You're smart, tenacious and exceedingly good at what you do but, alas, not wealthy or flush with venture capital. You've started a business, and now you need to tell the world. Given our druthers, we'd all like to run ads on TV, in magazines and in newspapers. But if you don't have the budget to advertise in these mediums consistently, you're probably wasting your money. What's a poor entrepreneur to do?
The good news: Many entrepreneurs find low-cost methods of reaching their target markets to be exceptionally effective. It's a good thing, too. According to a recent survey by The Willard & Shullman Group (www.wsgresearch.com), small-business owners often look to their own resources (cash, credit cards or personal lines of credit) for capital-making lean and mean promotion methods a necessity. Two low-dough approaches are public speaking and business writing. These marketing methods allow ye of little cash to make a big splash, attract clients and increase product/service visibility.
GET OUT THERE
Right in your own back yard, there are limitless public-speaking opportunities. If you belong to a trade organization like the chamber of commerce, contact them to see if you can speak at trade shows or seminars. Contact adult or continuing education outlets to see if you can teach a class. Volunteer to be a guest lecturer at the local university. Put together your own free seminar and send invitations to prospects.
Because the terror of public speaking outranks the fear of death for many people, preparation is key. You may want to start with small groups until your comfort level is increased. You'll find that having a fairly standardized presentation makes for an easier time, as you'll be well-versed on the topic and potential questions from the audience. For each event, study your audience, and add in real-life examples that are pertinent to the group's interests.
At the very least, have handouts for the audience-overheads, too, if possible; charts, graphs and before-and-after stats are great ways to illustrate examples. There's nothing lamer than a presentation where the speaker just drones on and on with no handouts or visual props. Try to engage your audience from the outset, and encourage people to ask questions or meet with you after the presentation.
Practicing your presentation before friends or family is one of the best ways to shoo away the nervous butterflies many of us feel when speaking to a crowd. Let them give you constructive criticism and throw you curveball questions. (My husband, for instance, prepares me for any crowd by heckling me.) Once you've gone through the verbal presentation, work in any audiovisual components to ensure all are working correctly. Have a glass of water on hand and sip from it; pretend to field responses from your "audience."
One entrepreneur who used public speaking to great advantage is Shannon Entin, 31, founder of health and fitness site FitnessLink.com. Entin got speaking engagements at industry trade shows and developed a program about how fitness professionals can use the Internet to build their businesses. Talk about low-cost marketing-Entin actually got paid to speak!