Contributed by Janet Holian, president of VistaPrint Europe

Your customers are your livelihood. You need them to dine at your restaurant on a regular basis. They know who you are, but do they think of you when the need arises? How can you market your restaurant without breaking the bank? This step-by-step guide will help you grow your business through marketing in a cost-effective manner.

Define yourself. The first step is to determine your brand. A brand is the identity of your organization. It is what people think of when they see your company name. No one element makes up a brand. It's a patchwork of multiple factors, some tangible and some not, that tell your customers what you stand for and the type of products or services they will receive when doing business with you. Whatever you do, define your brand, and ensure it's conveyed in all materials.

Second, develop a powerful logo. The logo of your company is often the first thing someone sees. Do not take it for granted. It should communicate the values of your company—strong, dedicated, customer-focused, etc.—and be on all of your marketing and branding materials.

The third step is to design and print your marketing materials including business cards, letterhead, brochures, note cards and post cards. Consistency is key and all materials should have the same look and feel. Don't underestimate the power of the business card when determining which products to incorporate into your marketing plan. It is often the first thing someone sees when you meet them for the first time and they are you when you aren’t there. Make sure your business cards are high-quality, full-color and make an immediate impact. Use the back side of the business card for a map to your office or special coupon to drive more sales. If you leave the back of your business card blank, it’s a lost marketing opportunity.

Promote yourself. Once you know who you are as a company and what you want to convey, now it's time to promote yourself. This should be done in several ways. Stay in front of your customers every day and look for cost-effective options with staying power. Business-card magnets are a great way to ensure that your customers will place your business and contact information in a frequently viewed location like the refrigerator. Also consider other giveaways listing your company name and contact information. The more you can stay top of mind, the better off you will be.

It is also important to go the extra mile to distribute your contact information anywhere you can. Design bright, colorful postcards that can be posted on bulletin boards all around town or handed out at tradeshows, conventions or networking events. Consider vertical cards to stand out from the crowd. Include eye-catching photos or illustrations related to your business and include discounts to encourage people to respond.

In addition to posting cards, design a direct-marketing campaign to existing customers that makes an impact. Align your campaign with your brand, and look for high-impact, full-color postcards that inform customers of your latest successes or upcoming sales. The design of the cards is important so in this instance, also consider vertical cards instead of horizontal ones to stand out. The frequency of the communication is important. Mail your customer base twice a month for the best response. If you have time, identify an excellent list broker, and locate lists that make sense for your business. Direct marketing to potential customers can also be an effective way to grow sales.

Build your business. Now that you have customers, it is important to use them to build your business. To accomplish this, customers must feel appreciated. Let’s face it: There’s no substitute for a handwritten note. They are inexpensive and have a strong impact. Sending handwritten cards to key customers for special sales or discounts is very effective. Handwritten thank you notes are also appreciated and make a lasting impression because they show that you go the extra mile.

Also, don’t forget the holidays. Holiday cards are an important way to let your customers know that you appreciate them. Pick high-quality, cost-effective, color cards. Make sure your logo and company messaging are integrated into the cards. Consider sending cards for Thanksgiving or customer birthdays to stand out from the crowd. If your business is seasonal or cultural, use holiday cards to celebrate related holidays like St. Patrick’s Day or the beginning of summer.

While handwritten communication really enables you to stand out, do not forget to communicate with your customers via e-mail in addition to regular mail. Match your e-signature to your business card with unique e-business cards—electronic versions of your business cards that are included in every e-mail.

And finally, encourage referrals. Your customers are your best sales force and getting them to speak for you is extremely effective. Encourage customers to forward contact information via e-mail or in person. This is an excellent way to increase your customer base. Consider a referral program that offers a discount or entrance into a contest to anyone who refers a successful sale.

No matter your budget, these simple tips will enable you to keep your company's name in front of your customers and get your name in front of new customers to directly impact your bottom line for years to come.