You’ve put together a business strategy, ordered inventory, developed your marketing plan, and are ready to roll out your new business—all you need now are customers. Or maybe you’ve already established your business and are looking for ways to jumpstart your marketing strategy.
But what if you don’t have a lot of time or budget to devote to marketing? We’ve put together some of the easiest, least expensive, and most rewarding ways to promote your business, even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend.
Often thought of as a way to keep up with your high school friends, social media is actually a major player in advertising and marketing plans for businesses of all sizes, and it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to use social media to reach new customers. Diversify your reach with multiple platforms, and keep your target audience in mind when selecting which platforms to focus on and curating your message.
It’s still free to create your Facebook and Instagram business pages, and if your content is fun, creative, and shareable, that may be all you need from your social media marketing. Clever posts, behind-the-scenes material, updates on sales and promotions, online appointment scheduling, and event creation are all free ways of using social media to draw in new customers.
Social media platforms give you the ability to run contests, pull names out of a social media “hat,” and choose winners from a trivia contest. Be sure the prize is of interest to your consumer base and gives incentive for sharing your name or social media page. For example, you can create a simple but effective “Like/Comment to win” contest where anyone who likes or comments on a post is “entered” into the contest—you can then peruse those who have liked or commented to select a winner. You can also ask your fans to tag a friend or share/retweet to enter to win, which has the potential to not only garner more interest in your post but also gain new followers.
If you have time, “caption this photo” or “leave the best comment” contests are even more interesting, creative, and engaging. And always remember to highlight the winner when the contest has ended.
Consider using the tools available on social media sites to help run the contest. Many platforms have great ways of randomly choosing comments or “likes.” This will save you the headache of doing that manually and also keeps your contest above-board.
Running Warehouse in San Luis Obispo, California, occasionally runs a “Freebie Friday” contest on their Instagram page to promote the latest or most popular running shoe. It’s a great example of a contest that doesn’t have to cost your small business much but generates great interest.
Technical note: Make sure your contest comes with clear terms and conditions and follows all of the platform’s rules. For example, Facebook has specific rules about sharing content to other pages. Don’t forget to look into your local rules and regulations around product or promotional giveaways as well, and make sure all contest rules are easily available to your followers.
Social media influencers are a great way to get your product or service out in the marketplace. The cost and terms of a partnership with an influencer may vary, depending on the influencer’s following, and it may require the contest to be beneficial for both you and the influencer’s site. However, the long-term impact of being associated with a popular online presence could outweigh the expense. Make sure you choose an influencer who has a solid reputation and whose audience matches your potential new customers. Note that there are a number of rules around how influencers do business, so be sure they are complying with the FTC’s requirements, including disclosure of their material connection with the business.
Create compelling content
The best blogs are good reads—information that’s useful, interesting, or unique—and updated regularly. They are a terrific space for long-form storytelling about your business and the latest trends in your industry.
Blogs are also a fantastic way to showcase your own work, with before-and-after photos and stories, examples, and testimonials from your clients. Whether you use internal employees to generate content or outsource to a freelance writer, the content should reflect your business, your community, and your branding.
Additional contest information
Blogs are an ideal way to provide more information on contests or giveaways, and it also gives you the chance to beef up your email marketing lists. Unlike social media posts, you have all the room you need to talk about the content details and the coveted prize, especially if it’s your own product or service. This gives customers more information about what you do or what you sell, making it more enticing to enter the contest.
Direct mail marketing
Some consider direct mail marketing—sending letters, postcards, or flyers directly to customer’s mailboxes—as old fashioned, but when used properly, it can bring in new business and new customers, as long as you follow a few key rules. And remember to always keep your address list as current as possible.
Always offer a promotion or a discount
Direct mail should be both an introduction to your business and an incentive for new customers to come in and see what you’re about. Offering a first-time discount shows you’re confident in your product or service and that they’ll enjoy what you’re offering, such as 15% off the first visit or purchase.
Have a clear call to action
Your direct mail creative should have a specific call to action. Encourage customers to visit your business by displaying a big “Now Open” postcard header or show an enticing image of the product you are discounting for first-time clients.
Join an aggregator
If you’re not ready to run your own large-scale, direct mail campaign, consider becoming a part of an aggregator mailer like Valpak or other mass-mailed coupon service. They can be targeted by zip code to more narrowly target your preferred customer base.
Let’s be honest—people love free stuff. It could be anything from logo-branded “swag” to product giveaways to free business services. If it’s free, it will get people’s attention. Done well, these promotions can take off and your consumer base will grow organically.
Let your logo do the selling for you by giving away branded merchandise. If you’re limited on funds, consider a simple giveaway like branded pens, something everyone uses on a daily basis. They are easy for people to carry with them and make a memorable and useful branded giveaway. This is a crucial part of any public event you attend, such as a conference or festival.
Offer free consulting
If your business offers a service like tax preparation or other advice, offer a free consultation to the first few customers who answer an email or call a phone number. It’s simple, low-cost, and creates great word-of-mouth marketing. This works best when the customer’s free experience is just as high quality as a paying customer, so make sure you pull out all the stops.
Discounts for first-time customers
Even if it’s not free, a discount will still get attention. This is an easy promotion made easier in the digital age, as almost every consumer shopping website asks for an email address to offer a “first-time customer discount,” usually a percentage off the total sale. In addition to a happy first customer, you’re growing your email marketing list. For brick-and-mortar stores or restaurants, simply ask the customer if it’s their first time visiting you—if they say yes, applying a small discount to their purchase is a terrific way to surprise and delight new customers.
Using local media
With the rapid growth of streaming content, podcasts, and YouTube channels comes a larger need for content and guest experts, which gives small business owners an opportunity to reach new and bigger audiences.
Be a podcast guest
There are a lot of niche podcasts out there, so do your research and find the ones that fit your business, your story, or your background. To be a good podcast guest, you need a good story, passion, or a message to share, so form those ideas before pitching your favorite podcasts. Most regular podcasts are always looking for industry experts, so the easiest way to get on a podcast is to just ask. Email the host and producer, and share your enthusiasm for the podcast and the ways you’ll make their show more interesting. You can also register on a podcast guest database, or get a referral from past guests.
Media outlets still rely on press releases for story and content ideas, but before you send one out, make sure it has a “hook” that stands out from the crowd. You can write about your product or service and what makes it special or tell your compelling story as a local business owner more. This will help you stand out and shine through the piles of other press releases. Need help putting together a press release? Influencer Neil Patel lays out 12 steps to writing the perfect press release.
Most chambers of commerce or Rotary Club organizations will allow outside businesses to speak on a first-come, first-served basis, but as a small business owner you should really be a member of both the local chamber and Rotary Club. The rules on speaking and promoting businesses to other members varies by chapter, but at the minimum, it’s a great networking audience and a strong way to drive word-of-mouth marketing for your business.