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Online Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

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The Web has always been a great way to get information to your target audience but Web sites often require a dedicated Web resource or money to outsource changes that must be made to them, and keeping things updated can be a challenge. Despite these obstacles it is possible—even easy—to interact online with your customers.

Here are some examples of real ideas that have met with great success. They will allow you to be more nimble in marketing campaigns and communicate more regularly with prospects and customers in a fashion that they were comfortable with—the Web.

Surveys

Conducting a survey of your customers or prospects is a must to find out what they like and what they may want to change about your services or product. Your thoughts may wander toward expensive focus groups or hiring people to make phone calls. But with the advent of quick online surveys, both the ease of implementing these surveys and the response rates have improved dramatically.

There are many Web-based services that offer custom-built surveys to capture valuable information from your current and potential users. These are typically easy to set up and relatively inexpensive (some only charge you when a contact responds to your survey), and they track results for you. Because it is so convenient for people to provide feedback, I have seen great response rates from this method. Be sure to keep your survey short and to the point: 5-10 questions are best. An online search for "survey services" will get you started.


Forms

It is common today for companies to email offers to their contacts, and they often drive people to a form to fill out. Using an online form service is an inexpensive and quick way to do this—without having to modify your own Web site. These sites allow you to add your logo, and they can usually be linked directly to your Web site.

Even if budget isn't your issue, but the red tape of a large company makes it difficult to make any Web site change, these vendors are a great option. Shop around for the right price for your needs. If you expect very few responses, paying by respondent might be better than one that charges a slightly higher fee per form.

Subscriptions/Memberships

A place for customers to sign up for newsletters or other product notices is not only convenient but also helps you comply with the current SPAM laws. You may have to prove at some point that you have someone's permission to send them something via email. Using an online service with good tracking ability will give you all the proof you need that someone signed up to receive your information.

Plus, if your subscription form is combined with an email management system, in order to test the growth of your readership you can use the metrics provided to understand the performance of your newsletter over time. Some Web sites offer newsletter templates to chose from, making it easy to drag and drop content into your own format. A search for "newsletter templates" will give you a good idea of where to start searching.

If you are publishing a newsletter on a regular basis, the Internet can be a great source of content for you. Several sites offer articles that can be used and reprinted for free. You will usually have to cite the source and author. Check out the rules for each one. They cover almost every topic you could want, so finding something that really fits your audience shouldn't be hard, and you can't beat the price.

Event Registration

Anyone who has ever planned a company event knows that there are so many details to keep track of, even for a small event, that it can often be overwhelming. Organizing attendee registrations is one of those grueling tasks. Online registration services provide an easy way to have people register for your event (no more spreadsheets, faxes, or emails to keep up with).

In some cases, those services will process payments for you, list hotels for attendees to choose from, and let people alter their registrations as needed. Again, you can find sites that charge you only when someone registers. The online recordkeeping is a lifesaver. One, easy-to-access place to see everyone attending... it's a huge efficiency boost while not costing much. Search for "online registration."

Email/Contact Management Sites

For the small company that can't afford a big (or small) customer relationship management (CRM) system, the online contact and email management sites can be great. These services streamline your email process, tracking information on how many emails were sent, how many people responded, and how many declined, etc.

You'll have to ensure that you are emailing only to people who have opted into your distribution list, of course. The cost varies but can be based on how many emails you send out or how many names are in your database. These services keep track of the progress of your marketing email campaigns and provide valuable reports. Search "email management."

Summing It Up

There are a plethora of resources on the Web for small budgets, and they can enhance the way you interact with your customers. They key is to understand what you need and find the right service for you.

If you want a newsletter template, an email campaign tracker, and an event registration site, try to find one site that accomplishes all these needs for you. Shopping around for the best price is easy—any good vendor will have a clear description of pricing structures and often great online demos of their services. But make sure it's easy on you too: A one-stop-shop can mean better integration between functions, but it may be more expensive.


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Jodi Bash has worked for startups and global corporations in various marketing capacities, including product management, marketing operations, program development, corporate branding and messaging, press relations, team management and sales. She has an MBA from Rice University.

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