Five easy — and cheap — ways to promote business

I’ve worked with businesses that have large marketing budgets and businesses with small marketing budgets. The thing that remains the constant among them is we always begin by implementing a few basic promotional ideas. 

Here are the first five things you can do with minimal out-of-pocket expense to promote your business:

Make sure you have a solid brand with a logo: The logo is the first step to any solid promotional campaign. In most cases, a logo is the first thing your customers see and remains the constant among all products within your company. The logo is the cornerstone for the design of Web sites, brochures and other materials.

Think of some of the most memorable logos in our culture — the Nike swoosh, Starbucks mermaid and Wal-Mart star. Each evokes feelings and emotions that have been instilled in us as consumers over time. And it all starts with a solid logo.

A logo doesn’t have to be complex and it doesn’t have to be simple. A logo should accurately reflect the most important feelings you wish to convey with your company. Not only is how the logo looks important, but the use of colors is equally important.

Having a graphic artist create a “vectorized” version of your logo is imperative as well. When a logo is created in a photo editing program, it is made up of small dots. As it is enlarged, these dots become distorted and the logo becomes “fuzzy” or “pixelated.” To avoid this, there are illustration programs that convert the “dots” to fluid lines. This allows the logo to be enlarged to any size without sacrificing resolution.

Make sure your Web site has been submitted to the major search engines: Google, Yahoo and the Open Directory Project are all simple submissions that can mean large gains for your Web site traffic. This step assumes you have a Web site — hopefully, a well-laid out site with relevant content and links to other reputable, collaborative sites.

WordPress has opened up the world of Web sites on a blog-based platform so even novice business owners can whip up a decent site in a matter of hours. Be sure you keep the site updated frequently enough that search engines will continue ranking your site.

Include on your Web site metadata that includes descriptions and key words. As the Internet continues to evolve, the use of metadata is often overlooked. But it’s important as a first step to search engine optimization for your site. Adding a sitemap.xml file is also not a bad idea, but will be most effective when done by a web programmer. If you’re using a WordPress site, there are a multitude of plug-ins that can quickly add a sitemap.xml file to your site. A plug-in is simply a pre-packaged application that works to modify and expand basic WordPress capabilities with just a few clicks. Think of how an app works on your iPhone. This is the same concept.

Promote your storefront by creating movement outside the location. Movement attracts attention. A simple bundle of balloons, a flag or dancing chicken can all draw attention to your storefront. Be sure to attract the right attention for your business, but always remember that movement attracts attention. Create some movement outside your store and watch what happens.

Register your business on Google Places. When you Google “restaurants,” a map appears with a listing of all of the restaurants in the area that Google has found. This map now appears on Google before the web links. 

Many agencies will do this registry for you as a service when you purchase an ad in their telephone book or other publication, but it’s important that you “claim” your listing and then optimize it yourself.  Each Google Places account has a place for photos, reviews, hours of operation and other information. Adding this content encourages Google to rank you higher.

Encourage customers to write reviews on your Google Places listings. This will also increase your visibility. Avoid false reviews or companies that spend their days simply adding fake reviews to Google Places accounts. Google bans businesses because of this practice. Once you’re banned, your chances of ever being ranked highly again by Google are next to none.

There are reputable companies that work with highly competitive Google Places fields to ensure their clients are ranked on the first page. Fees for this service range from $100 to $500 a month depending on your category and location. If you choose to use one of these companies, ensure they’re working organically with Google algorithms and aren’t forcing a high ranking through false reviews and other deceptive practices. Unfortunately, if the company you hire doesn’t use Google’s best practices as a guideline, your business could be banned. 

There you have it, five things you can do right away to begin promoting your business with very little money.