There are many youngsters who dream of becoming their own masters and proving themselves as successful entrepreneurs. However most of them just keep quiet and take no steps forward towards their dreams due to several reasons.
The main reasons are of course either the lack of financial recourses or the financial uncertainty at the initial stage of the business until it creates a momentum and starts earning profits.
However, if it becomes easier to start a business and make it a success with no cost or with very low cost, I’m sure that our country would see many young entrepreneurs with massive talents and big dreams. Normally it is very difficult to get the momentum unless you have a big marketing budget and a strong strategy. That is why I am sharing some general tips and zero cost marketing tips to market your dream and create the necessary momentum to enter the safer zone of a sustainable bottom-line.
Some of the tips are from my own experiences. As a young entrepreneur with big dreams, I feel it’s my responsibility to share what I know and what I have experienced with my fellow entrepreneurs. Some of the tips are from my two years of entrepreneurship experience in the business of consultancy and some of the tips are from what I have learnt throughout my marketing profession.
- Starting and running of a business should be supported by enough funds. But make sure you do not secure loans at high interest rates. If you are starter and if you have a good business plan I would recommend approaching state banks. They would probably consider your proposal. In contrast if you approach any private financial institutions you might have to answer many questions and finally you might not end up with a positive answer. In general private banks are good for established businesses rather than for start-up entrepreneurs.
- Managing the funds is again an important aspect to have a grip on your business finances. Whenever you spend an amount, may be for an office purpose or may be for a personal reason, just note it down. Always have a small pocket diary with you. Most of us tend to think “I don’t need any records/pocket diary, that I can remember all my expenses”. But this is not the case, in a few days many small expenses vanish from our memories. Finally when we run short of money and start trying to find out what we spent on, we go crazy as we cannot remember. It is always good to maintain a record of expenses, even incomes too and at the end of month prepare a summary. Accordingly you will have an idea of the amount of funds available for you to make plans, give commitments etc. Also this helps to monitor your monetary progress.
- If you have various sources of income make sure to evaluate which are performing well, and what is not. Especially when you get loans and buy an asset for the business which is not productive even to earn the interest that is being paid for the capital tied up in that particular asset; simply it resembles a poor fund management. There are plenty of options available in the market but it the responsibility of the entrepreneur to evaluate them and choose the best which is apt for his/her financial situation/business nature/capabilities, etc.
- Given below are the “don’t” that I would suggest for starters. Generally entrepreneurs do the following mistakes at the very beginning of their businesses, like:
- Avoid managing a large employee force. Don’t try to show the success of their decision to start a business by the number of employees which will gradually eat up the liquidity of the business. Recruit people only if necessary. Another smart way of reducing the staff cost is getting freelancers to work for you. You have to pay them for the work done only which is very cost effective. In general the under graduates/school leavers etc would be the ideal freelancers. These people will be highly interested in learning new things and very energetic. Also payment-wise you do not need to pay big amounts since they might not have enough work experience to demand more.
- Avoid renting large office space with expensive furniture and nice cubicles which are not essential at the very beginning of the business. Instead spend it in income generating options. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend money on these things. What we spend on should make sense. For example if you are going to start a salon/beauty parlor it is a must to spend some money on furniture as that would definitely generate business. However, if you are going to start an online business where a physical office is not that important spend the money wisely and on social media campaigns, etc rather than on renting expensive office space, etc.
Marketing Your Business
Use simple marketing to boost your business. At the initial stage of your business you can use the tips given below to market your business/product.
- Always be in touch with your customers, do not forget them. Try to please them as much as possible. Gift them in a small manner. Talk nicely, get inside their shoes to really understand them and think of what they actually need from you. The word of mouth is an important promotional tool for any small business. Send greetings during special events, regularly come up with some sales promotions to reward loyal customers. Coupon cards, loyalty programmes, theme selling, discounts, free gifts, etc are a few examples for sales promotions. Always remember there are many competitors waiting outside to grab your customer; so do not give a chance to your competitor.
- Occasionally try to have some competitions for your clients and others. It should be interesting and on the other hand it shouldn’t eat your money. For example if you are in a service-related business the gift for the winner can be a few of your service hours free of charge. This type of promotion raises curiosity about your business, people will start to research about you which would create good brand awareness and helps you to stand out from the crowd.
- Use free email tools which are available online. These tools have message delivery rates, open tracking rate, etc. This brings me at least a certain lead each time I send out newsletters. Keep building your email base and send out interesting newsletters.
- Regularly tweet and update your fan-page to get some improved search engine rankings. Having a strong online presence like social media interaction (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, You Tube, Foursquare, etc), search engine friendly contents etc would benefit your business.
- Create a blog and update it regularly. I would suggest wordpress (www.wordpress.com) for blog writing for your business. It’s very user friendly, professional and attractive. Here are some examples to start writing your blogs; something interesting about your business, some general content which is relevant to your business, some of your customers’ feedback or their experience with you (ask them to share the experience and you can publish it as a blog), some local as well as economic and social facts affecting the business, etc. This blog would gradually help to increase your search engine optimization. I always get many leads through my blog. Just try typing the keywords like “Small business ideas in Sri Lanka” and “Business consultancy in Sri Lanka”, “business ideas in Sri Lanka” and see the search engine results.
- Use your business card as a promotional tool. Try maximum networking. Attend external events, talking points, seminars, workshops, etc. Build your network. Tell them what you do but in a different way. Create your own brand awareness to your network. Leads automatically come. Make sure you are creating an interesting business card which grabs the attention of people.
- First impressions matter a lot. If you are a service provider make sure you are not dissatisfying the client. Always give a service which is above the excepted level. I have seen people who never answer the calls of their clients. If a task is given to you finish it on time. You should call the client instead of expecting the client to call you. These are small things but matter a lot.
- Business is always about making money I agree, but if your client is in a struggle in terms of its monetary situation, help out. Try to give them cost effective solutions. You might waste your time, but treat it as an investment for your future growth. You never know who will become what. If the same client later becomes successful, if he/she remembers that he/she received a great service from you that would definitely help you to get better business, good contacts and strong word of mouth, etc.
- Always try to get free publicity; it’s just a call away. Contact the media in Sri Lanka (newspapers in all three languages), build a rapport with them and request them to publish a free PR article for you. The initial relationship I built with the media gives me certain exposure and publicity to my brand.
- Try to approach business magazines and write about current business trends.
There are lots of magazines in Sri Lanka expecting these types of writers. Call them; give them your sample write ups. Continuously write for the magazines. This creates good brand awareness for your business.
- Do not make unnecessary promises to the client. But if you promise something try to make it happen.
- Initiate partnerships with other brands. If your business is not offering a service which is offered by someone else create a partnership. If you give the lead you will get a lead back from them.
n Always do satisfaction surveys with your customers to judge your product or service level. They are the best people who give valuable advice. Filter those and implement the same.
- Plan the future from now onwards. Your future customers would be the current students. Do events or any other promotions to position your brand now itself.
n Get endorsements/testimonials from your existing customers. When I posted one of my client statements about my brand, I got one new referral who viewed the comment. Have a separate section for testimonials in your site. If it’s a product, get some experience testimonial from the users. Publish and distribute it everywhere.
- Make sure your brand is everywhere in all external materials.
n Always reply to the communication mails quickly. Set a standard time for reply. I have got several appreciations from my clients for a timely and quick reply. Use your phone as a marketing tool. Set up your email there.
- Differentiate your brand from others. As part of a portfolio my company does corporate trainings too. There are a lot of other companies in the same business. When I branded my training series with a character the response was superb. Try to differentiate your brand in many ways; it could be via what is offered, marketing communication etc.
(The writer is a young entrepreneur involved in marketing consultancy and eMarketing among other pursuits).