Marketing is absolutely essential for business growth, and paid advertising is the only sure-fire way of getting out the message you want to get out. But if you are truly destitute, living under a bridge, and all your friends and family head for the hills when they see you coming, I have some good news.
There ARE ways to market your business without shelling out any cash. The bad news (and you knew that was coming) is that you will have to pay anyway — by investing your time.
So if your business is absolutely flat, and you are doing nothing but waiting for the phone to ring or someone to walk into your store, use that time to focus on one of more of these free marketing ideas (cadged unashamedly from Jay Conrad Levinson’s book, Guerrilla Marketing for Free. (For more info on Guerrilla Marketing, go here: http://www.gmarketing.com/)
Here are some basic truths, and what you can do, with little or no cash outlay, to make your company better known.
Marketing your business for free
- People do business with people they know, so get out and mingle.
Do you have a chamber of commerce, networking group, industry association, whatever? If so, get out there and work the crowds! Many such groups will allow guests to attend for free (or for the price of a meal). Instead of trying to sell someone on your service or product, though, see if you can solve a problem for them. Be sure to take business cards, and then follow up after the initial contact. If you don’t have any business cards, be sure to get some made by visiting this site – https://www.supercheapsigns.com/contractor/printing/business-cards.
- Volunteer. Teach kids how to read, swing a hammer at a Habitat for Humanity building project, pick up trash alongside the road with Adopt-a-Highway groups. If your volunteer work just happens to be in your field, all the better!
- Give speeches. Almost every school has a career day; see if you can be one of the speakers. By the same token, virtually every community group that had regular meetings is looking for speakers. Again, the point isn’t to make a sale, but to build your visibility (and credibility).
- Make sure you can be found on the web. Go to www.moz.com/local. Put in your business name and zip code and see how visible your business is. There are a number of major search engines, like Google, Yelp and Bing, that are good for any business. Others, such as foodspotting.com and TripAdvisor.com, are more tourism related. Not sure which is right for you? Do a Google search for your type of business and see where those business listings “live” on the web. Almost all basic business directory listings are free.
- Find online newsgroups, forums and/or bulletin boards in your field. “Lurk” for a while, see the kinds of questions, answers and general comments are appropriate, then jump in with your own intelligent contribution.
- Check out websites or newsletters published in related fields. What sites might be interested in publishing a “news you can use” article from you? For instance: You’re install air conditioners. Is there a healthy living website that might accept an article from you on the pros and cons of the latest technological advances in boosting indoor air quality? Be creative! And be sure to ask for a link to your website or, if you don’t have a website, your contact information.
- Get a website, if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t matter if it’s simple or fancy, just get one and keep it current. P.S. You CAN build one yourself. However you can get another company to support the upkeep and maintenance if you’re not very technical like myself. You could have a look at managed it services provided by Five Nines for example.
- Get on social media. This may well be the most important “free” marketing you can do. But you must be consistent in your postings and engagement with others, and avoid the hard sale. LinkedIn is a must for business people.
- Connect with you own customers. I’m amazed at the number of small business owners who do not know their customers’ full names, where they live, their phone numbers or email addresses. Start collecting that information now, or add to it if you already have a database. Add as much detail as you can so you can have personalized communication with them.
- Reward your customers. They are your best — and cheapest — source of business. Offer them special deals or discounts for referrals, or just because you appreciate their business.
- Ask for testimonials from your top customers. Be sure to get their approval to use their photo and full name and maybe even the name of their business, if appropriate. A pat on the back from a real person will always carry more weight than some anonymous person who could (let’s face it) be a shill.
- Give something away. And it doesn’t have to cost anything! How about giving away a free e-book or white paper on a topic within your expertise? What about a guarantee (other than satisfaction, which is hokey)? A trial offer, or a demonstration of your product or service, a consultation? A seminar or workshop? A word of caution: If you are giving a discount, be sure it’s a meaningful one. Ten percent on a $10 item is not going to make me feel warm and fuzzy…or likely to bite.
- Work your prospects. Hey, since you’re sitting in a vacant office anyway, how about taking your brochure and business card (or create a flyer) and drop by your likely customers?
- Spread the word. Take your flyers/brochures/magazines/business cards around town and post them in prominent places, including point of purchase, if possible. If you don’t have any of these, then you should consider finding a company who can create and print magazine or other marketing materials. They are incredibly useful and are a cost effective way of spreading the world about your business. Supermarkets generally have bulletin board space that is open to anyone. Public libraries might be a good choice, too, although there may be prohibitions on business pitches. There are some businesses that find using video brochures from a company similar to Video Smart Books could be a great way of spreading the word about their services or products to prospective and existing customers.
- Hold contests. Local media may be willing to run your contest notice for free as long as there is no fee involved. And be sure to retain all the contact information you get from people who participate.
- Be someone people want to do business with. Under-promise and over-deliver. Do what you say you’re going to do — and that means opening your business when the sign says you’re open! Be clean and neat and make sure all your employees are, too. Greet people with a smile, even on the phone. Look them in the eye. Respond promptly.
Finally — be patient. Don’t expect any marketing effort — free or paid — to produce amazing results overnight. It’s about building awareness in your prospect pool, providing good value and being consistent.
Which of these have you tried and what were the results?