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Small-business owners often feel the cash-flow pinch, especially when they're starting out. Because their resources are limited, they may feel that their marketing efforts have to be limited as well. Yet what they may not realize is that they already have some powerful marketing tools at their disposal.

What business owners need to do is take a lesson from the inventors of the 19th and early-20th centuries: They developed an uncanny ability to turn a mundane item into something new and exciting. Following are some ideas to help you get started.

1. Start marketing the minute that customers and prospects call

Yes, your phone is useful for making and receiving calls. But if that's all it's doing for you, you're missing some opportunities.

Although most businesses opt for their standard, local telephone provider, consider using a virtual phone service for small business. That type of service, which you add to any land or mobile phone line, provides various features, such as a single number to reach anyone in the business, multiple extensions, a virtual receptionist, enhanced voice mail, smart call-forwarding, caller ID screening, and more.

The virtual-receptionist and multiple-extension features are the ones that can help you with your marketing efforts. Let's say you offer three different product lines, but your customers are familiar with only one of them. Your virtual-receptionist greeting can include a message telling callers to select extension 101 if they're interested in product one; 102 for product two; and 103 for product three. All three extensions may lead to the same person (you), but you've just told all callers about your three products.

You can also use the virtual phone service to provide informational messages by simply assigning an extension and recording the information. The virtual receptionist can tell callers to select 107 for more information about a product or service, and callers will then hear the recording about that product or service. In effect, it's like having a virtual sales team.

2. Turn email into a profit center

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing delivers a return on investment of $43.62 for every dollar spent. And the great thing about email is that it's easy to do if you use a good email-marketing service.

An email-marketing service will help you develop the look and feel of your mailers by providing templates into which you can plug your logo and colors. Many services also provide advice on what to put into the emails, how to build lists, how to personalize the emails, etc., to make them even more effective. They'll even provide metrics to tell you how many were delivered successfully, how many were opened, what links were clicked, and more to help you make them even more effective.

It's a lot like building with Legos: You simply follow the steps. In no time, you'll have an attractive, effective email for generating or nurturing business.

3. Make a splash with online video

Pocket-size video cameras, such as the Flip Video or those made by Kodak, have become extremely popular for personal use, not to mention the video capabilities that come with nearly every mobile phone these days. But why not take one to the office, set it on a desk, and create a quick video of yourself or a co-worker discussing your area of expertise or your reaction to industry news?

Most devices make it easy to upload videos directly to YouTube, Facebook, and other popular social-networking sites. For the more ambitious, video cameras often come with basic editing software so you can edit the video before sharing it. Either way, customers and prospects not only hear what you have to say but also get a feel for who you are, helping you build a stronger relationship with them.

How popular is video? According to an April 2010 report by comScore, 178 million US Internet users watched video that month—the equivalent of 83.5% of all US Internet users. A pocket-size video camera can help put you in front of those users.

4. Use social media to create a personal connection

Social media is a low-cost way to create a personal, one-to-one connection with at least a portion of your audience. Facebook fan pages or a quick message about a new product or service delivered via Twitter can really help drive interest among your fans, followers, and the merely curious. Both are easy to do, and both are free.

Commenting on blogs and answering questions in forums dedicated to your industry can help you build your online reputation quickly as well. Both give you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and link back to your own website.

If you really want to demonstrate expertise, you can start your own blog. It may seem intimidating at first, but if you can write an email, you probably can blog. Done correctly, it's one of the best ways to provide greater insight into your business, your views, and the industry in general. By posting early and often, you can help establish yourself as a thought leader for little to no cost and you can begin creating conversations with key readers.

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Great marketing doesn't have to be expensive. All it takes is a little ingenuity—and a willingness to see common tools in a new way.

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Steve Adams is the vice-president of marketing for Protus (www.protus.com), a provider of communications tools, including the MyFax (www.myfax.com) Internet fax service; my1voice (www.my1voice.com), a virtual phone service; and Campaigner (www.campaigner.com), an email-marketing solution. He can be reached at sadams@protus.com.