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Small Biz Success With No Budget

Success At Any Size


You don’t need to be a large business to attract the attention of huge retailers and influential brands.

Especially with the economy as it is now, large retailers are always open working with small, scrappy upstarts—as long as they provide superior products or services.

Here we discuss the recent success of HINT Water, which was founded in 2005 by a husband and wife team, in their home no less, and has since grown into a $10 million company with its product available at Whole Foods Market (Stock Quote: WFMI), 7-Eleven and a number of other major chains. Here, we provide you with 13 lessons CEO Kara Goldin learned as she grew her once tiny brand into a huge success.

(By the way, HINT Water contains just a “hint” of flavoring. The pitch is that this makes the product more interesting to consumers than regular old water, but without the huge amounts of sugar that other flavored beverages typically have.)

Photo Credit: HINT

Make health easy


“The biggest reason other brands want to work with us is that we make it easy for consumers to live a healthy lifestyle. In 2004, I couldn’t find a zero calorie beverage that my family found refreshing and thirst quenching, so I designed HINT as the first product that appealed to mainstream consumers without tasting sweet,” Goldin says.

Make it easy for your customers to do the right thing, in other words, whether that be living a healthier lifestyle, saving money, or living life to the fullest.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Find natural partnerships


“Developing relationships with brands that reach your target market is a great way to get more mileage in marketing. HINT Water is a healthy alternative that is great for families, so companies like Whole Foods and Disney were a perfect fit,” Goldin says.

Disney-branded versions of HINT Water helped both companies, and allowed the company to market itself to families.

(Picture at left shows CEO Kara Goldin with her husband.)

Photo Credit: HINT

Be persistent, at every step


“When partnering with other brands it is very important to be responsive and proactive in the relationship. Follow up is key,” she says.

After sending your pitch or product to the large company, don’t just wait for them to call you—follow up if you don’t hear back. Get feedback.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Offer value


“Another important aspect of partnering with other brands is to bring ideas to the table that will help both brands. For example, last year we were able to help Women’s Professional Soccer generate awareness by bringing their players into Whole Foods stores to meet consumers. Turnout was great and we sold more product,” she explains.

Even huge companies like Whole Foods can’t turn down the promise of driving more business into their stores. Give your potential partner a clear vision of how the relationship will help them, not just you.

Photo Credit: HINT

Give product


“We are also fortunate to have a product that we can use as currency. Whether its Women’s Professional Soccer or a fundraising walk, people need to stay hydrated and sugary beverages don’t do the trick,” Goldin tells us.

If you can give a free sample of your product or service to a targeted group of people, go for it. Get buzz going and earn some serious goodwill within the community in which you operate.

Photo Credit: HINT

Be charitable


This one goes hand in hand with the previous advice about giving samples.

“Working with charities is something that has been important in building awareness of the HINT brand and sampling the product. When people get to enjoy the brand at charity events they tend to remember and appreciate us,” she says.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Find your niche


“Seek out voids in the marketplace and find how your brand can help fill them. For example, HINT recently started working with schools across the country providing HINT Water to cafeterias, where there has been a lack of healthy beverage options in the past. Filling a niche like this will open up a whole new audience to your brand.”

Plus, it probably can’t hurt that First Lady Michelle Obama has declared PR war on childhood obesity. Goldin, on her public Twitter page, recently praised this development: “Finally! Michelle Obama stepping up to pull junk drinks out of schools!!!”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Be selective


“It is also important to understand that not every partner is the right partner. We’ve gotten calls from brands that don’t match HINT’s healthy messaging or even from distributors in smaller towns where we don’t have any support yet. As hard as it is not to take these orders or partner with certain brands, it is important to determine what will really help grow the brand,” Goldin advises business owners.

Not all partners are created equal. Wait until the right one comes along—don’t just partner with a company for the sake of making a quick buck.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Go grassroots


“In addition to participating in co-marketing events, HINT has also implemented grassroots marketing to help get the word out about the product. For example we’ve handed out bottles in Times Square with the HINT Bottle Man. This helps us reach the consumer directly with our product and create buzz about the brand.”

I bet the HINT Bottle Man is a helluva lot cheaper than a Times Square billboard advertisement… It’s savvy frugal marketing and it gets the job done.

Photo Credit: HINT

Partner with individuals


“HINT works with dozens of nutritionists and personal trainers who act as third party ambassadors for the brand. Having ‘team HINT’ in place helps us get the word out to even more audiences without a big advertising budget.”

Partnering with experts in your marketplace can help your business take off faster. If you’re a car repair shop, for example, get close with auto aficionados in your area. Find an enthusiastic core group of experts who can spread the good news about your service or product.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Social media… and celebs


“Social media is another way to supplement marketing when you don’t have a big advertising budget. HINT has a presence on Twitter and Facebook and recently launched a HINT Life blog as well as HINT TV, a YouTube channel where we can share videos, information and news about the brand directly to the consumer. Social media allows you to be in control of the brand message and interact directly with your consumers.”

The company also gets the word out whenever a celebrity likes their product. See the photo at left of ubiquitous singer Miley Cyrus, moments away from rehydrating with a bottle of HINT Water.

Photo Credit: HINT

Never stop networking


“Networking is important. I find I learn every day from talking to other brands about what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. Even if their brand isn’t in the same industry it is always interesting to hear how they do things.”

Don’t be afraid to meet new people and branch out into other industries. If you don’t get a partnership out of it, or new customers, you may at least get a crucial insight that can be applied to your own business model or marketing strategy.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Demonstrate passion at all levels


“Passion is a must. Again, this may seem obvious, but the people who care most about your brand are you and your company. Whether you are talking about your brand to a major distributor, a magazine editor or the person you meet on the train, it is important that passion and dedication comes through. At HINT, everyone on the team is always selling and talking about the brand.”

You have to demonstrate passion at all levels of the company, from mailroom clerk to regional sales rep to CEO. Especially if you’re small, you can’t afford to have indifferent employees lumbering around your office.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Have multiple battlefronts


It doesn’t necessarily cost money to have a celebrity like your product, or to have an influential Twitter user tweet about it. The key, as Goldin has pointed it, is a combination of savvy buzz marketing, a good product and excitement.

If the HINT rep at Times Square doesn’t hit as many people today—due to the cold weather—it’s no big deal. The company isn’t relying on any one marketing strategy to make it or break it. Instead, it seems to invest a bit of time and energy in many different areas: online, community/grassroots, fundraisers, co-branding (like the Disney deal) and entertainment (with the HINT TV launch).

Do the same thing with your own business. Try different approaches, simultaneously, to draw in different types of customers.

Photo Credit: HINT

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