When Should Your Small Business Give Away Something?
When small business owners look at that headline, there are probably two initial responses – “I give away things all the time,” or “What?! Giving away things costs money and that’s something in short supply around here.” Those in the first camp might think that offering free samples or going to trade shows with lots of key chains and cheap pens counts as part of their marketing strategy. Those in the latter camp might be holding on to every penny with all the strength they have.
The truth is that it is sometimes a good idea to give away something, but the big difference here is in the “what to offer” that will create awareness and increase business. As you know, the two biggest assets you have as an entrepreneur are your time and your knowledge. You want to use both to maximum effect and get paid appropriately for your efforts, but sometimes giving away just a little piece of yourself can be a good thing. Here are a few ways you can use your knowledge to boost business and get the phone ringing:
• Trade Shows: These can be a great way of meeting potential business prospects in your community, but don’t simply go down the tired giveaway route. Be creative in what you offer, and try to come up with a way to tie it into your business. If you give away pens, print an offer on them that consumers have to bring in to your business to redeem. If you hand out key chains, put old keys on them, with one key opening a treasure chest with an item of good value at your location. Don’t just hand out brochures; ask if you can email them and then use the information to build a solid prospect database that you can send information to on a non-spam basis.
• Website Content: Have educational information on your website that will help prospects complete their everyday tasks in a better, faster, or more cost-effective manner. Of course, it should tie into your business in some way, so they will recognize you as a knowledgeable expert and helpful business professional. For larger topics, you might even consider creating a “white paper” or a “100 Ideas” PDF that visitors have to provide an email address to receive.
• Social Media: It’s good to have a social media presence, but use it to provide knowledge, too. If someone asks a question, just answer it – don’t try to make an immediate sale. I offer a lot of information through my social media, from Facebook tips and Twitter chats to live video presentations. Each is packed full of current and useful information, but I still get plenty of clients into my business. Even if they don’t come in as a client, they will often refer their friends to me because of the credibility I have created.
• Seminars and Speaking Engagements: If you have a topic that is of interest to a wide audience, offer to put on a seminar or speak at a local community event about it. This puts you right in front of people who have a need for what you offer. After you’re done, you’ll definitely notice an increase in new business opportunities.
• Consultations: If you make money as a consultant, this might be a hard concept to picture – why should you give your time away when you can charge for it? The reason is that some people just aren’t willing to do business with you until they know exactly what kind of person you are. The consultation doesn’t have to offer your real services – it can be an evaluation of a prospect’s financial situations, a discussion about home buying and selling opportunities or, in my case, an overview of the world of college financial aid. The chief benefit is that it helps determine whether you are a good business fit for each other.
Look at these opportunities as an investment in your business, not as a cost for your business, and you might just find that giving away information in a smart way is the best idea ever!