Small businesses have always faced the hurdle of competing with giant corporations whose advertising dollars alone are triple what they make in a year. The goal of advertising is the same no matter how much money you spend on it; to get noticed, get customers and keep growing.
There is a way to outsmart this system rather than outspend your competitors to achieve the same goal. Free or low-budget advertising ideas do exist and are readily available for small businesses to take advantage of if they put the effort in. We asked 10 small business professionals what they have found to be the best free advertising tactic to get customers. Save your money and get to work!
Email is a great way to market, it's highly effective and free to get started if you chose a platform like Mailchimp. Use your own social media profile to start driving signups, then start sending a regular email to your audience. Make it personal, so you start to build rapport with your subscribers.
- Doug Dennison, MailNinja
User-Generated Content is the new word of mouth, and yes you can get it for free. When your audience interacts with your product or service via a picture on Instagram or a review posted on YouTube, you now have an even stronger, authentic voice added to your brand. I've seen brands have highly successful marketing campaigns and drastically improved click-throughs purely because they've stitched together just such content from their audiences. These creators quickly become cheerleaders for your brand because secretly, everyone wants their content reshared.
- Hana Ruzsa Alanis, Graphic Designer & Marketing Specialist
Give Away Something For Free
The best source for free advertising is giving away something for free. For our denture clinics, we provide patients with a free denture cleaning kit ($49 value) when they schedule a complimentary no-obligation consultation. Offering a free product or service can inspire a prospective patient to take the extra step of calling or sending an online request.
- Henry Babichenko, DD, European Denture Center
Become a Thought Leader
Many small businesses spend their time chasing marketing opportunities that are reserved for thought leaders. But, by becoming a thought leader, those marketing opportunities find their way to you so that you spend less time chasing the opportunities. So, how do you become a thought leader? For me, the answer was writing and publishing a best-selling book. By sharing quality content in a book format, I’ve found that people want to receive more content from me in the form of podcast appearances, speeches, and content contributions.
- Brian Greenberg, Insurist
Embrace The Power of Social Media
Oftentimes when small business owners think of social media, they believe it is an oversaturated market that only produces likes and not leads - but this is not the case! Social media is an excellent and free way to advertise your small business because there are zero barriers to entry and your reach is unlimited. To be successful, you simply have to be authentic and take the time to interact with your followers. With some of the biggest brands like Airbnb, Gymshark, and Glossier crediting their success to social media, I think this opportunity is one you can’t pass up.
- Nikitha Lokareddy, Markitors
My best source for free advertising involves working with non-competitive partners. For example, I partnered with a professional organization that provides project management education. By promoting my business to the organization’s members, I grew my email list and used that list to sell my products.
- Bruce Harpham, Technology Marketing Consultant
Networking is a powerful tool when used the right way and can be a great channel for free advertising. I'm grateful for the connections I've made over the years that have led to referrals and a steady stream of clients. There are so many people that still show up to networking events (when we actually could "show up" to them) and you see and feel the desperation in them that they need business. Connect authentically, not everyone is a good customer for you, get to know others who you admire and share your values and they'll be your best referral sources. They are also willing to share your social media posts to increase engagement and new views which doesn't cost a thing… well maybe a glass of wine on occasion.
- Leeanne Gardner, Unbridle IT
Kill them with creativity. I'm a huge fan of local media! They are always hungry for feel-good stories that are tied to the local community. You just need to give them a reason to cover you. Get creative, maybe linked to a community event or social cause. Join with others in the community so the story is bigger, thus more likely to get covered.
- Brian Cairns, ProStrategix Consulting
Leverate Connections You Already Have
One of the best ways small businesses can market themselves for free is to leverage the connections you already have. Ask satisfied customers to refer you to others or leave a positive review online. Reach out to partners to see about joint promotions to dip into each other's customer bases. If you're part of a local chamber or industry association, see if they will share what's new at your company to their social media audience and email lists. Offer to reciprocate sharing their promotions as well to create a mutually beneficial long-term relationship that you can draw on again in the future.
- Colton De Vos, Resolute TS
Word of Mouth
Since so many customers rely on reviews, it is so important to make sure you have a strong and positive online presence. A few tips I suggest are; make sure you promote your social media sites and encourage customers to write online reviews; utilize email newsletters that include links to your social media sites; include a link to your social media sites in your email signature. Additionally, make sure you are actively engaged and monitor your social media so potential customers can feel and see your value. When you are persistent with customer engagement and build positive rapport with them, they are likely to share their experience, bringing new customers in return.
- Jennifer Leicht, Marketing and Small Business Consultant
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.