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Monday marks the start of National Small Business week. Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week in recognition of the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business.

As a partner of the US Small Business Administration (SBA), Microsoft is a co-sponsor of the National Small Business Week. Our goal, by partnering with key business and government elites like the SBA, is to educate America’s small businesses on how technology can help them grow and thrive. Throughout the week, the Microsoft store at Woodfield Mall will hold sessions designed especially for the small business owner. Each morning at 10AM, we will hold a workshop pertinent to successfully incorporating technology into your business. We will focus on Office 365 for Small Business and Bing Ads Express. Check our calendar for details.

In keeping with support of small business, I wanted to share content from a recent  on low cost ways to market your business. Too many small-business owners think marketing is like a trip to the dentist — something you just have to do every six months or so.

But when marketing is continuous and targeted rather than occasional and generic, business gets easier. If prospects have a positive view of your wares and reputation before you call or before they start shopping, you’re that much closer to getting a sale.

Marketing isn’t tied to a price tag. It’s defined only by putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time.

Here are some ideas for doing that — that won’t break the bank.

  1. Take steps to make customers feel special. Customers respond to being recognized, especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times.
  2. Instead of having your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use — say, a good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page.
  3. Stop servicing break-even customers. If this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You’re falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. Take a detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium services and marketing to customers who count.
  4. Develop an electronic mailing list and send old-fashioned letters. Most businesses have harnessed the power of e-newsletters — and you definitely should be sending out one, too. It’s very cost-effective. But because e-mail marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface mail letters to customers and prospects.Just make sure the letter delivers something customers want to read, whether an analysis of recent events in your field, premium offers or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on his next purchase of whatever he last purchased, for instance).
    The process is simplified by creating a letter template and envelope or customer label mailing list in Microsoft Office Word in Office 365, which you can print. The mailing list is easily created in Excel and then imported into Word. For help in harnessing the e-newsletter, join us for the Constant Contact & Office 365 seminar on May 21 from 10AM – 12PM.
  5. Boost your profile at trade shows and conferences. You can quickly create signage, glossy postcards with your contact information, product news inserts or an event mini Web site — all with Microsoft Office Publisher. With Office 365, you’ll also have a hosted external website for your business, at no extra cost.
  6. Combine business with pleasure — and charity. Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause you care about. That puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people, and shows off your small business leadership skills. This is a great networking opportunity and a way to connect with clients.
  7. Court local media. Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, from TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It’s usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories, target appropriate media representative and write and send press releases. Usually, you can work on a short-term or contingency basis.
  8. Finally, don’t let customers simply slip away. Make an effort to reel them back in. It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven’t heard from a customer in a while, send a personalized e-mail (you can automate this process), inquiring whether all is well. For a customer who suffered a bad experience, pick up the phone, acknowledging the unpleasantness and ask if there’s anything you can do. A discount can’t hurt either. Being kind to customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can do.

Be sure to join us at the Microsoft store during National Small Business Week. You will learn something new!

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