Marketing on a budget might seem impossible, or ineffective. The fact is that many of the first steps an emerging business might take are either free or cheap. No matter which stage you’re at in the the growth and development of your organization, there’s is a lot you can do to increase visibility, both on- and offline. Every business needs to find ways to get its name out there while controlling spending; the following are some cost-effective ways to do just that.
- Content Creation
- Purchasing Advertisements
- Social Networking
- Community Outreach
- Business to Business
- Other Ideas
- Easiest thing first. Help customers find you. A “Google for Business” (formerly “Google Local”) page is free and gives you an automatic boost with search engines, as the locals always come first in geo-specific searches. Besides filling in the blanks with address & hours of operation, include lots and lots of pictures. Exterior shots of the location help people know they’ve come to the right place, and pictures of your business in action (with customers, products, and services) build trust as they can see real proof of what to expect from you.
- Yelp has been the largest business directory for over a decade, and it’s free to claim your listing. They often have a free coupon available just for getting started, such as $100 of free advertising, no commitment necessary. Yelp is especially important among their avid following of the millions of Yelpers: consumers who consistently read and write reviews for businesses (In a recent survey, 11.4% of people said they used Yelp to find a local business, mostly people in the 18-34 age group). Don’t forget about Yahoo, Bing, Manta, FourSquare, and Citysearch; these are all free to get listed.
- Niche & Location-specific directory listings. (a niche is the specific market you’re involved in). If you’re a plumber, check out PlumbingWeb.com, if you’re based out of Atlanta, GA, get listed with their chamber of commerce.
<This graphic from blumenthals.com>
- Host or attend an event, such as setting up a booth in a public location and creating awareness. Also try seminars. Provide more of a teaching environment than a sales pitch. Here’s a method that’s worked for me: we teamed up with a local lumber yard. These businesses are a dying breed and are willing to try just about anything to get people in the door. They had a huge front parking lot on a busy road. We set up a tent, a table, and offered free information about switching to solar energy. The leads we generated from that one event are still putting food on the table a year later. Because it brought people into the parking lot, we were able use the space for free. Firehouses are another low-cost venue. (Here’s another article all about hosting a networking event.)
- You can also host events in your own place of business. Instead of food, use branded promotional products as the attraction. For example, tell customers there’s going to be a short seminar, big announcement, one-time sale, or even a grand opening/re-opening. Tell them you’re celebrating by offering free giveaways to the first 10 people. Make a big hand-painted sign just for the occasion.
- Business Card Drawing. Popular with restaurants, have all your customers drop off their business cards into a fishbowl at your establishment, offering a prize to a random winner. When it’s time for the drawing, let everyone else know they didn’t win, but offer them an incentive for subscribing to an email list, such as a coupon, recipe, or a secret. (Keep reading for ideas about email lists). A pizzeria owner I used to work for had huge success with this method. People felt like they were part of a “special club” when they dealt with him. He also took the time to talk at length with his customers, and he knew their names and their kids’ names.
- Car magnets with your logo, call to action(3-5 words is best), and phone number can be custom-made. For an even less costly solution, buy a bunch of car-sticker letters and do your own lettering. Wash the vehicle , lay it out first, and use masking tape as a straight line to make sure everything goes up neatly.
- Lawn Signs. AKA” Bandit signs” because of the growing number of locations where they are outlawed and the unceasing lack of concern among those posting them. As few words as possible, always include a phone number, place them in a location where people need to stop and look at them, such as a red-light or busy crosswalk. Consider investing in an elongated staple gun, or finding some other way to tack them up as high as possible, out-of-reach. Often-times landscapers and locals will tear them down otherwise. Don’t spam them, a commuter shouldn’t see more than 3 of your signs on their daily drive.
- Branding is a lot cheaper than you’d think. You can get things with your company name, logo, and phone number printed on them. My favorites are highlighters, coffee mugs or water bottles, cup-cozies, drawstring bags (those cheap ones), grip-clips with magnets, flying discs(frisbees) and tiny flashlight key-fobs. Others are balloons (great because they are easy to spot, and kids love them, though they only last a day), reusable grocery bags, pens, magnets. There’s hundreds more, and you can buy almost all of the things for under a dollar or two per piece.
- Come up with an idea for a weekly newsletter. It could be tips and how-to’s, a compendium of market-relevant articles and blog posts you’ve encountered, or my favorite: coupons. Make sure there are plenty of avenues to build your subscribers. Any place where a person expresses interest in your business, there should be an opportunity for them to subscribe
- Prove your success. Use testimonials, case studies, or a creative combination of the two to establish a history of accomplishment. Get as much information as possible. Include before-and-after comparisons, time-elapsed, and the way you made customers feel. While you’re at it, ask the customer if they would recommend you to their friends. If they say yes, this creates more of a conviction for them to actually recommend you.
- Get to know your clients. Make an effort to improve your relationships with them. Remembering names helps a lot. Listen instead of talking, and talk about what they like to talk about. Through word-of-mouth, your customers could be your best salespeople.
- Ask your customers to post pictures of your business on social media and tag your business and/or location in it. If applicable, respond to these posts, even if it’s a simple “thank you”. This can have a huge impact on your brand-awareness, and it’s free. If you’re having trouble, tell them that tagging your business on Instagram or Facebook enters them for a chance to win something.
- Online, you have websites like PRWeb.com. A press release should demonstrate a problem your consumers are facing, and how your company presents a solution.
- For local press releases, send your press release to every newspaper, newsletter, radio station. Make it short, catchy, and include a call to action. It’s ok to be a little “pitchy” here. If you can make the press release newsworthy, these media outlets might pass the message along for free.
- Guest posting. If you’re lucky and/or diligent, you’ll discover that your target market has already gathered en-masse on an extremely niche-relevant blog. In order to tap into this crowd, you can establish yourself as some sort of expert. Email the blog editor asking for permission to do a “guest post” on his or her blog. Make sure its good quality, informative, & possibly entertaining. You can also share & offer your own take and spin on well-known data. Put it into simpler terms, review it, or create your own report using citable information.
- Create videos. If you have a reasonably up-to-date phone, you can create a decent quality video. Look at what your “market need” is. Provide something useful or informative, or possibly fun or entertaining. Think about doing product intro’s, or my favorite: instructional videos.
- Create your own infographics. If, in the course of your content creation you feel that the information might be better expressed in a visual form, try it out. There’s some great services out there to help you (like infogr.am), you don’t need a degree in graphic design! Spend some time making it pleasing to the eye. People borrow and link-to infographics all the time so it’s a great way to create something unique and original that fulfills a “market need”.
- Adwords offers a free coupon for first-timers, and back in 2015 I got a free $100 from Yelp just for talking to the sales rep on the phone. For cheap ads, look at Reddit. Through the use of “subreddits” (which are very specific & organized topics of discussion) you can target an extremely specific market, and pay less than half the going rate per thousand impressions (an impression is every time your ad is shown on someone’s screen). Google’s average is $2 CPM (Cost per 1,000 impressions) while Reddit has a flat-rate of $0.75 CPM.
- Stumbleupon, a popular website that literally randomizes websites based on your interest and shows them to you one at a time, offers a unique paid ad service called “Paid Discovery”. For a low cost, you can have your website be the one that a targeted audience “stumbles upon”. It’s important to note that Stumbleupon admits they are “…particularly popular among the 18-24 year-old demographic…” According to this post by Roberto Sanabria.
- Facebook Sponsored Stories combine targeted marketing with premium content, as long as you’re creating premium content. Facebook ads are possibly some of the most targeted advertisements in history. Sponsored stories also ensure that your post actually gets exposure. Although technically, all of your facebook followers are allowed to see anything you post, a facebook employee once noted that only about 0.2% of eligible stories are actually shown in your news feed.
- Create Accounts with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, make sure they and your website all link to each other. Spend a few minutes every day adding something worthwhile to the community. It could be pictures, or just a thought you had. It can come from your own mind or camera, or you can repost important and interesting things from others. Try to keep it relevant to your market.
- Create a blog with daily tips. This will create a following, build trust in your brand, and improve your chances of getting shared. You can build it right out of your website using WordPress & a subdomain. Talk to your host about installing WordPress on a subdomain (example blog.[yourwebsite].com)
- Become an expert on Reddit. Find your niche and come up with a really in-depth post.
- Public search forums have been the go-to for free advice and how-to’s since before Youtube was around. Educate yourself on their proper use. There are a few major ones, and thousands of micro-niche-oriented smaller ones. Don’t try to sell here. Since time is of the essence, come up with 5 commonly asked questions about your market (be as specific as possible with the “market” part). Search only for people who asked these questions, be ready with an in-depth informative response, and keep it to recent posts (2 months at the oldest). It’s ok to explore the forums for a little while at first to help you come up with your 5 questions, and to get acquainted with the neighborhood.
Business to Business
- Reach out to relevant business owners with whom you don’t directly compete with, though you share similar markets. This can build important relationships. Link sharing (I link to you on my website, you link to me on yours), referrals, featuring each other’s content, and doing “shout-outs” via social media are all examples of this method.
- Involve yourself with Linked-in. This is a great way to build connections with other professionals. It’s more than just posting a resume and walking away. There is a lot of communication that can be done here. When it works in everyone’s favor, come up with ways to exchange services or referrals.
- If you’re going to do e-commerce, get a security (SSL) certificate displayed on every page
- Also for e-commerce, display the badge from your merchant service, such as authorize.net. These build trust and make online customers feel safer.
- Creative eye-catching business cards. Not gaudy, but not forgettable.
- Guerrilla Marketing. This could be anything. Chalk art on a sidewalk, posting in grocery store bulletin boards, commission the local blues band to write a funny song about your company. If you get an idea, write it down.
The most important things to remember in marketing is your message and the target audience.