By Bria Overs | Word In Black

Credit: RDNE Stock project / Pexels

(WIB) – What’s the best way to reach more customers? That’s the big question for small business owners across the country.

There are marketing tools like newsletters, advertisements, social media, press, and influencers. However, most of these options come at a cost. 

The DC Chamber of Commerce 2023 Small Business Summit convened a panel of small business owners from Washington, D.C., to share easy and cost-effective ways for other owners to market their businesses.

Marketing Misconceptions

Owners, including panelist LeGreg Harrison, co-founder of D.C.-based premium retail boutique The Museum, believed the best way to market a business was through “pay to play.”

This is the concept of putting in money to play a game or sport. In the business world, it refers to an initial financial investment to start and grow the business.

“I think that everything has to be grassroots first,” Harrison says. “If you take that vantage point, to run everything through community first, I think you will build an ecosystem of people who will buy into your brand and into your story.” 

Carolina Furukrona, panelist and founder of artisanal lifestyle boutique NOVA BOSSA in D.C., spent over $20,000 on photography in her first year of business and hired a PR consultant. But found that she could do most of the work herself using free tools and applications like Canva.

For fellow panelist, CEO, and founder of TCapri Spirits, Tiffany Capri Hainesworth, her misconception was needing to hire someone to do public relations or PR for her tequila brand.

The powerful alternative for her was word of mouth. She knew she had a great product and a unique story that powered her ability to reach more customers.

“You don’t need someone to do that for you in the beginning. I agree with Tiffany. You are the brand. It’s your point of view. You should be doing, for the first year, your own social media as a small business owner.”CAROLINA FURUKRONA, FOUNDER OF NOVA BOSSA

Free Tactics to Try

Panelists gave several free tips for owners looking to market their businesses, such as knowing your customer, working with influencers, growing a network, and creating demand online.

Harrison used his network from high school basketball, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and his local community to create his “ecosystem.”

“Most of my friends or people in my ecosystem are like business cards for me. They get around people just like I do,” he says.

His background in product placement led him to think of influencers as a way to get his products placed and known within their expansive networks. 

Hainesworth uses the review section on her business’s website and the reviews from the Total Wine and Liquor website to promote her brand.

“I take every constructive criticism very, very seriously,” Hainesworth says. “And we post the good reviews back onto our social media.”

Although Hainesworth takes reviews, both positive and negative, into consideration, she doesn’t make every change reviewers want.

“You have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe that whatever you launch is going to be a good product,” she says. 

“You know that when it launches, people are going to give you good reviews. You can take that review and put it on your social media — Instagram, Facebook — and you rave about the review and thank your customers for giving you a good review about your earthshaking product.”TIFFANY CAPRI HAINESWORTH, CEO AND FOUNDER OF TCAPRI SPIRITS

Using Unique Experiences for Marketing

Businesses with retail spaces have a unique opportunity to work with local organizations. Furukrona’s store is in the first high-end Latin market in Union Market in D.C., La Cosecha.

She used her previous experiences working in the event planning industry and with embassies to create a cultural festival hosted in the market’s space.

“What we started doing is approaching embassies to do cultural festivals with our collection drops,” she says. From this, they got 14,000 people to attend the festival at La Cosecha during the pandemic. 

One of the best parts about this partnership for Furukrona was the access and free promotion this gave her business.

“In the press release, we had the embassy’s logo, our logo, and we got on the embassy’s list, which they sent to all of their people,” she says. “They usually don’t turn over their list, but having those logos with our logo brings credibility as well.”

The store and the market have hosted similar events for Guatemalan Independence Day, and with Trinidad and Tobago. 

“I didn’t spend any money on it — it was just effort,” Furukrona says.

Across the panelists, being at the core of their business’s marketing helped them reach goals and customers. 

Harrison says finding alignment and walking in purpose, which goes hand in hand with marketing, leads customers to businesses. And that’s a sign of a successful business.