A major element of entrepreneurship is being very careful with your expenses. New entrepreneurs often strive to avoid large expenses unless there is no other choice. This includes their cost of goods sold, labor costs, and of course, advertising. It’s extremely easy to over-spend on advertising, primarily because there’s so many marketing tools and strategies to choose from. And as an unknown business, it’s only natural to feel the need to promote your offerings as much as possible.
But new entrepreneurs may forget that a great deal of these marketing tools and strategies are incredibly cheap. It is entirely feasible for a new business to become a household name without breaking the bank. Rather than pouring money into the latest, most advanced options, you can be just as effective with the right mix of old school and new school tactics.
At first, some of these old school ideas won’t even seem like advertising at all. This is why they tend to go overlooked. But being careful with your expenses means taking full advantage of every resource at your disposal. You’d be shocked by the number of businesses that achieved explosive growth with the least expensive (and most overlooked) advertising tactics.
Here are 17 free (or nearly free) advertising strategies for your small business:
17 Free Advertising Strategies for Your Small Business
Developing a marketing plan is an intimidating endeavor, to say the least. But marketing becomes much less daunting when you know where to start. For most businesses, it’s only logical to start with the least expensive methods.
Despite the low cost, you could argue that this is the hardest part of developing your general marketing plan. You’re going to spend a lot of time and energy experimenting with the following tactics. There’s way more cheap advertising methods than expensive ones. So, you might as well get this process over with as early as possible.
Read on to learn how to advertise your business with your brain, not your bank account:
1. Offer Rewards for Social Media Shares
When it comes to generating new customers, the value of referrals can’t be emphasized enough. People trust the opinions of their friends and relatives much more than other forms of advertising. Thanks to social media, existing customers can expose your business to a whole other world of potential customers with one click. One share from the right person could be your business’s big break, especially if you cater to a niche audience.
But even if you provide high quality offerings, most people need an incentive for sharing a brand on social media. It’s a simple concept: everyone who shares your business’s social media posts gets a discount. You’ll simultaneously increase brand awareness while giving your most loyal customers another reason to keep buying from you.
Remember: All the social media shares in the world will do nothing if the posts being shared lack the correct structure and messaging for your target audience.
2. Low-Level Influencers
This is basically an expanded version of the previous strategy. Instead of rewarding a share, you’re rewarding a more detailed post that has the genuine feel of a word-of-mouth referral.
You probably don’t have the money to afford your industry’s most prominent influencers (and neither does any business with a budget). But you don’t have to be a celebrity to have lots of friends or followers who share your interests. Brand ambassadors, or low-level influencers, are usually connected to higher level influencers, and they might post in the same social media circles.
Low-level influencers may also release more authentic posts that don’t obviously seem like advertisements. New businesses must stand out in their advertising and cannot structure their posts as if they’ve been around for years. It just doesn’t work.
3. Reward Referrals from Employees
No one knows your business better than your team. They know what sets you apart from your competitors, and what makes your mission, or story, special. But if this is the case, why don’t your employees already promote your business on their own?
Maybe it’s because you don’t offer a reward. And since we’re talking about employees, that reward doesn’t have to be a discount. For example, you could offer an extra vacation day if an employee brings in a certain number of referrals. You could even a generous bonus to the employee who brings in the most referrals by the end of the year.
4. Create an Online Quiz
A quick scroll through your Facebook news feed will remind you that people still love Internet quizzes. They just have to be original, highly targeted, and if possible, funny! All of these things make social media users more likely to share quiz results on their pages. Quizzes are ultimately a clever and completely free way to get existing customers to promote your business. Yes, it takes time to create a quiz but these are the sacrifices you have to make in order to build a real following on social media.
5. Behind the Scenes Video Content
Many businesses have seen much more success generating engagement through video content than regular social media ads. Today’s consumers are biased towards increasingly transparent companies, especially those that sell high-priced or highly important products or services.
Your videos should be centered your audience’s biggest curiosities about your industry, or a hot topic of debate. How is your product made? What does your company do all day? What is a popular misconception about companies like yours?
But your topic is just step one. Next, you have to figure out how to express this information. Should you interview members of your team, or just speak directly to your audience yourself? The former option allows you to prove the authenticity of your brand identity, or your business’s personality. This could be very helpful if your brand identity is particularly unique or more aligned with your target audience than your competitors.
Putting a face to your business’s name, however, might be the better move if your brand identity revolves around your personal story. Some of the most famous entrepreneurs have personalities that are contagious or almost identical to their target audience.
6. Partner Up with Complementary Businesses
Your top competitors are far from the only businesses that share your target audience. Think about their other interests or hobbies. You should be able to come up with a few types of businesses whose products or services go hand-in-hand with yours. One common example is a gym and a smoothie shop. Complementary businesses could partner up to offer cross-promotional deals, where purchasing from one business gets you a discount to the other.
7. Appear as a Podcast Guest
These days, there is literally a podcast for every interest or hobby you could think of. With that in mind, you can almost certainly find a podcast that shares your target audience.
Podcasts are great free advertising strategies because they are specifically chosen by their listeners. People don’t listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with their interests or hobbies. For this reason, business owners know that appearing on a podcast allows them to advertise directly to their target audience. It’s up to you decide whether to reach out to the most popular podcast for your audience or the most niche. Actually, you might as well choose both since appearing on podcasts is completely free.
8. Make Your Website SEO-Proof
Earlier, we mentioned that some of the cheapest marketing tactics often turn out to be the most successful. You won’t find a better example of this phenomenon than Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. This refers to the act of modifying your website so that it shows up on the first page of results following relevant searches.
An SEO-proof website must fulfill at least two qualities. First, it must be littered with keywords or phrases you want your business to be associated with. Think about the words your target audience would use when searching for a business like yours.
Second, your website must be up-to-date, informative, and made up of clear, concise writing. Your target audience should be able to find answers to frequently asked questions about your business, your offerings, and your industry. Steady increases in traffic is what really helps websites move up in search positions.
Mastering SEO has no cost except for time. And that time frame would likely be a lot shorter if there wasn’t so much misinformation out there about the best practices for SEO. This is why some businesses enlist the help of SEO experts. The cost of a single consultation will easily be offset by the rewards of an SEO-proof website. Once you attain a high Google rank and continuously update your website, you’re not going to lose that position anytime soon.
In the previous section, we established that an SEO-proof website is full of relevant information. Well, one logical way to gradually add more and more relevant information is blogging. There’s no cost to starting a blog, and if you know the rules of SEO, you know how to create high quality content.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of blogging is determining which elements to copy from your competitors and which elements should be completely unique. Business blogs often gain traction by addressing popular industry-related issues that have yet to be given this much attention. The topic and title must make the reader think, “This is going to be fresh and interesting.”
Blogging also presents another way to increase web traffic through social media. Metrics like shares and clicks can tell you what kind of topics your target audience prefers. This brings us to our next section:
10. Social Media Marketing: Facebook
Even if you pay for promoted posts, Facebook is among the least expensive digital marketing channels. Most businesses only promote a handful of posts per month, simply because it’s not practical to promote every single one.
Promoted posts are supposed to be structured differently than standard posts. This is because they are designed specifically for leads, as opposed to users who have never heard of your business. Thus, every business needs a healthy mix of both types of posts. If you structure your promoted posts carefully, you should be able to grow your following significantly with a relatively small monthly budget.
The costs of Facebook ads are determined by a per-click model, where you pay a fee each time a user clicks your ad. This fee is usually cents on the dollar, like 50 cents per click.
Much like SEO, the biggest investment in social media marketing is time. It takes time to perfect your strategy and generate real results (i.e. leads and customers).
11. Become Active in Social Media Groups
After creating business profiles on your industry’s favorite platforms, you should definitely look into industry-related groups. Potential customers often seek these groups to ask questions and discuss common issues. Your comments and replies, however, must be genuine and not obviously self-promotional. Group members must get the impression that you are true industry expert before they think about giving you their business.
12. Contact Journalists Through HARO
New businesses build followings by focusing on what makes them special. This could be your origin story, company culture, or simply how you serve your target audience’s needs better than anyone else. If you believe your business has something truly exciting or newsworthy, contact journalists through Help a Reporter Out (HARO).
Journalists use HARO for several purposes. In addition to reporting the growth of new businesses, they look for business owners to act as sources for larger stories about their industries. The journalists you contact should write for publications that share your target audience, or be working on stories your target audience would be interested in. If you do get mentioned in a larger story, that’s one more piece of content to post on your social media accounts.
It’s important to be realistic about your business’s value to publications. If you aren’t 100% sure you have a story worth covering, you should probably stay away from HARO. Continuing to contact reporters after being rejected will only annoy them and hurt your chances for media coverage in the future.
13. Launch an Email Newsletter
Many of us are bombarded with dozens of emails from businesses every day. Your inbox would likely be a lot smaller if email marketing wasn’t such a cost-effective and productive advertising method. MailChimp lets you send up to 12,000 emails to up to 2,000 people per month for no cost.
Though you may have never made a purchase after seeing an email, there are probably email newsletters you still subscribe to.
Now, think about what separates the newsletters you keep from those you elect to stop receiving. Odds are, emails from the former group come from businesses you’re very interested in and don’t just feature exclusive offers or promotions. They might contain excerpts from intriguing blog posts, industry-related jokes, or surprising industry-related facts. In other words, these emails offer a unique value and are highly targeted. Thus, your emails should share both qualities as well.
14. Answer Questions on Quora
Businesses often base the titles of blog posts on common industry-related questions. They figure out what their target audience is entering into Google and use that exact phrase to boost their website’s SEO.
But when they Google the question themselves, they realize that another website is already getting lots of traffic on this topic. That website is Quora, the question and answer forum that is widely used as a free marketing tool.
If a potential customer has an important question about your industry, they might seek answers on Quora. The most detailed, informative answers are often provided by businesses that belong to this industry. Longer answers to popular questions also make the page more likely to rank highly on Google.
If enough Quora users like your answer, it becomes the first answer someone sees at the top the page. But much like Facebook groups, this won’t happen if your answers are overly self-promotional.
It’s easy to make the mistake of answering every remotely relevant question. Instead, you should probably focus on the more specific questions asked by people who clearly belong to your target audience. These pages will likely be visited by other members of your target audience who Google the same question.
15. Target New Residents and Businesses
This free advertising strategy is geared towards brick and mortar shops, but it can technically be used by any business. Research has shown that when the time comes to purchase a new product or service, people are more likely to choose the first business they’ve encountered that sells this offering.
You can take advantage of this psychological principal by targeting new residents or new businesses in your community. When people move into your neighborhood, they use realtors and moving companies, right? If you partner up with these companies, they will personally recommend your business to their new clients.
16. Flyers and Business Cards
Speaking of local businesses, it never hurts to post flyers in places frequented by your target audience. This could include coffee shops, restaurants, or fitness centers. As you can see, a recurring message throughout this list is that if your target audience is there, you should be, too. Some businesses may even let you put stacks of business cards or brochures near their checkout counters.
17. Customer Referral Programs
Throughout this list, we’ve repeatedly emphasized the value of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing. In addition to social media shares and employee referrals, why not reward referrals from existing customers as well? If your incentives are appealing enough, your existing customers could essentially become your best salespeople.
Popular examples include discounts, accessories (water bottles, mugs, t-shirts,) or early access to future releases (pre-ordering). Many businesses have referral programs that give discounts to both the existing customer and the new customer’s first purchase.
Free Advertising Strategies: Choose Your Methods
When your business is first finding its legs, all of your marketing tactics should be low-cost. It’s entirely feasible to build momentum with only low-cost methods. As your business grows, your data will tell you whether to give your most successful advertising strategies more money or just more time. The game-changers will be those that clearly deserve both. Welcome to your next areas of expertise.