Effective PR for a Small Business on a Budget:

If yours is like most small businesses, you can't afford the luxury of a PR department, much less a dedicated PR agency or even one employee responsible for external communications and PR.  However, this business function is critical as the world of communications continues to expand with new applications, demands and opportunities like social media networks. The thought of a concerted PR strategy and execution can be overwhelming for a small business owner, but it doesn't have to be. There are two primary elements of PR for a small business to engage upon – leveraging online and local offline outlets. The old world of face-to-face will continue to be critical in building your PR strategy and overall business, but let's face it – the environment has changed, and you simply can't ignore the power of the Web, particularly social networks. Proactively getting your business out in the community while leveraging the Web will ensure the success of your PR strategy. And, these tactics are not expensive; in fact, many present opportunities for free PR for your small business.

These PR strategy tips are designed for those small businesses that simply don't have budget allocated toward hiring and retaining a communications expert. If you are a smaller company, hopefully you can take a few tips below to integrate PR into your small business to help build a brand and generate leads. Utilizing informative, valuable PR about your small business gives you the opportunity to influence people and lead them to your destination – your website, your store, your offering. Take advantage of what's out there! Get online and get local – it's that simple.

Growing Your PR Strategy

Grow Online
If you don't have a website, you need to get one immediately. Today, you can get a starter site for free or within your communications packages from your voice and data provider.   If it's in the package, then it's a no-brainer. If you have a website, then make sure it's dynamic (video, blogs, and communities) to ensure your target audience comes back and builds a relationship with you and your brand. It's a requirement in today's online world; the days of stagnant sites are over. Then, once you have your interactive site, make sure you optimize your website and everything you say about your business online to ensure your potential customers are finding you online when they search. This is a key part of your online PR strategy. Don't you search Google or Bing to find what you need a pinch? It's called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and it can be an affordable way to create additional PR for your small business — and it's often found in your communications and IT packages.  At the very least, getting a URL allows you to be FOUND online and that's key.  Google now provides maps when visitors are looking for a specific service in a specific area. By simply having an Internet address – you can be found online looking professional with a map to your location and link to your business, which is pretty cool.

The Wild World of Social Media
You have probably heard about "social media" and you may already be taking part. For many, however, the world of Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, blogs, vlogs and status updates may be a bit unsettling. Suffice it to say – these are powerful tools to help you carry out your PR strategy, especially when used properly to connect, communicate and yes, to sell.

As a small business, you can't afford NOT to take part. It's easy and affordable, so don't waste anymore time. Of course, you do need to understand how best to engage before you jump in.  Here are a few quick ways to start creating more PR for your small business:

1 – Create a Twitter profile (www.Twitter.com) and gain followers by "Tweeting" about your business, surrounding businesses and community topics that map back to your business. Build buzz about what you provide – can you Tweet special coupons? Can you give advice? Can you share relevant information to your community? Do you have an event you want to invite local prospects to? Twitter, an emerging PR strategy with an increasing audience, is a great way to quickly (140 characters or less) get a message out and position yourself as a leader. Remember, it's not all about you; you must talk about the world around you to make an impact. Start off Tweeting about your business, but quickly begin integrating Tweets about your customers, your community, and your industry – and the most important part is to provide some kind of value or benefit in your tweets. Be respectable as well. And if you see someone comment about your business online (good or bad) – respond online for all to see. It's a great way to show you are committed to your customers. The cost to you?  It's essentially free PR for your small business.

2 – Create free profiles on Linked In and Facebook. All you need for Linked In is a profile of you, and from there, you can create a group where you can share stories, news, and other PR about your small business. People can ping you for questions which positions you as an expert and, you can join interest groups that will help you track what other potential buyers in your community do, say and think. For Facebook, simply select "business" on the homepage to create a business "fan" page. Local residents, family and friends can then become "fans" of your company, which is an easy way to highlight the most recent PR about your small business. All you have to do is commit to posting news, updates, coupons, photos and other interactive content to get people engaged. Remember – provide a benefit – a reason for your "fans" to come back for more.

In addition to these PR strategy tips, there are local meet-up groups in every community that often originate from the Web, and then meet offline to have a real interactive discussion. Check out Meetup.com in your area to find one.

Confused about this new world of social media? Read Groundswell by two Forrester Research analysts, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. This book will set you straight and get you excited about the opportunities out there in terms of online PR for your small business.

Grow Local
Much like how consumers like to buy from locally grown farms, small businesses tend to buy from their peers – other small businesses. An effective PR strategy is all about supporting your local communities, and these days, that's more important than ever. Keeping this in mind, focus on your community by generating PR for your small business at local events. Depending on your business, there are often specialty groups for different types of businesses such as professional service specialty groups. Often these groups gather monthly or quarterly to share best practices and to network. There are certainly general small business groups in your community such as your local Chamber that meet regularly as well. Beyond networking events, you can get ink for your business. Most Chambers have monthly newsletters or emails. Do you have something to say? Could you contribute twice a year with a special promotion to drive people to your business? Take advantage of these opportunities to fuel word-of-mouth marketing through PR for your small business. Hand out business cards, build relationships and follow-up. These opportunities are right outside your door.

Think grassroots
Shake hands with other small businesses owners, refer each other and grow your business. To improve PR for your small business, think about what events are taking place this weekend where you could set up space, hand out collateral, serve up some hotdogs, and generate solid leads. Is there an art show or "Taste Of" type of event? Don't take it all on yourself; partner with other local businesses right in your area to split costs and cross-sell to each other's customers. A hand-shake goes a long way towards an effective PR strategy. Add a coupon and see the results. Most communities have annual events that bring hundreds/thousands of people – target those. In terms of PR for a small business, the best thing you can do is to connect directly to your audience by showing your personality and your value – get out there!

Leverage Local Media
Another important element of your PR strategy involves local brand development, which means building relationships with local media. Yes, there is still benefit in reaching out to traditional media when it comes to PR for your small business. Take a moment to find out who your local reporters are and introduce yourself. Share with your new media contacts areas of expertise that you would be able to discuss if requested. If you create a relationship with your local media and have something compelling or contrarian to say, chances are they will call you when they need your input. Consider a quick email to your local reporters with an introduction, a quick reference of your expertise and what you could comment on. Being timely and relevant is critical to your PR strategy. Offer a cup of coffee. Those relationships can go a long way when you really want to make noise in the community. It's important to know that if you want coverage and/or additional PR for your small business – you won't get it with a cold pitch. You must: 1) – establish a relationship; 2) – have news to share that's relevant, unique or at least different; and 3) – have a product/or service that is remarkable. These rules ring true for influential bloggers as well.  For more on being remarkable, read Seth Godin's Purple Cow – a great, quick read that will get you thinking about how to stand out from the rest to grow your business.

Blending Old and New: Building PR for a Small Business

Hopefully these PR strategy tips will help you build a brand for your small business and generate new and recurring business via PR. Communicating to customers and enabling them to communicate back to you is essential in today's social world of meia. However, what remains important today as it did 100 years ago is the face-to-face interaction. Nothing will replace it, so make sure you show your face and personality in the community. Coupling the old with the new will ensure a successful PR strategy for your small business. 

Written By Shana Keith

For more about PR and other Interactive marketing strategies, contact InterCoastal Net Designs today – a North Carolina marketing company.

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