My mother started a boutique clothing store in 1997. She started it with a credit card and a handshake with a clothing line she liked. Now, 14 years later, she’s still in business and known as “Edina’s best kept secret” (alright, she heard that once from a customer, but I think it’s a great line!).
Having watched her figure out the ins and outs of small business ownership, I can’t think of a more exhausting profession. Between choosing trusted partners like attorneys, tax accountants and finance managers to figuring out the logistics of location and product selection, marketing often falls into last place.
As a dutiful daughter, I’ve tried to help her make the most of free marketing tools that exist. Her favorite question is “umm, how much does that cost?” And more often than not, my answer is “Mom, I swear it’s free. You just have to set it up and maintain it.”
Below is a list of my favorite tools that are free and/or affordable for small business marketing. Please share yours in the comment. Also, can you share examples of small businesses who do a great job marketing themselves?
Favorite Small Business Tools
- Google Places — Any business that has a physical location can claim their business on Google Places. This service allows you to provide a description of your store, open hours, photos, web links and deals. Also, it offers monthly reporting that shows you how many people have searched for your store and any actions they’ve taken. If you can’t have a website, you *must* have a Google Place.
- Facebook page — Wait, you’ve heard of this magical tool? Ok, so it’s not new, but it’s pretty essential for a small shopping-driven business. However, the magic of the Facebook page really happens once you figure out what your goals are (drive people to brick and mortar shop, drive awareness, drive people to URL, etc.).
- OfferPop — Once, you’ve figured out your Facebook goals, OfferPop can be a huge help. This Facebook application vendor provides the ability to do sweepstakes, quizzes and photo contests. Also, it’s free for pages with less than 500 fans.
- MailChimp — It’s no secret to my Fast Horse colleagues that I have serious love for MailChimp, an email service provider. Minus the fact that it has an amazing “forever free” plan, it’s funny! And easy to use! Seriously, though, all small businesses should ponder e-marketing. Whether it’s updates on sales or announcements on new products, email still works.
- Google Webmaster Tools — Make sure you have Google alerts set up so you know when someone mentions your business online. Check out the keyword tool so you know related terms to your business. Use Google analytics so you don’t have to pay to see how people use and find your website. Again, very well known, but Google tools are free and sync with many of existing systems for small business owners.
- Producteev — I use this tool to sync with my phone and calendar so I have a constant reminder of to-dos and project updates. Free for the most basic plan, which isn’t too simplistic. On my phone, I use Astrid, which syncs the Producteev tasks. This may not help with marketing, but it definitely helps organize the marketing, which is often the biggest hurdle.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of marketing tools so I appreciate your feedback and comments. What would you recommend as a “must have?” Flickr? Twitter? A different email service provider? Please share.
Oh, and, stop by and visit Whimsy’s Closet in Red Wing, Minn. The whimsical and wearable await you and I’ve heard the owner is lovely and totally down with giving the Amanda Mark discount — 10 percent off for knowing me! She calls it combat pay, which I’ve never understood…