So you’ve taken our advice and started a side-business. Well look at you, all entrepreneur-ish! It brings tears to our eyes, this…wait, what is this business of yours anyway? I’ve never even heard of it. Where’s the TV ads and celebrity promos? No budget? Damn it, not advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time. You’d better use some free channels to get your message out:
1. Blog About It
An obvious, if overlooked method. Blogs are the best way to get in touch with customers, for the following reasons:
- People will read longer details about your service / product
- People will read long explanations (e.g. why you are charging more this month)
- People will come back to read it again. And again. And again.
- People can link their friends to your blog
Blogs are best if your side-business is complex. If you design websites, sell marketing programmes, consult, etc., then you’re not going to cram all that info on an A5 flyer. Also, as people can comment on your blog, you’ll stay in contact with past and potential customers.
The downside to this method is time. Blog posts can take hours to put up (at least, good ones do). You’ll need to answer comments, make corrections, promote it on social media, etc. Otherwise, no one will see the blog anyway. Neglect the blog for more than a week, and you’ll see its value plummet.
Good For: Side-businesses with complex services, people who have time to spare on blogging (about two to three hours a day)
Bad For: People who don’t have time to update the blog.
2. Use Pinterest for Physical Products
If your side-business involves a physical product, try Pinterest. This is a free, virtual bulletin board. You can put up photos of anything, and it works great for a crafts business: Custom jewellery, hand-knitted clothes, paintings, etc.
The problem with Pinterest is that it’s not very local. If your products aren’t meant to be sold overseas, then you’re mostly providing eye-candy. I don’t know what the percentage of Singaporean users on Pinterest is, but it’s still developing. Count on getting more praise than actual buyers.
Anyway, Pinterest an easier way to showcase your product. You won’t need to lug your samples everywhere; just give customers the link, and they can at it on their phones / tablets, etc.
Good For: Handicrafts, any product that would need a catalogue
Bad For: Targeting specific, local market segments. Also not very useful for service-based side-businesses
3. Participate on Forums
Forums are one of the best tools for customer acquisition. Most forums are already targeted at the right demographic: Car forums will be populated by car owners, property forums by home buyers, student forums by Twilight-reading morons, etc.
The most important rule is to never spam sales messages. Do that, and you’ll be censored faster than Chee Soon Juan in a public space. You need to actually be a contributing member: Provide help for other forumites, and raise interesting topics. You can mention, as an aside, that you also provide a service / product.
Once every dozen or so posts is acceptable. Mentioning it every other post is not.
There are two disadvantages to forums: The first is that you need to be posting constantly, and for a long time, before you have any presence. The second is that you need to be extra careful. Post something offensive, and you’ll start a flame war; you could end up driving customers away.
Good For: Targeting a demographic, getting feedback, keeping in touch with the relevant “scene”
Bad For: After-sales issues (if anyone complains about you, it will be on the same forum), and fast acquisition, because forum presence takes time to build
4. Work With Other Organizations
Organizations set up stalls in events and fairs. Find one relevant to your business, and see if you can piggyback their efforts. For example, Melanie Cau wrote resumes and CVs for a side-income. She says:
“I worked with recruitment agencies when they set up at job fairs. I shared their booth, and I’d help their clients or potential clients by looking over their resumes. I charged a small fee, like $20, and I would revamp their resume on the spot. Or give free advice.
I referred them to the agencies’ available jobs after I improved their resume. I made about $1,200 over a weekend, which was not bad. But the important thing is that I got my name out there. I wanted them to refer their friends to me.”
Good For: People who are not too shy to open their mouth and ask for it (send some e-mails and make a few phone calls), people who have products that complement said organizations
Bad For: Long term recall. Long term memory of your brand requires repetitive and constant advertising; but fairs and events only happen once in a while. You may experience a surge of popularity, which will diminish just as fast.
How Do I Know If It Works?
When your sales go up. Forget about “communications target” and other fancy talk; you can worry about that when you run a big corporation. For now, watch that bottom line.
Remember that these methods are free in terms of monetary cost. There’s still opportunity cost, because they all take time. Try to keep track of which one brings you more money, and focus on that. You can also follow us on Facebook, and we’ll highlight good tactics as we spot them.
How do you advertise your side-business? Comment and let us know!
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