15 Top Tips For Cost-Effective Small-Biz Marketing

Every business, large or small, needs collateral such as brochures, flyers, newsletters, business cards, presentations etc. Using IT to design and print your own material can be cheaper and more efficient than using expensive agencies and print shops. This will make your marketing budget go further and help you be more responsive to the market.

1. Choose a high-quality printer

The quality of printing has improved tremendously in recent years to the extent that even a small firm can afford to own a professional quality printer.

2. Design your own marketing materials

The latest printing technology lets you print high-quality brochures, flyers, posters and business cards in-house. Templates, clip art and easy-to-use software allow almost anyone to design professional-looking marketing material.

3. Reduce waste

Third-party printing companies often have minimum order sizes that leave you with boxes full of surplus literature. Products such as brochures and visiting cards need to be updated every year leading to even more waste. If you can print your material in the office as you need it, you can avoid all this waste. This is good for the balance sheet and good for the environment.

4. Design for everyone

Modern desktop publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher allows anyone with average IT skills to layout and produce brochures, reports, newsletters and all kinds of stationery. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can use Publisher – it’s that easy. Keeping the design in-house also lets you make changes when you need to. You can even customize the collateral for different customers.

5. Getting creative

The internet makes it easier to get cost-effective help for more complicated tasks such as logo design. Once you have a great-looking logo and basic document templates, anyone in your company can produce up-to-date marketing material with a consistent look and feel.

6. Consistency

When making your own marketing collateral, it is important to remember that your brand must be presented consistently across all material. Using varying colours, fonts or sizes can make your company look unprofessional or unreliable. One solution is to have a concise branding guide that details how the brand should be presented in any situation.

7. Go big screen

Switching to a bigger screen or adding a second one can dramatically improve your productivity, according to usability guru Jakob Nielsen. For example, you can review artwork on one screen and write feedback on the other. If your desktop computer only has one video connector, consider adding a discrete graphics card with multiple ports. Most notebook PCs will now extend their display over two screens. With Microsoft Windows 7, try using the Windows key and the left and right arrow keys to arrange windows side by side. It’s surprisingly efficient.

8. Polish your presentations

Marketing agencies spend a lot of time making pitches and presentations. Try to avoid long lists of bullets and reading text from the screen. (For more tips, see 10 simple rules for awesome presentations.) It also helps if you can get your PC hooked up to a projector without fumbling too much. Look for notebooks that have quick launch buttons to configure multiple displays and consider getting notebooks with extended battery life so you don’t run out of juice mid-speech. A neat way to make presentations more responsive is to use hidden action buttons in PowerPoint so you can navigate from slide to slide and section to section by clicking on the screen.

9. Improve the quality of your copy

Use automated tools to assess the readability of your copy. For example, Microsoft Word gives readability statistics when you run a grammar check (but you need to enable it in the options). You can also use web-based tools.

10. Increase concentration

Creativity is the heart of marketing and it starts when you shut out distractions and focus on the task in hand. Consider using a distraction free word processor.

11. Get free training

The Learning Initiative For Entrepreneurs has a large library of free online courses and is a site where you can develop your business and IT skills.

12. Share files and collaborate

Once you start working with colleagues, clients and subcontractors, collaboration and project management become essential. Here are some things that can help: web conferencing and screen sharing, video conferencing on Skype with your notebook’s built-in webcam, sharing files online using Basecamp or Microsoft Online Services, and online proofing tools like ProofHQ.

13. Rapid prototyping

Check out MakerBot. It’s an affordable 3D printer for building ABS plastic prototypes of anything you can design on a PC. (Even if you can’t use it in your business, it’ll make a perfect geek birthday present.) You can use technology to prototype other things, such as websites more efficiently.

14. Better, cheap stock photography

Good photography makes the difference between ‘me-too’ and ‘look at me’. However, stock photos from traditional libraries can be fiercely expensive, especially if you can’t get a buy-out and need to pay renewable licence fees. Don’t overlook the plentiful supply of public domain images and crowdsourced low-cost online libraries such as iStockPhoto.

15. Get free advice

If you have a question about how to get the most from your technology you can ask HP experts directly using the Business Answers IT Agony Aunt. It’s free, confidential and run by humans.

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Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.