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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Fortney

DIY PR - Tips for Starting Out

Entrepreneurs and small business owners ask me this question almost on a regular basis - "I can't afford to hire a professional to manage public relations for me. What can I do on my own to market my business?" My first response is always that you haven't met a PR/marketing professional who focuses on small businesses and small budgets.

However, even then, they may be bootstrapping and simply can't afford to hire anyone.

That's why so many entrepreneurs and growing businesses decide to try to DIY PR for themselves but soon learn it's not as easy as they think. The one mistake they make is not understanding how to turn their business story into a news story that journalists will take interest in. When it comes to marketing small businesses you must think outside of the box. Yes, that term has been used ad nauseum since the 1980’s, but it's true. Some of the most unique and creative marketing campaigns come from small businesses, people who know their business, know their market, and understand how to attract customers through inexpensive means.

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One of my former clients specialized in massage. They would often take their massage chairs to office buildings, and other places, to offer complimentary 15-minute massages and communicate their company's messages. After all, who can turn down a free massage? In the past, I’ve had clients use real estate signs, car/vehicle wraps, coordinating promotions with neighboring businesses, throw complimentary pizza parties, free giveaways, scored mentions on radio by giving away product, and generating other public relations through tips and advice and marketing opportunities to attract local attention. And, they created lots of social content. The key to DIY PR and marketing is to understand where your customer is and what they want. This is what these small businesses considered in marketing their companies and creating a plan that targets customers. They understand exactly who their audience is and what is important to them. What their challenges are and how they can resolve them. Some steps to start you towards thinking of creative and cost-effective ways to market your business: 1, Who is your audience? What do they do? Where do they go?, etc. (i.e. Can you speak at an event? Hand out coupon’s at a football game? Do they read the shopping section of the paper every week? Do they listen or watch streaming radio or TV? Does price matter? and more). Asking these questions can help drill down to your ideal customer and define where you should place your message.

2. What matters to your customer? What and how can your product or service offer a better experience? Is it more affordable? Does it work or perform better than the competition? 3. What is your absolute budget? Do you have more product than cash to use in marketing? Have you outlined a budget and plan? It might make more sense to work on generating PR over buying ads or paid media stories.

4. How does your product or service fit into the customer’s lifestyle? Does it enhance, make things easier?

5. How can you create need by consumers for your product or service (i.e. communicating the brand)? Can you create an opportunity for free trial?

6. What tools can you put in place to capture those who try your product and service, and how can you communicate with them to encourage adoption of your business? Setting up an email subscribe pop up on your website can help do both while also giving a business the opportunity to offer discounts, news on sales, and more.

7. How long can you afford to give time towards ongoing marketing, like this, and is it worth hiring someone part time to manage it on your behalf?

8. Have a variety of target specific marketing tools you can use and intersperse them to keep things fresh. We call this an integrated marketing approach.

9. Social media is free so be sure to share photos, video and more to encourage engagement and interest in your business. But be aware of how much you're giving to social media and the number of channels you're trying to have a presence on. Managing and maintaining social media posts, reactions, comments and responses, and other engagement can be time consuming. A busy entrepreneur doesn't have the time. Just because the channel exists doesn't mean you have to be on it. Pick one and make it work. Generate some sales and then hire someone to assist with other channels.

10. Never give up, never turn down a potential opportunity and always continue to generate new ideas.

Once you answer these questions you will be able to create unique ways to catch customers' attention, you'll know the best time of day and where to catch your customer, encourage trial and begin to brand your business.

It may seem overwhelming, but take each step one at a time and use scheduling apps - email, blog and social posts - when available. Automations make life so much easier. And, stay focused. Marketing and brand awareness can take time. Setting and understanding that expectation can reduce the stress and allow you to focus on other areas of your business, because you can create interest and build sales but if the customer experience is bad, customers will not return and they will likely share it with friends, family and social media followers.

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