In order to survive and grow, small business owners must overcome the hurdle of garnering business exposure. The days of simply hanging out a shingle with your business name is long gone. Now small business owners and entrepreneurs must make considerable efforts to promote and get more exposure.
List the physical location for your business in Google Places and Yahoo. Use Google Product listings to drive shoppers to your website. Get listed on sites like Yelp!, Citysearch, Goby and Local.com so people can find your business and review it. Look for websites and mobile apps that search for businesses in your industry and add your location. There's Urban Spoon for restaurants, Hotspotr for wifi cafés, Mappy Hour for bars with happy hour specials, and A Day's Outing for daytrip destinations like wineries, antique shops and family fun spots. Other apps like Future Tap's Where To? pull their information from Google Places, so make sure your information is up-to-date.
When re-branding itself in 2009, Grasshopper Group used chocolate-covered grasshoppers to spread the word in a stunt that our office still remembers two years later. They got lots of television news coverage as TV anchors ate them on the air. Create your own newsworthy event, something so different that people just have to talk about it. Where do you get that great idea?
Listen to your customers.
Morton's Steakhouse got a mountain of publicity for the price of a steak dinner delivered to Peter Shankman as he arrived at Newark Airport. Someone at Morton's was paying attention when Shankman jokingly made a request on Twitter. At this writing, less than a week later, a Google search for "shankman steak" returned 187,000 results. Listen to your customers and respond. They will spread the word.
Use press releases when you have news.
PR Newswire and Business Wire are the industry leaders, and as such, may be beyond the budget of your small business, but they offer excellent advice on how to write and use press releases. PR.com and PRLog.org will distribute your press release for free, and PitchEngine.com allows one free pitch per thirty days. Star Reviews has a comparison chart and reviews of some free and paid press release distribution services. When you get press coverage, ask permission to post it on your website.
No news to report? Use HARO.
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) was created by Peter Shankman to connect reporters and bloggers with small businesses "to tell their stories, promote their brands and sell their products and services." How does it work? Suppose you own a restaurant. You sign up with HARO as a source, and they send you emails with queries from reporters. Choose the queries that you are qualified to answer: maybe for a business article about the economy's effect on restaurant patronage, or a management piece on how to motivate employees, or how to choose wine for a food or bridal magazine. When you are quoted as a source, your business name becomes newsworthy, and you become a recognized expert in your field.
Get connected: tweet, start a blog, get a Facebook page.
This is the digital age. You don't have to wait around for someone else to write about you. Whether you own a pizza parlor on Main Street or you make widgets, you can find something to blog about. Start by sharing advice and how-to tips. Basic service is free on Wordpress, Blogger and Tumblr. Social media can give you exposure as well. A Facebook page gives your loyal customers an easy way to share you with their friends, and even street vendors are using Twitter to boost their business.
Businesses for whom ambiance is a big selling factor (like restaurants, bars, boutiques, catering halls) should take definitely advantage of this free platform to show potential patrons what they're missing. But no matter what your business is, you can find a way to leverage this powerful tool to your advantage. For example, a veterinarian shows how to brush a dog's teeth; a hairdresser demonstrates the proper way to use a straightener or curling iron; a pet store owner tells you how to clean the sand in your fish tank. Then put your videos on your Google Places Page.
Give something away.
Facebook Pages are perfect for this. Sprinkles Cupcakes posts daily giveaways on its Facebook page like this one: "What goes around comes around! First 50 people to whisper 'karma's sweet' at each Sprinkles get a free cupcake for you and for a friend!" Howard Rosenthal Photography gave away a free BFF Photo Shoot. Location-based services like Foursquare let you reward frequent customers with something special and build buzz around your business