Small-business Advice: The Best Advertising You Can’t Buy

One of the hardest things for a small business can be just getting noticed. Giant corporations like Coca-Cola, Apple and Nike can spend millions of dollars advertising on the Super Bowl to a worldwide audience while you struggle to let people in your immediate community know about your products and services.

Hopefully, you have at least a small budget for some targeted advertising—perhaps via direct mail, online methods like Google AdWords or respected community newspapers.

But even if you’re trying to get noticed on a shoestring marketing budget, there’s one kind of advertising that won’t cost a penny but is worth its weight in gold.

We’re talking about word-of-mouth advertising—the kind of exposure you get when a customer has such a good experience with your products or services that [he or] she rushes right out to tell [his or] her friends, both in real life and in online social networks like TwitterFacebook and MySpace.

It’s hard to quantify and track word-of-mouth advertising. You can just look at clickthrough or response rates, although you can try to find out if new customers heard about you “from a friend.”

Meanwhile, business blogger Alan Yu points out that the best way to generate word-of-mouth buzz is simply to deliver excellent customer service and superior results.

Yu also notes that many of your customers and […] friends may assume that your business is doing fine and doesn’t need any extra help. Be sure to encourage people to spread the word if they like what you have to offer. Maybe you could even offer them some sort of discount or bonus if they refer a new customer.

Have you had success with word-of-mouth advertising? Or have you struggled to generate conversational buzz?

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