When bootstrapping a new business, a wise entrepreneur should weigh the value of every decision.
I found that for certain service businesses that thrive on local support, it can be helpful to advertise as locally and as cheaply as possible.
If you have virtually no budget, creating a website and business cards should be your first two “front-end” steps for starting a new business.
Having a website enables you to have some sort of “storefront” or business identity, and provides basic information to potential customers. It can also help put you on the map, literally. After deciding on and purchasing a domain name, I recommend Vista Print the most for creating attractive, decent quality business cards. They run pretty cheap, as long as you search for a coupon code.
Domain name registration runs about $10 per year, and site hosting could be $7 per month if you can only pay monthly, or $3-$4 per month if you can pay for a year or more up front. I am totally in love with JustHost for both buying domain names (websites; the words between the www. and the .com) and hosting them (keeping them online for the world to see). Business cards can range from free to hundreds of dollars, but for starting up your business, plan to just get 250 cards and spend $10-$25, which includes shipping. Make sure your business is even viable and set up the way you want before you start spending money, only to trash your cards or pick a new business name or domain name.
Once you have your business cards, sure, you can hand them out to your family, friends, people you meet, or anyone who will take one, but an easy way to get customers is to simply post your cards on local bulletin boards or other places cards are allowed.
Cheap or Free Places to Advertise or find bulletin boards:
- Online: Craigslist
- Online: similar local websites like Penny-Saver, local newspapers, local chamber of commerce website
- Public libraries
- Churches/places of worship
- Co-ops of any type
- Health food stores
- Doctor, dentist, chiropractor, and vet offices
- Coffee shops
- Chambers of commerce (even if you’re not a member)
- Locally-owned grocery stores
- Anywhere hippies, activists, homesteaders, locavores, or other new-age, progressive-type people congregate
More Tips for business cards:
- Don’t scatter them all over town from a plane or otherwise. That is littering and no one wants to touch dirty pieces of paper.
- If you hand them out to family or friends, give them two or three cards, and choose an ideal time when they are not in a rush and shoving your card into their pocket or oblivion. Perhaps go to their house, mention your new card, and stick a few on the fridge or whiteboard.
- When you meet people out while socializing, instead of fumbling around trying to exchange names and numbers, simply hand them two cards to keep and tell them to text you. Now. That way they will have your cards, have your number saved, and be making contact.
- Young Professionals, Rotary Club, Toastmasters, and places you volunteer at are all good places to hand out your card.
- Don’t print your own cards – they look ripped or cut unevenly, and the printing is often not straight or even.
- Sometimes flyers are effective ways of advertising a special or an event. These are usually simpler, so it may be OK to print these yourself, but if you cut them, make sure to use a paper-cutter! Go to a library, school you have access to, or office supply store that will allow you to use their paper-cutter.
- Throw out stained or wrinkled cards, or cards that are in any way not perfect.
- Carry thumb tacks, tape, and a staple gun if you have one for posting your business cards on bulletin boards
- If a board is empty and doesn’t have cards on it, maybe it’s because there are no tacks! Leave 5-10 extra tacks for other people. That way, you might be the one who starts making that board a popular spot!
- I always post four cards. That way, when I come back to visit the bulletin board, I know how many people took.
- Make a chart of known local bulletin boards (or places to leave a small stack of cards). Pick a morning and start making the rounds. Mark the date and location of each place you left your cards. It’s great to have a record, and know where to go back and target a few months from now, and have a reference for how fast your cards got taken.
- Bulletin board etiquette: It is OK to move other people’s giant floppy flyers or misaligned business cards as long as you move them to an equally beneficial spot. It’s not nice or ethical to move them to a crappier spot like really high or really low or where they are going to get rained on or covered up.
- If someone uses six tacks to put up a 1/4 page flyer, it is OK to borrow one. It helps them not look ridiculous.
- If you are in doubt about leaving a small stack of cards somewhere, or the board is covered by glass, or says “events only” just ask someone in the store if you can put your cards up, or if they can do it for you. Most local businesses are happy to help other business owners.
- If you are still in doubt or there is no one to ask, just go for it! No one is going to hate you or reprimand you for trying to make an honest living by promoting your business.
- Use your Feng-Shui skills and pick an eye-catching spot for your card. If you are really tall or really short, imagine eye-level for average people. Unless your business targets really tall or really short/wheelchair-using people.
- If your business card is blue, don’t put it next to three other blue cards. Likewise, if it is minimalist and professional, or very ornate with a photo, put it near other cards that look different.
- Consider buying a few business card holders for places where you can just leave your card. I have had good luck making sure I keep track of where I left them, ensuring that they stay full, and putting a return address label on the bottom and inside so they don’t get “borrowed”.
- Skip the business card magnets unless you have a big budget. They rock, but getting nice ones that don’t look like hell is very expensive.
- Always carry clean, nice cards! Put them in your home, in your wallet, in a business card case, in your bra when you go jogging (unless you sweat a lot), behind your cellphone case, hidden in your desk if you still work for The Man, in your mother’s purse, everywhere. The worst is when someone asks for your card and you don’t have one! Ahh, lost business opportunity. Don’t let it happen to you.
Now, I hope this is obvious, but there are many businesses that really lend themselves to posting business cards, such as trades like plumbing or electrical work, equipment rental businesses, horseback riding, golf, tennis, or dance lessons, natural health care businesses, artists, photographers, baby sitters, pet sitters, etc.
There are other businesses that really aren’t going to do as well. For example, most people aren’t going to hire a corporate attorney out of the Penny Saver. Divorce lawyer or child support lawyer, maybe. You may or may not want to find a reconstructive surgeon from the bulletin board at your local dive bar. Use discretion. ; )