When you’re really hungry, it’s easy to opt for fast-food.

It’s cheap and it’s quick, and it gets the job done. But a Whopper isn’t beef bourguignon. There’s about a 2-hour difference in the time it takes to create them. The Whopper costs a whole lot less because

  • The ingredients are purchased in bulk and aren’t top-of-the-line
  • The time it takes to create one is about 40 seconds

Yes, in certain circumstances, the fast-food burger can be quite satisfying (like when you’re starving and on the road with no time to stop for a real meal). But in the long run, you wouldn’t want to make it a mainstay in your regular diet. It’s really unhealthy and will do unsightly things to your rear-end.

Guess what? There are fast-food options for marketing, too:

  • elance.com
  • guru.com
  • logomyway.com
  • 99designs.com
  • fiverr.com

You get the idea. Many of the fine folks offering their services on these sites try to win your business by low-bidding on the project.  You can often get a project done for pennies on the dollar. It’s a race to the bottom that any quality professional knows to steer clear of.

And just like that fast-food burger I mentioned above, the finished products you’ll get from these types of sites will tend to produce some pretty unhealthy results. Rather than cause your bottom(line) to grow, they’ll probably make it wither away from malnutrition.

Think about it this way:

The rule of thumb is that the less money you pay, the less time someone is going to spend thinking about or working on your project. Creativity and quality are often the first to go.

When I owned a marketing agency we used to say: “Fast, Fabulous, or Cheap. Pick two.”

Are you in business to make money? Then you want to look and sound your best.

So what do you do if you don’t have the budget to hire the big guns?

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Do your homework first. Do you have a business plan? Have you thoroughly researched your target market, your competition and the industry in general? Do you know what it will take to get your product and/or services in front of the right people? So often, people just launch into a business without really understanding what they’re getting into. Or what it will really cost to get off the ground.
  2. Develop your Secret Sauce. WHY are you in business to begin with? What passions do you bring to the table? If you need some help figuring this out, I’ve got a great webinar you should attend. Once you know what your secret sauce is, you’ll have a much easier time getting the right people to notice you and take real interest in what you’re doing.
  3. Avoid print advertising until you have the budget. In order for your advertising to be effective, you need to have ads written and designed by someone who knows what they’re doing — and you need to run the ads repetitively.  Those print ads can (ahem) add up to quite a pretty penny.
  4. Don’t blow your wad on print materials. That glossy four-color brochure? You probably don’t need it. Put those marketing dollars into your website and on-line strategies instead. Those are things you can change at the drop of the hat.
  5. Hire the best help you can afford. But don’t overspend, either. If you’re just getting started, you don’t need a fancy PR firm. You just need one PR professional who can help you for a few hours each month.
  6. Collaborate. When you pool your resources (both time and money) you can get a lot more accomplished, for a lot less. Work together a small group of businesses who share your target audience.
  7. Re-use the great stuff. Everything you do should function for more than one task. That article you wrote? Get reprints made and use them as sales pieces. That blog post you wrote? It’s also part of an email campaign (which is then also part of your social media strategy). When you speak in front of a crowd, have someone video tape you and use it on your website. When you have a designer create an ad for you, have them do multiple sizes and versions at once so you can use them over and over again through out the year.
  8. Keep an eye on what works. Are you monitoring your website visits?  (get Google Analytics installed now!) How many phone calls or emails you’re getting? Do you know how people are finding you? It always amazes me how often I hear that small biz owners don’t track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. If you don’t know what’s working, you don’t have a clue about what kind of return you’re getting on your marketing investment. And you also don’t know whether or not you should keep doing it.
  9. Do things yourself (when you can). One of the best books you can read on this topic is Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing. There have been several editions since the original publication, and each new edition has more out-of-the-box ideas then you’ll ever be able to tackle in one lifetime. But get the newest edition that you can find.
  10. Ask for referrals. Your existing clients are the best place to start. Treat them like royalty. (They are literally worth their weight in gold.) And then ask them for referrals and testimonials. Often.
Remember, marketing is literally the life blood of your business. You’ve got to make sure you put together healthy servings that are sure to satisfy your prospects. It’s the only way to create a solid bottom line.
Special thanks to @soniasimone and @copyblogger for their podcast which sorta inspired this post.