Shoestring Marketing for Small Businesses

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What can small businesses, start-ups, free-lancers and other budding entrepreneurs do to build their reach? How can they compete against bigger companies with deeper pockets, greater resources and fuller teams?

In general, the clue is to look at what big conglomerates are doing, and then try to do the opposite - in a customer pleasing fashion of course. Clueless where to start? Well, here are five ideas to begin with.

1) Weave a compelling story about your business and give the inside scoop of what really happens. In a world flooded with ads, collaterals and spam on virtually any product and service that you can think of, people yearn for authenticity. Often it isn't just your product and services alone that will interest people, but what goes behind the scenes - the spark behind the ideas, the sourcing of ingredients or raw materials, the painstaking process, the art and craftsmanship and so on.

2) Differentiate differentiate DIFFERENTIATE! What works for large businesses become even more pertinent for resource poor start-ups that do not have the scale to compete on volume, selection or price. Choose a point of uniqueness or perhaps many points of originality that your customers value and focus on them.

Daniel Goh, founder of Young Upstarts and boss of The Good Beer Company carved a unique niche for his business by offering exquisite gourmet beers at affordable prices in a hawker centre (courtesy of @danielgoh)

3) Position yourself not only as a retailer or service provider, but a helpful problem solver/advice giver/content guru on social networks and channels. Create a micro niche for yourself. This could be as simple as starting a Facebook fan page, establishing a Twitter account to posting regular photos or videos on photo or video sharing sites. Remember to communicate and help more than to sell!

4) Don't be shy! Rather, be open to showing the world who you are as an entrepreneur, what drives you, and what made you take the road less trodden. In a world full of cold, souless and super-slick corporate brands, having that human face whom people can relate to is critical. Carve a unique brand identity for yourself and adopt a persona that is memorable and distinctive. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should keep tooting your horn incessantly or spamming people continuously about your life.

5) Give the personal touch and show that you care. A major advantage of smaller outfits compared to larger ones are their ability to customise and tailor make each customer engagement and to lavish greater care on them. Of course, one needs to also balance between forging relationships and doing the other work needed in any enterprise - creating, producing, stocking, counting money, and managing staff!

6) Finally, remember to network and build communities. Small business owners need to work harder than anybody else to get themselves known. Other than creating your own fans/followers/friends on social networks, you should try to organise face-to-face gatherings and events, or participate in forums, channels and events where you can meet potential customers, partners or suppliers. These platforms may generate fresh leads and relationships that can help to advance opportunities for your business.

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