The Small Business Administration funds and supports an organization known as SCORE (formerly known as Service Corps of Retired Executives), which provides a vast online resource library, training workshops, and free mentoring from volunteer entrepreneurs and business executives. SCORE has 300 local offices so there is almost certainly an office near you, and their network of more than 10,000 mentors is ready, willing, and able to help you with all of your marketing needs. There are mentors who can help you locally, face-to-face, and others who will work with you online via email or chat. You can start at www.score.org —and again, it’s all free.
There are more than 400 accredited colleges and universities with undergraduate and/or graduate programs in business in the United States alone, full of bright, eager business students who have learned a lot and are aching to apply it in the real world. Are these students able to step in as full-time, full-featured marketing consultants for you? No—you’ll have to put in some time and effort to get the most out of working with them—but they can accomplish quite a bit for you and most likely at an unmatched level of enthusiasm. Most schools have internship programs and entrepreneurship labs where local business owners like yourself can tap into this resource. You get great marketing ideas and great energy, and they get real-world experience. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Next time you’re on Facebook, type “marketing consultants” into the search bar and hit enter. Then go make yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate, because you’ll be scrolling down the page for a long time. Facebook is chock-full of marketing consultants, consulting firms, marketing groups, social networking groups, etc., and most of them put out an impressive volume of free articles, presentations, webinars, and podcasts. A lot of these folks, of course, want to get your business – and you may well find someone that you decide to hire – but the level of free information and help is not to be ignored.
Your local workforce center or job development center is a great resource for people looking for a job – but did you know that many of these centers (generally run and funded at the county level) also have small business development centers (SBDC) that are free for your small business? SBDCs offer training classes, mentoring, consulting, and more, either free or at nominal rates.
You can get similar information and help from your local business networking groups. These go under a huge variety of names—some are private clubs while others are public agencies—but they’re all full of local business people who are more than happy to talk with you about business. Some offer seminars, classes, and presentations, but all of these groups offer priceless opportunities to network with other people facing the same problems and issues as you, and eager to share information and best practices. Most local groups have some kind of fee structure, but it’s almost always affordable—designed to offset the cost of coffee and meeting spaces, not to turn a profit.
If you’ve got some money to spend on your marketing consulting, but would rather not spend the time it takes to get college students up and running or do all the handshaking that networking locally might take, then an individual freelance consultant may be just the ticket. Individual consultants are likely to come in hot, ready to help improve your situation, and a little shopping around can help you find people who are willing to work at reasonable rates. It is true that you get what you pay for, but it’s also true that there are always people breaking into the business who are willing to work for a bit less in exchange for the opportunity to develop a new client.
Another possible low-cost approach is to use an online marketing platform. While not consultants in the strict sense, platforms can help to automate and track marketing activities for your business. However, it’s important to look for a platform that comes with some form of guidance. Performing marketing activities faster is only going to benefit your business if they are the right activities.
If you’ve got the budget, a large consulting agency may be the way for you to go. Agencies offer an unmatched depth of product offerings and have an experienced staff who have worked with businesses of varying sizes, and on campaigns of all kinds. If you’re interested in ThriveHive’s services, check out our What We Offer page.