when your business is just getting off the ground. While there's obvious benefits to promoting your product or service on a wider scale - smaller firms are often constrained by time, resources and budget.
In this guide, we'll examine some options that you can implement today for little-to-no cost and offer some top tips on getting started.
Become an Expert
While not applicable for every type of small business, showcasing your expertise in your field can often bolster your reputation - creating a degree of trust and recognition between yourself and your potential customers.
The first step is to seek out relevant forums where you can demonstrate your thought leadership. The vast majority of these are likely to be online, but if any real-world opportunities do pop up (e.g. panels or speaking opportunities), be sure to take advantage.
Social media is a great tool in this regard, allowing you to track down places that your prospective customers are engaging in discussions and get involved. If you're genuinely helpful and display a comprehensive knowledge of the relevant subject matter - it's relatively straightforward to get prospects on-side and make them more likely to seek you out when it comes time to spend their money.
But don't limit yourself to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to haunt the comment sections of relevant blogs and online publications and look for opportunities to be genuinely helpful or add value to discussions.
Most importantly, don't try and be 'salesy' at this point. Simply demonstrate your expertise and build positive sentiment towards yourself and your brand.
If your business is brick-and-mortar or you deliver services to a certain locality, it makes perfect sense to try and make yourself as visible as possible in your immediate vicinity. There's a few options in this regard and the best fits are likely to depend on your personal skillset and any help you're able to call upon.
PR: If you've got a business, you've got a story to share. The local press are constantly looking to fill their pages, so if your company has hit a milestone, taken on new staff or undertaken any noteworthy activity that's likely to impact the local area in a positive way, consider putting together a press release.
There's a right and wrong way to handle all of the above, however, so be mindful that not everything that's important to you will be newsworthy and apply discretion in what you choose to publicise.
Events and Sponsorship: For those with a bit of money or resources to spare, sponsoring or getting involved with a local event can be a boon in terms of getting your brand in front of a local audience.
Local Search: Be sure you apply to every free directory available (the likes of Yelp, Scoot, et cetera) and fill out your profile comprehensively. It's also worth checking out Gumtree and to a lesser extent Craigslist, although your adverts may get pushed down the listings on these sites over time.
Similarly, getting your business featured on Google Maps/Places can be massively beneficial in helping local audiences find you, so be sure to take advantage and set up your Google+ local page now.
In addition to your efforts on social, there's loads you can do to make your site more visible to search engines completely free of charge (providing it's relatively modern and set up with a content management system like Wordpress).
When it comes to SEO, there's a trade-off between resources, time and price. While it's definitely possible for you to teach yourself the basics and implement them - this is likely to be a time-consuming activity. The other, paid option is to outsource your SEO to an agency - an avenue that while more efficient, comes with its own set of challenges (particularly when it comes to picking the right agency to suit your needs).
We've written extensively about how to get started with SEO and suggested a number of resources that should prove highly useful for beginners, but be prepared to put in some seriously hard work if you're to see the desired results.
It's hard to overstate the importance of blogging for those delving into online marketing. Companies that blog attract more leads, more inbound links (an important factor in determining where your website will appear for a given search result) and have exponentially more pages indexed (i.e. 'read') by search engines than those that don't.
As well as being a vital component of improving your site's SEO, blogging is also a great way to demonstrate your expertise. What you blog about is largely dependent upon the type of company you are, but as a rule of thumb, if you're to use it as an effective sales tool, you want to focus on content that will be of interest to your prospective customers.
Be sure to check out our numerous blogging guides if you're looking to get the most out of your efforts.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool and its modern analogue is social advocacy. This describes the practice of delighting your customers and encouraging them to share positive experience in open, social forums.
While the principle is straightforward enough, implementing this tactic is anything but easy. First and foremost, you have to earn the recommendation - going above and beyond the call of duty to please your customers - and then convince them to spread the good word.
Some companies offer discounts or freebies to encourage positive social messages and while there's a distinct lack of guarantees, social advocacy has the potential to be a very powerful tool for SMEs.
One way to carry out this process was aptly described by social media strategist Jason Falls in a recent Mashable article:
"If I know there's a Twitter user who loves purses and talks about them a lot (which I can find using Twitter Search), and I sell purses, I reach out to her and offer her 20% off to come in or check out my catalogue online, just because I know she digs purses.
"If she blogs about purses, maybe I send her a new model with a note that says, 'Thanks for telling people about purses. We dig you.' I'm betting she'd talk about me, and I didn't have to break the bank to get the conversational love."
While it might be tempting to dive head-first into a marketing activity - getting to grips with the best practice of your preferred option will pay dividends when it comes time to get your first campaign underway.
If you've had any triumphs or tribulations in marketing your SME, be sure to leave us a comment below - we always love to hear your stories.
And if you're looking for more advice, don't miss our free guide for SMEs. As well as an impartial assessment of popular SME marketing avenues, it's crammed full of tips on the best ways of procuring services and how to get the most for your money: