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Every business struggles to keep their marketing fresh and effective. As a small business owner, you have the additional challenge of figuring out how to market your business with limited budget in a crowded field.

recent survey of small business owners uncovered a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that 43% of all respondents have less than $200 a month to spend on marketing. A third said they spent anywhere between $200 and $1000 a month on marketing, which is a fairly big swing. So in news that surprises nobody – small business owners have limited marketing budgets.

Fortunately, the good news is that nearly half the respondents (46%) said they love engaging in marketing activities to promote their business. Marketing ranked as small business owners’ third favorite activity, after providing customer service or conducting product/service development. When it comes to how you market your business, it seems small business owners have more time than money.

To help you out, here are 43 marketing tactics you can implement for free, broken down into the following categories:

  • Persona building
  • Online content
  • Free media/PR
  • Social media
  • Review sites
  • Partnerships

Building and Refining Your Buyer Personas

You think you know your customer. You probably have a good idea who they are. But nothing stays static. If you want to make the most of all your other marketing efforts, paid and free, you need to make sure you’re directing them to the right people. This is where your buyer personas come in.

Your buyer personas are profiles of your ideal customers. What motivates them, what pains them, where they look for information, and how they want to feel.

So here’s the first tip:

  1. Use a free template to help you build your buyer personas.

Even if you have personas, you want them to stay current. Here are more free marketing tactics you can use to learn about your customers:

  1. Visit your competitors. What are they offering? How are they treating their customers? Play the customer and talk to their customers as a peer.
  1. Conduct a low tech survey with your own customers. You don’t know which would be more important to your restaurant patrons – having more dessert options or seeing nutritional information on the menu. Put out two boxes on your front counter with poker chips in front of them. Have a sign above the boxes asking customers to select to put a poker chip in the box of their preference: “Desserts” or “Nutrition.”
  1. Want something a bit more scientific? There are a number of free tools you can use to conduct an online survey. SurveyMonkey is one option that will let you email out surveys, or embed them on your website or social media profile. If you have a WordPress site, there are survey plug-ins you can use to create those little pop-up survey questions.
  1. Reverse engineer the marketing of the big boys in your industry. They have a bigger budget than you to conduct market research about what your market wants. Steal from them. Look at their content and activities. Who are they talking to? What are their key messages? What’s the underlying value they’re pushing with that message?
  1. Find out what your customers are reading online, regardless of whether it has anything to do with your industry. Knowing where they are and what else they care about just means you now have more ways to find them. Here are some free tools that let you uncover content based on topics and keywords.

Creating Awesome Online Content

It’s official. Content marketing is the only marketing left. But creating awesome, valuable online content doesn’t have to be expensive.

  1. Everyone loves great visuals. Make sure at least one person on your team gets up to speed on how to use one of the free visual content creation tools, like Canva or Piktochart. Now when you do one of your surveys, create a great visual as the results. People love to know where they stack up with their peer groups.
  1. Speaking of surveys, use a free tool like Polar to create a fun poll pop-up on your website or in your app. It can be somewhat business related. Are you a medical practice? How about a poll: “Favorite medical TV show? Chicago Med or Grey’s Anatomy?” Are you a spa: “Blue eye shadow – ironic, hipster chic or over my dead body?”
  1. Curious about what your prospects look at on your website? Now you can find out. Using a free website analysis tool like HotJar you can see exactly what they do. Recorded sessions show you where and what they click on. Eye heat maps (yes, that’s a thing) let you know what they look at the most and what gets ignored on your site. It’s a smart tool that helps you build a more effective website to convert visitors into customers.
  1. People love online video. We pretty much think we can learn how to do anything with the right video instructions. You and your employees are walking around every day with video cameras in your pocket. Use them to market your business. You don’t need a production studio. Create stuff from 6-second Vine videos (a twitter optimized video) to 2-minute YouTube tutorials. Publish the content anywhere from Instagram to Snapchat to your own website.
  1. Customize stock images you use with your own branding. PlaceIt is a great tool that lets you insert screenshots of your own products into stock photos.
  1. Catch people as they’re leaving your website with an exit intent offer. These are windows that pop-up as you try to leave a website. People complain, but they get results. And they’re easier to implement than it sounds. You can use it to highlight a key call-to-action on your website, such as inviting them to sign up for your newsletter.

Make Your Own PR and Media Coverage

You send out press releases, chat up reporters and bloggers. But getting coverage from these tactics require an underlying event or stunt that may cost more than you want to spend for free coverage.

Instead, here are some other modest tactics to getting your business name out in the community for free. Some are tried and true, others should spark your imagination.

  1. Attend local and online networking events.
  1. Speak at a local or online networking event.
  1. Enter a nomination for a business award. A lot of trade organizations and publications (print and online) sponsor different business awards. Do some research and find some that fit your business. Most allow businesses to self-nominate. If one doesn’t, ask someone to enter your nomination. Offer to prepare the nomination documentation for them.
  1. Have a good number of your staff attend a local event wearing company t-shirts so your business has a presence there without the expense of being a formal sponsor.
  1. Subscribe to HARO (help a reporter out). Every day you’ll get a list of reporters from all over the world who are looking for experts to interview for their articles. You can be one of those quoted experts.
  1. Get your business listed on the events calendar of your neighborhood weekly. Your event doesn’t need to be that special. If you can name it, you can advertise it for free on the events calendar.
  1. Become a columnist for a free, local newspaper. You can write a how-to, advice, or insight column using your professional expertise. The pieces don’t need to be long, just informative. Don’t overlook the reach of localized publishers.

The Great Equalizer – Social Media

I’ve touched on some social media in earlier tips. It’s impossible not to. Social media is the great democratizing force of business marketing. The biggest challenge of using social media effectively as a free marketing tool is that there’s too much out there. So the first tip for free, social media marketing is:

  1. Pick your social media locales. There are too many sites, too much content, and too many eyes out there. Don’t even think about being everywhere. You may not be spending money, but trying to be everywhere will cost you effort and time that can be better spent. Look back to your personas. Where are they hanging out? These will be the social media sites that make sense for your business.
  1. Find your niche social media platforms. Facebook is probably a great place for you to be, but it’s also crowded. But a niche social media site is chock full of people who’ve already declared an interest relevant to your business. And they’re social. This is a target rich environment for uber-customers for your business just waiting to be found. Here’s a list of some niche social media sites to get you started.
  1. Create complete profiles on every social media site your business is on. This means images, a link to your website, and contact information for your business.
  1. Save time posting content to your different profiles using a free scheduler like Buffer or Hootsuite.
  1. Integrate your posting so one post goes to all your profiles at once. You can do this through most scheduling tools. Many social media platforms are already set up to let you integrate your feeds. For instance, in Twitter you can set-up your tweets to autopost to your Facebook page, regardless of whether you used a scheduling app or not. You can also integrate your WordPress blog to send out social media updates when you publish your blog.
  1. Hijack a popular hashtag. Is your medical practice taking advantage of #WellnessWednesday each week? Use me to find out which hashtags have traction.
  1. Create your own branded hashtag that customers can use on their own social profiles to promote your business. Run a contest for the best user-generated content using your hashtag. For some people, the lure of getting exposure as a social media winner will be enough. Or you can have a small give away for the winner, if you don’t mind taking this tactic out of the strictly free category.
  1. Guide your employees on how they can share content about your business through their own social media profiles.
  1. Carve out a space for your business on a social media platform beyond its profile. This could be hosting a regular Twitter chator creating a LinkedIn group.
  1. Respond to people talking about your business or your industry. Use a social media listening tool like Mention or Feedly to set up alerts. For example, you could set up an alert for people asking about tipping etiquette in restaurants. Answer their question or give them an inside peek into the tipping experience from the server’s perspective.
  1. Create alerts to find out what people are saying about your competitors. That’s good intel.
  1. Find out how your Facebook page stacks up against your competitors. LikeAlyzer will analyze your Facebook page and give you customized tips on how to improve its performance.
  1. Take your online world offline. Share your Twitter or Instagram handles in chalk on the sidewalk in front of your shop.
  1. Quora is chock full of people who are asking for your expertise. Follow topics relevant to your business and provide quality answers to questions. One top-notch answer from you on Quora, which could get upvoted and shared outside Quora, is a source of promoting your business that lasts long after the time you spent posting the answer.

Making Review Sites Work for You

People trust what review sites have to say about your business nearly as much as they do personal recommendations. Your business appears on most review sites regardless of whether you do anything about it or not. Do something about them.

  1. Claim your Yelp page.
  2. Claim your Google My Business page.

Claim your business page on any relevant, niche review site. If you’re a restaurant or salon, are you on TripAdvisor? Is your medical practice listed on high traffic medical directories and doctor review sites? Claim these pages so you can get your own content out there next to any reviews. You can’t control the reviews (mostly), but you can get your own story on the same page. Make sure your contact information, hours, and images are up to date.

  1. Publicly thank people on the site for especially detailed reviews. Share the review through your social media profiles.
  2. Embed glowing reviews from your Facebook page into your website.
  3. Did someone share a valid complaint or concern? Respond on the site with what you’ve done to correct the issue and invite them back.
  4. Find your best customer-ambassadors here and bring them into your referral program.

Forge Partnerships to Share Marketing Leverage

If your business relies on local, physically-present clientele, connect with other local business owners to get creative.

  1. Trade “product placement” opportunities. Not business cards on a bulletin board. More like a mug with your practice’s name on it full of free toothbrushes at the local auto mechanic service desk. In return, the bowl on your reception desk might have branded keychains from the auto mechanic.
  1. Write positive reviews on review sites for the local businesses you use. You need to give to get.
  1. Follow and share each other’s social media content.
  2. Use tools like NinjaOutreach to find social media influencers your can partner with.

Frugality drives innovation. These are the free tactics at a general level.

Now use your creativity, coupled with what you know about the quirks of your business and customer base, to put together some truly authentic, standout marketing!

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