This post includes affiliate links. If you click through one of my links and buy something, I might earn enough to buy myself a semi-decent bottle of wine. Thanks!
Let’s be real. When you are launching or growing a small business, money can be tiiiiiiiight. Most new entrepreneurs can’t afford to hire a branding firm to help them build brand recognition.
If you’ve got the funds, it’s a great idea to invest in a professional logo, but a logo is not going to do all the work for you.
You need to get your brand out there.
Good news! It’s easier than ever to build brand recognition from the comfort of your own home.
I’ve compiled a monster list of low-cost strategies that will help you reach your ideal customers.I created this list with small food and craft businesses in mind, but a lot of the tips are universal.
Even though this article is directed at craft food entrepreneurs, many other small businesses can use these tactics.
Here we go..
Share Recipes to Promote Your Product
Sharing recipes on your site is one of the best ways to drive organic traffic. It can also help to give some context to your brand. Develop recipes that use your product and share them on all of your social media channels.
Photography is important; you can do a lot with a smartphone, but a DSLR with a food friendly lens is better. If you are a total newbie to food photography, consider this ebook. It could help you get up to speed quickly.
Create Meal Plans That Include Your Product
Many people struggle with meal planning. This is why companies like Blue Apron are so popular. You can get in on the action by creating meal plans and grocery shopping lists for busy people. Be sure to include your products in the mix and design your meal plans to include your branding (colors and logos). Give them away for free, but make people join your mailing list to get them.
Create a Challenge Related to Your Product
Encourage your audience to participate in a challenge. It could center around anything related to your business. I’ve seen 30-day smoothie challenges, 12-week baking challenges, kitchen clean up challenges. Find something fun that could improve the quality of your customers’ lives.
Create a downloadable challenge guide with information on how to participate. Create a hashtag that participants can share. Offer a prize at the end.
Create Cheat Sheets that Relate to Your Product
If meal plans or challenges are too intensive. Consider creating a downloadable cheat sheet for your clients. It could be a measurement conversion chart or some great cocktail recipes. It should be informative, useful and aligned with your brand.
Make sure people have to join your mailing list to get it.
Create a Facebook Group for Your Ideal Customers
Creating a facebook group is a fantastic way to expand your reach and get insight into what your customers want. You can host a group on any topic related to your brand. For example, if you specialize in gluten-free baking; create a gluten-free lifestyle group.
Moderating a facebook group can take some time, but it has immense value when it comes to getting feedback from your target market.
Create an Affiliate Program
If your product is good, you probably have some loyal customers. You can reward them for spreading the word about your product by creating an affiliate program. Once your affiliate program is created, you can recruit influencers in your industry to promote your product in exchange for a commission.
A great book on the topic is Affiliate Program Management in an Hour A Day.
Send handwritten thank you cards with an affiliate discount code
Hand written cards are a thoughtful touch. When someone places a big order, send them a card with a one time discount code for them and one for a friend. This will encourage them to tell a friend about your product and service.
Do a live Q&A or product demo on Facebook
Facebook video is the hot topic in online marketing right now. You can record a live video on your phone from your Facebook business page. You could do a demonstration of your product or show a quick recipe. You could also do a Q&A session about a topic that you are knowledgeable. Make sure the topic aligns with your brand. Have another friend on hand record while you answer questions.
Create a Recipe Video
You have probably noticed all the overhead food videos on Facebook right now. They are super popular. All you need is a smartphone and some basic video editing software to make your own video. If recipes don’t make sense for your brand, consider a video showcasing a tip or lifehack. Make sure you brand your video by watermarking it or adding your URL to the credits.
Invest Time on Pinterest
Pinterest is the number one source of traffic for my food blog. It brings me tens of thousands of pageviews a month. Don’t think of Pinterest as social media platform, think of it as a powerful search engine. If you put in the work and develop a Pinterest strategy, you will see increased website traffic.
Once you’ve developed some pinnable graphics, you can use scheduling software to manage your Pinterest schedule. I recommend Tailwind or Boardbooster.
Send your Products to Local Instagram Users and Bloggers
Search instagram for local food folks. Offer to send them a freebie in exchange for feedback on the product. I don’t recommend asking them to share about it on social media unless you want to pay them, but if they love the product and you have a nice looking product you might get some love. If you have an affiliate program, you can also tell them about it and ask them to join.
Do a Pop-up Shop or Demo Inside a Complimentary Business
Find a like-minded retailer to collaborate with and create a pop-up event. This can introduce your brand to their regulars and bring your clients into their shop. Clothing stores and gift shops are a good match because the don’t typically have a lot of food items on hand. Be sure to negotiate a profit sharing agreement with your host before the event. Bring a sign-up sheet to collect email addresses.
Write an eBook
Create a digital cookbook or informational guide that can be published as an ebook. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should include practical information and feature a professional design. A well-crafted ebook can help position you as a leader and an expert. Even if your business is making jam, you can be the go-to expert on jam making.
You can give the book away for free when people sign up for your email list or you can sell it online using Amazon or another online sales platform.
You can also give the ebook away as a bonus when people purchase your product.
Create a Company Hashtag
Find something catchy and encourage your clients to use it when they post about your brand. Put the hashtag in your instagram bio. One word of warning, sometimes people like to troll hashtags and post rude stuff. Be sure to check your hashtags frequently and report any inappropriate content.
Run an Instagram Contest
Take things a step further by encouraging your customers to take creative pictures of your product with a contest hashtag. Offer a prize for your favorite photo.
Use Popular Hashtags
Learning how to use tags properly on instagram is super, duper important. If you want to reach a specific audience, you need to know which tags they are viewing. Check out successful accounts in your category and make a note of the tags they are using. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, use as many as you can. If your business is primarily local, be sure to find tags relevent to your geographic area.
Interview Influencers in your Industry
Conduct interviews with people who are popular with your ideal clients. Post the interviews on your blog and share them liberally on social media. This will bring in an audience of their loyal fans. If the interviewee has a personality and style that is aligned with your brand, you will gain some high-quality exposure.
Keep your website looking fresh by creating new blog content on a regular basis. The more content you create, the more you have to share on social media. More shares = more exposure. It is also good for your site ranking on Google. Develop a content schedule and stick to it.
Host a Twitter Chat
Contrary to popular belief, twitter is not dead. Hosting a twitter chat is a great way to engage with your audience and build a following. Buffer, the social media scheduling app, has a great blog post on how to host your own chat. Check it out here: https://blog.bufferapp.com/twitter-chat-101
Find like-minded, non-competitive businesses and help promote each other on social media
Create a social sharing group with like-minded business owners and agree to cross promote. Approach companies that have a similar reach and client base, but offer a different type of product. Whenever you write a new blog post, host a sale or release a new item, ask them to share it. Be sure to reciprocate.
Develop a Course
Create an course to teach your clients about a subject related to your product. You can deliver the course as part of an email series using a service such as Convertkit or create training videos that you host online. If the course is valuable, you can even charge money for it.
For example, if you are a professional cake decorator, you can create a cake decorating course for beginners.
If your customers are primarily local, you can host workshops or in-person courses.
Engage Authentically on Social Media
Don’t be a robot on social media. Take the time to leave authentic comments and engage with your ideal clients. This behaviour is acknowledge by the algorithms. If you like, follow and comment on the right demographic, you will show up more frequently in their feeds. Be generous with your compliments, but only if you really mean it.
Learn the basics of SEO
If you want your website to rank highly in Google, you brush up on your SEO practices. It can be a very overwhelming topic, but there are some simple things you can do to get started. Check out this guide by Kissmetrics for a primer. https://blog.kissmetrics.com/seo-guide/
It is by no means comprehensive, but it will get you going if you are an absolute beginner.
Create a High-Converting Start Here Page
Instead of a standard “About” page, create a “Start Here” page on your site. It’s a good way to direct your clients towards the most important information on your site. A “Start Here” page can include some brief bio information as well as links to the content you most want to feature. This article from Problogger.com has some great advice on setting up a high-converting page:
Create a Podcast or Youtube Series
Are you a talker? If you have something engaging to say, consider creating a podcast or youtube series on a topic related to your brand. You can do it solo or with a co-host. You can do interviews, give advice, tell stories. Use it as a platform to talk about what is important to you and strengthen your brand identity.
If you are wondering when you will have time to develop all this content while running a business, don’t be scared. You can repurpose your content and use it on different platforms. You can take a chapter from your ebook and turn it into a blog post. You can create a recipe and then turn it into a video tutorial later. Don’t be afraid to recycle ideas as long as they are ones that are relevant to your brand.
Share Multiple Times on Social Media
Many people make the mistake of sharing their content once before letting it collect dust. Put that existing content to work by sharing and resharing, over and over again. Just be sure to space it out and share other people’s content in between. If you want to get geeky about it, create a spreadsheet of your best content and put it on repeat. Check out this EXTENSIVE tutorial on recycling your content. http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-automatically-reshare-your-social-media-updates-using-free-tools/
Gussy up Your Email Signature
It’s a simple thing, but one that is often overlooked. Include some basic business information in your email signature. Link to your key social media accounts and a your website or a recent blog post.
Join a Facebook Group with other Food Entrepreneurs
Do you belong to any facebook groups for entrepreneurs? You can find a wide range of groups where people share information on what is working (or not working) in their businesses. You can bounce ideas off of each other or collaborate on promotions.
CREATE A STYLE GUIDE
Creating a consistent image is crucial to developing brand recognition. If you can invest in a graphic designer to get you started, you should. A good designer can develop a strategy and guidelines for you to follow. These guidelines include elements such as brand colors, symbols and icons, photography and typography.
If you can’t hire a designer, you should invest in learning the basics of design and branding. I firmly believe that anyone can create simple, effective graphics for their social media marketing materials.
A strong visual identity is a key factor to success when executing any of the marketing tips I’ve listed in this article.
Building a brand takes time, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Take some time to figure out which methods make sense for your brand and get to work.