Promotion is not the same as marketing. Promotion of a small business encompasses all methods of getting the word about your small business out into the community. Marketing, public relations, networking, advertising, press releases, and many more actions all are forms of promotion.
The purpose of promotion is name recognition, without negative association. Famous criminals are not sought out for business relationships. Positive association is best, but even neutral or no opinion association is valuable. The objective is to get the most people possible saying "I've heard of them" when your business name comes up.
The reason name recognition is important to your success is because people are more likely to approach something they are familiar with. When they need the product or service you offer, and are looking at their alternatives, they are most likely to call the business whose name they recognize (unless they have heard bad things about it).
Part of promotion has to do with presentation. Negative association is more likely to come from poor presentation than from enemies whispering unflattering things about you. Therefore, a great deal of your promotional energy should be devoted to the quality of your promotion. Amateurish, error-ridden promotional work will turn people off, and once they are turned off, it is very hard to again make them receptive.
Presentation reaches beyond the quality of your printing or advertising. Every single contact your business name makes with anyone reflects on their impression of your business. Every email, every conversation, how you dress, how quickly your website loads, and any other interaction between you or your business and people are all promotional actions, and are affected by the quality of their presentation. So be professional at all times, and project competence and other positive qualities to the best of your ability.
Books have been written full of promotional ideas, and many can be found for free on the internet, by searching for "inexpensive promotion" or "promotional ideas" or the like. Many of them are impractical or inappropriate to your business, but some of them will make sense to you.
A fifteen-dollar table at a church flea market might result in 500 new people hearing of you or seeing your name. High school event programs are seen by hundreds of parents and are cheap to put a small ad in. Always having a business card to hand to anyone who will take it is a basic of promotion. There are hundreds of ways to promote a local business, including on the internet.
If your business is not local, but internet-based, promotion follows the same rules: keep the quality of presentation high, and seek out ideas with a search for "internet promotional ideas" and similar words. Beware anything that says "free" except downloadable ebooks. There are ways to effectively promote for free on the internet, but most of them are not advertised.
Look for bloggers with many followers, and make intelligent comments about their blogs. Get your website included in specialized directories (not the huge directories that no one uses or even sees). Offer a free ebook on free ebook sites. Probably the best inexpensive way to promote on the internet is with an ezine that you email out regularly, but that route is time-intensive and requires a firm commitment. You will find many more ways if you look for them.
You can measure the success of your promotional efforts in a local setting fairly easily: each month, ask 30 or more strangers if they have heard of your business, and keep track on a graph of the percentage who have. If the graph line isn't going up, you need to promote more or with better presentation or both.
On the internet, promotional success is clearcut: keep track of the number of unique visitors to your site.
One final warning: promotion is not marketing. Do not neglect actual marketing actions, as they are what will produce actual leads and actual sales. Promotion plows the field; marketing sows the seeds; salesmanship tends the crop and reaps the harvest.
Don Dewsnap is the author of Small Business Magic, published by Oak Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the principles of quality necessary to business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales. The principles of quality are not well known, and almost never applied to their full potential.