Come rain, come sleet, come snow, he’s there, dancing on the corner. Sometimes he has a sign in his hands, other times, he’s wearing a brightly colored t-shirt with a store’s logo emblazoned upon it. You can’t hear the music in his head – it’s piped in via a set of headphones, so as not to audibly distract passing motorists – but you can watch as the melodies grip his body, causing him to cavort and contort into some rather… er, unique… moves.

In my neck of town, we call him the Dancing Guy. He’s an employee of a locally-owned pawn shop. And he’s the perfect example of what a little ingenuity can do when it comes to marketing your small business.

The Facts on Small Business In The U.S.

There are nearly 6 million small businesses in the United States; hose firms employ more than 56 million people – that’s nearly one in six Americans who can trace their job to a small business (defined as a company with 499 or less employees). About 80 percent of those small businesses – or roughly 4.5 million – are non-employee enterprises, meaning they don’t have anyone on payroll other than their owner/proprietor.

And I am one of them.

Marketing Your Small Business

As a small business owner – I incorporated a few months ago, mostly for legal protection and tax purposes – I know how important marketing is. Back when I worked as a TV news producer, one of the mantras of the station where I worked was effective branding. Our station’s “brand” was Eyewitness News – chances are, there’s a TV station in your area with a similar brand. In order to communicate the Eyewitness News brand, my coworkers and I always tried to be live on the scene of the action, wherever and whenever it happened. We didn’t want to just tell you about the big traffic jam heading into downtown; we wanted to show you. It was an effective brand, and we usually came out on top in the quarterly Nielsen ratings.

Now that I am my own small business, I try to employ a kind of branding of my own. It’s something every business – big or small – needs to do, but it’s even more crucial for a small business owner who needs to maximize their marketing dollars. For the owner of that pawn shop, he employs the Dancing Guy; it’s a tactic that seems to be working. He’s been able to expand his small business from one to three locations, and now is airing TV ads on local stations featuring the Dancing Guy, who’s become something of a local celebrity. Mention the Dancing Guy in my neck of the woods, and just about everyone will be able to name the pawn shop that employs him.

A Plan for Every Budget

But not every small business has a marketing budget – in my case, I don’t spend a dime on branding and marketing myself. Instead, I rely on a few go-to resources that give me the most bang for my buck:

  • Facebook – rather than creating a personal page for your small business, create a business page. This is the easiest – and cheapest – way to let people across the globe find you on the web. It allows you to interact with potential customers, share examples of your work, and connect with new faces. It may even make your stand-alone website obsolete, eliminating some overhead expenses in the process.
  • Twitter – I read a blog the other day that said Twitter would eventually push Facebook out of the social networking pantheon. I’m not sure I agree with that, but I do think Twitter is a crucial tool for any small business. Make sure your Twitter handle is short, sweet, and to the point – meaning it is easily associated with your business’s title or industry – and, if possible, try to get a handle that is tied to your professional email address as well.
  • LinkedIn – This is like Facebook for professionals. While Facebook does a great job of connecting you with potential customers, LinkedIn gives you access to a professional network – it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for new business contacts to help your small business branch up or out.
  • Business Cards – Don’t underestimate the power of business cards. Places like VistaPrint can help you get professional-looking business cards on the cheap (I once bought 250 for $10, shipping included). Once you’ve got those, you can hand them out to friends or family members to pass around, or simply post them on community bulletin boards at your church, children’s schools, or gym.

My marketing plan may not include a Dancing Guy, but then again, I’m a professional writer – I’m not sure my business plan really needs him in the first place. It’s critical to remember that each small business is different, so what works for one person may not work for everybody.

Reader, what are your strategies for marketing and branding your small business? Do you have a marketing budget?