8 Ways to Guerrilla Market Your Company — On a Dime

With Big Box stores, online shopping, and a changing demographic, the race is on for local businesses to ensure relevance in their communities. But how do you get your company name out there and to the potential customer? One thing is certain – putting thousands into traditional marketing can feel exactly like throwing cash into a dumpster fire.

Enter guerrilla marketing, or marketing in unusual, and often, cheap ways. It can be anything from putting yourself out there as a media expert on disaster relief to painting your delivery trucks in ways that will start a conversation in the community (we’ll get to that).

We asked business owners and marketing experts about different ways to market, often on a dime. Whether it’s sending dog owners dog bones or having a party with a big pink chair, there are myriad ways to promote your company in surprising, inexpensive ways. Here are eight of them:

1. Unexpected acts of kindness.
Gene Caballero, co-founder of YourGreenPal.com, says unexpected acts of kindness are a great way to put your company forward. He says his company sends homeowners with pets dog bones with a thank you card. “Not only is this very cheap, but it lets our customers know that we are listening and that we care. We follow up with an email asking if they received the gift along with a link to our Yelp page. This simple act has gotten us press, word of mouth, and even a mention on the radio,” he says.

2. Paint a truck; start a conversation.
Wes Welch’s mother, a two-time breast cancer survivor, was the inspiration for his first plan to create art on one of his propane delivery trucks. Welch, who owns Welch Gas in northeast Texas with his wife, April, commissioned in 2010 the painting of one of his trucks in all manner of pink to honor the breast cancer cause.

The result was unexpected. “It definitely comes up in conversation, especially with women. I’ll talk to three people from three different families and one of them is affected.” The Welches were inspired. Five years later they commissioned the wrapping of another truck, this time in honor of the military. Wes is an Army veteran; April served in the Army and the Navy.

“The military affects everyone. The truck would be at a commercial account, workers would come out and pose with it. Everyone who is a veteran can relate because all five branches are on it,” including the Coast Guard, Wes Welch says. The couple is planning a third design for 2018, likely honoring first responders.

The painting or wrapping of each truck can run about $2500 to $5000, he says, noting that the cost also depends on what part of the country you are in. While not on a dime, this is an excellent way to make your company part of your community’s conversation in the long term.

3. You know what they say about pictures.
Words, words, words. Enough, already. Remember what 1000 words are worth. Instead, think visually, marketing experts advise.

Gregory Golinski suggests infographics as a great way to market your small business. A digital marketing executive for the U.K.’s Your Parking Space, he says: “The human brain processes images much faster than words, and infographics are easier to read and understand than articles. They’re eye-catching, and people love to share them on social media channels. Designing an interesting, professional infographic is a great way to spread the word about your business, and it helps your brand gain more authority.”

You can also create infographics yourself at http://bit.ly/2cXKmS1 free of charge. It’s a program that only takes about 15 to 30 minutes to master on your own. There are free templates and images, or for as little as $1 each, you can buy more robust images and templates. There are holiday themes, a variety of rule lines and designs, and an endless color palette. You can also create social media image posts and memes with this program.

Andrew Chwalik is a strong proponent of video. An Ohio-based video marketer, he suggests that viewers are no longer concerned about production quality. “They want to see the real side of businesses,” he says. “Forget about 4K video and scripted text overlay. Start publishing videos that tell the story of your company and how you’re making a difference with your offerings. All it takes is a cellphone. Once you’ve created a few videos, start sharing them on social media. Facebook offers a great ad program that rewards video content above traditional text and image posts. Drop a few dollars to boost your video post and watch your audience interact like never before!”

4. Social media is your friend.
“Propane providers should look to promote their business by talking about the things people can do with propane,” says Mark Wilcox, of FastLightWeb.com.

“For example, start a Facebook page about cooking with propane grills. You don’t even have to come up with your own content. Instead, find the most popular tips, tricks, and memes about cooking with propane and re-share that. Post up to three times a day. And then once a day post a link to promote your store or service company.

“Use the native Facebook scheduling tool so that you can schedule publishing content once a week instead of having to add more work to your busy day, and use a small budget of around $5 a day to build up authentic likes by targeting people in your area,” Wilcox says.

5. Yes, you’re an expert.
Turn on the tube and it seems like everyone is an expert, right? The truth is, you are, too. Whether it’s advice in emergency situations like hurricanes Harvey and Irma, or it’s tips on a successful backyard party, you can offer authentic, sincere wisdom to the consumer.

One easy and cheap way to put yourself out there as an expert is to sign up for HelpAReporter.com (HARO). You can get a list of queries from reporters up to three times a day, then you pick and choose which you feel qualified to answer. Topics range from business and general articles to lifestyles and tech. If a reporter accepts your response, you get free press.

Another way to put yourself out there as an expert is by writing blog posts, says Paul Koger, founder of FoxyTrades.com. “Write guest posts for niche-related websites that have the audience you are looking to target,” Koger says. “You probably have industry-related knowledge that could be turned into how-to or descriptive/introductory guides.” He says that it helps to offer the idea for the post, and to put real effort into the piece.

Posts can be short, about 300 to 500 words, and it’s useful to write them in the form of a list or quick tip, such as, “The secret way to give your backyard burgers that hint of mesquite — on a propane grill,” or “Three surprising reasons why you absolutely should have a propane mower.”

6. Talk over the fence.
Another way to get your name out there is through NextDoor, a portal for neighbors to share news, tips, and alerts. While you aren’t supposed to blatantly market yourself on NextDoor (which you shouldn’t do anyway), you can monitor your area’s communities, and if there is a request for referrals or advice, it is appropriate to explain how your company can help. You can also join the conversation as a neighbor and offer advice that is relevant.

7. The big pink chair.
Matt Pfeiffer, owner of Northern Flooring and Interiors in Michigan, turned burnout from brutally long work days to a rewarding, fun vehicle for directing customers to his business. Pfeiffer’s secret weapon? Charity.

The president of his local Chamber of Commerce, the emcee for an annual charity music festival, and an ambassador for the American Cancer Society’s Real Men Wear Pink campaign, Pfeiffer takes every opportunity to put a cause — and his company — in the limelight for charity.

“I’ve been doing this type of thing for the past six years, shifting marketing dollars to those efforts. I was sick of working all the time,” he says. Instead of focusing on the bottom line all the time, he has redirected his efforts toward campaigns with a cause. And it has paid off.

For example, at a Cancer Society banquet, Pfeiffer recently posed with a giant pink chair used to promote the event. That gave him an idea. He later called the charity and asked if he could borrow it for a day. “I wanted to put it in front of the store and encourage other businesses to get involved,” Pfeiffer says. He encouraged fellow business owners to conduct live Facebook videos with the chair, take pictures for social media, and donate. Local media covered it, and there was even a party that night with the chair as the guest of honor. About $6000 was raised.

The result, he adds, is that he isn’t just seen as taking from the community. “Millennials are very cause-focused. I was emceeing at a music festival and people came and told me they loved the chair and they were coming in for flooring.” Pfeiffer has also had the business serve as a drop-off location for military donations. That way, “people become a part of it. It’s become who we’re known for. We’ve been named the best flooring store. There’s a lot of great benefit, what we do in our community.”

8. Google My Business.
Derek Hines, of West Coast Self-Storage, based in Mill Creek, Wash., notes that his business is very focused on driving local traffic to its facilities.

“One of the first things we do to establish ourselves in a particular local city/market is to get that location on Google My Business,” says Hines. “By doing this, the business is represented on Google Maps, and a Google+ account is established. Customers searching for terms like ‘Propane Portland’ will see a ‘local pack,’ which is the box at the top of the Google search results that typically contains three local businesses offering propane. If your company is listed on Google My Business, there’s a decent chance that you could show up here. We also try to procure as many Google Reviews as we can for each location, as that is a factor in which companies get listed in the local pack.”

Local businesses don’t have to go head-to-head with the big boys. With a little creativity, marketing can be cheap, effective, and even fun. “We all have giant companies competing with us, and we have to think outside of the box. If we don’t, all of our businesses are in trouble,” says Pfeiffer.

(By Laura Mohammad)