* * * This article primarily applies to NEW or UNDER PERFORMING locally owned small businesses. The metrics DO change if you’re an online only business, a national business, etc. * * *
I’ve talked about this before, but most small, locally owned “mom and pop” businesses simply can’t afford good marketing help.
And if you’re a marketer twisting a business owner’s arm and convincing them they need your SEO services, Social Media Management system, a useless newspaper print ad or even a fancy website, you’re ruining the industry for the rest of us.
The last thing a struggling business or a business in its infantile stage needs is another bill backed by absolutely nothing, and you’re making the unethical decision to focus on your needs over the needs of the clients you serve.
So what does a new business need? It needs cashflow. That’s it. It doesn’t need Facebook fans, it doesn’t need a beautiful website, it doesn’t need a print ad that no one cares about, it doesn’t need its website optimised if no one is visiting the website, heck, it doesn’t even need a phone number—all it needs is cold, hard CASH.
And if your business is similar to the ones I’ve started over the years, it needs cashflow NOW. I don’t care what the ROI over the next year is, I need cash to pay down my credit cards and next month’s rent! And it’s hard to pay rent with Facebook Likes.
Don’t get me wrong, at some point you’ll probably want a website, a social presence, and maybe even a print ad—but the ego boost of having a visually stunning website doesn’t pay the rent, regardless of what some smooth-talking marketer tells you.
Ask any seasoned entrepreneur, one that’s been in the trenches, and they’ll tell you tales of building businesses without ANY of the “fancy stuff” we have access to today—and a lot of that true grit is what’s missing these days. The true boots in the streets type of work is what builds businesses.
If you’re a local shop, whether it’s a fitness studio, a clothing retailer, an ice cream shop, or a restaurant, and you’re either new, or struggling, what you need to do is hit the road, and hard.
You need to get into the community with MASSIVE action. Not a little action, MASSIVE action.
I’m going to list out 30 “street-level” or “guerrilla marketing” tactics that I’ve personally used and field tested to grow my businesses.
They work, and they take work. As the saying goes, “Don’t ask God to guide your steps if you aren’t willing to move your feet.” I’m going to give you the solution right here, right now, but you need to act on it.
A quick preface…
I’ve learned that nothing goes without saying, so I’m going to flat out say this: your business can’t suck.
If your business sucks and everyone you drive to your business hates the experience and never wants to come back, then even doing all of the things I’m going to talk about will only give you a short term boost . If your business sucks, or a part of your business turns people off, or you’re forcing a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist, or there’s just no market for what you’re selling, you shouldn’t be in business and the market is telling you to close your doors.
Assuming you don’t suck, let’s move on 🙂
Okay, one last thing… once the cash starts flowing, you need to start creating a strategy around your business.
I know, some people might argue that the strategy should come first, but the truth is I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs hide in boardrooms trying to build a strategy and meanwhile rent wasn’t paid and they went under.
Yes, it’s a bit backwards, but if you’re already open for business and bills are coming due, just go out and start making money, and then let’s build a strategy after that.
And in case you’re wondering, YES, you need a strategy.
Without one, activity will fill the void and you’ll end up having to keep priming your business pump and never be able to take a break.
A strategy is what ties everything together in one cohesive, synergistic fashion and builds an empire. Without a strategy, you’ll end up just floundering around until you collapse.
Okay let’s dive in…
30 Guerrilla Marketing Ideas
* Legal Notice: Yes, some of this stuff is illegal in some way. Bylaws vary from city to city, and I’ve had cities call me for putting up a poster on a street pole, or a flyer on a car, and I’ve always been very courteous, pleaded ignorance, apologised profusely, then gone right back at it! Use your own discretion. *
- Coupons on cars: Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. Yes, people hate it. But you know what? It works very well in certain instances and when catered to the right market. Once in a while, I would blanket a mall or store, but typically I found my return was much better when I hit colleges or sporting events. A few tips… Don’t do full fliers. Print them as business cards—it’s the cheapest way to get coupons done on card-stock. This allows you to use one hand to hold the stack, even 200 at a time, and the other to slide under the wiper. Don’t use two hands, it takes too long and time is the key here before security kicks you out. Grab a card, place it against the windshield and wiper at the furthest point from you, and push down and slide it towards you. It’ll pop under the wiper without needing a second hand to lift the wiper. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to power through a 200 car parking lot in 20 minutes. In and out is the key. Also, keep a stack in your vehicle and when you see a local football game going on, pull over and raid the parking lot, nice and quick, and go back to your day. Pro Tip: If it’s not trackable, it’s useless. I used to use specific colored coupons to identify which parking lot I did, so when they came back I knew which pulled.
- Push your business card. Listen, I get it, everyone says business cards are dead. But let’s face it, they’re dead FOR THEM because business owners are too lazy to hustle them out properly. Have you ever given a card to someone and had them reject it? No. If you’re out somewhere, and someone says, “Hey, what do you do for a living,” pull out your card and hand it to them. Will they just throw it in a pile on their desk? Probably. Do you not want to have a piece of your livelihood on their desk? I would. Now here’s the kicker: don’t get fancy. You want a nice professional card that’s cheap enough that you don’t mind giving out 50 to 100 a month. Or even a week. Pro Tip: Go with matte not gloss so you can write on it with a pen. I used to put my office number on my card, and then as I handed it to someone I’d say, “You know what, I don’t normally do this but why don’t you reach me on my cell instead,” and I’d write the cell number on the back. Truth is, I always use the cell number, but by leaving it off the card and going out of my way to give THEM my cell number, they feel special and that deepens their memory of you.
- Attend local trade-shows and actually participate. Have you ever visited a trade-show only to see a vendor sitting behind their little table looking absolutely bored out of their mind? Does that make you feel like walking up and being the one to disrupt such a deep lack of aspiration? Nope. Don’t just be a body at a booth, be active, smile a lot (hey this is your chance to smile at strangers without looking like a creep), and be inviting. And for the love of god, don’t be reading a book or watching animal fail videos on your mobile. Pro Tip: Don’t put your table at the front of your booth, creating a wall with you sitting behind it and the rest of the 10 x 10 square behind you. Instead, put the table at the back of the booth, STAND at the front, or even better, stand completely outside of your booth nearly in the hallway. It puts people at ease and they feel safe entering your booth thinking it’s empty, and once they’re in, strike! Pro Tip 2: Don’t be fooled, there are at LEAST 15 trade-shows or “mini gatherings” where you can have a table per year. Look at your local calendar and you’ll be shocked. I’ve had a table at sporting events, store grand openings, earth day celebrations, New Years Eve, music festivals, family events, farming shows, you name it. This isn’t a school dance, so don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to come out and ask you to dance. Just get out there and DANCE!
- Stand on the side of the road and wave! “Okay Al, now you’re getting ridiculous!” Yeah, ridiculously profitable 😉 Here’s the thing: when it comes to business, I’m willing to do what most won’t do and that’s why I thrive. It’s not about talking, it’s about walking. So here’s how this works. Drive around and identify a dozen or so businesses with prime locations on busy roads, and call the owners. Tell them you’re working on growing your business and you’d like to help promote theirs as well and you want to set up a few people on the sidewalk in front of their business during rush hour to wave at cars and dance around like goofballs. In exchange, people driving by will see their business, and you can even hold some of their signs. This has worked especially well at bars and restaurants. Now, make sure your signage is clear, easy to read and to the point, you don’t want to cause an accident while they’re trying to read your sign. I used to call these “Positive Picket Lines.” Pro Tip: We’ve had the MOST success with this when wearing absolutely ridiculous costumes. I’m talking crazy Halloween outfits, goofy mascots, you name it. Get out there and create buzz. And YES, be ready for a few people to actually pull over and ask for more information.
- Leave coupons where you’re really not supposed to. And by “really not supposed to,” I mean definitely not supposed to. I know, I’m supposed to be running a respectable business consultancy here, but when I was just starting off and struggling I did EVERYTHING I could to grow my business, and that included a few off colour things like this. Remember those coupons in the very first idea, I’d take those and visit a store, like say Chapters, and slide a coupon in a few random books, in a few random sections, then make my way to the next store. Or I’d “forget” a coupon on the corner of a display, or I’d slide a coupon in a couple magazines, or I’d leave a couple randomly in Wal-Mart, or I’d walk the university or colleges and slide a few in the lockers, or, or, or… You get the idea. Of course, you don’t want to abuse this or you can really tick someone off, but when you’re struggling and cash flow is low, you’ve got to be willing to bend over backwards to make your business a success.
- Host a not-for-profit event. By teaming up with local charities, you can piggy-back off their resources and gain massive amounts of free marketing. If you’ve done your research and chosen a charity properly, they’ll have access to printing services for your posters and promo items, access to media that’s out of reach to regular business without forking over big bucks, they’ll have access to promo-tables at shopping centres, schools, and events usually out of reach or very costly to you, etc. Of course, at the end of the day make sure you actually host a kick-butt event and donate to the charity. Pro Tip: Do your research and pick a charity that’s been around long enough to offer the resources you’re after.
- Create a tri-fold flyer or brochure and tell your story. Don’t underestimate the power of a well done leave-behind or take-away. Just make sure your brochure is about the benefits to THEM, and not all about you. Sure, you may have a quick section about you, but 80% of the flyer must talk about what’s in it for them. Pro Tip: If the budget is low, go black and white but print on coloured paper instead. It’s far cheaper than coloured ink, yet stands out more than straight black on white.
- Get your SEO right. Okay, I listen to me: only commit a maximum of an hour a week on this, and never during “prime time”! I run into so many struggling entrepreneurs that spend countless hours tinkering on their website—and during prime business hours—and they’re wasting their day. SEO is important, but being face to face with clients is more important. OR, even better, if you don’t know how to optimize your website for modern SEO, hire someone—it’s worth it. Pro Tip: Gone are the days of slamming your meta tags with keywords. Instead, make sure you pick a focus keyword per page, use that keyword in the title, sub title and first paragraph. Then make sure you add it within media names and descriptions, and repeat for every page and every keyword you want.
- Shake hands with anyone who has hands. When I was growing—and running out of marketing ideas—I’d grab a stack of coupons and hit the beach or shopping centre and walk up to just about everyone, stick out my hand and say, “Here’s a free coupon,” and just try and start a dialogue. Did some shut me down? Absolutely. Did everyone keep talking about me and my business to their friends after I left? Yup. Did it work? Like you wouldn’t believe. So if you’re feeling stuck, hit the streets and just start talking to people. Bring a coupon with you to hand out, and wear your branded apparel so you don’t just look like a creep, and get to work. Pro Tip: If it’s a busy area, look busy, and the moment they grab the coupon move on to the next group before they have a chance to say, “No thanks!”
- Create joint ventures with other businesses. People often overthink this one, so keep it simple. Walk into your local hair salons, fast food joints and confectionery stores and offer to put up their posters in your business if they’ll put up yours in theirs.
- Deliver flyers door to door. “What!? Are you kidding me? I’m a professional, I’m not about to start going door to door like a paper boy!” Well, perhaps, but I’d rather be rich with blisters on my feet than broke cause I never left my shop. When I was 12 years old I was cutting lawns every evening after school, and sunup to sundown on the weekends—and guess how I got every single one of my clients? I put a flyer in their mailbox. When I started my gym, guess how I got my first 300 clients? I put my earbuds in and passed thousands of flyers door to door. I’d keep a map pinned in my office and highlight the streets I’ve done and try and cover the entire city. And here’s the thing—I was a grown man when I did it, and I didn’t care. Successful entrepreneurs do what what others won’t, and I’m willing to do anything to grow. Pro Tip: Yes, you can hire the kid next door to do this, but make sure he knows you’re going to do spot checks at random homes along his route to avoid your flyers being thrown in the trash.
- Kiss the media’s butt. When I was just 18, I had teamed up with a local charity to host an event, and they invited me to one of their kick-offs to put up a table to promote the event I was doing. While there, I went out of my way to shake hands with the two local radio dudes that were covering the event. While there, they did a quick call out to my company live on the radio and gave me a 5 second spot to promote myself. The next day, I sent them two $10 Tim Hortons gift cards and a card saying it was great to meet them and I was happy to see them supporting such a worthy cause. They called me that afternoon and invited me to do an on-air interview. Things just grew from there, and all it cost me was a few gift cards and some effort.
- Create some stickers and stick them around. Yeah, I know, who are those jerks sticking their business stickers all over, how rude. Oops. I did it. I don’t think I’d do it again today as an established business, but when I was growing, absolutely. I’d get a few stickers printed, about business card style, and then go through fast food drive-thrus and stick them on the post they have to keep you from running into the building or menu board. Sure, sometimes they only last a day or two, but sometimes they’d hang around for weeks. Side note: I made sure to get high quality stickers so they wouldn’t tear and leave a mess—they were plastic based and peeled off in one nice piece without leaving anything behind or causing damage.
- Donate to anyone who’ll take your gifts. Every month I’d go through dozens of community calendars, find all the not for profit events, call them up and offer to support the event by donating a door prize of some sort. Granted, for me, donating a membership doesn’t cost anything up front, and having one free body in a class doesn’t break me, so make sure it makes financial sense for you too—or find a way to make it make sense! When the community starts seeing your donations at events all over town, you start to stand out.
- Donate coupons or swag to college and university swag bags. Every school gives out some type of swag bag when new students start a new year, and they’re always looking for more stuff. Call them mid-August and find out what it’ll take to be a part of that bag!
- Pull out the sidewalk chalk. Yes, I’m serious. It’s time to be a kid again and have some fun. Walk around town and write your website on the sidewalk at various busy areas. At the very least, those who see you do it may ask what in the world you’re doing, and that my friend is an opportunity to pitch how awesome your benefits are! Pro Tip: Bring someone who has nice handwriting with you!
- Join the local Christmas Parade and put together a float. This one is loads of fun, and a great opportunity to appear much bigger than you are. Have fun, get creative, and make it a night to remember. Of course, don’t forget to buy thousands of candy canes and tape a coupon to each and every one of them to pass out to the thousands of spectators. And NO, you can’t just give a coupon out, don’t be cheap, give a candy with that coupon!
- Be a billboard. Wear your branded material every chance you get, leave branded pens with your tip at dinner, put logos on your vehicle, and be visible every chance you get.
- Get a flag done and walk around waving it in public places. If you’ve got a busy park, beach, or event, grab that flag and wave it proudly. Pro Tip: Rather than a traditional flag, which is hard to read when flapping around, go for a tensioned flag like a teardrop that keeps it visible at all times.
- Host a free BBQ, ideally somewhere with high visibility. This one works best if you have a reason for the BBQ—such as a charity fundraiser—but can also work for grand openings or customer appreciation days. Have a tent set up, loads of food, people holding signs out and waving, etc. Make it fun, non-salesy, and super friendly/inviting.
- Put out lead boxes around town. This one is easier than most people think! Get a professional to design a beautiful, attractive, and capturing lead box, order about 20 of them and get to work! Walk into various businesses and ask to set up your box on their counter. Surprisingly, many will say yes—but if you really want to leave a good feeling with them offer, to buy them a coffee every week when you come in to maintain the box or even a referral fee from everyone who becomes a paying client from their box. The point is you want to make sure they see some value and benefit from promoting your business.
- Offer scholarships to highschool students. Here’s one many people don’t think about, but is a great way to get into the minds of up and coming graduates and school administration alike. Call up the principal of a local highschool and offer to put together a scholarship. They’ll want to meet with you, discuss their process, your needs, etc. It’s all pretty straightforward and simple. For my fitness studio, the criteria was excellence in sports, and we offered a free year of fitness classes and $500 cash.
- Hand out winter snow brushes to clean cars. This one has to be one of the most random ideas I’ve ever tried, but it was fun regardless. I purchased a bunch of winter snow brushes, attached a little swag bag to each, jumped in my truck on a snowy day and left them on snow covered vehicles parked around town.
- Donate mass coupons to sporting events. Where I’m from, there’s a marathon that happens every year, and they always give every runner a swag bag. This event attracts hundreds of athletes, and every single one of them will receive a little swag bag when they register—and guess what was in that bag? A coupon to my business.
- Be—or get—a sign spinner. This has got to be one of the oldest ideas in the book, but it still works! Grab a sign, or even an arrow, and hit the road. Spin, twirl, throw, and dance around with your sign and you’re sure to capture the attention of the audience driving by.
- Create a valuable piece of content that can truly help your audience and sponsor it. We used to do this every year around January. We’d put together a powerful four page report that outlined tips and tricks to make your New Year’s resolutions stick and at the very back bottom corner there would be a small coupon for our fitness studio. Because this piece of content was actually high quality and DIDN’T talk about my business, many local businesses gladly put it out in their waiting rooms to help their own clientele get more out of life. They key here, of course, is VALUE. This isn’t about you, it’s about them.
- Put posters around town. Ah yes, the dreaded posters! I know you hate them, but when you’re starving, they work. Here’s what I usually do… 1 – I never put them around the intersections, I find this unsafe both as the person putting them up and for the drivers, even though that’s when they’ll read them the most. 2 – I use bright colours that contrast, and limit each poster to a couple words max. People are driving by or looking from quite a distance, so keep it simple, silly. 3 – Pepper them around evenly. don’t hammer every single pole at one end of town. Instead, do a few here, move down a block, a few here, move down, a few here, etc. 4 – If you notice your poster is falling or ripped, pull over and take it down. Let’s do our part in limiting the pollution factor. 5 – If this really bugs you, go to your bylaw department, get a permit (usually free), spend the money to buy the coroplast signs and attach them securely. This is more expensive, takes more time, and needs to be put up and removed properly, but hey it’s within the rules 😉 Pro Tip: I almost always put my signs up in the very early hours of the morning before the traffic picked up. There’s no sense risking getting hit by a car just to put up a poster. Instead, get up at 4 in the morning and do it safely. Pro Tip 2: Match the posters with occasions, such as back to school.
- Give clients paraphernalia to hand out or sport themselves. If you’ve built a brag worthy business, give your fans the tools they need to spread the word for you. Our most successful marketing paraphernalia has been apparel, licence plate trims and 8″ bumper stickers. You’d be amazed at how many people would love to sport your brand—especially if it says something about who they are!
- Get into the school system. With our fitness studio, we created these safe trick-or-treating tip cards (about the size of a cue card) and gave packs of 30 to each teacher to hand to their students. The safety tips were fantastic, and we had our logo on the back. Win-win. Around Valentine’s, we did the same. Christmas, you bet. Summer, of course. You get the point. They key is VALUE. If it’s nothing but a puff-piece, they won’t want it. If it’s genuinely valuable, they’ll “look over” your logo.
- Pay for the coffee behind you in the drive-thru. When you’re bumper to bumper in the coffee drive-thru, the person behind you will surely see your car decal—but there is very little emotion behind it, so once you drive away they won’t remember you at all. But if you pay for their coffee, you’ve just generated emotion, and that’ll make your logo stick in their minds—and they’ll probably tell people that day as well.
Boy, that’s quite a list! Are you going to do them all? Maybe not, but here’s the point: you need to get busy MARKETING. Assuming your product or service doesn’t stink, if you’ve got low sales that’s a marketing problem, and one that’s easily solvable.
I challenge you to pick 2 things out of this list each week, or even each day, and do them. Try it, and I guarantee things will change for you.
Of course, once you’ve got some cash flowing, it’s time to get serious. This list is great to get you going, to get you out of a jam, or just to generate some great traffic almost instantly and for very little cost, but it’s not a great long term strategy.
Once cash is flowing, it’s time to design and build your strategy and start carving out your empire. There are countless businesses that are nothing more than wandering generalities, but you deserve to be a meaningful specific.
If all you do is rely on the marketing tricks listed above, you’ll only ever be as good as the sand in your pocket. But once you run out of sand, you’re done.
Now get out there and back your ideas, dreams, and vision with ACTION.
To your success,
PS – One last thing about tactical marketing VS strategic marketing… Think of it this way, as long as you’re bouncing from tactic to tactic, you’re stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. You’ve got to stop chasing the pennies and start planning for the dollars. Let’s connect and build that strategy.
PPS – If you know someone who’s struggling in their business or just needs a boost of marketing ideas, be a friend and share this with them.
CEO RYS Group
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