So you want to open a coffee shop but money is tight. How can you get your name out there without spending a lot? Luckily, there are a lot of platforms and methods for coffee shops to advertise freely or very cheaply. Before you start advertising though, you should have at least a rough idea of what you can spend on marketing month to month, or every few months. It’s okay if the answer is $0 at first, but you should work on establishing a dedicated marketing budget as soon as possible. Even a few hundred dollars a year can go a long way for a coffee shop when put towards the right things. Here are some options we recommend to get the best results out of little to no money.
Google My Business
Sometimes I feel like a broken record talking about Google My Business, but it really is one of the most important ways to market your coffee shop, and it’s free.
We cover Google My Business a more in our article about SEO for Coffee Shops, but here are the highlights: Google My Business is a little listing that comes up in Google searches and on Google Maps. It is often the very first thing people will see about your business if they’re looking up places to get coffee, so it’s really important to make your listing good. That means adding nice pictures, making sure all the information is up-to-date, and responding to reviews you get.
Google prioritizes listings with complete information and lots of activity, so by doing these things you have a much better chance of showing up when someone is searching for their next latte.
Writing a press release can be a tricky thing, but if it works it can serve several purposes. The first one is obviously good publicity for your coffee shop. If the story is compelling, people will want to see what your business is like.
The other more hidden benefit is for SEO. News sites will often link back to your business’s site in the article, boosting your website’s authority and making you rank higher in google searches. While press releases can be a little time consuming to write, they are free to send, making them another good option when you’re on a tight budget. Just make sure you have something a reporter is likely to care about. One of the most sure fire things is if you can tie something going on in your business to a bigger story happening throughout the world. If you’re just about to open, you can also send press releases to local newspapers and sites. New openings are probably the easiest topic to grab press attention.
One last tip: Don’t annoy reporters. Send one email with your press release, and maybe one follow up a few days later. If you don’t hear anything, they aren’t interested, it happens. Also, don’t send more than one press release every few months. Unless your coffee shop is truly on the cutting edge, there is no way you have that much newsworthy stuff going on. Spamming press releases will very quickly put you in spam boxes.
If you can’t get someone else to write about you, you can always write about yourself. Email is one platform we don’t see many coffee shops taking advantage of, but you should. Email is proven to be one of the most valuable methods of marketing communication with customers especially since email is essentially free to send (you will probably have to pay for an email marketing software, but even after that cost, email still has fantastic returns).
However, email has some caveats like press releases. There are three states an email campaign can take: opened, unread, or marked as spam. You want to create emails that maximize the number of people who open them and minimize the number of people who mark them as spam which can be easier said than done.
Rule 1 is to not send a ton of emails. As a coffee shop, if you’re sending more than one email per week, that’s too much. There may be some exceptions, but very rarely. Even one email per week is often too many. We recommend starting with one email every month or every two months, and maybe going to every two weeks if you’re seeing great results.
Rule 2 is to make your emails worthwhile. Yes, you can send discounts and that’s fine, but discounts don’t really get people to open emails. It’s much better to send emails with information and resources that people actually want to read, then maybe include a discount at the end if you want. This information can be anything from coffee recipes to poems written by your staff, but you should strive to make it uniquely yours and interesting.
Rule 3 is have a plan. Come up with at least four ideas for emails to send before you even send one. Then when you send your first email, communicate when people can expect to see the next one. Having a consistent schedule that people are expecting goes a long way towards making your emails feel less spammy. Coming up with a plan also helps you as you write the emails as it eliminates the panic of feeling like you haven’t sent anything in a while and need to get something out there.
Social media is the modern classic of free advertising platforms. Many business owners take it for granted, but consider how you could be using it more effectively.
Many of the rules for email apply to social media as well. If you’re able to make your accounts informative and interesting beyond just a place to post pictures of your coffee shop, you will instantly become so much more appealing to follow. Show the unique character of your shop and staff, and don’t be afraid to come across more authentically on social media. A definitive voice as you write captions also makes an account more interesting than the same old corporate sounding posts.
Local radio won’t be free, but it is one of the most cost effective platforms a coffee shop can use. People often listen to the radio around prime coffee drinking time, and using local radio will guarantee that the people hearing your ad are potential customers.
When preparing a radio ad, it’s better to keep things simple. Don’t try to overproduce or take on a persona that isn’t you. Just deliver a simple message with a reason to come in like newly opening, a new drink, or a special you’re offering. If you have time, it’s also good to say a line or two about your space. Try to use descriptive words that evoke emotion like cozy, warm, relaxing, or words that “solve problems” for people like fast service, drive-thru, kids menu, or anything else you can think of.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a sign outside your shop. A good sign should be readable above all else. That usually means fairly large with a straightforward font. Place your sign by where you see the most foot or vehicle traffic to have the best change at grabbing customers. It won’t necessarily bring in tons of new business, but it is advertising to your ideal customer: someone within a block or two of you. It also make sure people who want to visit your shop as a result of the other methods above can find it.
Platforms to Avoid
We have heard so many horror stories about Yelp and business owners. Yelp was once the go to place for reviews, but it has since become predatory and exploitative, forcing business owners to pay money or not show positive reviews for their business. We’ve even heard of business owners trying to advertise on Yelp, then Yelp turning around and taking more ad money than what was agreed upon. Avoid Yelp and pay no attention to their calls or emails. Google My Business provides basically the same services and is not nearly as shady.
TV advertising is expensive and has a very poor return on investment. Radio advertising gets you pretty much any benefit TV advertising would get you while being a fraction of the cost and much easier to produce. In a lot of ways radio is strictly better than TV because chances are you’re being heard by someone driving in their car, a prime potential customer.
Buying or Incentivizing Reviews
Somewhat like TV, billboards are usually expensive with a dubious return on investment. There are certain circumstances where a billboard is a good option, like if you are located off a very busy street or highway with commuters, but for everyone else you’re better off investing any money you would have put into a billboard into online advertising.